Psychology/Psychiatry

Subliminal Mind Warp

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As everyone knows, some sounds are pleasing, and others are not. Chalk drawn across a blackboard can send chills down the spine automatically; canned "muzak" evokes a mood that makes many shoppers more amenable to purchasing goods.

Automatic though our responses to these sounds may be, we at least have the satisfaction of hearing them. Some sounds, however, are too low or too high to be detected by the human ear. These sounds are known as "infrasound" and "ultrasonics," respectively.

The following article describes an experience with the unsettling uses to which the government now appears to be putting ultrasonics. For the author, a respected businessman who in the past held a highly sensitive military post, the experience began innocently enough. But it soon turned into a nightmare in which abject terror and euphoria could be induced in him at the push of a button.

REASON went to considerable lengths to establish the truth of the story, including an on-site visit to the experimental facility in question. We researched 15 years of published materials on the effects of ultrasonics upon human behavior, and consulted leading authorities in the field.

The research was frustrating at first. Officials at the experimental facility denied the story, although one did concede that the effects of inaudible sounds were of interest to the agency's scientists. The library at the test facility contained numerous works on ultrasonics, but little on their physical or psychological impact.

A search elsewhere of published materials on ultrasonics proved to be more rewarding. The destruction wrought by high-intensity ultrasonics is well-documented; in experiments with mice, Dr. F.J. Fry of the University of Illinois has created extensive lesions in the brain of the animal. Lesser intensities suppress electrical activity in the central nervous system of the subject.

The impact on humans has also been tested, although to a lesser degree. Studies by the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at the University of Southampton, England, discovered that workers exposed to ultrasonics from industrial dish washers displayed a number of symptoms. In a 1967 article published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine, the study group concluded that the inaudible sounds caused nausea, fatigue, ear complaints, and headaches persisting for several hours after exposure to the ultrasonics. Since the authors seemed to be even more susceptible to the symptoms than the workers, they speculated that the workers grew somewhat acclimatized after repeated exposures.

Aerospace medical researchers in the United States report similar effects of inaudible sounds upon behavior. A paper released in 1971 by Dr. Walter Grether, of the U.S. Air Force, did not explore the results of high-intensity ultrasonics, but it did contain intriguing information about the effects of infrasound—that is, vibrations too low to be audible. Nausea, giddiness, and impairment of motor ability were among the consequences observed.

Dr. Karl Kryter, a noted authority on sound who is now based at the Stanford Research Institute, told REASON that infrasound has the ability to do great damage to the body. If the intensity and frequency are right, he said, the sound can "'splatter" organs such as the brain and the eyes. Members of the Psychology Department at the University of California at Santa Barbara concur that infrasound can do bodily harm, and even kill.

Dr. Kryter expressed some skepticism that ultrasonics are capable of inducing sudden shifts in mood states, noting that high-frequency sounds lose strength rapidly when traveling through the air, and that skin and hair block much of their remaining energy. He added that ultrasonics of a constant pitch seem not to affect human emotions.

But Dr. Kryter did leave the door open for a technical explanation of the incidents described in the article. If the ultrasonics were of high intensity and transmitted at close quarters, they could penetrate clothes, hair, and skin. And if the high-frequency waves were modulated to increase and decrease in intensity at a low rate, they might create resonances similar to those of infrasound—upsetting electro-chemical activity within the brain.

Because the agency in question has power over his livelihood, "Lee Victor" requested that we use a pseudonymous author's name and disguise the identity of the research facility, We have agreed to his request to remove the likelihood that he would face retaliation for his disclosures.


The ad seemed innocuous enough: "Volunteers wanted for isolation study. Twenty day simulation of underwater habitat. Apply at Archer Facility."

The extended period of free time would give me a chance to catch up on a backlog of reading and writing. It would be a very simple experiment. I applied. After two months of interviews, 1 was accepted as one of a three-man crew to participate in a make-believe undersea voyage. My responsibility involved little more than being isolated in a land-based compartment with two other men, age 27 and 32, and to make changes to our captive environment as we saw fit. Every day, a psychiatric research technician would drop by to chat.

The voyage would become one of the strangest experiences of my life.

As I walked into the test chamber at Archer, I became aware of a presence, a pervasive pressure which made me feel as if I was walking through layers of cobwebs. The cobwebs were only there subtly, and seemed to involve my mind more than any physical state of being. I shrugged the sensation off as being little more than first-day nerves in a new environment.

