How Cults Rewire the Brain

Discussion of the SES, particularly in the UK.
Justice
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How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby Justice » Sat Oct 12, 2013 10:30 pm

An interesting article from the Huffington Post can be seen at:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-d-langone/cult-psychology_b_3999136.html

carolynscott
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby carolynscott » Thu Oct 17, 2013 9:56 am

I believe the saying was use a thorn to remove a thorn then throw them both away. We used new thoughts to replace old ones.was that the brainwashing?

ManOnTheStreet
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby ManOnTheStreet » Sun Oct 20, 2013 1:04 pm

Essentially yes. It wasn't so much "free your mind of thought" as it was "fill your mind with these thoughts".

The idea of teaching people to think in a different way is actually not the problem. This happens all the time at primary/high school, university, and in many employment situations. The difference between that and brainwashing is that brainwashing prevents you from thinking critically or reasoning effectively about the thing you're being taught. If someone teaches you to think: "don't question my authority", they're setting you up to accept absolutely anything they say, because if you question them enough, they'll just say "It's true because I said so, and you shouldn't question my authority". This is not a healthy way to think about anything. Teaching people to develop a frame of mind that encourages questioning and critical thinking, especially about things like arguments from authority, is a much better way to go - and this is what is supposed to happen in education. Cults don't exist to educate; they exist to indoctrinate.

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bonsai
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby bonsai » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:38 pm

ManOnTheStreet wrote:The difference between that and brainwashing is that brainwashing prevents you from thinking critically or reasoning effectively about the thing you're being taught. If someone teaches you to think: "don't question my authority", they're setting you up to accept absolutely anything they say, because if you question them enough, they'll just say "It's true because I said so, and you shouldn't question my authority".


The trouble is, don't all religions do this, because they all point to some sort of absolute truth that cannot be challenged, be it scriptural text or teacher/leader/guru.

Any source of truth that someone accepts as such will always run the risk of bypassing that person's ability to critically discriminate and allow someone to take dogmatic positions without thinking at all.

In my view the SES/SOP does that and then has a couple of practices that undermine its student's ability to be critical. The first is that the say "they promote discrimination" yet they actively encourage abdication of responsibility and search for the source of truth in scriptural text and in the words of Leon MacLaren and His Holiness. Then one of the most insidious things they do is to promote this line "Neither accept or reject". This in particular asks people to lower their critical reasoning bar to not judge that which is promoted as the truth. In addition by asking people to not reject specifically, whether as individuals they choose to follow the directive/instruction or not, they create a space in which philosophies that would normally be rejected by critically thinking people can continue to live and be repeated allowing a "drip feed effect" to go to work and undermine the defenses of the reasonable.

Bonsai

ManOnTheStreet
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby ManOnTheStreet » Fri Oct 25, 2013 3:34 am

bonsai wrote:ManOnTheStreet wrote:
The difference between that and brainwashing is that brainwashing prevents you from thinking critically or reasoning effectively about the thing you're being taught. If someone teaches you to think: "don't question my authority", they're setting you up to accept absolutely anything they say, because if you question them enough, they'll just say "It's true because I said so, and you shouldn't question my authority".


The trouble is, don't all religions do this, because they all point to some sort of absolute truth that cannot be challenged, be it scriptural text or teacher/leader/guru.


Spot on Bonsai - I'd certainly agree with this. Religions are just cults that have, for various historical/social reasons, acquired a large following. Christianity was certainly considered a cult in its early years.

The thing about the "neither accept nor reject" line was that it was very selectively applied. As you rightly said, when it came to the 'truth' being peddled by the leaders, we were always told to neither accept nor reject what they said. When it came to alternative points of view, or any kind of dissent, the line was most definitely "Reject! Don't accept".

Spot on about the other philosophies too: what they never bothered to tell us was that most of the stuff we were being taught had been debunked ages ago by professional philosophers (i.e. people who actually knew what they were talking about). While the notion that these philosophies were valuable to the extent that they might have helped us navigate our lives more effectively is debatable, the notion that they represented the 'truth' of things is not. They just didn't, and it's reprehensible to manipulate people into thinking those philosophies are 'true' without any evidence or proper reasons for doing so.

MOTS

Dr.Alan
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby Dr.Alan » Fri Oct 25, 2013 11:18 am

ONLY ONE THING IN CREATION IS IMMUTABLE
ALL ELSE IS MUTABLE
(including the original text of this post)
Last edited by Dr.Alan on Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
SES - London 1964-1974 left due to SES interference with private life.

