Gaslighting: The Psychology of Shaping Another’s Reality
or How Mass Perception is Manufactured
by Cynthia Chung
[This is the transcript to a presentation given to the Corona Investigative Committee (Stiftung Corona Ausschuss) delivered December 2nd, 2022.]
The term “gaslighting” which means to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity originated from the 1944 film “Gaslight” which was directed by George Cukor. However, this technique is not just the stuff movies are made out of but is a real and effective means that can be used to shape another’s perception of reality. In fact, as we will see later on in this presentation, the director of this film himself is implicated in Hollywood circles and with members of the Frankfurt School who were looking into that very thing, the shaping and manipulation of mass psychology.
The technique of gaslighting is of course of high relevance for today, since this is being utilized on a global scale that is unprecedented in history. We are living in a world where the degree of disinformation and outright lying has reached such a state of affairs that, possibly for the first time ever, we see the majority of the western world starting to question their own and surrounding level of sanity.
Before I go through a summary overview of the George Cukor movie “Gaslight” and its relevance for today, I wanted to share with you an essential backdrop which is necessary in order to understand how the entertainment industry including the music industry, social media and most importantly our modern culture have all become reinforcers in the shaping of mass psychology to form as Aldous Huxley put it “a concentration camp without tears.”
This scientific dictatorship would be waged on several fronts. One of these key fronts was by the British psychiatrist William Sargant who is one of the Founding Father’s of modern “mind control” techniques in the West, with connections to British Intelligence and the Tavistock Institute, which would influence the CIA and American military via the program MK Ultra. Sargant was also in close communication with Aldous Huxley, and references Aldous numerous times in his books, one of these references we will look at shortly.
Sargant was also an advisor for Ewen Cameron’s infamous LSD “blank slate” work at McGill University, funded by the CIA.
Sargant accounts for his reason in studying and using forms of “mind control” on his patients, which were primarily British soldiers that were sent back from the battlefield during the Second World War with various forms of “psychosis”, as the only way to rehabilitate extreme forms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
The other reason, was because the Soviets had apparently become “experts” in the field, and out of a need for national security, the British would thus in turn have to become experts as well…as a matter of self-defence of course.
The work of Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, had succeeded in producing some disturbingly interesting insights into four primary forms of nervous systems in dogs, that were combinations of inhibitory and excitatory temperaments; “strong excitatory”, “balanced”, “passive” and “calm imperturbable”. Pavlov found that depending on the category of nervous system temperament the dog had, this in turn would dictate the form of “conditioning” that would work best to “reprogram behaviour”.
The relevance to “human conditioning” was not lost on anyone.
It was feared in the West, that such techniques would not only be used against their soldiers to invoke free-flowing uninhibited confessions to the enemy but that these soldiers could be sent back to their home countries, as zombified assassins and spies that could be set off with a simple code word. At least, these were the thriller stories and movies that were pumped into the western population. How horrific indeed! That the enemy could apparently enter what was thought the only sacred ground to be our own…our very “minds”!
However, for those who were actually leading the field in mind control research, such as William Sargant, it was understood that these Hollywood depictions were not exactly how mind control worked. The Manchurian Candidate was ultimately geared towards making the Western public panic-stricken believing that the communists were capable of sophisticated levels of precision “brainwashing” such that this Western public would be induced to support their own government’s work into the very thing, using the justification that this was being done in self-defense, and would only be used on the communist enemy. If only the people knew that such programs coming out of the Tavistock Institute and MK Ultra would be used on their very own people, including within their own military, in varying degrees, and going so far as to institutionalize people against their will using downright acts of torture and calling them forms of “psychiatric treatment.”
However, such work in wiping the mind clean and inserting a new identity and purpose was ultimately a massive failure.
For one thing, as William Sargant acknowledges in his book ‘The Battle for the Mind’ the issue of the individual’s “free will” was getting in the way.
