Monday, March 9, 2009

Michael Persinger on RESISTING INFLUENCE

Michael Persinger's "First Order Protections"
for Resisting Cultic Manipulation

Excerpts from

"TM and Cult Mania" by Persinger, Carrey and Seuss (Pgs 166 - 176)

Michael Persinger, professor of neurophysiology at Laurentian University has long studied neurophysiology and religious experience, winning the 2007 Best Speaker Award on Ontario Television’s “Big Ideas” competition One of his earlier books concerning religious experience offers these “first order protections” for resisting religious deception – or any deception – as all types of religious or non-religious deceptions involve logical fallacy and temporary suspension of critical thought processes.

Although they are obvious from hindsight, their contemporary existence is hidden cleverly within the vehicle of the day. By necessity, otherwise, they would be unattractive to present problems or rejected reflexively, each new [group] must contain a new vehicle immersed in a deceiving mass of details and sell routines. Following are some protective procedures that may be helpful. However, they are not infallible.
Beware of Wonderwords
Simple answers to complex problems, either indirectly or frankly stated, are great attractors.
[Group think] feeds on wonderwords used as solutions to these problems… Wonderwords are used frequently and with great vigor. Consequently, they predominate the convert’s language for a few months. As habituation occurs, new wonderwords must be substituted. To fill this vacuum, the clever leader offers another wonderword with more precise connotations. In this way, the [group] can be slowly faded from its innocent beginnings to radical extremes.

Suspect Simple Answers
Young [groups] offer simple answers to all personal and world problems. Frequently the followers may deny this; however, listen to what they are really saying, not what they say they are saying. Slow and systematic evaluations of the claims of the young movement usually demonstrate a traditional theme: believe this simple thing and everything will come your way.

The simple answer strategy can be found throughout a [group’s] assumptions. Very complex and internally inconsistent problems, such as human experience, are broken into highly contrived and simple forms. Man’s complex behavior may be divided into body, mind and soul, or a similar ordinal arrangement. The problems (usually evils) in the world may be reduced to….simple causes…

Despite the repeated, everyday evidence that clear prediction requires quantitative measurement with infinite variations, the [group] offers simple all-or-none options. Although dispassionate analyses have isolated the acutla control stimuli of both physical and behavioral phenomena, the [group] promises belief as a substitute for this effort.

Most real predictions are complex. They require the uses of repeated measurements and numbers. Can you imagine how long a city would remain intact if the buildings were constructed according to the scales of evil and good? Suppose the detailed procedures associated with measurement and basic understanding of physical principles were ignored? Human behavior for social problems are no less complex.

Watch for the Gimmick Each [group] has some gimmick that allows a period of ritual. The gimmick is a type of discriminate stimulus such that each time it is used, the person dedicates more and more of his/her personal time to the movement.

Rituals make fine gimmicks, especially if each person feels that either: (1) the gimmick is made just for him/her or (2) the gimmick allows personal access to the major concept: God, Spirit… Classic rituals have been meditation – some form of silence and word or thought repetition – or simple prayer. Prayers of this type must be redundant such as “The Lord’s Prayer” or “Hail Mary.”

Serial motor tasks have intrinsic reinforcing properties to which the novice may be unfamiliar. Repeated responses allow relaxation of the frontal lobes and control by more unconscious portions of the brain that involve skilled movement, such as the cerebellum. During the alteration in frontal organization, forebrain properties are reduced as well.
Anxiety becomes less intense and anticipation becomes more general.
Secondly, ritual appears to evoke specific physiological alterations in the motor system. Conditions of muscle tension that are associated with neurosis and anxiety can be relieved by repeated exercise. The accumulation of lactic acid compounds, the excess of which can precipitate an anxiety attack can be alleviated by a ritual.

Rituals are preferable to symbols in many [group] settings. The more private the ritual, the better. Private and individualized rituals tap upon the person’s feelings of uniqueness. Private rituals also prevent their public display and hence group recognition of their common nature.

Consider Confounding Factors Most successful [groups] caplitalize upon basic human behaviors. The most infrequently displayed response (due to inexperience or active suppression) of a particular generation is selected as a major sell point. For example the TM sell job tapped heavily into this [the baby-boomer] generation’s basic ignorance of the consequences of silence and relaxation.

When [group] claims are made, look for the confounding factor. In other words, attempt to determine what actual stimulus is involved that is masked or misinterpreted by the [group] leaders. Usually the confounding factor is so simple that it is easily overlooked. Never underestimate the effects of expectancy upon the interpretations of otherwise mundane private experiences.
Evaluate the Absolute Intensity of the Claims [Groups] report a wide continuum of effects, ranging from the possible to the ridiculous. If the [group] idolizes or adulterates science, no doubt it uses and experimental format defended by apparently reputable scientists. Statements such as “scientifically proven” or “probability less than 0.001” or “statistically significant” are likely.

However, evaluate the absolute effect of the [group] claim. In real numbers, not relative effects, determine the actual magnitude of the apparent [group] claims upon the behavior in question. If the treatment influences the disease, by how much does it affect this malady? Don’t be satisfied by nominal statements such as “increase” versus “decrease.”
Consider Alternative Explanations When massive claims are made about a particular [group] treatment, consider other options. How many other explanations or other mechanisms could explain the effects? Instead of responding with awe, behave like the skeptic magician. Consider: if I wanted to reproduce an illusion, how would I proceed?