Tootsie
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby Tootsie » Fri Oct 25, 2013 2:29 pm

The following talk was given to the sixth form at St James Senior Boys' School, Ashford by Mr Jeremy Sinclair. If anybody knows anything about rewiring the brain it would be him. If marketing cigarettes & beer with adverts is easy, marketing a Philosophy School would be a push over.

"We were delighted to welcome to our Sixth Form the Chairman of M & C Saatchi, Mr Jeremy Sinclair. Jeremy Sinclair is a founding director of M&C Saatchi. He was one of the founders of Saatchi & Saatchi in 1970, became chairman of the UK agency in 1982 and was appointed chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi International in 1986. He later became executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide and Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi plc. The talk was chaired by Mr Peter Bunce, our Head of Boarding.
Peter comments: on Monday the Sixth Form welcomed Mr Jeremy Sinclair to give a talk on his life in advertising, the implications of his work and the experiences he has had. He is inspirational in many ways, but remained humble and engaging throughout, connecting with the whole Sixth Form on both a practical and spiritual level; incorporating his unwavering belief in spiritual values into the practical lessons he gave us.
I can say with confidence that the entirety of the Sixth Form left his talk understanding a great deal more about the details of advertising but also having gained a deep insight in to the workings of a brilliant mind. Mr Sinclair encouraged in us a sense of endeavour and daring but spoke of humour as a fundamental principle of both advertising and life.
His life is one littered with great achievements, from the ‘Pregnant Man’ poster which launched Saatchi & Saatchi to the iconic ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster of the 1970s. He was the creative brain behind both highly influential posters, and has been employed by the Conservative Party on many an election campaign since; called in at the last minute in the 2010 election to deliver the final knockout blow to a faltering Gordon Brown. Mr Sinclair was modest and down to earth but his creative brilliance was clear in the work he showed us; leaving many of the sixth form in either fits of laughter or in awe of advertising excellence. Mr Sinclair spoke of language as the greatest tool we have but also as a tool so wasted by modern society. His role is one where he must focus on language and he recommended that we truly pay attention to the language we see and use, for from it great things can be learnt and with it, great things done. This attention is so lacking but is so fundamental to not only advertising but to success, for without true attention, success, on whatever level, can never be realised.
The talk engaged each and every Sixth Former and was one which left us with real practical lessons of life whilst highlighting the benefits of true stillness and attention. Mr Sinclair is a highly successful man, with a creative mind rivalled by few, and I feel that the analogy of ‘walking with kings but not losing the common touch’ would be perfectly apparent for Mr Sinclair. He deals with Prime Ministers and the like, but has not lost his connection with his inner stillness or his fundamental principles and spoke excellently and with humour about both spiritual and practical matters.
The whole Sixth Form was extremely grateful that he gave up his time out of his busy schedule to come to speak to us."

ManOnTheStreet
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby ManOnTheStreet » Sat Oct 26, 2013 3:54 am

Weapon analogy:

I actually think this is quite an apt analogy. Towards the end of my time in School this was very much the impression I got - none of the tutors really knew what they were doing or what Vedanta actually said about various issues. I suppose the other thing to note is that weapons of this kind are just as dangerous in industrialised nations as they are in the third world. I don't want to stretch the analogy too far, but I think its telling that you drew a connection between Vedanta and a weapon; I don't think this analogy could be convincingly drawn between say Epicureanism or Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics and so forth: these philosophies are simply not able to be used in the way Vedanta is (potentially as a weapon) because they are not of the same nature. None of them requires an a priori belief or acceptance of authority of any kind. This is not to say that Vedanta is "bad" or "evil" or anything like that. I certainly don't think it is. However, it does contain unnecessary appeals to authority that make it very easy for the entire philosophy to be abused in a way that Kantian ethics cannot. The main problem is that without these appeals to the authority of scripture/realised men etc. Vedanta hasn't a leg to stand on. Thus, if you have a philosophy who's only source of legitimacy is an unnecessary appeal to the unverifiable authority of some ancient books and people, that philosophy is on very shaky ground indeed.

Dream:

I think the problem you run into with this analogy is that Vedanta is also 'in the dream'. Thus if you don't trust the conclusions of Science because it's all in the dream, you shouldn't trust the conclusions of Vedanta for the very same reason.

