Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Real Story of MK-ULTRA

The Central Intelligence Agency's MK-ULTRA program has been a staple of conspiracy theorist for decades. Despite that, the program was entirely real. It ran for about ten years from the early 1950's to the early 1960's, and involved a whole panoply of techniques that chemist Sidney Gottlieb, who ran the program, hoped would produce a viable form of mind control for use in intelligence work.

This involved all sorts of unethical and in many cases horrific techniques intended to break down the structure of the target's mind in order to replace it with new contents. Among other things, it involved a whole lot of drugs administered to subjects without any ethical controls or safeguards. NPR has an article up today that covers the history of the program and Gottlieb's work. As the article notes, the program never actually worked for mind control but it was largely responsible for introducing LSD to the counter-culture of the 1960's.

MK-ULTRA, which operated from the 1950s until the early '60s, was created and run by a chemist named Sidney Gottlieb. Journalist Stephen Kinzer, who spent several years investigating the program, calls the operation the "most sustained search in history for techniques of mind control."

Some of Gottlieb's experiments were covertly funded at universities and research centers, Kinzer says, while others were conducted in American prisons and in detention centers in Japan, Germany and the Philippines. Many of his unwitting subjects endured psychological torture ranging from electroshock to high doses of LSD, according to Kinzer's research.

"Gottlieb wanted to create a way to seize control of people's minds, and he realized it was a two-part process," Kinzer says. "First, you had to blast away the existing mind. Second, you had to find a way to insert a new mind into that resulting void. We didn't get too far on number two, but he did a lot of work on number one."

Kinzer notes that the top-secret nature of Gottlieb's work makes it impossible to measure the human cost of his experiments. "We don't know how many people died, but a number did, and many lives were permanently destroyed," he says.

Ultimately, Gottlieb concluded that mind control was not possible. After MK-ULTRA shut down, he went on to lead a CIA program that created poisons and high-tech gadgets for spies to use. Kinzer writes about Gottlieb and MK-ULTRA in his new book, Poisoner in Chief.

Read the whole article. It's fascinating and also pretty disturbing stuff. The CIA really was out of control back then, whether or not it is today.

In fact, as an occultist who is also trained in experimental psychology, one of the reasons that mind control is so much more complex than Gottlieb and other researchers believed back then is that credence was still being given to something akin to the psychoanalytic model. Carl Jung in particular argued that the mind was composed of units that he called "complexes" (he introduced the term to Freud while working with the Vienna Circle in the early 1900's). He also argued that what we called the conscious mind was one complex among many, and if an entirely different complex were to become "strong" enough it could take over the entire personality.

We now know that this isn't even remotely true. The idea in psychoanalysis, that the conscious mind is essentially tiny compared to the much larger unconscious mind arises from a misunderstanding of how conditioning works. This is especially true of the Jungian model, in which what we now know to be conditioning loops formed during past experience are explained as "affects" representing the intrusion of coherent "sub-minds" with intents of their own into consciousness. The truth is that the conditioning system can maintain reinforced behaviors, but it does not think or in any way resemble a mind.

The conditioning system runs on something like four basic rules implementing both classical and operant conditioning, and can easily be modeled on even a simple computer. We see this in the animal kingdom, too. A common research subject from the early 1990's was aplysia, a sea slug with a nervous system consisting of 26 neurons. Despite having such a simple nervous system, researchers were able to induce basic classical conditioning (like Pavlov's findings with dogs and bells) in the organism.

This has several key implications for magick. First of all, it argues against spirits with coherent personalities as psychological projects or "sub-minds" within a larger framework. This is by far the simplest explanation from a skeptical standpoint in the Jungian framework, but as the Jungian framework is simply wrong about the existence of such "sub-minds" it makes more sense to treat any seemingly separate spirit as truly separate. Likewise, it implies that models under which the "unconscious mind" somehow does magick are similarly incorrect.

Our brains do engage in unconscious processing, from autonomic functions to conditioned behaviors, but the unconscious does not in any way resemble a "mind" as we understand it. And the condition system can fool us because our conscious minds - or really, just our "minds" - have a tendancy to back-rationalize behavior. The conditioning system in fact might as well be a simple robot or computer. It sends signals to both the mind and body prompting behaviors that ha ve been previously reinforced in what it recognizes as similar situations. That's it.

To the conscious mind, it will often feel "right" to engage in these conditioned behaviors. But when you interrogate most people after the fact, they will come up with reasons for why they did what they did that don't make much sense under even light scrutiny. Interrogate them further and they become defensive. But it's not because they are hiding anything, they legitimately don't know. The reason could be as simple as they did something similar as a small child and their parent gave them some candy or something. The memory may have long faded, but the conditioning could remain.

So the upshot of this is that the best you could probably do with MK-ULTRA techniques is to induce a series of conditioning loops into your target that will prompt certain behaviors under certain circumstances. But you won't be able to do it without the target's conscious awareness of engaging in the behavior, or force interrogation subjects to tell the truth, or anything like that. It looks promising at first, but we know now that such techniques are of limited usefulness in terms of Gottlieb's program objectives.

The big conspiracy theory seems to be that MK-ULTRA really worked and the CIA is somehow using it to manipulate the populace even now. But a simple understanding of both the program methods (administering a wide variety of drugs and other techniques that are little more than torture) and how the mind really works disproves that on the spot. You're not going to be able to torture people and give them drugs in such a way that they will go about their regular lives, and then take some action in the future without remembering doing it.

Memory is a whole other issue - there are such things as drugs that block memory formation and render targets compliant, like Rohypnol and scopolamine. The problem there is that the target won't remember any of what you tell them to do later, because they aren't forming memories - that's the whole point of using those drugs. The upshot is that for now there really is no way to do what Gottlieb was trying to do, and what we now know about neuroscience suggests that it probably is impossible using anything like the MK-ULTRA methods.

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