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Sunday, 14 October 2007


'To thine own self be true'

Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'


What is that?

Read on!


With a longterm interest in human behaviour and the 'weird', I still find myself wondering what really sways a person or situation. Probably it's a combination of factors but do we really know? Do experts really know? They certainly don't agree. I recently watched a TV programme which was about scientific evidence. People on both sides of the argument put their case and were questioned. Nothing was clearcut by the end, and no-one said 'of course if I'm wrong about this aspect it could change some or all of the rest'.

What tends to happen with me is I find an author's perceptions very useful - up to a point - then they seem to go off on some idiosyncratic track that I can't agree with. Maybe I do the same! The trick is probably not to throw baby out with the bathwater, and to keep what is important.

A particular book or website can suddenly set us thinking about something, or feeling we've found an answer. Maybe that stays with us, maybe it changes the next time something useful comes along, maybe our views take a diametric turn.

The fact that we have an adversarial legal system throws up interesting questions about what is just, fair, appropriate. More importantly, it shows how some lawyers are able to sway a situation which looks hopeless for their client into an acquittal. But as the case proceeds, often the truth becomes so multi-faceted that 'reasonable doubt' enters the equation. How does that happen? How do a significant number of people get wrongfully accused and convicted? Surely our system should iron out these huge wrinkles.

Our jury system works on a principle of a group of people coming to some kind of consensus or majority about what they feel is the guilt or innocence of someone, based on the evidence available at the time. Why then is so much time and money spent in the United States on jury selection according to some kind of profiling, or information about potential jurors' lives? Why do marketing companies do likewise? It must pay off - for those on the winning side.

People say our modern businesses bear increasing similarities to religion, taking on more importance in our lives as we are expected to do more for 'the firm'. Businesses and organisations can have neuroses of their own, affecting how they interact with the world and within their grouping. Thus individuals who enter them can be affected, the more sensitive being the more affected.

The same apparently happens when people join a cult, or as they are often called these days 'new religious movement' or NRM. Views about a particular group or cult are likely to include what is in the 'eye of the beholder' but generally there's a concept of what the term means.

all beliefs simply be a matter of which memes get spread around the most or stay the longest?

Or is there something else at stake?

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See also Like any normal day posted below and SUMMARY posted near the end, and anything that grabs your attention on the way.

Like any normal day

It started off like any normal day’ is the gist of what someone was reported to say after going out with a rifle and shooting a courting couple in Wales (I believe). If anyone knows details of when, where and what was said, get in touch!

What was so different about that day? Do we all have moments that are totally ‘out of character’, changing our lives for ever with no explanation that fits the bill? Does a red mist descend, does a part of us kick in and take the reins, do we hear a voice or sense a compulsion? How do we rationalise it afterwards?

This is part of the basis of this Blog, and it’s showing on the front page so you see where it came from. And you can play a part in where it’s going if you want - just write a comment. If you don’t want it to appear for everyone to see you can make that clear.

This isn’t a lengthy academic exercise. Rather some ideas that are loosely strung together – maybe not even connected. My bookshelves overflow with books on serial killers and profiling and other stuff. The point here is that most of us tend to think of ourselves or others as ‘the sort of person who’ is likely or unlikely to do certain things. It’s a kind of shorthand or a comfort zone so we don’t have to countenance every possibility. We know what’s what, what we want, don’t want, or would never do …

There are books on Jung and ‘the shadow’, on the higher self and what can come out during hypnosis. I was looking for some rationale for what goes on in people’s lives, what goes wrong and why, and what can be done. This went round in a big cycle: from believing that, if something felt possible then it was likely, to rejecting great chunks, then back to the bookshelves for another re-think.

I looked at social systems, belief systems, religions, group behaviours including situations people refer to as Cults, at advertising, spin, hypnosis, hypnotherapy, stage magic, neuro-linguistic programming. I dipped into humanities courses, scouring booklists, visiting bookshops each time I went out, searched Amazon for anything that might answer my questions about ‘why people do what they do’. When I came across a book by John M. Doris ‘Lack of Character’ much of my thinking about profiling or likelihood of individual behaviour was thrown into disarray.

It seems we are creatures of circumstance more than we might think, having a wide repertoire of behaviours quite specific to the prevailing situation. Add or subtract a variable or rack up intensity and who knows what some of us might be capable of! I came to believe that extreme forms of behaviour – the ones we like to think we'd never do – are probably ‘do-able’ by a lot of us. It can be quite a small flip, turning on a pinhead, hanging on a thread, that makes for the next stage, almost as if inevitably. Catastrophe theory could be relevant here.

If something from another realm or reality layer is capable of affecting us, we may hypothesise and work something out. If I walk into a graveyard as my ‘normal self’ and come out full of doom & gloom, did something change me, a general sense of atmosphere, a specific haunting, what? When I write or speak, does it always come from just me? Am I inspired by art or nature or is some other realm or entity breaking through, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering?

Does it matter what hook we use as a belief system, so long as we behave ‘reasonably’ or within certain bounds? Or if we believe in something higher – or lower – than ourselves? Surely it could affect what we do, what we feel is appropriate or otherwise? What if people around us disagree totally with what we think and hold most dear? There would likely be a conflict of mind-sets on very sensitive issues. Maybe something will ‘blow’ and we act out.

Do actions simply continue on from natural events in our past, from family/work environment, or from wider society? Could we be affected by some ancestral influence, or rather something set in motion by people with intent - these days mostly called magick with a ‘k’, so that we too are saying ‘It started off like any normal day’? In other words, what if there is discontinuity, incongruity, dissociation, because we can’t trace a pattern or reason? Not knowing why, we may rationalise or confabulate, to reduce cognitive dissonance or save face.

Will we always parrot that ‘there is no evidence’ if we don’t wish to believe something? Or do we get too caught up in beliefs without regard to their validity? Human behaviour is so varied, how can we pin everything down neatly? What if something does not ‘fit’?