It was found that no matter the length or degree of inducing electro-shock, insulin “therapy”, tranquilizer cocktails, induced comas, sleep deprivation, starvation etc, it was discovered that if the subject had a “strong conviction” and “strong belief” in something, this could not be simply erased, it could not be written over with any arbitrary thing. Rather, the subject would have to have the illusion that their “conditioning” was in fact a “choice”. This was an extremely challenging task, and long term conversions (months to years) were rare.
However, Sargant saw an opening. It was understood that one could not create a new individual from scratch, however, with the right conditioning that was meant to lead to a physical breakdown using abnormal stress (effectively a reboot of the nervous system), one could increase the “suggestibility” markedly in their subjects.
In addition, Sargant found that a falsely implanted memory could help induce abnormal stress leading to emotional exhaustion and physical breakdown to invoke “suggestibility”. That is, one didn’t even need to have a “real stress” but an “imagined stress” would work just as effectively.
The Blitz was a German bombing campaign against the United Kingdom over an eight month period from 1940 to 1941, during the Second World War. The term was first used by the British press and originated from the term Blitzkrieg, the German word meaning ‘lightning war’.
Sargant goes over the London Blitz in his book The Battle for the Mind. During this period, in order to cope and stay “sane”, the British people rapidly became accustomed to the idea that their neighbours could be and were buried alive in bombed houses around them. The thought was “If I can’t do anything about it what use is it that I trouble myself over it?” The best “coping” was thus found to be those who accepted the new “environment” and just focused on “surviving”, and did not try to resist it.
Sargant remarks that it is this “adaptability” to a changing environment which is part of the “survival” instinct and is very strong in the “healthy” and “normal” individual who can learn to cope and thus continues to be “functional” despite an increasingly unstable environment.
It was thus our deeply programmed “survival instinct” that was found to be the key to the suggestibility of our minds. That the best “survivors” made for the best “brain-washing” in a sense. Since the focus was purely on adaptation to the environment in order to survive and not in questioning nor challenging our surrounding circumstance.
This observed phenomenon during the London Blitz has been one of the core tools used in mass conditioning. The entertainment industry has pushed this idea that the best we can do as we are told we are heading towards an apocalyptic future is to merely survive. However, there is a new twist in this idea of survival and that is survival at all cost even if it means we must become monsters in order to do so.
We can see the continuation of William Sargant’s work in today’s entertainment industry…
We have been conditioned to actually find a sort of morbid comfort in this idea of a survival at all cost, that is, “survival of the fittest,” within a “post-apocalyptic world.” We have learned to view this as our “liberation,” this false and delusional idea that as long as one can survive, such a life is worth living. We have been conditioned to not question our circumstances or how we got here, we have been conditioned to think that there is no solution and the only thing we can do is just accept the increasingly bleak future we are told is necessary and inevitable. Our life becomes a life similar to that of a lab rat, who has no choice but to abide by the parameters of the game they were put in and figure out any means for survival. And in such a life, we have been conditioned to view that freedom and liberation can be attained if you earn the gold medal in such apocalyptic Olympic games. Freedom is no longer about questioning , resisting and challenging the oppression and enslavement of a society, but rather to become its best subject so to speak, its best survivor who can best wield the sort of behaviour its controllers want to see.
However, contrary to what we are being told, this sort of life is not inevitable. We do not have to accept such a bleak vision for humanity. We should remind ourselves that the key thus far shown, to which William Sargant even lamented over in his book The Battle for the Mind, the way out of this nightmare is on the issue of “free will.” This is in fact also the key to the salvation of the character ‘Paula’ in George Cukor’s movie “Gaslight.”
For those who have not seen the 1944 psychological thriller “Gaslight” directed by George Cukor, I would highly recommend you do so since there is an invaluable lesson contained within, that is especially applicable to what I suspect many of us are experiencing nowadays.
The story starts with a 14 year old Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman) who is being taken to Italy after her Aunt Alice Alquist, a famous opera singer and caretaker of Paula, is found murdered in her home in London. Paula is the one who found the body, and horror stricken is never her old self again. Her Aunt was the only family Paula had left in her life. The decision is made to send her away from London to Italy to continue her studies to become a world-renowned opera singer like her Aunt Alice.
