Critique of Duck Sutphen's Essay "The Battle for Your Mind"

by Martin Poulter

Date: Tue, 13 Aug 96 15:36:57 BST
From: Martin Poulter 
Subject: Sutphen's views on mind control
Organization: University of Bristol, England

[posted to a.r.s and mailed to some relevant folks.]

I am posting this to make public my feelings about Dick Sutphen's essay "The Battle for Your Mind". It seems that a few Scn critics are taking this essay as an explanation of the working of cult mind control. The essay can be read at:

As someone educated in physiological psychology, I would actually classify this essay as transparently bogus pseudoscience, and a red herring when it comes to the understanding of cults.

Note that Sutphen is a major purveyor of subliminal message tapes. If what he says in his essay is correct, then his tapes are very effective. If they are very effective, then we should all go and hand him some banknotes in return for "Double your brain power" or his other tapes. Sutphen is no doubt aware of this and his objectivity should be interpreted in light of that.

BTW, note that Sutphen claims that his messages are completely subliminal. Thus if you buy a tape and play it and all you hear is a dull lecture or burger-bar muzak, you can't complain.

The two general methods to which Sutphen refers are subliminal messages and special frequencies. Subliminal messages have not yet been proven effective. The tests that have been done so far have, as far as I know, failed to find a difference between the effects of tapes with and without subliminal messages. Note that I am thinking of independent tests rather than uncontrolled tests done by the people who sell the tapes. I can't remember an exact reference, but I know that Skeptical Inquirer has reported some tests.

A hypothesis that pervades the essay is that rhythms which have a special effect when their frequency has a biological signifiance. For instance, talking at the speed of a typical heart rate, or presenting music that has the same frequency as certain EEG waves, is claimed to induce a suggestible state. Has any reliable evidence been provide for this, by Sutphen or anybody else?

I think we read too much into EEG waves. Remember that EEG, with its few electrodes, placed on the scalp a good few millimetres away from brain tissue and each recording from millions of neurons, is a very crude technique, not a good indicator of what is really going on in the brain.

Sutphen has his own explanation of why evidence for the success of his techniques is not widespread. He makes vague references to "government agencies" who want to block this valuable information from the masses. We all know better than to accept this excuse, don't we?

Of course, it may be that Sutphen's methods do work, but until there is proper independent evidence that they do, there is no reason to regard his claims as explaining cult mind control.

Rather than take the blind alley offered by the subliminal message brigade, someone who wants to understand how coercive psychology works can follow the explanations which have a proper scientific foundation. These are the explanations based on social pressure and milieu control. They can read Milgram on obedience, Lifton on brainwashing, Festinger on cognitive dissonance, or the other documents on Dave T's web pages.

Sutphen's essay contains a whole succession of typical pseudo-scientific ploys (Maybe it is time for the Squirrelle to repost the "Typical Pseudoscience Ploys" series). His claim that "Conversion is a 'nice' word for Brainwashing" implies that all religion is cult-ish and is careless and offensive. Anti-cult people should distance themselves from such irresponsible claims. As a buddhist, I'm a bit disappointed to read that Nirvana is "bullshit" (another bald assertion without any attempt at argument).

There are some useful points, such as the mention of sleep deprivation, but there are other people who say the same thing in a fuller and less sensational way.

I have filed Sutphen's essay in my Crackpotology file, not my anti-Scientology file. This is what I recommend others should do. Naturally we critics, unlike the scientologists, are free to disagree amongst ourselves and to take different approaches.

This post is not a comment on Perry Scott's essay on the TR's, which is very useful apart from its references to the Sutphen essay.

MARTIN L: Postgrad., amateur crackpotologist and caffeine-free celibate bon M
POULTER : viveur studying the Philosophy of Belief at Bristol Uni., England c
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