There’s a lot of interest these days in various aspects of shamanism, whether as practised in its natural environment or as brought over for what is loosely termed the West. People no longer shrug off as totally irrelevant all other realities that there could be. Here's a list of a few books, websites, blogs you might check out:

‘Blood Rites: the shocking expose of the ritual of human sacrifice – practiced today, and terrifying close to home’ by Jimmy Lee Shreeve
‘Multiple Man: explorations in possession and multiple personality’ by Adam Crabtree
‘Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board’ by J. Edward Cornelius
‘Not in His Image: Gnostic vision, sacred ecology and the future of belief’ by John Lamb Lash
‘The Unquiet Dead: a psychologist treats spirit possession’ by Dr Edith Fiore
‘Spirit Releasement Therapy: a technique manual’ by William J Baldwin
‘Programmed to Kill: the politics of serial murder’ by David McGowan
‘Serial Killers: death and life in America’s Wound Culture’ by Mark Seltzer
‘Lack of Character: personality, moral behaviour’ by John M Doris
‘Going Postal: rage, murder and rebellion in America’ by Mark Ames
‘The Sociopath Next Door: 1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty’ by Martha Stout
‘The Dark Gods: do they haunt us still?’ by Anthony Roberts & Geoff Gilbertson
‘The Dark Worship’ by Toyne Newton

'Cultwise' at http://cultwise.blogspot.com

http://rigint.blogspot.com - Plenty to read and ponder but we suggest 'The Deep Ones and the Madness of Crowds'

‘Scapegoating, Abuse & One-upmanship’ article at TANSAL

'Scapegoating, Dissing, Abuse' see http://www.tansal.org.uk/scapegoatingabuse.html

'Unseen Aspects of Behaviour' at
http://unseenaspects.blogspot.com - Including tides of thought or belief and counter-reaction. Articles on 'Urban legend and ritual abuse', 'Shamanism', and 'Symbols, Realities, the Unseen'

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Project Middle Ground was started in America by Dr Paul Simpson, a therapist who wrote 'Second Thoughts: Understanding the false memory crisis and how it could affect you'. Various academics at UK universities have written papers about bridging what might seem an impossible divide. Sadly people tend to fight a particular corner, but Dr Simpson showed that it is possible to try for a middle ground, with some considerable effect.


More information on Project Middle Ground - Reconciliation
is at http://middlegroundable.blogspot.com

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Fantasy role-playing by Drew

I was going to call this 'The Devil's Web' which is the title of a book written in 1990 by Pat Pulling and Kathy Cawthon about children who get involved in role-playing games or virtual realities. It is a long time since I read it, during which time some people have been critical of it, I believe along the lines of its exaggerating any risk involved.

Since then people are more aware of some of the issues around violent films that children watch, or sadistic games played on computers. There is general and governmental concern about increasing crime and violence among young people, and about spree killings occurring in colleges particularly in the United States.

What does seem to warrant attention, apart from anything else, is that fantasy enactments in violent role-playing games are along the lines that adults are trained in for combat - to desensitise them and reduce any qualms they may have about actually pulling the trigger on a gun with the aim, desire or compulsion to kill people.

I do not know the number of instances in the UK where there could be cause for concern, but recently read that the man responsible for the Hungerford murders had just prior to them been involved in a violent role-playing game and had seemed to be 'still in it'.

In the UK we used to be led to believe by researchers that there was no significant correlation between watching violence and engaging in it. Nowadays we like to listen to researchers or journalists saying that there are reasons why things occur in places like America and, by implication, reasons why they are hardly likely to occur in the UK.

There is a concept - dare I term it 'received wisdom'? - that people are only likely to be adversely affected by violent films or games if there is something a bit wrong with them already, with the oft repeated phrase about how many people are not affected and go on to 'live normal lives'.

Well, they may do, but those affected through no fault of their own, because they cannot overcome the conditioning or grooming process towards violence, or because they or a family member are a victim of such violence, do not go on to 'live normal lives'.

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Social engineering, scams; Scapegoating, projection

These definitions of 'social engineering' and 'pretexting' appear at http://memes.org

Social engineering is a collection of techniques used to manipulate people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. While similar to a confidence trick or simple fraud, the term typically applies to trickery for information gathering or computer system access and in most cases the attacker never comes face-to-face with the victim.

Social engineering techniques and terms
All social engineering techniques are based on specific attributes of human decision-making known as cognitive biases. These biases, sometimes called "bugs in the human hardware," are exploited in various combinations to create attack techniques.

Pretexting is the act of creating and using an invented scenario (the pretext) to persuade a target to release information or perform an action and is typically done over the telephone. It's more than a simple lie as it most often involves some prior research or set up and the use of pieces of known information (e.g. for impersonation: date of birth, Social Security Number, last bill amount) to establish legitimacy in the mind of the target.

Search 'social engineering' etc. at Google or on Wikipedia
Basically this is any form of impression management or 'information' which is designed with the aim of creating a desired behaviour or outcome from a 'mark' or 'patsy' - which could be you!

Confidence Tricks & Scams
Some other relevant concepts are Con tricks or scams

Trolls & Shills or Scholls & Trills? by Journoway

Psychological Manipulation from Wikipedia

'Doc Matrix'
website is at http://trubbles.angelfire.com
Youtube channel 'theCojent'

See also the books mentioned below

Social engineering etc. can be as simple as driving an expensive car, portraying an image, acting a role, or it can be elaborate with several co-conspirators setting up a convincing scene or skit. Social Psychology demonstrates how we tend to behave according to how we view or experience a particular setting, almost like acting out a part. It's easy to believe what is presented - how someone looks possibly using disguise, what they say which probably contains elements of truth, something to convince people known as a 'convincer', and they may also have found things out about you to make it easier.