The other thing you mention regarded the illogical and strange nature of dreams. I think this is ultimately where the analogy breaks down. The fact is that the world is not actually illogical at all. Einstein is reported to have said words to the effect that "the only miracle is that there are no miracles". The real beauty of this world lies precisely in its order and the obedience of all matter/energy to physical laws. Thus, we're not really living in some illogical unfathomably random universe. Quite the contrary in fact.

Dr.Alan wrote:So looking for proofs is OK for the scientific age and all those things which have been derived from it. But we need to ask ourselves - is this questioning approach (looking for proofs) the proper way to treat something which was designed prior to the scientific age ??


This is quite interesting. I suppose that if we're not going to question the authority of scripture or the efficacy of Vedantic teaching (that's where our questioning would eventually lead us), then we're left with the option of just accepting everything we hear from Vedantins. But this is problematic, because taking that approach commits us to accepting everything anybody says about any scripture/teaching, even when those clearly contradict each other. I really don't think that it's possible to say we are searching for some 'truth' when we are prepared to accept any and every characterisation of it. There's no point in searching if you can't discriminate the false from the true. But your approach would prevent us from doing just that. It's not enough to say "this is pre-scientific", because that's actually not true either - there was plenty of science going on back then, it just wasn't very good science (it's conclusions were sometimes right, but mostly wrong). These philosophies 'filled the gaps' in people's knowledge about the world, but in pretty much all cases, these gaps have been long closed by (i) subsequent scientific endeavour, and (ii) other more cogent philosophies. I think it would take quite a bit of hubris to simply ignore thousands of years of scientific/philosophical progress and not use it to inform our view of Vedanta.

Dr.Alan wrote:They knew from evidence, simply that living a life following its precepts would given them a better chance to find peace of mind in their dealings with whatever life threw at them.


As I said above, this is a separate issue. Whether or not Vedanta can help people to negotiate their lives better is one thing. Whether it is 'true' as a philosophical system is quite another. It may be that Vedanta is simply a convenient fiction that is useful for some people as a way to approach life. This says nothing about whether it is true in an objective sense. If all Vedantins did was just go around saying "we find this way of thinking convenient for our peace of mind" then that would be fine. The problem is that most of them don't go around saying that (Shankara certainly doesn't, and neither do the realised men in the scriptures). They say "this is the Truth", and they have absolutely no basis for that claim.

MOTS

Dr.Alan
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby Dr.Alan » Sat Oct 26, 2013 9:09 am

ONLY ONE THING IN CREATION IS IMMUTABLE
ALL ELSE IS MUTABLE
(including the original text of this post)
Last edited by Dr.Alan on Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
SES - London 1964-1974 left due to SES interference with private life.

ManOnTheStreet
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby ManOnTheStreet » Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:33 am

Dr. Alan,

That's just a cheap trick and you know it. I could've said at the end of my reply that: "of course, Dr. Alan will just respond with cheap tricks because he's more interested in appearing superior than he is in engaging with the issues at hand" but I didn't, because it's not my intention to bait you into responses or to prove you wrong. Adding that little swipe at the end of your post doesn't make the rest of it any more cogent or 'true'.

Anyway, perhaps in your effort to show was 'in the dream' you failed to notice that I actually agreed with some of your points. I don't think Vedanta is 'bad' or that it cannot be a useful way to think about the world for some people, I just think that as a philosophy it has been long superseded. Surely you're capable of presenting your side of the argument without patronising anyone that disagrees with you?

MOTS

Dr.Alan
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby Dr.Alan » Sat Oct 26, 2013 11:05 pm

ONLY ONE THING IN CREATION IS IMMUTABLE
ALL ELSE IS MUTABLE
(including the original text of this post)
Last edited by Dr.Alan on Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
SES - London 1964-1974 left due to SES interference with private life.

ManOnTheStreet
Posts: 137
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2012 1:32 am

Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby ManOnTheStreet » Sun Oct 27, 2013 7:44 am

Dear Dr. Alan,

There seem to be three main issues here:

1. Whether or not we live in a 'dream' which is fundamentally unreal; and
2. Whether sense experience (or experience based on sense impressions) completely covers the scope of our experience.
3. If we can indeed have experiences which are not based on sense impressions, does this mean that those experiences are evidence of the 'real' world which exists separate to the 'dream' and of which we are generally unaware?

On the first point, it must be said that the burden of proof lies squarely on the Vedantin to show that our world is actually just a 'dream'. Put simply, it is just not self-evident that we are living in a 'dream'. None of the characteristics of this world remotely suggest that it is 'dreamlike' in any way. I alluded to this in my earlier post - this world just doesn't behave like a 'dream'. It's largely predictable, and is not dependent on our imagination for its existence or character. Whoever wants to say that this world is a 'dream' has to provide some basis for that claim - I'm not saying there has to be physical evidence, but there has to be at least some logical basis for coming up with the claim in the first place, otherwise it's just an arbitrary assertion and cannot be convincing.

