Saturday, February 9, 2008

Persinger's "First Order Protections" for Resisting Cultic Influence PART I of III

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.

Persinger has this to say of deception and manipulative ideological groups:

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.
from Pgs 166 - 169
by Persinger, Carrey and Seuss
(what a great couple of names for co-authors!)
[Note: The following terms were substituted in the passage:
"Group think" for "cult mania"
"Group" for "cult"
"Group follower" for "cultist"]