Neuroscience in Advertising; When Does it Become Mind Control?
By now you’re probably used to how predictive advertising has become, but it probably felt intrusive at first. Advertisers have always used subtle tactics to convince you to buy things, but now the privacy boundary is increasingly blurred. While it’s somewhat known that advertising finds its roots in propaganda, are developments in technology and neuroscience changing the fundamental nature of marketing into something that borders on mind control or manipulation?
The foundational elements of public relations and advertising were developed by a man named Edward L. Bernays, who happened to be the nephew of none other than Sigmund Freud. Freud gave a copy of his General Introductory Lectures, his seminal work on psychoanalysis, to Bernays as a gift in the nascent phase of his career.
Bernays was intrigued by Freud’s research, notably the idea that irrational forces drive human behavior. He took the idea and parlayed it into what he referred to as “engineering consent,” a concept that instead of bowing to consumer demands, cultivated them.
Bernays was first hired for a Lucky Strike campaign in which he created social trends to convince more people, particularly women, to smoke. He realized cigarettes exemplified male power, so he staged a campaign to empower women to smoke cigarettes by inviting a group of young female Vogue employees to light up on New York’s 5th avenue in a show of protest.
He referred to the campaign and the cigarettes involved as “Torches of Freedom.” Later, when the ladies expressed distaste for the green color of the packaging, he staged a number of events to make the color green fashionable.
This type of consent engineering was manipulative. And there’s evidence that Bernays likely knew of the dangers of smoking in those days as he would destroy his wife’s cigarettes whenever he found them at home. Despite this knowledge, and later becoming a public opponent of tobacco, he pitched Lucky Strikes as having a slimming effect and claimed they were soothing on the throat. He even wrote a book on his tactics blatantly titled, Propaganda, that would later inspire the Nazis.
Bernays used fear tactics, false or deceptive advertising, and what can only be referred to as social mind control tactics to sell products, even if they were dangerous or disingenuous.
This set the framework for the modern tactics that continue to perpetuate this trend, and while false or misleading advertising is pretty well-regulated by the FTC, the idea of engineering consent still persists. So is it possible consent may be engineered against our own will?
Mind Control Techniques Through Neuroscience
Today, neuroscientists are at the forefront of developing incredibly exciting technology, with the potential to correct for certain cognitive disorders and diseases. Some are undertaking the daunting task of mapping out the brain and its endless neural pathways, while others focus on the more incremental steps that may one day lead there, such as interfaces for telepathically controlling our mobile devices.
Often, this technology parallels the development of artificial intelligence, with programmers attempting to reverse engineer the brain or mirror the layout of neural networks in computer systems. This type of network control is being compared laterally to brain function, with the idea that if you inject energy into one part of a digital network, it should influence another.
Scientists applied this with a technique called deep brain stimulation, or DBS, used to treat those suffering from Parkinson’s and obsessive compulsive disorder. They found unusual activity in the fronto-striatal circuit to be responsible for obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can be normalized with DBS. However, this type of energy injection can cascade across the brain, causing unintended effects.
Technology’s Creeping Mind Control
Mind control could be defined in a few ways, but the common conception requires the alteration of a person’s behavior in an observable manner, without that person’s permission. And typically, that lack of consent is known or desired by the one administering a mind-controlling function.
Not too long ago, researchers conducted a study measuring the effects electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phones had on the brain. The study was predicated on the question of whether or not it was possible to control somebody’s mind with a cell phone.
Now, the definition of mind control, in this case, wasn’t as nefarious as the image that comes to mind when we think of dystopian sci-fi movies or Manchurian candidates but was instead much simpler. Can electromagnetic radiation from cell phones have an effect on mental behavior when transmitted at the proper frequency?
Their result turned out to be affirmative. The cell phone radiation stimulated alpha waves in the brain, particularly in areas closest to where the phone was being held. These types of waves are produced when we sleep, in wakeful states where we’re daydreaming, or when switching from external thinking to internal thinking. It’s even more unsettling when you find out that the study was conducted using, a now very obsolete, Nokia 6110.