Frequent counter-explanations for [group] changes have been the placebo effect, the consequences of expectancy and peer group pressure. If these effects produce similar intensity changes in the human believers within controlled experimental situations, then one must be suspect of the [group] claims.
Are the Basic Assumptions of the Theory Testable? The strength of theoretical claims can be evaluated by the number of testable hypotheses that can be generated from basic assumptions. Can the wonder-words and belief phrases be translated into experimental formats where numbers are involved? In other words, is the word core of the movement defined by faith or fact?

Consider how many precise predictions can be made by the [group] theory. If they promise an after-life, what actual proof is there on a numerical level? When faith and your hard-earned salary are removed, what facts do you have that the predicitions will be delivered? If they promise a solution to the world’s ills, what actual proof is involved in terms of real data collected by people not in the movement?

A critical question to consider is: How many other models explain the phenomena in question more rigorously? Does the [group] theory explain, in realistic terms, the problems at hand (survival, death, world chaos or personal resolution) more precisely than other theories? If the claim of survival based upon death-bed reports can be more precisely explained and predicted on the basis of hypoxic alterations in the human brain, are the claims really valid?

Accurate predictions of future events are better proofs of a theory’s validity. If the [group] claims that belief in its tenets will give you special power, then ask for specific predictions that can be verified independent of expectation. If the [group] insists that it is the savior for the world, ask for specific predictions of how this will occur. Answers like “it’s a secret” or “for the benefit of man we must keep it private” are rip offs.

Can any predictions generated from the [group’s] assumptions explain or predict a phenomenon in more detail and with greater rigor than predictions generated by more acceptable assumptions? Are the predictions merely common sense? Can the predictions about the phenomena in question be generated by a completely separate set of assumptions that do not require blind faith and emotion?

Most [group] tenets cannot compete with real data. The [group follower] cannot argue with the empiricist or with the experimentalist. As long as the observe stays within the context of data and the objective perspective of dispassionate methodology, the cult has little chance of success. Once the observer leaves the data and enters into the world of word games, the [group] believer dominates.
Objective Viewing Determine how the different cult phenomena appear when recorded by other procedures. Record the phenomena on film or view them in a more clinical perspective outside the personal enthusiasm of the group. Preferably, use your own equipment or materials supplied by individuals not involved with the movement.

Personal presence within a [group] phenomena is a precarious condition. Even the coldest scientist is still a human being who can be carried away by the emotion of the event. One is reminded of the scientist who, while watching some of the more bizarre claims of TM, felat as if “he had seen” levitation merely because others reported this condition. Later outside their ranks, he felt embarrassed that he, of all people, had fallen prey to the effects of peer group pressure.

Evaluate what [group followers] do, not what they say. The advantages of behavioral analyses in context of [group] movements are clear. Since what a person says may have little to do with the stimuli that control his/her behavior, determine in simple terms – with no fancy words – what the person is actually doing. Isolate the consequences.

Sitting quietly and repeating a sound is a form of relaxation – no matter what other word is used to describe it. Killing an entire people is still genocide whether it is done for the sake of democracy or communism. Shared behaviors and social comradery are normal human behaviors; they are not special consequences of being the “selected few” or the “children of God.”
Use the Method as Criteria Since human beings, scientist or scoundrel, are subject to daily whims and personal problems, more independent modes of evaluation are preferable. One of the most successful tools in this century has been the scientific method. Methodology and clear experimental designs allow objective determination of potential effects. The basic concepts of control, replication and verification are important fail-safes against innocent but erroneous enthusiasm.

By evaluating the methodology, the procedures by which [group] effects are evoked, the misleading components can be reduced. By reducing the fancy words to actual stimuli and responses, a realistic appraisal of the phenomena can be found. Knowing the intricate mechanics of how a car functions does not detract from its beauty.

In the history of science, new principles and contributions have emerged from the massive accumulation of data. This accumulation has required precise understanding of methodology and experimental design. From the almost infinite set of collected numbers has arisen the technology of our comfortable daily lives.

Wonderwords and simple solutions do not build televisions or perform neurosurgery or send rockets to the moon.

Things to Come
…Since the cause of [group] mania lies within the processes associated with parental dependency and the seductive pitfalls of emotional language, the potential for another epidemic is always very real. No doubt the precise details may change, but their themes and personal promises will remain.

Conditions of anxiety and global apprehension—no matter how large the persons world – breed an
odd composite of fantasy and fear. [Groups] that promise perfect prediction, cosmic order and the complete relief of uncertainty are always there with an answer. Sometimes they are called TMers, Jones’ cultists or radical Christians. Sill other times, they may start innocently but then transform from a mute conglomerate of pantheism and world brotherhood {such as the Bahai} into frantic [group] conversion.

The present forms of [group-think] will soon habituate.
[Blog host note: This was written/published in 1980….] Those that are based upon novelty-jags and the stimulation associated with simple change must become more and more bizarre. Like TM, they must promise their followers more potent sources of irrational power. At some point, the credibility will be extended and the movement, except for the hard-core members, will collapse….

Movements such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and many similar cults that
venerate the distant past will become reinforcing. The simplicity of the past and the dependence upon a benevolent force will be the essential themes of control. Like the atheist who prays during an airplane crisis, no one will dare take the chance….

As before, these odd events will be sources of anxiety and potential terror. People will report them as if they are singular prodromes to the ends to the occurrence of some great alteration in man’s future. These events will be seen as signs of an uncertain future, because of man’s ignorance of the same occurrences from times past.

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