Years go by, Paula lives a very sheltered life and a heavy somberness is always present within her, she can never seem to feel any kind of happiness. During her singing studies she meets a mysterious man (her piano accompanist during her lessons) and falls deeply in love with him. However, she knows hardly anything about the man named Gregory.
Paula agrees to marry Gregory after a two week romance and is quickly convinced to move back into her Aunt’s house in London that was left abandoned all these years. As soon as she enters the house, the haunting of the night of the murder revisits her and she is consumed with panic and fear. Gregory tries to calm her and talks about the house needing just a little bit of air and sun, and then Paula comes across a letter written to her Aunt from a Sergis Bauer which confirms that he was in contact with Alice just a few days before her murder. At this finding, Gregory becomes bizarrely agitated and grabs the letter from Paula. He quickly tries to justify his anger blaming the letter for upsetting her. Gregory then decides to lock all of her Aunt’s belongings in the attic, to apparently spare Paula any further anguish.
It is at this point that Gregory starts to change his behaviour dramatically. Always under the pretext for “Paula’s sake”, everything that is considered “upsetting” to Paula must be removed from her presence. And thus quickly the house is turned into a form of prison. Paula is told it is for her best not to leave the house unaccompanied, not to have visitors and that self-isolation is the best remedy for her “anxieties” which are getting worse. Paula is never strictly forbidden at the beginning but rather is told that she should obey these restrictions for her own good.
Before a walk, he gives as a gift a beautiful heirloom brooch that belonged to his mother. Because the pin needs replacing, he instructs Paula to keep it in her handbag, and then says rather out of context, “Don’t forget where you put it now Paula, I don’t want you losing it.” Paula remarks thinking the warning absurd, “Of course I won’t forget!” When they return from their walk, Gregory asks for the brooch, Paula searches in her handbag but it is not there.
It continues on like this, with Gregory giving warnings and reminders, seemingly to help Paula with her “forgetfulness” and “anxieties”. Paula starts to question her own judgement and sanity as these events become more and more frequent. She has no one else to talk to but Gregory, who is the only witness to these apparent mishaps. It gets to a point where completely nonsensical behaviour is being attributed to Paula by Gregory. A painting is found missing on the wall one night. Gregory talks to Paula like she is a 5 year child and asks her to put it back. Paula insists she does not know who took it down. After her passionate insistence that it was not her, she walks up the stairs almost like she were in a dream state and pulls the painting from behind a statue. Gregory asks why she lied, but Paula insists that she only thought to look there because that is where it was found the last two times this occurred.
For weeks now, Paula thinks she has been seeing things, the gas lights of the house dimming for no reason, she also hears footsteps above her bedroom. No one else seems to take notice. Paula is also told by Gregory that he found out that her mother, who passed away when she was very young, had actually gone insane and died in an asylum.
Paula has by now completely succumbed to the thought that she is indeed completely insane. Gregory says that it would be best if they go away somewhere for an indefinite period of time. We later find out that Gregory is intending on committing her to an asylum. Paula agrees to leave London with Gregory and leaves her fate entirely in his hands.
In the case of Paula it is clear. She has been suspecting that Gregory has something to do with her “situation” but he has very artfully created an environment where Paula herself doubts whether this is a matter of unfathomable villainy or whether she is indeed going mad.
It is rather because she is not mad that she doubts herself, because there is seemingly no reason for why Gregory would put so much time and energy into making it look like she were mad, or at least so it first appears. But what if the purpose to her believing in her madness was simply a matter of who is in control?
We find ourselves today in a very similar situation to Paula. And the voice of Gregory is represented by the narrative of false news and the apocalyptic social behaviourist programming in our forms of entertainment. The things most people voluntarily subject themselves to on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
Socially conditioning them, like a pack of salivating Pavlovian dogs, to think it is just a matter of time before the world ends and with a ring of their master’s bell…be at each other’s throats.
