Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mind Controlees: A (sort of) New Belief Group

The Washington Post Magazine ran a piece by Sharon Weinberger on the community of people who believe that government or other agents beam thoughts into their heads.

The very definition of the tinfoil hat people.

The essay compares this community to alien abductees, describes the beliefs of a few members of this community, and suggests psychological explanations for the phenomena (both the physiological phenomenon of voices and the cultural phenomenon of how to interpret it). I imagine that Weinberger has not read David Hufford's book, The Terror that Comes in the Night. A similar approach is found in that book, regarding sleep paralysis mixed with hypnopompic or hypnogogic hallucinations. Hufford's work in turn has inspired those who explain some (as well as those who explain all, though that's another issue) alien abduction accounts with sleep paralysis.

Weinberger's article also notes that there has indeed been experimentation by the US defense establishment into exactly what these people claim: projecting voices and messages into the mind using microwaves. Never mind the long history of MKULTRA and other experimentation into mind control using other methods (pharmacological and psychiatric).

Wired's blog post on the topic is generally correct, that the WaPo article is playing some dirty pool. Weinberger's descriptions make it clear that she does not see spy games behind the claims of TIs, but likely an undiagnosed psychological delusion. Yet the article does mix in the bit on actual mind control technology.

Where Wired fails, though, is taking what I've increasingly thought of as the "mechanical engineering" attitude on the world. A hard and very mechanistic approach that does not care much for concerns about culture, social movements and ideology, and other things that humans have been doing for a long time. I noted this same attitude in one of my earliest posts on this blog, in a slap fight between transhumanists and ufology. Such an attitude, one cavalier about the reality of messy humanity with its cultural beliefs and variables, is as realistic about the real human world as the TIs are about government secrecy.

The WaPo essay raises, to someone who has interest in how humans work, three basic questions for study:

1.) What causes people to hear voices in their heads (and then another follow-on question: if it is psychiatric, can it be treated)?
2.) Why do they attribute this to one specific cause or another?
3.) How do the beliefs from Question #2 influence the behavior of people and their relationship to the larger society and to other TIs?

UPDATE 11/08: The New York Times has done a piece on this community, and directly compares it to the rise of alien abduction accounts in the 1970s and 1980s, and notes the collision between psychology and culture.

And a Canadian judge has allowed a $2 billion lawsuit to go forward against, amongst others, Microsoft based on TI claims. He cites MKULTA, including the participation of a Canadian researcher, as his justification.


Anonymous said...

What is a "TI"?

ahtzib said...

You should read the article I discuss in this post:

"The members of this confessional "club" are not your usual victims. This isn't a group for alcoholics, drug addicts or survivors of childhood abuse; the people connecting on the call are self-described victims of mind control -- people who believe they have been targeted by a secret government program that tracks them around the clock, using technology to probe and control their minds.

The callers frequently refer to themselves as TIs, which is short for Targeted Individuals, and talk about V2K -- the official military abbreviation stands for "voice to skull" and denotes weapons that beam voices or sounds into the head. In their esoteric lexicon, "gang stalking" refers to the belief that they are being followed and harassed: by neighbors, strangers or colleagues who are agents for the government."