Skit is a word sometimes used in the form of harassment known as Gangstalking or maybe Gaslighting where someone is targeted by a group to scare or demoralise them, but where anyone they confide in are likely to be disbelieving - that's part of the 'set-up' or design. See the link below:

Gangstalking or Gaslighting are an extreme form of psychological harassment see

Links on Gangstalking, Gaslighting, Harassment, Stalking
Check out the following written from a psychoanalytical approach:
'On the Need for New Criteria of Diagnosis of Psychosis in the Light of Mind Invasive Technology' by Carole Smith www.btinternet.com/~psycho_social/Vol3/JPSS-CS2.html

'Hacking the Mind - Intrusive Brain Reading Surveillance Technology'


More extreme still would be Psychotronics.

Check out some of the following Books
'The Blue Nowhere' by Jeffery Deaver
'Tourist Trap: when holiday turns to nightmare' by Patrick Blackden
'The Sting' by Nigel Blundell
'More Scams from the Great Beyond' by Peter Huston
'The Con Artist Handbook: the secrets of hustles and scams' by Joel Levy
'The Art of Deception' by Kevin D. Mitnick & William L. Simon
'Vital Lies, Simple Truths: the psychology of self-deception' by Daniel Goleman
'We Know What You Want: how they change your mind' by Martin Howard

BOOKS dealing more generally with themes on this Blog can be found HERE.

. . . . .

From ITV Channel 4 Website – Faith and Belief: Debates & Controversies


Derren Brown: Messiah
First shown on Channel 4 in January 2005

Derren Brown, mind-manipulator extraordinaire (who sparked the most ever complaints to Ofcom for his recreation of a séance on Channel 4 last year), has taken his latest debunking mission to America. In a country where his mind control skills are unknown, he sets out once again to show us, not that our beliefs are wrong, but just how easy it is to dupe people into believing 10 impossible things before breakfast.

Seal of approval
The five experiments he sets up vary from standard tests for psychic ability to physical methods of religious conversion. They cover all areas of belief, organised religion and purchasable salvation. In each case his stated aim is to get a reputable authority to endorse the results of the experiments in order to demonstrate the validity of people's experiences in the confusing world of belief. By securing this validation, he aims show how little such endorsements mean, even if they are genuinely motivated. After all, we know that he’s not a Messiah – he’s just very good as pretending to be one.

But there is another agenda in the programme: to encourage people to investigate what they believe more rigorously. Derren himself used to be an evangelical Christian until his mid-20s. Then he started to realise that his faith was just as vulnerable to suggestion as any of the New Age theories that annoyed him so much. His faith was rocked and he abandoned it. That could certainly be one response to this programme since, while we know that his amazing acts are done by suggestion, they are immediately endorsed by almost all the 'authority' figures he approaches.

Good questions
Derren Brown causes a lot of anger (and complaint!) through his experiments because he causes a lot of fear. Fear that your whole life has been based on a lie, that you have been manipulated, that there is no comfortable higher authority making sense of your world – or that there is. This is powerful stuff. But what, after all, is wrong with his questioning of people's beliefs? If you haven’t investigated what you believe independently and looked at the arguments standing against you, your beliefs have little validity. Investigation doesn’t have to mean the end of your world view, it can be a very constructive process, providing confirmation of what you already thought, or showing you new avenues for development.

Derren Brown is right. Many people are being duped, innocently maybe, and this programme exposes how easy it is to do that. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all the belief systems he investigates are fraudulent – just that a fraudster could use them. It is up to us to ensure that we approach our beliefs with an open mind; that we allow them to be challenged and perhaps through that learn more about what real truth is.

. . . . .

For an account of another of Derren Brown's shows, involving cues that people picked up on, go to Riding the Tides on Be Doubty site www.measures.we.bs/doubty/christmaseve.html#ridingthetides

. . . . .

Comment by Norman

Derren Brown: Messiah has just been shown again on Channel 4 19th September 2008

He travelled to the United States in the guise of 5 different individuals with the aim of persuading people who are apparently knowledgeable in a particular field to endorse his own expertise, while admitting to the TV viewers that he did not have those specific abilities.

He began by saying it was not beliefs which were of interest, but people’s relationship to the beliefs. He wanted to demonstrate that it is quite easy for people to become convinced, by someone skilled, into a particular or different belief. In one exercise he demonstrated to a room of people who came ‘for a discussion about spirituality’, though with no religious belief, that they would change to admitting some. He said this would happen simply through his touching people. This seemed to happen with the first person, a girl who claimed not to have been drawn into any religious beliefs of her family. He talked to her gently, then slowly moved his hand to the right side of her head, holding it there and moving it a little, and the girl became deeply affected saying she now understood things her grandmother had said.

At some point after this, about half the people in the room were feeling uncomfortable and left. Showman style, Derren took time to connect and re-group with remaining members, with an appropriate display of diffidence underpinned by confidence that he could probably ‘wing it’ somehow. A young man came forward and Derren quietly reassured him while moving his hands around a lot, and the man fell backwards claiming he now had religious belief. Derren then worked on the whole audience in meditation or group relaxation, achieving much of the desired effect. So it seemed to be a step-by-step approach, gaining ground as and when he could.

The resident Minister for the locality said that he felt Derren had a personal energy that was connecting with people, and admitted that he himself forms a relationship before discussing religious matters with people because that’s how things work. Derren made some points about religious ceremonies, such as they might be either high energy, or monotonous and mesmerising.

His next assignment, in a different location, involved a silver box which he said contained crystals and recorded people’s dreams. This smacks even more of being of the nature of ‘convincer’, something to help people to think something will work. In all, quite a lot of social engineering! With the folks who seemed to get converted, the TV programme makers claimed that everyone had been through a process of reversion back to their original belief system.

While applauding Derren Brown for tackling some of these issues in his own style, I get uneasy about messing with important areas of people’s lives. Those people became very emotional, and it’s not so easy to take that element out, although some practitioners claim to be able to. That is sometimes carried out as part of management training. I have doubts about the ethics of that too!

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Click HERE or carry out your own searches for some issues relating to:

territorial behaviour
status quo
manic defence
denial or disbelief
. . . . .