We see this theme of awaiting for a hero to bring us to our salvation overplayed and to excessive dramatic effect in many blockbuster movies. The hero formula is dangerous since it encourages its worshipper to sit back and remain passive to their situation since “help is on its way.” This formula is also used in the political arena and is incredibly effective, a hero arises often propped up by the very media owned by the corporate state and makes tremendous promises that “help is on its way.”
As we see with such track records the greater majority of such cosmic rises turn out to have been products of manufactured perception from the very start. A fictional opiate for the masses. Just another form of sedation and discouragement to take back control of our lives and our destiny.
In the case of George Cukor, he is no different from the typical film producer in Hollywood who at the end of the day is not fully in control of the ideas and perceptions behind the movies they make.
Salka Viertel’s Sunday salon in Los Angeles which was from the 1930s-50s a central place for networking, consisting of Hollywood intelligentsia and the émigré community of European intellectuals- many of whom formed the basis of the new Frankfurt School. Among its regular Sunday attendees were Arnold Schoenberg, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Theodor W. Adorno, Bertold Brecht, Thomas Mann, Greta Garbo, and George Cukor.
This is not to say that all members of Salka’s Hollywood salon held villainous intentions, however, what it does say is that artists who were regulars in such circles where either knowingly or unknowingly participating in the propagation of the psychological techniques studied by the Tavistock Institute and later MK Ultra, their directive was to increase malleability, suggestibility and the manipulation of perception as methods of control and sedation of the masses.
One individual in particular who was very aware of what he was a part of was Theodor Adorno (another is Aldous Huxley who we will discuss shortly). In the case of Adorno, it was the utilization of music that was the ultimate tool in mass social behaviourism.
Theodor Adorno, in his youth was a promising future concert pianist, who later studied in Vienna under the atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg. In 1946, while in the United States working on the Frankfurt School’s “Cultural Pessimism” agenda, he wrote the book “The Philosophy of Modern Music,” a diatribe against Classical culture, writing:
This was to be one of the major undercurrents that shaped the philosophy of the COUNTER-Culture movement. The name said it all. And the so-called freedom from the “shackles” of classical culture was to take the form of invoking schizophrenic traits through the domain of the aesthetic consciousness (aesthetic means the set of principles that underlie how we define and appreciate a standard for “beauty”).
Thus schizophrenic traits were purposefully induced in the listener of modern music as per the Frankfurt School prescription. This was achieved by encouraging a sort of looping of fragmentation. It is for this reason that today’s popular music is so repetitive, it is not only meant to induce a trance like sedated state, but it is also meant to encourage the fragmentation of thought.
Music was the most effective in producing this sort of effect because even within a movie or a tv series, there needs to be some sort of coherent storyline no matter how banal. With modern music such as atonalism to which Schoenberg worked with Adorno in producing, the storyline which was present in classical music was stripped away. It is like watching a movie that changes its story, setting and characters every few minutes, there is no coherent direction or purpose. The advent of social media has accomplished in the domain of information exchange, what modern music accomplished in its promotion of atonalism. Social media, especially such platforms such as twitter, instagram and tik tok encourage an attention span that focuses on a subject for only a few seconds. This is another form of encouraging the fragmentation of thought. If content that is increasingly stressful or disturbing is added to the information feed, it will function to increase suggestibility and decrease our awareness of what is entering our subconscious and creating the backdrop to what later forms our perceptions of reality, including on matters of morality.
Thus, the more fragmented the mind the more suggestible.
“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”
– Theodor Adorno’s ‘Cultural Criticism and Society’ (1949)
Adorno insisted that all forms of beauty had to be purged from our culture. He wanted to encourage a mental breakdown of society on a mass scale to effectively reboot the system. This was to use the very same methods being studied by William Sargant, that to effect the greatest control of mass thought and perception, one would have to induce maximum stress to increase suggestibility. Only then could the subject accept that it was their own choice to accept whatever behavioural conditions were being suggested.
