Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control Paperback – 27 Jul 2006
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An ambitious and well-written study (The Guardian)
Throughout history, humans have attempted to influence and control the thoughts of others. Since the word 'brainwashing' was coined in the aftermath of the Korean War, it has become part of the popular culture, served as a topic for jokes, and been exploited to create sensational headlines. It has also been the subject of learned discussion from many disciplines: including history, sociology, psychology, and psychotherapy. But until now, a crucial part of the debate has been missing: that of any serious reference to the science of the human brain. Descriptions of how opinions can be changed, whether by persuasion, deceit, or force, have been almost entirely psychological. In "Brainwashing", Kathleen Taylor brings the worlds of neuroscience and social psychology together for the first time. In elegant and accessible prose, and with abundant use of anecdotes and case-studies, she examines the ethical problems involved in carrying out the required experiments on humans, the limitations of animal models, and the frightening implications of such research.She also explores the history of thought-control and shows how it still exists all around us, from marketing and television, to politics and education. See all Product description
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The thrust of the author's argument is that the stereotypical notion of brainwashing as thought of by most people who use the term is fundamentally flawed. Specifically, we go looking for zombies and "Yes Master" style Hollywood stories, when in fact such notions belong firmly to the world of fiction rather than fact. This is not surprising when you think about it rationally for a few minutes. Instead, the author explores the much deeper areas behind the notion of brainwashing, and in doing so expands into areas that the reader probably hasn't considered before.
The book is split into three themes of sorts. First, a casual look at the historical uses of brainwashing is covered. The author is keen to point out that the word and concept of what we think of as brainwashing is a relatively new concept, yet the purpose behind (to convert a person from one belief system to another) is far from new at all. Torture has been used throughout the ages to attempt to force people to accept new truths, and as you read on you see how relatively haphazard the results have been.
Secondly, the author delves into the relatively advanced world of neuroscience. Taking an extremely objective and biological consideration of the brain as a reductionist computer, we look at how the brain itself is wired and works. This may seem an overtly complex tangent initially, but is key to the author's argument that simplistic notions of mind-control are pipe dreams. The brain is a fiercely complex organ, and our approaches to control are large-scale and a far distance from the fine grained ideas of individual thought modification.
Lastly, the notional of brainwashing is considered from a philosophical standpoint in relation to society at large. The subject is looked at from both positive and negative perspectives, and the author takes on a fairly abstract approach, covering the very notions of community and education. This goes to show that brainwashing is not an independent process that happens, but is woven into the very fabric of our lives.
This is a relatively advanced book, and if you are used to light casual reading this is not the book for you. Similarly, if you are looking for a tips and techniques to influence people tone, then you will be sadly disappointed. But, if you are willing to take a step back, and look at the wider pictures of how humans interact and what happens when opinions differ and are pushed forcefully, you will find this an enlightening read.
One warning, as another reviewer has pointed out, although the author does her best to be fair and objective, there is a fairly strong anti-religion and collectivism feel to the book. That didn't bother me, and I probably agree with most of her viewpoints, but it may put others off.
The historical roots are well explored with discussion of the terms used for mind influence .
In all this is a very enjoyable read fro any one interested in how people battle for our minds and influence our choices and views.
This is not a "how to" book, but does describe the mechanisms that are work when we are influenced by or seek to influence other people.
I think any one who likes books by Brian Cox, Simon Singh et al, or who has in interest in how people interact with each other would enjoy this book.