Personality research & links

Some Links are listed below. You might also search at www.google.com or any of the main search engines for:

Logical fallacies
Cognitive dissonance
Crowd behaviour
Group behaviour
Mental influence
Hive Mind
Control freaks
Mind control
Cult dynamics
Social Psychology
Critical Psychiatry
Psychological Reversal
Psychological Profiling
Psychometric Testing
Catastrophe Theory
Systems Theory
Dissociation or DID
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Follow where it leads you; see whether you change your mind on anything, or confirm your beliefs.

It is said that, in order to change one’s behaviour, one’s beliefs must change first.
Do they? HOW? Does one ALWAYS know about it?
. . . . .

Some of these lead to online personality testing - Don't believe it all!

St Mary's University, Blume Library: Personality Tests & Resources

Online personality testing

Click on Personality Types for a list of tests, books, articles



Site of Shaun Gallagher

Go to the Links Page

An Introduction to Social Influence

Dick Sutphen's 'The Battle for Your Mind'

Website of Stephen Downes on logical fallacies

Chapter of a book on cognitive dissonance, self-image, behavioural consistency etc.

Reversal theory

Downloadable chapters on Eniology
Main site

Memetics, memes

'Secrets of Stage Mindreading' by Ormond McGill
Crownhouse Publishing ISBN 1904424015
If you thought ALL stage mindreading or influence were trickery

List of books on stage hypnotism & magic

AFF site with information & resources on cult influence

Cult Awareness & Information Centre, Australia.
Psychological issues of involvement in cults/general persuasive techniques; exit counselling.

Apologetics Index searchable resources on cults

Cults & sects bibliography

Article on 'Cults, groups, indoctrination, exiting' on next page, click on Older Posts

Why do you do what you do?

Can YOU be manipulated?
Do you think you should be?
Do you always know if you are?
Can you manipulate others?
What do YOU think?

Why do you think you behave as you do? Is it always the same?

Perhaps it is because one of your parents behaved like that, or it was someone you admired, or even disliked!

Have you ever acted ‘out of character’? Or only when you’ve been to the pub?

Have you got home and wondered why you bought something, lost your temper and don’t know why, done something unusual or ridiculous – for you?

We all behave differently in different circumstances. The person who is hyper-serious at work may be a comic in private. They could be mean and miserable, yet a super-parent or spouse, or mean at home and jovial elsewhere.

Would you ever go to see a stage show of hypnosis? Would you go up on stage?

Would you go to a hypnotherapist if you had a problem, or a habit you wanted to break?

Do you feel you know more about yourself than anyone else does? Maybe your best mate knows you better than you know yourself.

Are there people you would trust with your life? Or let them persuade you to take a risk?

Could a stranger reach those hidden depths, by inspired guesswork or manipulation?

Do people get caught up in the heat of the moment, or in a group or crowd?

Would you join a cult or movement? What is one anyway?

In-Character/ Out-of-Character

Do you think politicians can put spin on things and make a difference?
Can you see the spin coming and deflect it?
Have you honestly never been influenced?

Do you think you can be manipulated?
Do you think you can manipulate others?
How do you think it works!

Can one ‘manipulate oneself’ to change behaviour etc?
How might that work?
Have you done it?

Make up a questionnaire for yourself or other people – you may be surprised at some of the answers

Are you an independent thinker?

Do you believe in character profiling?

Do you believe in astrological types?

Can you pigeonhole a person’s behaviour for all circumstances?
Does stress make a difference?

What effect might stereotyping or labelling have on you? Or on someone else?
Is it fair?

Can you copy someone’s behaviour?
Can you influence someone?
Do others colour your moods?

Do you believe in ghosts?
Do you believe in ESP?
Do you believe in past lives?

Are people responsible for all their actions?
Is there such a thing as ‘normal?

Any other questions?

Physiology/psychology and the brain

From the end of July 2008 and through much of August ITV Channel 5 television in the UK showed a series of programmes, each showing about 4 people who had suffered some change in brain functioning through things such as accident, stroke, illness, being struck by lightning. I only saw the last few but pasted below is text from the Channel 5 website for the first episode.

The last episode was about OCD - Obsessional Compulsive Disorder. A moving section was about two men, one in the US and one in England, who each suffered a stroke after which they became compulsive painters of pictures. Each felt very alone but it was arranged for them to meet, it meant so much to them and it seemed like they were brothers and no longer alone. Another man became a compulsive piano player in middle life after (I think) being struck by lightning. None of these people had any inclination to these things beforehand.

Doctors working in the field described human behaviour as a mixture of activity and inhibition. If something happens to prevent the usual inhibitory processes, there is then a perpetual need to perform some activity or behave in a certain way with nothing to intervene. It may be possible to use some form of cognitive exercise to recognise better when a situation is likely arising. Some people manage to adapt to their 'new self' to some extent but it does seem clear there has been a fundamental change from the 'old self'. Some of those affected manage to work around it for themselves, or with expert help or support from friends and family.

I'll just mention Alzheimers Disease here. One of my uncles appears to have developed this at around age 45 and it can happen at any age. For the last few months at work he went in and fiddled with his pen. He was pretty clever and could still write a brilliant letter - but only when 'in the mood' for it. The rest of the time he just sat around, sometimes in mental hospitals and sometimes at home.

Hopefully one day there will be medication that is more helpful, and I believe breakthroughs are being made for this and other illnesses previously thought hopeless. For most families this is devastating and some people get by better than others. It is as if the soul has gone, leaving the body. With some illnesses it can seem as though the body or mind has been taken over, destroying relationships as well.

Some of the books on the Books section deal with this subject. Sometimes people's lives and personalities change dramatically with devastating effects for them and those around them. Dorothy Otnow Lewis in 'Guilty by Reason of Insanity' details her work with a colleague that physical examination of people who carry out murder or violent crime often shows they have suffered significant relevant brain trauma. (Note: See 'Battle for the Mind' article later in the Blog on some work by William Sargant about how certain conditions, including whether someone has had food or drink, can have a significant effect on their mental condition, actions or memory.)