Today, advertising is eerily predictive in our online browsing, but the majority of it is simply based on your search history. If you’ve searched for a product on the internet, you’ll probably be served an advertisement for that product or something similar, almost instantly. This can be avoided to a certain extent by clearing the cookies in your browser, going incognito, or using a Tor browser.
But questions have arisen recently as to whether advertisers take it too far by actively recording your conversations without your permission, so as to pick up on what to market to you. As technology becomes more intrinsically connected in our lives, what might be the next furtive marketing tactic or medium in advertising?
Interfaces able to read brain waves have been in development for a while and are getting closer to market launch. While advertising is already heavily reliant on cultivating or playing on consumers’ emotions, what if those emotions could be sensed physically through devices that constantly measure our biometrics. Might this already be happening?
Did the Philadelphia Experiment Really Happen?
The World War II-era is notorious for mysterious Nazi experiments involving weapons and strange esoteric technology. But the U.S. also conducted its fair share of tests on new and nefarious weaponry and wartime tactics. Some of the most famous minds of the time, including Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein, were even employed to execute the military complex’s will, occasionally leading to some perplexing stories.
One of the more bizarre accounts involves the supposed attempt of the Navy to develop a technology that could make an entire ship invisible to the naked eye. But these experiments had some unintended consequences that led to the project being shut down and buried until a man who claimed to have worked on the project blew the whistle on its cover-up. The stories that ensued became the inspiration for a 1980s, sci-fi movie and the Netflix series, Stranger Things, but could these stories actually have some validity to them?
The Philadelphia Teleportation Experiment
A man named Al Bielek is a central figure in these stories and his account has been ridiculed as simply being contrived nonsense, but the historical context and his detailed narrative are intriguing and possibly part of a true story, shedding light on clandestine government operations, one of which was known as the Philadelphia Experiment.
According to Bielek, in the late 1930s, the Navy was working on a project using electromagnetism to essentially develop an invisibility cloak for its warships. Around that time, Bielek said that Einstein was directing a program of degaussing ships by wrapping them in electromagnetic coils, to protect against magnetic mines planted by the Nazis. Tesla purportedly took this technology and parlayed it into the cloaking experiment, having some initial success with a small boat. After failed attempts with larger ships, Tesla gave up and the project was handed over to Dr. John von Neumann, who also worked on the Manhattan Project.
Von Neumann eventually succeeded in making the U.S.S. Eldridge, a Cannon-class destroyer escort, invisible for a short period of time on the first occasion. According to Bielek, one of Tesla’s inventions, a Zero Time Reference Generator, lent itself to this success. This device supposedly locks the Earth’s magnetic fields and acts as a cosmological reference with the electromagnetic fields at the center of the galaxy.
Bielek said that Tesla gave von Neumann a cryptic warning about a “personnel problem” that might occur in their experiment, but he continued anyway and the Navy trained a crew specifically for the operation. Then on August 12, 1943, they ran a second test. After being shrouded in a “green, ozone-laden haze” the ship purportedly disappeared for several hours, during which it traveled through time and then rematerialized. Upon its return, sailors were reported to be violently ill, some engulfed in flames, and others molecularly bonded with the ship. Bielek, however, said he and his brother, who was aboard the ship at the time, jumped off during the time warp and remained in 1983 on Montauk, Long Island at another secretive government facility also experimenting with time travel, known as the Montauk Project.
Bielek gives an intriguing explanation for how his time travel was possible, relating to Tesla’s Zero Time Generator. He said that Tesla’s device was the key for the ship to return back to its original location. According to Bielek, we live in a five-dimensional reality, with time being the fourth and fifth dimensions. He said that every human is given a set of locks that lock them in a point of time from which they came, but that the experiment ruptured those time references, upon returning to Philadelphia.