After meeting the other two participants, I was shown my cabin—a small room with a single bed. For the first five days of the voyage, we were to interact; the next 10 we would be isolated in our cabins; the final five we would again interact. Simple enough. A straightforward socio-environmental project—or so I thought.

Not long into the first day, I began to have strange episodes of paranoia—were the other two laughing at something I innocently did? Would we really be let out after 20 days? These flashes of paranoia ended almost as soon as they came on. Strange—not my usual way of dealing with people in new situations.

Well into the second day, the cobwebs became more insistent. I began to sense that the area was flooded with high frequencies—at a pitch too high to seem anything more than a slight ringing of the ears. As I grew accustomed to this, I also found—to my bewilderment—that I was unable to carry on any lengthy or meaningful conversation. Two days, and none of us had yet shown the slightest interest in interacting, except for an unexplainable subdued hostility. As a result, we tended to spend most of our time in our own cabins, doing little more than that.

The nights passed quickly. Our day/night cycle was set by a timer: lights went off immediately at 11:00, and turned on at 7:00. The first four nights, sleep came almost instantly after lights went out. The transition from wake to sleep was instant, and the nights were dreamless.

The fifth night, there was a difference. Sleep didn't come immediately. I lay awake several minutes, letting thoughts run through my mind. The pressure in the air seemed to be letting up somewhat. I'd almost felt like being sociable that day. And my thoughts began to come easily again. With the sense of well-being that comes with knowing that strange behavior is imagined, I drifted off towards sleep…and at the moment of sleep experienced a profound panic, a wrenching shattered glass terror which physically jolted my body. It lasted thankfully but an instant, and left me drenched in a cold sweat.

No sooner did my mind comprehend what had happened, than I smiled peacefully—and slept.

The morning after, I awoke feeling quite everyday normal, had breakfast in my room, and got out a book to read. This particular morning, though, I just didn't feel like reading. So nice to lie back and let my eyes close. A little nap and sink into that delicious drowse that wouldn't let go. Roll onto my stomach. Someone walking into my room? They won't mind if I sleep. Banging a metal pitcher? Silly of them. They could see I was asleep and feeling so good. I'd open my eyes but why bother? Just lay on my stomach feeling good.

Four hours later, asleep, lying on my back straight, hands down by my side, eyes closed until—they opened to see Len the research technician step into view at the doorway, smiling. "Hi, have any unusual emotional experiences lately?"

"Yes," I beamed from ear to ear. "Last night I had an acute sense of terror, of panic. But it didn't last long. It passed and then I smiled."

"Well, sometimes when we get into new environments and the lights go out, we revert to childhood fears of darkness.…"

I was very happy. If I had a chance to take part in a similar study again, would I? Oh, absolutely. Enjoying myself thoroughly. You ought to try it. Bye.

With the euphoria came a sense of great clarity. I perceived aspects of my environment, in my little room, which before had gone unnoticed. I found it difficult to write creative thoughts, but my perception was heightened.

Although I'd barely noticed them at first, I now took another look at some peculiar brass buttons on the walls in my room. There were three of these buttons, and they seemed out of place. Everything else in the room had an observable function—the call light, the radio, light switches—all but these three buttons. I thought again of the frequencies and, by focusing my hearing, I could faintly make out three or four very high frequency tones, pulsing in and out, intertwining, changing pitch every now and then, sometimes persistent, other times intermittent. Very high frequencies—at the edge of hearing.

From this point on, I was constantly aware of the frequencies. Once I'd plucked them, they were always within my grasp. I knew how to listen for them. One step beyond sensing that something was there, I became acutely aware of what was there. I could hear them playing with my mind—moving it, coming in and going out. Somewhere out there was a master organist, and I—I was the choir, singing his tune.

Being aware, I understood.

Whether because I was aware, or because it was necessary, the next night I felt them. The sixth night was the only night I felt the frequencies, aside from the constant subliminal pressure which stayed with me throughout the project.

At lights out, I settled in to sleep, with no concern that there might be another night of terror. Waiting to sleep, I heard the tones become more insistent. They increased in intensity, making calculated overtures to my mind. And they came into my mind. The feeling began at the base of my skull, somewhat pleasant, disturbing only in that I could not sleep. Like a skilled masseuse, the feeling massaged my brain, from my neck to the top of my head, from my neck to the top of my head, over and over, deeper and deeper. I could not sleep. I was not allowed to sleep. My eyes could not close. I was completely clear-headed. For an hour, two hours, I was massaged and lay awake. Only when the feeling left—slowly, quietly—did I sleep.