Work by Dorothy Otnow Lewis and her colleague also looks at the phenomenon of different personalities operating within the same individual and, in some States in the US, filmed episodes of personality 'switching' goes towards mitigating some of the sentence. The theory behind this is that the individual cannot be held responsible for certain periods in their lives when another personality part was uppermost to the exclusion of the 'real person' in court.

I think this has implications for all of us and takes me back to a point I made earlier about profiling. Obviously profiling can be very relevant and useful, the idea that certain types of personality or some experiences affect us so that perhaps much later on we carry out an extreme act. When we watch CSI or 'Criminal Minds' we see the loose ends being tied up in a meaningful way, like a children's story. But what if we can't see that and there is no apparent sense? Does that make it senseless? There's a lack of continuity or an incongruity - in our minds - but maybe there is not in the mind of the person affected and it makes good sense to them. Can we necessarily hold them 'responsible'? Would we be, if we could only see all the reasons for something we cannot explain?

We may think things like this only happen if someone is on certain medication or has taken hallucinatory or other drugs or just alcohol. People working with those who have suffered extreme psychological trauma in their developing years report this also has physical effects on parts of the brain with far-reaching consequences which these days can show on an MRI scan.

So we can't rule out brain trauma whether we know what actually happened or not. Nor can we rule out psychological trauma or PTSD. Nor can we rule out behaviour which we may see no valid reason for - because it may be that we literally just cannot see it.

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'Fiddles, Cheats & Scams'
ITV series of 3 programmes August/September 2008

Article from 'The Guardian' Monday January 19 2004:

Insurer introduces psychological tests to prevent fraud

Insurance giant AIG has become the latest group to introduce psychological testing in a bid to cut down on fraudulent claims, it emerged today.

The US group, which operates in 130 countries, is piloting the system on motor and travel insurance claims that it believes may be fraudulent.

It has employed Absolute Customer Management, which uses an interview technique developed by criminal psychologists in the US and used in Holland by psychologists working with children, to look into any suspicious claims.

Staff at Absolute ask claimants to talk them through the claim, analysing the language they use, the level of detail they give and the emotions they display.

The group's centre in East Grinstead, West Sussex, looks into claims for 15 insurers and banks, including Fortis and esure. It handles around 400 claims a month with a collective value of £1.5m, and estimates that 30% of the claims it looks into are potentially fraudulent.

An AIG spokeswoman said: "We are convinced that the vast majority of our policyholders are honest. We are evaluating this new method on less than 1% of the claims we receive."

Car insurer Admiral recently said the use of lie detectors had led to a quarter of policyholders withdrawing claims over vehicle theft.

Britain's biggest mortgage lender, HBOS, uses voice stress analysis technology to try to detect if people are lying when lodging claims under household insurance, while Highway Insurance a syndicate of Lloyds of London, has been using it to detect fraud on motor insurance claims for more than a year.

The Association of British Insurers estimates that fraud on motor and household insurance costs the industry more than £1bn a year.
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And taking things even further!


'The brain can't lie'

Brain scans can reveal how you think and feel, and even how you might behave. No wonder the CIA and big business are interested.

By Ian Sample and David Adam
The Guardian
Thursday November 20 2003

Earlier this year, a group of American students volunteered their brains for a cutting edge neuroscience project at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The research used a technique that could watch their brains at work as they made decisions. At first glance, this seems nothing extraordinary: brain-imaging tools have been used routinely for years to assess damage caused by stroke, to hunt for brain tumours, and even identify the grey matter associated with language, love and memories. But this study was different. As each volunteer took their turn to slide into the coffin-like cylinder of the scanner, sticky fluids were squirted into their mouths. As unlikely as it sounds, the students were using multimillion pound medical equipment to take the Pepsi challenge.

Read Montague, the neuroscientist behind the Baylor experiment, is not alone in pushing the boundaries of neuroscience beyond the clinical. In recent years, a growing number of researchers have used brain-imaging equipment to try to reveal our innermost thoughts and feelings in less conventional "social neuroscience" experiments. As well as brand loyalty and consumer choice, neuroscientists are probing violent tendencies, moral reasoning, feelings of love and trust, and notions of justice. Just this week, researchers claimed to have used a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain activity associated with racial prejudice.

While standard MRI machines like those still found in many hospitals take a snapshot of the brain, functional MRI is newer and more powerful because it takes lots of these snapshots one after the other, revealing how thoughts unfold over time. But the trend for using fMRI to probe social and behavioural issues is prompting some scientists to ask big questions about where this may all lead. Could it only be a matter of time before neuroscientists have techniques that can reveal secrets we would rather keep tucked under our skulls? According to some leading scientists, this isn't a paranoid over-reaction. "The CIA has been interested in fMRI for years as a means of doing lie-detection tests," says Bob Turner, an fMRI expert at University College London. After all, he says: "The brain can't lie."

As scientists unravel the links between how the brain looks and how it functions, some believe we will also be able to use images of the brain to see how people will behave. "There's no scientific distinction between prediction and understanding how the brain works," says Stephen Smith, associate director of the Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain at Oxford University.

The suggestion that brain scans could reveal not just our future health, but the intricacies of our personalities and how we might behave in a given situation, is unsettling enough to some scientists that they want legislation to stop brain-scan records falling into the wrong hands. "We're starting to get detailed information from these brain-scan experiments and soon people are going to be able to use it to predict an individual's behaviour," says Paul Glimcher at the Centre for Neuroscience at New York University. "That information has got to be proprietary to the individual."

The explosion in social neuroscience has been driven by the tumbling cost of scanning equipment. Brain scans used to be the preserve of medical and clinical experiments, because they relied on complex, expensive technology such as positron emission tomography (PET), which was only available in a handful of places. PET scanners, which rely on radioactive tracer materials, cost about £3m to buy and a single scan can cost as much as £2,000. In contrast, a new fMRI machine costs about £1.5m, and each scan works out at about £400.

