Mind Manipulators

IN RECENT times the world has witnessed instance after instance of mind manipulation, most notably in the staged trials of political prisoners. What it has not been aware of, however, is the degree to which more subtle forms of mind manipulation are affecting millions of people. Modern communications bring the world into our living rooms daily; techniques of propaganda and salesmanship have been refined; there is scarcely any hiding place from the constant visual and verbal assault on the mind. . .

-editor of Liberty magazine and an associate secretary of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department at the time this article was written

IN RECENT times the world has witnessed instance after instance of mind manipulation, most notably in the staged trials of political prisoners. What it has not been aware of, however, is the degree to which more subtle forms of mind manipulation are affecting millions of people. Modern communications bring the world into our living rooms daily; techniques of propaganda and salesmanship have been refined; there is scarcely any hiding place from the constant visual and verbal assault on the mind. The pressures of our frenetic age impel us to seek escape from responsibility and maturity. The offer of a political panacea tempts us--as does escape through alcohol, drugs, and phosphorescent images.

Tragically much of the manipulation results in our becoming less sensitive to the problems of our neighbors; it robs us of our humanity, freezes our minds through violence and brutality. It contributes to the shock waves of revolution and discontent breaking against the foundations of society. And people so affected are looking with increasing apathy upon their heritage of freedom.

One of the most fascinating discoveries of scientists charting the human mind has been the discovery of neuron circuits related to memory in our temporal lobes the portions of the brain near the ears. Recently I spent several hours talking with Dr. Wilder Penfield, former director of the world-famous Montreal Neurological Institute. It was studies by Dr. Penfield that revealed this file of memories, reaching back to earliest childhood. By using a probe that delivered an electric shock to the brain tissue, Dr. Penfield triggered vivid recall of long-forgotten events. It was, he said, "as though a strip of movie film had been set in motion within the brain."

Dr. Penfield told me of opererating on a young woman suffering from epilepsy. When he stimulated a point on the surface of her cortex she heard an orchestra playing. In surprise she asked whether music was being piped into the operating room. When Dr. Penfield turned off the electric probe the music stopped. Every time the current was turned on and he moved the needle to the same spot, the orchestra started up again and the woman listened to it at its original tempo from verse to chorus, just as she had heard it years before. She even re-experienced the thrill she had felt while sitting in the theater. The whole performance had been indelibly inscribed on microscopic cells of her mind.

During another brain probe at the institute a patient seemed to be in South Africa, laughing and chatting with cousins. Their every word was recorded in his mind, even the emotions he had felt at the time.

Events of which we have no conscious recall are nevertheless printed as if on a movie film within our mind. Every advertisement, every book and magazine read, every person scrutinized, every suspicion harbored, every word spoken it's all there. And those unconscious memories the sum total of all that has penetrated our mind make up the kind of person we are today and will be tomorrow.

The apostle Paul hinted at this truth in an ancient letter to the church in Corinth when he spoke of men being "changed" by "be holding" Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Nothing penetrates the portals of our mind without leaving indelible impressions. A series of impressions make up habits of thinking or action. And the aggregate to a significant extent, determines character.

Let's turn now to a case study that will illustrate how the impressions made on the mind can rob us of our humanity.

Mr. Johnson is an essayist who is also a song writer and record producer in Middlebury, Vermont. Recently he found his mind and that of his wife being "problem polluted."

"We were becoming calloused and frustrated by needs and problems," he says "starving Biafran children, mass murders, cancer, automobile accidents. ... A dehumanizing process was taking place in us."

What was doing this to the Johnsons? Television, in daily doses. Mr. Johnson described their case in The National Observer, April 20, 1970:

"In the course of a few days television presents me with mass murders in Vietnam, group murders in Pennsylvania, student violence in California, and starving children in Biafra.

"I am shown a family that ate poisoned meat, children that were bitten by rats, and men with black lung disease. I am warned of cancer, heart disease, automobile accidents, air pollution, and a host of other lurking dangers.

"I turn to fictional programs and find that many of these that are not built around sex and violence are built on social problems.

"Given enough time, I can expose myself to every major problem in the world. I can spend hours every day feeling sympathetic or irritated from these problems, and all the while I have only looked at a phosphorescent image without having had one real human contact."

When we substitute an electrically circuited machine for the flesh and blood relationships God intended us to have, our social development is short-circuited. In a society in which the machine takes over completely, in which man becomes the most expend able part of his world, all our traditional values can be destroyed. No wonder a sociologist speaks of the "antihumanistic implications" of much of our television viewing.

Each time the emotions of the Johnsons of the world are aroused while watching dramas on television and they feel motivated to act, they go through an almost unconscious process of rationalization: "Not really," something seems to say, "Not really." And they relax. Once. Twice. Again. Again. The evening news comes on. The agony of Vietnamese orphans is all too real this time. But a pattern of thinking and inaction has been established. "Not really," something seems to say, "Not really."

They go to church on Sunday. The minister speaks of the squalor of the ghetto, of the compassion the Christian should feel for the needy. He points to the ministry of Christ to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and challenges those who profess Christ to respond. There will be, he says, opportunity to work on the staff of a ghetto day school on Sunday after noons. Volunteers are needed.

And all the Johnsons are stirred. Just as they have been day after day, week after week, by the dramas on television. And they respond just as they have, day after day, week after week, by doing nothing. "Not really," some thing seems to say, "Not really."

Scientists have found an ominous result of viewing violence. Psychologist Leonard Berkowitz, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, reports in the Scientific American that portrayals of violence on screen and stage stimulate aggressive, destructive behavior. "Eminent authorities contend that filmed violence, far from leading to real violence, can actually have beneficial results in that the viewer may purge himself of hostile impulses by watching other people behave aggressively, even if these people are merely actors appearing on a screen." But he discovered that male hospital attendants who saw a filmed knife fight were more severe in punishing patients than attendants who had not viewed the film. Nursery school children who viewed a movie of aggressive adult behavior, who saw cartoons depicting violence, imitated the aggressive behavior they witnessed. Furthermore, a young child who sees that screen heroes repeatedly gain their objectives through violent and aggressive actions, is likely to conclude that aggression is desirable behavior. (Reported in Scientific American, February, 1964.)

Suppose I kept a photo album in my living room with color enlargements of accident victims, polluted rivers, war dead, and starving children. Suppose that every night I sat down and looked at these pictures before or after dinner (or while eating my desert). The world would judge me mad. This, however, is just what people do when they turn on television.

Words from an ancient sage drum against our conscience: "But we all ... beholding . . . are changed."

Paul describes the success of Satan in blinding the "minds of them which believe not" (2 Cor. 4:4). The battle for the mind, you see, is really the battle for the soul. And the contest is fought for the attention, the memory, the nerve cells, the file system of the subconscious, and, ultimately, for the will.

For thousands of years Satan has been experimenting on the human mind and has learned well how to manipulate it. Using methods of which science is just becoming aware, he seeks to distort our sense of reality, destroy our sense of values, diminish our sense of urgency and ultimately to destroy the image of God in humanity.

He uses the inventions of man television, radio, drugs inventions that could be a great blessing to mankind, and exploits their potential for evil. Without realizing the damage we do to our minds, we fall prey to his traps. Every time we turn the dial on our television sets we should be aware that the mastermind of the mind manipulators is at work and should select what we watch with both care and prayer.


Adapted from Mind Manipulators, soon to be published by the Review and Herald Publishing Association.


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-editor of Liberty magazine and an associate secretary of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department at the time this article was written

April 1974

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