On the second point, again I'd say the burden of proof lies on the Vedantin to show that there are in fact experiences which cannot be explained in sensory terms. The thing is, if you think you have had a non-sensory experience, how do you know that you had it? The only way you can talk about such experiences at all is in sensory terms. Your very memory of the 'experience' is sensory. If you have some other basis upon which you talk about these 'non-sensory' experiences I'd love to hear about it (seriously).

On the third point, this seems like a legitimate question to ask. After all, maybe the 'dream' encompasses non-sensory experiences as well. I think it would be inconsistent to say on the one hand that our perception and knowledge is limited and on the other hand use that same limited perception/knowledge to make definite claims about 'dreams' and 'reality'. The main point is this: even if we did have non-sensory experiences, this does not show that we are living in a 'dream' and that there is a 'reality' in there or out there somewhere that we're generally not aware of. Non-sensory experiences could just be yet another fascinating part of the world we already live in.

As an example, consider the world of sense experience before anyone knew about bacteria: was bacteria part of the sense-experience of those people? Obviously not as "bacteria", but bacteria didn't suddenly become part of the world of sense experience the moment we 'discovered' it. It was always there - we just didn't have the tools to see it. People still died of bacterial infections even when they didn't know it was bacteria that caused the infection/death. The same can be said of these 'non-sensory' experiences - we don't understand them yet (we don't even know if everybody's non-sensory experiences are the same), but that doesn't mean they're 'other-worldly' any more than bacteria were 'other-worldly' before we discovered them. The trend is certainly that things we used not to understand about the world that we now do have all been physical/sensory, even when we thought they couldn't be. Bacterial infections used to be put down to acts of God or some other supernatural forces. We can now control and stave off bacterial infections - not through some transcendent understanding of 'reality', but because the scientific method has enabled us to do so. This has been the case for every single instance of this phenomenon. I think it would be a bit strange not to take this into account when assessing the 'probability' of there being 'more to the world than meets the eye'. Perhaps there is more to the world than 'meets the eye', but that doesn't mean that what will eventually 'meet the eye' is not sensory.

Why postulate that this is all a 'dream'? It almost seems as if you are committed to saying it is because it says so in the scriptures - but you can't really argue that we must be living in a dream because we have experiences we can't explain, and simultaneously base this assertion on an a priori belief in the truth of the scriptures. If you think the scriptures are true, your argument from 'non-sensory' experiences is redundant - you'd still have to say we were living in a 'dream' whether or not we had non-sensory experiences, because this is what the scriptures tell you.

I'm open to the notion that there may be more in the world than what my 5 senses 'say', but there is also a general caution that needs to be applied when people like Vedantins come along and start talking about vague notions like 'dream' and 'reality'. What do those terms mean exactly? If we're going to talk about the structure and nature of the world and our experience it's just not good enough to employ terms which are little more than poetic allusions.

I keep getting the impression that this entire conversation needs to take a step back. You're saying things like "there are only two basic types of people in the world: those who understand reality and those who don't", before we've even established that there is such a thing as 'reality' and so forth. You're arguing from a Vedantic point of view (which is completely fine), but there is some groundwork still to go before we can comfortably talk about things like 'reality' in a meaningful way.

You say, for example, that:
Dr.Alan wrote:Seeking truth comes from a person's own repeated experience that there is something more to the world than having been told by the normal information system (education etc.). These experiences maybe due to waking a little. [ how many times have you actually known in a dream at night, that the dream is actually a dream. This does happen - but it is very rare.]
I think this is a common phenomenon, but it should also be recognised that this phenomenon should be viewed subject to the considerations above regarding the nature of those experiences. How do we know that those experiences really are non-sensory in the first place? If they are non-sensory, how do we know that the non-sensory experiences of every person are the same? If they are the same, how do we know that they are all experiences of the 'reality' talked about in the scriptures? Whatever the conclusions of Vedanta, it's pretty clear that if you're going to base your argument on 'experience', there are many preliminary questions to be answered first, before we get into the efficacy of what Vedanta says about it all. If you want to base your argument on a trust of scripture, then that's fine too, but it's a separate argument - it's not helpful to conflate the two.