In order to achieve maximum suggestibility Adorno itemized them as the following:
It was the application of the Frankfurt School’s “Critical Theory” where we were told that everything that came before us within any field of established learning now had to be thrown into the garbage and we had to face the task of reprogramming how we viewed our world, our reality. This could only occur by invoking extreme states of fragmentation, that is, schizophrenic traits, in order to build back the pieces in a so-called more truthful way without the cultural blinders from the past, or so we were told.
Part of this freeing oneself from classical culture, according to the Frankfurt School, was to free ourselves from the classical understanding of aesthetics, and thus a central tenet of the counterculture movement was to now regard the ugly as beautiful, the beautiful as ugly, and insanity as the new sanity.
It should also be noted that much of the work of the Frankfurt School would also be promoted by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, now widely recognized today as funded and in service to the CIA.
In fact, the work of the Frankfurt School and their interest in creating “shock” like effects within the arts to increase schizophrenic like states fits in perfectly with what the CIA was working on with MK Ultra.
Aldous Huxley who worked with MK Ultra, quotes Dr. Erich Fromm, in his “Brave New World Revisited” (1958). Dr. Erich Fromm was a “philosopher-psychiatrist” from the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory.
Interestingly, Tavistock-linked psychiatrist William Sargant, with whom Huxley had also come into close correspondence, had discussed in his Battle for the Mind (1957) his intrigue in the “dancing mania” phenomenon that arose during the Black Death which caused a heightened suggestibility capable of causing a person to “embrace with equal force, reason and folly, good and evil, diminish the praise of virtue as well as the criminality of vice.”
Sargant quotes Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun in his book Battle for the Mind.
Aldous had a very clear interest in how one could bring about a schizophrenic state chemically, also allowing for heightened suggestibility. Six years before writing “Brave New World Revisited,” in 1952, Huxley would arrange to meet a Dr. Humphrey Osmond who had just published a psychiatric study titled “A New Approach to Schizophrenia.”
Osmond, the man who would coin the term “psychedelic” meaning “mind-revealing,” had been working with mescaline and had asserted in his study that psychedelics produced a psychological state identical to schizophrenia.
Osmond was studying mescaline for its chemical similarity to adenochrome, a substance produced in the body through the oxidation of adrenaline and linked to inducing schizophrenic traits.
It was Huxley’s experience taking mescaline in the presence of Dr. Humphrey Osmond in 1953 that would inspire his writing “The Doors of Perception,” considered the bible of the counterculture movement.
Both Aldous and Gerald Heard played central roles in developing the Human Potential Movement (HPM) to which the Esalen Institute is recognised as officially launching.
The founders of the Esalen Institute, Richard Price and Michael Murphy, got the idea for Esalen’s core raisons d’être largely from Aldous’ lecture on “Human Potentialities” in 1960, at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. In this lecture, Huxley had challenged the budding students to figure out ways to tap into the full potential of humankind that had become latent over the centuries. In his lecture, Aldous discusses how it would be a good idea if an institution could launch a program to research methods for actualizing “human potentialities”, along the lines of his Brave New World, to be studied, evaluated, and put to use by society. Murphy and Price were enthralled.
The Esalen Institute, founded in 1962, held their first series of seminars, which they called “The Human Potentialities”. It included a seminar entitled “Drug Induced Mysticism”. The institute was staffed with LSD 25 researchers, and drugs circulated through-out the seminars. It launched what became known as “The Human Potential Movement”.
The Human Be-In was organised as an LSD-25 event. It had a turnout of anywhere between 25,000 to 50,000 people. Free sandwiches were distributed laced with LSD and the “Summer of Love,” otherwise known as the first manifestation of the Brave New World, was born.
In 1956, psychiatrist R.D. Laing trained on a grant at the Tavistock Clinic in London, where he remained until 1964.
Thus, the inducing of schizophrenic breaks was considered a “function-heightening experience,” or so the poor sops were told. The key to reaching maximum human potential was through the induction of madness, the fragmentation of the mind through schizophrenic breaks, with the promise that one would have a higher IQ at the end of the whole affair.
