Chapter 7

Subliminals



Subliminals



It is not possible to resist that which cannot be detected”


In this chapter we examine subliminal technologies both conventional and novel, covering the major senses and also the possibility of direct induction of subliminal imagery or commands using direct electromagnetic stimulation of the brain.
Subliminal literally means below the threshold of conscious perception. That is, a subliminal stimulus is inadequate to produce conscious awareness but is still able to evoke some kind of a response. However, subliminals do not work as popularly assumed in the story, originating in the 1950s, about a cinema flashing “Coke” on the screen during a movie and then having the patrons rush to buy it during the interval. That is an urban myth, but one which has been quite influential in having such crude advertising attempts banned by law in many nations. It has been shown that such subliminal advertising does not work. People are not somehow forced to go and order a drink they do not like , want or need. However, it is effective if the viewer is thirsty and is in two minds which particular drink to opt for. Despite this some movies and TV advertising do use very similar techniques. For example, there is a subliminal frame in the original film version of “The Exorcist” where a picture of an African death mask is flashed on screen during one scene. It's not quite subliminal since if you know when to look you can see it clearly, and even if you are not expecting it the movie looks like it jumps at that point. Whether it is effective or not is a matter of dispute, but just knowing that it was being used in such a notorious movie at the time no doubt enhanced its credibility even more. It is still one of the best (scary) movies to deal with the supernatural and demonic possession. Another much more common example is pseudo-subliminal cuts occurring in trailers for movies and TV programs, especially those that are action-adventure oriented. Action scenes are cut from one to another so fast that only an impression of breathless excitement remains for most people. There has been a definite trend over the past few years of making the cuts shorter and shorter, moving it into the kind of time frame that would bring it into the category of subliminal advertising. How far this trend will go remains to be seen.
The most common and effective subliminal advertising technique used in the mass media today is product placement where particular brands are shown and associated with particular scenes and characters. Next time you watch a movie, see what brands the main character eats, drinks, wears, drives and so forth. Also check out what is being advertised as part of the background scenery, and remember that nothing in a movie is there by accident, except in the most incompetent, cheap or amateurish productions. It is probably worth pointing out that any production that uses a branded item in a negative context might run into substantial legal problems, especially in the USA. It is unlikely you will ever see the evil giggling psycho-rapist sipping from his can of P***i as he cuts the throat of his latest victim. Unless, of course, such a placement was paid for by the opposition! To date companies have shied away from such subliminal negative campaigning, but it’s a thought…
Before we continue into more detailed and esoteric subliminal technology it is worth pointing out just how sensitive we are to subliminal information acquisition, if not persuasion. Indeed, sometimes people can be so good at picking up and processing the tiniest cues that it seems Psi phenomena are a more plausible explanation. The famous hypnotherapist Milton Erickson provided an example of this. He described an experiment with hearing-impaired lip-readers where he discovered that they actually read a much richer spectrum of cues than simply the lips. The set-up was as follows: The lip-reading subjects sat with their backs to a blackboard on which there were various geometric designs. The designs were then obscured with sheets of paper. In front of the lip readers, and facing the blackboard, sat a group of normal participants who were instructed to look at the blackboard and say and do nothing. An assistant then removed the paper covering the geometric symbols, one at a time, and the lip-readers were instructed to write down anything that they read from the participants in front of them who were observing the geometric figures. They were able to “read” the names of the geometric figures apparently from their partner's body language with varying degrees of accuracy. One subject, a diagnosed paranoid psychotic who claimed to hear other people's thoughts, was reported as having perfect accuracy. Erickson applied this insight to his hypnotic technique by recognising the significance of messages he himself did not realize he was sending. It is something all magicians should bear in mind. Anyway, the beauty of the above experiment is that, unlike Psi experiments, nobody can accuse the subjects of cheating by reading subliminal cues.
Naturally, there has been considerable research done on subliminal perception and especially on how to use it as a medium of influence for purposes ranging from advertising to the possible military applications of remote hypnosis. As a result it has been discovered that effective messaging depends upon combining a number of factors. These are:

  • The goal must be clearly defined.

  • The message should be simple, ideally just one word.

  • Wording should be in the first person, for example, “I am” not “you are”.