I was no longer euphoric. Just a state of extreme well-being and happiness. The mornings began instantly on awaking. It took little more than five seconds after lights on for me to come to complete awareness and clarity of thought. There was no morning fog from the night before. With awakening came clarity.

With the state of well-being and clarity came an unbelievably rapid passage of time. While time can be very subjective in isolation, the confinement of 10 days passed as a single day. I floated through the days, only gradually coming down as the tenth day approached. There was no distortion of senses, no drugged feeling—just a very distinct sense of well-being, and no time.

The one night of brain massage had modified my bio-cycle. For the rest of my stay, I never returned to a normal sleep/wake rhythm. For the duration, although there were no more brain massages, it took an hour or two to sleep, even though I'd wake up instantly and clear-headed at lights on. I had no sense of tiredness. Some parts of my mind were no longer mine to control.

The last days were spent in an apparently near-normal psychological state, though the frequencies remained. While our time was kept busy working on the primary experiment (modifying the environment to suit our taste), I did have a chance to speak with the other two of their experiences.

They both concurred that they had experienced the same general feelings, and each had felt the most vivid of the states-of-consciousness: the paranoia, terror, extreme clarity, and the brain massage.

As I walked into the sunlight after 20 days of isolation, I could feel no difference from any other normal day in my life—except the memories.

A BRIEF INTERVIEW WITH "LEE VICTOR"

REASON: In the article you speak of some indications which let you know of the existence of the high frequencies. Were there any other indications?

VICTOR: Yes, several. At one point in the experiment I wandered into an unoccupied room, The room was unfinished (as I indicated, they had recently remodeled the Facility) and there were some cables hanging from the wall. As I got in line with one of the coaxial cables, I could easily detect a stream of quite audible high frequencies, of the nature that I'd been experiencing, except more powerful and very directional. Apparently the brass buttons served to generalize the directiveness of the cable. I called in one of the other subjects to corroborate my perceptions and he concurred. We were quickly taken out of the room by one of the attendants.

In another instance, a female aide was having a light conversation with one of the other subjects. The subject was speaking of his brother, who had a metal plate implanted in his skull because of an epilepsy problem. She mentioned in reply that they'd had a subject in a previous experiment who had a metal plate in his skull, and that the experiment hadn't worked with him. Then she quickly caught herself and changed the topic of conversation. This is significant in that high frequencies are conducted through bone marrow, and don't require the ear itself for penetration. A metal plate would apparently disturb this conductive process.

REASON: Why would they be conducting such experiments in the first place?

VICTOR: There are beneficial reasons for wanting to retain behavioral control over a person. Long-duration voyages which involve some element of risk may benefit from a link of the voyager to a ground-based communication and control center. Astronauts and undersea mariners would be particularly suited to this method. For instance, if an astronaut en route to Mars were sleeping, and Earth control were to detect a malfunction in the space capsule, it should have the capability of awakening the astronaut and placing his mind at instant alertness.

REASON: That makes sense; but why would they need to experiment with such emotions as terror and hostility?

VICTOR: I don't know, I can only speculate.

REASON: What agencies would most likely be experimenting with this technique?

VICTOR: Since the ostensible need is to control the behavior of long-duration voyagers, I would guess that the Navy (submariners) and NASA (astronauts) are most interested. I do know that both agencies are experimenting with behavior control. As for the interests of other government agencies—again, I can only speculate.

REASON: Do you know of any other experiments in behavioral control being undertaken by either of these agencies?

VICTOR: Yes. Both NASA and the Navy have experimented for some time with behavioral control through the use of ionized air. It's been well publicized that a certain mixture of ionized air will produce a state of very positive behavior, while another mixture will produce exactly the opposite effects: negative, undesirable behavior.

REASON: Should the average person be concerned about this use of frequencies?

VICTOR: If there were any indication that everything was being done honestly and above-board, I would say there would be nothing to fear. But given the secretive nature of the experiments, the current state of our nation, and the corroborative experiences I've had, I have to say that it looms as a frighteningly powerful technique in the hands of an organization which has indicated many times its intent to control those individuals who assert their independence from it. Yes, until the capabilities of this technique are brought out into the open, and until every person knows how to be aware of its presence when it's being used, I would say it calls for concern.

REASON: How does one become aware of the presence of these frequencies?

VICTOR: Aside from knowing what to listen for, I would guess an oscilloscope and a very sensitive microphone are the best we can do for now. But I notice the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has simple hand-held microwave monitoring devices to detect the level of microwave radiation the Russians are pouring into the Embassy. It shouldn't be too difficult to detect these frequencies in the same manner.

REASON: Thank you.

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