The fMRI machines are essentially giant, powerful magnets that are used to detect the tiny magnetic fields carried by the hydrogen atoms in water (or blood). They allow a very detailed 3D map of blood flow to be built up, and in the head, blood flow means busy neurons. Studying which regions of the brain need the most blood tells scientists where the most thinking is going on. (The original MRI technique is identical to that used by chemists called nuclear magnetic resonance but the name was changed as it was thought nobody would want to be scanned by a machine with "nuclear" in its title).

As the scanners shifted from being an expensive piece of kit for specialist neuroscientists to a practical tool for anyone with the will to work it, the scientific questions the technique was used to investigate snowballed.

Three years ago, scientists at University College London used fMRI to investigate the essence of love. They recruited people who confessed to being hopelessly in love with their partners and showed them a series of photographs of people they knew, one of which was their partner. Although brain activity was different in each individual, the researchers found that in every case, four specific regions of the brain lit up each time they saw the one they loved. The researchers announced that they had discovered the brain's common denominator of romantic love.

A year later, Joshua Greene and colleagues at Princeton University in New Jersey studied how people solved moral dilemmas. In one test, volunteers were scanned while they were asked whether they would push a person in front of a speeding train if it meant saving the lives of five others. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the question caused a flurry of activity in parts of the brain linked with emotion, leading the researchers to conclude that such moral quandaries may not be solved purely by logical reasoning, but also by emotional reactions.

The technique has also been used to delve into the murky question of how we judge people. Last year, Ray Dolan's team at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London used fMRI to see how people judged the trustworthiness of strangers. Volunteers were shown a series of faces and asked to judge whether the person was trustworthy. The researchers found that a region of the brain called the amygdala and two other parts of the brain flickered more intensely when people were shown the faces of people they thought would not be trustworthy.

But according to some scientists, such studies are the tip of the iceberg. The better fMRI systems become, and the more adept scientists get at extracting information from them, the more they will be able to piece together the neural circuits that make us who we are.

One emerging field is that of "neuro-economics". At the Center for Neuro-economics at Claremont Graduate University in California, Paul Zak is using fMRI to study how people assign value to certain products and make choices about what they buy. "If I ask you why you made a certain decision, you might not really be sure," he says. "But what if I can look directly into your brain and see how you reached that decision? That's what we want to be able to do."

Slowly, he says, researchers are homing in on the neural circuits that are activated when we make decisions - our likes and dislikes or, for example, how much different people value cigarettes over other items. Know that, and you can start feeding the data into policies such as how you tax products, says Zak. "If you know how much people value something, you can work out at what point a price hike will stop people buying it," he says.

Zak says fMRI stands to make a big impact in what has been dubbed "neuro-marketing". As an example of how fMRI might be used, Zak proposes a company that wants to increase its sales of milk. One way it might is to gather a group of people who like milk and scan them as they drink a glass. Some of the regions of the brain that buzz with activity might be triggered by any drink, but others may be triggered only by milk. Find other stimuli that trigger these regions of the brain and it could help you work out what it is that makes milk enjoyable, says Zak. Suppose objects from your childhood made those regions of your brain flicker. It might be that milk was evoking a sense of nostalgia, reminding you of when you got milk at school.

"If it turned out that milk was pleasurable to drink because it evokes memories of your childhood, you could market it as 'good when you were a kid, great when you're an adult'," he says. It's just an idea, and we're not there yet, but Zak says this is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. "A couple of years ago there was a lot of hostility to this kind of research, but now people are realising there's potential in it. Of course there will be a lot of crappy studies, but done properly, it allows us to get answers to questions we could never get before."

At Glimcher's lab in New York, progress is being made into understanding how the brain allow us to make certain decisions. Using fMRI scans and another technique that measures the activity of single neurons, Glimcher has recreated in a computer the neural programs that monkeys use to make decisions in a simple financial game. "Their behaviour is quite erratic and very similar to that of humans, but the program predicts what they will do to about 95% accuracy. It's spooky," he says. Ultimately, says Glimcher, neuroscientists should be able to use techniques like this to work out what a person will do in a specific situation, such as what he or she might buy when they walk into a shop.

At least one company, the BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences, in Atlanta, has been set up to exploit brain scans to inform marketing strategies. Instead of using focus groups, it is trying to use scans to tell companies what people think of their products and commercials.

Not everyone is convinced of the approach though. Donald Kennedy, the Stanford University-based editor of the journal Science and one of America's most eminent scientists, says: "You could just ask people what they think."

While Glimcher concedes that using brain scans to predict behaviour is a long way off, the progress is such that we should think about the implications, he says. "It raises serious philosophical questions, because it reduces us to a machine, but there's also a huge moral issue." Who should be allowed access to our brain scans, if they can reveal so much about us, he asks. "Within 10 years, we will need legislation that protects brain-scan information in the same way genetic information is protected," he says.

If using brain scans to predict specific behaviour is not on the cards, using them to judge if we will suffer from mental disease later in life is. Studies have shown that fMRI scans can be used to reveal early signs of multiple sclerosis and even go some way to predicting who might be most susceptible to dementias such as Alzheimer's. "For severe mental illness and dementias it is a serious proposition," says Sean Spence, a psychiatry researcher at Sheffield University. "There are changes in their brain before they begin to lose their memory. It's quite conceivable people could use that."

Stanford's Kennedy says it is the potential to use scans to predict people's health that is a concern. "I'm worried about fMRI scans being preserved after they have been taken," he says. "There's a push to prevent genetic information being used by companies for adverse selection, and at least equal protection should be given to brain scan data."

Glimcher says legislation banning access to people's brain scans should be drawn up to keep the data private before it's too late. "It's only a matter of time before the insurance companies come calling," he says. "It is going to happen and it's a big issue. It has to be dealt with soon."