Thus, whether you like it or not, the relevance of the Esalen Institute’s “revisioning of madness,” and Laing as the Crusader for the promotion of the clinically insane, needs to be acknowledged as having been entirely spear-headed by the Tavistock Institute, and clearly, not for our benefit.
The reality is that the revolutionary alternative to the practice of mainstream psychology, that was sold to the masses by cult figures like R.D. Laing, was entirely controlled and shaped by the Tavistock Institute, to which MK ULTRA is a branch.
B.F. Skinner, one of the scientist who worked with the Esalen Research Center, discovered a phenomenon in his work with rats which is now called, “the Skinner box,” or by its somewhat less creepy title the “operant conditioning chamber.”
What Skinner found was that rats that were tortured within this box in the specific manner he does with conflicting messaging of reward and punishment, these rats would form a sort of dependence on this created “reality” as a coping mechanism to future stresses. It was found that when the rat was allowed to leave the box and was subjected to a stimulus that caused pain or fear that its immediate reaction was to run back into the box for its own perceived security and comfort out of its own volition!
Skinner’s work on rats was not lost as to its applications on humans.
We have hit a point where we need to ask ourselves, “Have we become addicted to our own misery? Are we at a point where we can only find solace in our releasing control of our situation?” Is it just a matter of finding whatever triggers a “euphoric high” or a “numbing low” while coasting along our voyage to oblivion?
Let us remind ourselves of the lesson we took from the movie ‘Gaslight’ although Paula did not enact her free will, we can see clearly from her situation that if she had done so, she could have escaped the nightmare that had been constructed for her with great ease. We also learned that the seemingly omnipotent Gregory, who appeared to execute his control over Paula with such precision in his construction of her reality, is in fact quite powerless as soon as Paula decides to take back control of her own destiny. We learn that Gregory himself is so easily thrown into a panic with Paula’s one night of defiance where she decides to leave her captor’s fold and step into the outside world of her prison. That is Paula merely had to decide to walk out of her prison, and it was her choice to return to that prison that very evening.
In the end, we realise Gregory who has been working rather successively in convincing Paula she is insane, is in fact the one who has been utterly mad all along.
We find ourselves in a similar situation to a Paula today. We assume either that to question our prescribed reality is an act of insanity or we recognise it as a construct but accept the view that we are entirely powerless to affect any change on this artificial reality.
As long as we remain within this box we will never know what lies outside of it. Once we know what lies outside of our mental prison, we can look back with ease as to how trivial and inconsequential our former imprisonment was. The difficulty is making that first step to exit such a mental prison.
We are told that we live in a complicated world. A world that is divided, a world that is full of hate and war and greed. And it is most certainly the case that the west in particular has descended into its own self-created hell. But that is the key right there.
As John Milton would say in his Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place and, in itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.”
Ironically, what many do not know is that Milton wrote a follow-up titled “Paradise Regained.” How interesting that we only focus on Paradise being Lost and seemingly have no care for Paradise Regained? Or that everyone has heard of Dante’s Inferno and perhaps Purgatorio but few have heard of Dante’s Paradiso which was meant to be read as a whole. Why do you think that is?
If we choose to walk in this life blind to what is the good, if we reject the possibility and potential for a positive change, we will certainly condemn ourselves to living in a hell, but that is not reality, that is our self-affirmed creation.
The choice is ours to make and the solution is rather simple, it is through our own self-will that we can walk out of this mental prison.
And it is our own self who will have to become our hero in the process.
[For more on this story of the Frankfurt School, the Tavistock Institute, MK Ultra and Aldous Huxley see my four-part series “Who Will be Brave in Huxley’s New World.”]
Also check out the series “The Shaping of a World Religion: Carl Jung and the Land of the Dead.”
Cynthia Chung is the President of the Rising Tide Foundation and author of the book “The Empire on Which the Black Sun Never Set,” consider supporting her work by making a donation and subscribing to her substack page Through A Glass Darkly.
Also watch for free our RTF Docu-Series “Escaping Calypso’s Island: A Journey Out of Our Green Delusion” and our CP Docu-Series “The Hidden Hand Behind UFOs”.