  • The goal must be communicated as if it had already happened, or is in the process of happening.

  • Each suggestion should be phrased at least three different ways.

  • Positive emotions should be attached to the completion of the goal.

  • The above should be done without distracting the conscious mind.

  • The goal should be achieved rapidly since subliminal influence weakens over time.

  • The message should be phrased in positive terms and reversed negatives should not be used.

  • Negative” messages are more likely to be effective than positive ones. That is, words like “danger”, “fear”, “agony”, “murder” are more likely to influence than words like “peace”, “love”, “cheerful” or neutral words.1

The Agents one is trying to contact within the unconscious mind are less responsive to commands than suggestions and descriptions. The pathways being used are not too intelligent either, so there is a possibility that reversed negatives can be seen as positives. For example, if you are told: Do not think of a black cat” the command Think of a black cat” lies embedded in the statement and can also be acted upon.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)


NLP was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the early 1970s from a study of “excellence”. The subjects chosen for study were in the field of psychology and psychiatry and included Virginia Satir (creator of Family Therapy), Fritz Perls (founder of Gestalt Therapy) and Milton Erickson the famous hypnotist who we have already encountered. They analysed writings and tape-recordings to discover what accounted for the successful results these people were getting. By mimicking the language patterns, and testing them on a group of students they achieved similar powerful results to those they were studying. The definitive work by Bandler and Grinder was entitled: “The Structure of Magic”1 and appeared in two volumes in 1975CE.
Anyone with a hard science background first approaching
NLP has an immediate problem. It is that there is no underlying theory of mind from which the techniques can be deduced. Rather, as Bandler put it: “NLP is an attitude and a methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques”. In other words, it is a behavioral engineering approach to effecting mental state change, and anything that works within the wide remit NLP sets itself gets thrown into the mix. However, the basic approach is quite simple, as are a number of the more useful techniques.
The “attitude” in the above description is one of intense curiosity about the mind and an experimental approach where there is no failure, only feedback. The “methodology” is that of modeling – that is, copying and mimicking how something works until you can get it to work yourself.
The pragmatic model of “thinking” is based around the notion of information processing and storage as being a reproduction sensory input. The
Representational Systems, or VAK systems, stand for the major modalities by which we represent information. These are:

  • Visual (V) – Pictures and images...
    Do you get the picture? See how things are?

  • Auditory (A) – Sounds, noises, tones, volume...
    Do you often tell yourself that you shouldn't do this? I hear that you do...

  • Kinesthetic (K) – Touch, sensations, pressure temperature...
    Can you grasp what I am saying? Do you have a grip on reality?

  • Smell/Taste (OG), Olfactory/Gustatory
    Would you like a taste of success? Sweet, isn't it...

The lists of features associated with each of the modalities are referred to as submodalities.
The major premises of
NLP are that by changing the features of the representations, rather than the content, we can change our responses and emotions. One of the examples often offered to illustrate the point is to visualize some pleasant experience in our past, maybe like watching it on a screen, then to imagine the picture expanded. How does it affect the feelings associated with it when you do that? And then do the opposite, shrink it down to a minuscule image and examine your emotions once more. What about moving between black and white and color? Or moving the image nearer to us, or further away? For most people just altering the representation while keeping the content constant will alter the degree of emotional response. A similar situation occurs with bad memories and experiences and this is, of course, a starting point for some types of NLP therapy.
NLP also divides into two general approaches referred to as the Meta Model and the Milton Model. A key difference between them is that the former deals with specifics and the latter generalizations. Specifics tend to bring people out of a trance state, and generalities do the opposite. This is not too much of a revelation if you consider the sleep inducing boredom of a politicians speech versus one where there is a lot of very specific detail one can grasp (tactile modality!). In NLP the process of becoming more specific is called chunking down and becoming more general is chunking up.



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1Nasrallah,M., Carmel,D., Lavie,N. "Murder she wrote": Enhanced sensitivity to negative word valence. Emotion . ISSN: 1528-3542

2 The Structure of Magic: A Book About Language and Therapy – ISBN-13: 978-0831400446
The Structure of Magic II: A Book About Communication and Change –
ISBN-13: 978-0831400491