See the full article at:

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From Channel Five website seach for 'My Strange Brain'

My Strange Brain - Tackling difficult neurological conditions

This new documentary series explores unusual neurological conditions. The first instalment profiles four people with different disorders that affect their memories and sleeping patterns. One woman was struck down by a virus that has erased all her recollections of the last 20 years, while another woman is unable to record new memories. The film also meets a man who loses his muscle tone every time he experiences heightened emotions.
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. . . . .Link added here for easy reference 12 Sept 2008:www.spring.org.uk Jeremy Dean's Psyblog site about 'understanding how our minds work and why we think and act the way we do'.
Information & links to articles appearing in psychology journals:
social psychology, memory, non-verbal behaviour, emotions, neuroscience, persuasion, relationships. Other Psychology Blogs are listed on the site starting HERE.
Psyblog updates can be emailed to you.
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Appearing below with permission are excerpts from people who contacted us

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Shipwreck theory of personality
If a ship gets into difficulty it could jettison some stock or heavy equipment and put people into lifeboats where their future takes a different mode and direction. These things and more have the aim of survival of important players and aspects.

Do we do this with our personalities too? It would make sense. I think all theories are worth consideration, but cannot see why people:

a) get so wound up about them
b) try to make money out of them
c) seek fame through them

We're all in the same boat of life, whatever journey we have, and whether we think the same, use the same strategies as anyone/everyone when the boat sinks or personal narrative dashes to the rocks. Some theories can even be useful with a diametric approach.

If your ship (you) hits something and things get thrown overboard, come the dawn and calmer sea you could have lost or forgotten them. That's where the salvage operation of spirit or soul rescue could come in.

Conglomerate or variant personality
Some of this mixture of 'people' or parts that comprise each one of us, may remain dormant as we remain largely unaware of some of their potentialities. Different circumstances may bring some to the fore, such as danger where we go into survival mode, or having to protect someone young or vulnerable. I don't think we can sit in judgment on ourselves or others, although we often do!

What I am suggesting is that, with some people more than others, the mix or the variation is greater and more significant. I am going to use a term more often used with groups, that of a group-mind or an egregore. But in this context I apply it to people, a person, a personal group-mind or egregore, with much more to it than we see on the surface, the tip of a personal iceberg. Extend the concept of one iceberg to the surrounding icebergs, or to a continent of ice, land or sea, and one can see how we could be affecting each other at some deep level via something more universal than ourselves or those close or similar in some way.

It is particularly with some of the people that Ann Rule and others describe who present such complex and divergent behaviours, that I seem to see this egregore quality, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and has such enormous effect on the environment.

Myths to live by
Ask someone their favourite book or film and you tend to get an answer with a theme behind it, some hero or heroine who fought the odds or the world to come up trumps, or remain detached from horrendous things and get along just fine.

I spent some time reading what psychological profilers said about people like serial killers and I don't recall the details. But there was a recurrent theme about incidents in their past leading up to where the killers continue till they are caught - as if nothing else will do as a suitable end-piece. Are they 'responsible' for how the killing or activity began, can they change without getting caught, can they change after getting caught?

I feel we should not generalise too much, because each person or 'soul' is different. I do believe some killers and violent criminals gain significant insight either by their own efforts or with appropriate help. It's as if they can see into their own and other people's souls.

I've never been happy with a theory that, because some people suffer bad experiences in their formative years and do not proceed to commit atrocities, everyone with bad experiences should be able to avoid committing atrocities. Actually I don't feel that option is open to all: it is more like something greater having such a huge impact they can't control it.

We need our myths, fairy tales, heroes or whatever it is, so that we can latch our strange human brains onto them. We need a choice of role models to guide us through literally or mentally in our mind, some concept or construct which does the job for us, makes us more than we are as an individual acting alone.

Taking the tour
Suppose that we are all a bit of a mixture, various strands each representing some continuum of personality or behaviour or whatever. We weave our way through with some consistency or maybe not much at all. As other people don't see all of it all of the time, they either don't notice something that jars or they are much puzzled by it. We may be too, because we don't have the full story either. What tends to happen is we rationalise to ourselves if we do something unusual, finding plausible explanations so there's not so much dissonance or discrepancy with what we like to think or have always thought.

So this 'tour of personality' reminds me of a man-of-war fish that looks like an anomaly that gathered various flotsam and jetsam along the way. Maybe some parts are actually bigger than us, or cumulatively they change us beyond recognition.

Some of the people I mentioned in the books by Ann Rule, who are capable of varied and extreme behaviour, seem able to deny to themselves some things they have done. They then convince a lot of other people that 'what they see is what they get', and the other parts of themselves simply cannot be there - so therefore they did not do this particular thing. It works remarkably well.

There's a phrase about people re-inventing themselves, giving themselves a psychological makeover, which has relevance here. We accept it up to a point in others, use it up to a point ourselves to make headway, dropping off modes of behaviour which don't work so well or get us into trouble, finding something that works better. All of that seems fine so long as we don't shove something deep down that seeks expression and may find subversive ways to do that.

Tour of personality
I began reading books by Ann Rule who was initially a court reporter in the United States sometimes working on murder cases. She became intrigued and researched deeply into the lives and characters of some people involved and came up with amazing information and insights. What seemed to emerge was a phenomenon I am calling 'tour of personality'.

Some of the people involved in scenarios she describes are complex and the situations are naturally so. But some people seem to ride the waves no matter what happens and however bleak their future looks for being accused and convicted. Some play the legal system and key players against each other to get off the hook or get decisions overturned.

Some people are extremely complex and versatile, turning their hand or charm to a variety of situations and adapting along the way. Some are pillars of the community, much respected for their charity or humane work. One wonders how anyone could fit in a complex and turbulent private life, along with managing a family and home life, a business and public life. Then they face court or public scrutiny - and they keep on going. When the chips are down or there's no hope on the horizon, another rabbit comes blinking out of the hat and round it goes again with both supporters and detractors and the final 'truth' often hingeing on an apparently minor detail. So many variables come into play that some get away with it. Whether they can avoid sailing close to the wind for ever more is another theme.