So, I'm not trying to shut you down, but I really do think that you need to clarify exactly what you mean when you say things like 'dream' and 'reality', and you also need to decide which way you're going to run your argument - on the basis of 'trust in the scriptures', or on the basis of 'experience'? As I said above, either way is fine, but they are different arguments and conflating them just gets confusing (because you end up justifying one with the other, and this is circular reasoning). You said at the beginning of your post that:
Dr.Alan wrote:What appears to be missing is the enquirers questions - "If this world is a kind of dream, and I am not able to either realise it or escape from it, what would I need to help me understand more about it, and find the way out? " - "From whom would this information be best acquired?"
My answer is that we are not at that point yet in this discussion. I'm not sure if this world is a dream or not, so I can't assume that it is in order to resolve that question. To put it in context - you would be just as loathe to assume that this world was in fact real and that were was no 'dream' etc. The only way we have to clarify our positions and analyse the arguments is reason and rationality/logic. Anything else is just wishful thinking, and I think neither of us would be satisfied with that.

Best wishes,

MOTS

Dr.Alan
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby Dr.Alan » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:34 am

If you are seriously interested to discover which aspect of your waking life is as a dream, we could begin an investigation if you like. Let me know.
Last edited by Dr.Alan on Tue Oct 29, 2013 6:39 am, edited 2 times in total.
SES - London 1964-1974 left due to SES interference with private life.

ManOnTheStreet
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Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby ManOnTheStreet » Sun Oct 27, 2013 12:21 pm

Dear Dr. Alan,

We always seem to get to this point - namely where I try to reason with you on the issues (that you yourself raise in fact) and you attempt to avoid them all by calling reason itself into question. (It may disappoint you to know that this move is itself an argument within 'Reason'). This really does seem quite in-genuine on your part. It would be like me trying to undermine your points by questioning the efficacy of language as a means of communication. Of course it's possible to do this, but it achieves nothing, because it immediately shifts the argument somewhere else and this means that (conveniently for me) I don't need to address any of your points in substance. Anyone can do this, and it's easy, and it's also useless, which is why I called it a 'cheap trick'. Unless you're prepared to have a disciplined discussion where the terms are defined and the arguments have some basis in reason I don't see how anything you say can be taken as productive or meaningful. Shankara certainly thought that Vedanta needed a rational justification otherwise he wouldn't written all those commentaries. He didn't just say "you're not ready for this teaching if you don't agree with me" or "logic can't be used to justify Vedanta" - quite the contrary in fact. Take another look at his commentary on the Brahmasutras (or any of the others for that matter) and tell me there's no logic or reason being used there. Your position is undermined by the very founder of your tradition - I don't really need to say anything more on this point. If you think that Vedanta cannot be reasoned about I think you have a very unorthodox (and impoverished) view of it.

Analogies:

The point is this: Analogies can be used to help explain a concept, but they cannot be used to prove it true. I think you're confusing explanations for proof. You can say "A is like B", but if A is false then B is false also. Saying "A is like B" doesn't get you to "A is true". Also, you can't really say "A is like B" without providing some sort of reason why you think so. I could say "A is like a giraffe" but without a reason for saying so my analogy lacks substance. So in our example, saying "this world is like a dream" doesn't get us to "this world is unreal", and it certainly doesn't give us a reason for thinking the world really is like a dream. You're just stating the analogy without providing any reasons for why you think the analogy works. I'm not sure what ground you think you'll be sacrificing by providing some reasons - I'm not lying in wait over here ready to pounce on you with my fancy logic the moment you start providing reasons! Your reticence in this regard is at once perplexing and slightly amusing.

You then go and start piling on analogies about teenagers and so forth. Does it not occur to you that 'reasoning with the teenager' is exactly what I'm trying to do here? This analogy works both ways - your refusal to actually engage with any of the issues makes you look petulant, not wise. Furthermore, your wish to only engage in 'discussions' with people who effectively already agree with everything you say seems rather self-serving.

To demonstrate how silly these kinds of arguments really are, consider this:

Perhaps you're living in a dream world, and my words to you are the voice of reality calling you back home. Of course you don't think so, but (to use your own 'cheap trick' on you) that's exactly what you would think in your condition, isn't it?

MOTS

Dr.Alan
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Location: UK

Re: How Cults Rewire the Brain

Postby Dr.Alan » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:50 pm

ONLY ONE THING IN CREATION IS IMMUTABLE
ALL ELSE IS MUTABLE
(including the original text of this post)
Last edited by Dr.Alan on Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
SES - London 1964-1974 left due to SES interference with private life.


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