Some job interviews
One of the first things that comes to my mind is going for a job interview, on reasonably best behaviour, showing willing to do the job and fit in. Get the job and it's too late! They realise you can't do the impossible or be totally sat upon; you realise they are nothing like they seemed.

One interviewer was affable and I was over the moon because I was redundant for the umpteenth time, not getting any younger. 'I bet you didn't think you'd walk straight into the job today' he said warmly. I don't think he ever spoke to me again even passing on the stairs. Another man seemed just the ticket and I was disappointed when the firm turned me down. A friend went there as a temp and said he was awful, he shouted and threw phones at people. I then went down the road to an innovative company working for a manager who did phone bit too. Within a week I applied for a transfer.

Several times I accepted a post, only to have nightmares the night before the start date and I'd phone them or the agency early on the day to say sorry but I wouldn't make it. Some people who hire and fire people or working in agencies know instinctively who will fit with whom or in what role. I know people with the gift of intuition, but it was not bestowed on me at birth so I learned the hard way, the long way round. Some of it may be to do with people's 'chosen camouflage' to coin a phrase from Transactional Analysis, that people may present themselves as opposite to how they really are.

Excerpted from 'A tour of personality' at http://xtrinsic.myblogsite.com

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The following comes from 'Speak of the Devil's blog at http://speakofthedevil.myblogsite.com

Trends & tendencies

Continuing on the theme of thoughtforms, what-have-you or who-are-you's: I read something on Henry Makow's site - someone who'd been in a particular form of religious practice said they knew they were worshipping or energising an egregore rather than something 'higher'. Egregore is a kind of energy entity, the theory being that energy or strength can pass both ways. That could be a reason why sacrifice is sometimes part of the ritual or process.

A huge book by Michael Bertiaux on Gnostic Voodoo suggests people can assimilate what other groups have built up. Someone else wrote about utilising other people's work rather than start from scratch with your own energy creation.

Books on the scene
'The Black Alchemist' Andrew Collins
'Out of the Shadows' J J Coughlin
'Spiritual Warfare: the Politics of the Christian Right' Sara Diamond
'Magic, Witchcraft & the Otherworld' Susan Greenwood
'The Occult Tradition' David S Katz
'Persuasions of the Witch's Craft' T M Luhrmann
'Witchcraft & Sorcery' ed Max Marwick
'The Dark Worship' Toyne Newton
'At the Heart of Darkness' John Parker
'The Dark Gods' A Roberts & G Gilbertson
'Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors & Gossip' P J Stewart & A Strathern
'The Philosophy of Magic' Versluis

Hissing & splitting
More reading on witchcraft, paganism, satanism, countries, cultures, allegations, counter-allegations. People will never agree! Some people are vociferous in demonstrating something doesn't happen. How can you demonstrate something does not, nay cannot happen? From around 1988 some writers have beavered away on 'it' from various standpoints. If more people checked more themes, more could come out than mere 'hissing and splitting'.

There are books on dark magick, creating entities, servitors, thoughtforms. Whether you accept those beliefs & practices, some people go to great lengths over them, no matter what they claim to believe, practise or deny.

So it's not good to be splitting hairs. A 'reflection' or 'splitting' process refers to the stances people take in describing a situation as if there is a vital or virulent need to fixate on one side. Needs must as the devil drives?

Something wicked this way comes
In the late 80's/early 90's came the 'satanism scare'. I was not directly involved in social work at that time but people with training/ experience were needed to talk to children who were affected. Living in the middle of nowhere I knew little about this. What were people talking about? Why was it not heard of before? Or was it? Should I get involved?

People tend to get, or be put onto one side of any argument or the other. One either 'believes' or is a 'sceptic'. The label doesn't matter so long as one can be categorised, dismissed, denigrated. Sometimes a viable explanation can make two end-points not mutually exclusive. I've met aggro that my view is left-wing or right - concepts meaningless to me.

Is there some thesis or unwritten law that something must be valid or not valid - for everyone rather than for an individual or a situation?

Changes afoot
There did seem an atmosphere of accepting other lifestyles and outlooks. In some parts of the world people ask 'Who is your God?' and the answer is no big deal. It'll either be the same or different. But books came along to change my sunny-side mental twist and I dug deeper.

Did magic work 'in olden times'? Did people 'not know any better'? Did they know better, abstaining from sticking spanners of disbelief in the works'?

Kick-off 1988
It started around 1988. When referring to any particular person, people or group, book or belief system, it is not meant to be detrimental or definitive.

There was renewed interest in the occult at the time and books were becoming available. The big Festivals of Mind-Body-Spirit were around mainly in London. It all seemed a step in the right direction, people free to look at what suited them and let others do the same. It didn't seem to work out like that - and this was 10 years before the Internet when we became used to people sounding off about everything to no-one & everyone.

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Post received Anonymously

Some people form opinions or make careers in a way that suits them longterm - which isn't so easy in a changing world or when one changes in oneself. Getting fired from a job for 'not fitting in', I drifted into a museum I'd always walked past before, and happened across something that took me in a totally different direction. I couldn't have done it so well had I been trying to.

People tend to recognise a fellow traveller, a faller from the communal boat. The personnel manager for a large local company found my CV funny. 'When you see one like this' he said 'it means someone is searching for something that they're not going to find in a job'.

A summary of what followed is that strange things happen in mundane and unexpected places. I found that one's face can actually 'fit' sometimes with no rhyme or reason, even when inexperienced or making some huge mistake.

Luck? Swings and roundabouts? Or poetic justice, like when the aforementioned boss got fired himself soon after. But what did I ever do wrong!

The personnel bloke said I should look into astrology and graphology. Am not sure if he would get it in the neck these days for not being politically correct.
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