(NaturalNews) If someone - or some government entity - were able to figure out the science behind what makes people violent, what do you suppose they would do with that knowledge? It's a legitimate question, because the Pentagon is trying to find out.
According to a recent report by the BBC, the Defense Department appears to be looking for a way to hijack the mind so it can implant false, but believable, stories - a sort of "like me" weapon, if you will.
The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA - the division responsible for all of the Defense Department's cutting-edge technology development - is said to be working on brand-new research that focuses on the neurobiology behind the political violence and, specifically, whether such violence can be mitigated before it even begins.
DARPA officials say the research is aimed at looking for ways to generate versions of events that would convince people not to support the enemy. The concept is called Narrative Networks, and in an official solicitation the agency says anyone who submits a proposal "to this effort will be expected to revolutionize the study of narratives and narrative influence by advancing narrative analysis and neuroscience so as to create new narrative influence sensors, doubling status quo capacity to forecast narrative influence."
Not science fiction - just science
William Casebeer, the lead DARPA official for the project, said the concept seeks to "understand how narratives influence human thoughts and behavior, then apply those findings to a security context in order to address security challenges such as radicalization, violent social mobilization, insurgency and terrorism, and conflict prevention and resolution."
Scientists have known for some time that narratives - an account of a sequence of events that are usually in chronological order - hold powerful sway over the human mind, shaping a person's notion of groups and identities and even motivating them to commit violence.
The goal, researchers say, is to find a bio-neurological way to use narratives as a means of convincing people to stop fighting - not control them.
"We're not in the business of reading people's minds, or implanting thoughts. By understanding the biology of what causes people go to war, we might begin to understand how to mitigate it," Emory University professor Greg Berns, a neuroeconomist, told the BBC.
One goal of the research is to find a way, using narratives, to enhance national security by diminishing or eliminating terror threats around the world. But that may be a lofty goal, even if the research is valid.
"We need to understand those things, no doubt about it, but, in terms of promoting peace I'm not sure that knowing where in the brain the anger that leads to violence is happening is going to help us discourage war," said Tom Pyszczynski, a social psychologist at the University of Colorado who studies terrorism and has been studying the effects of the so-called "Arab Spring" and the attitude of the movement towards the West.
"We're not going to be able to go in and zap people's amygdalae or anesthetize them or do whatever," he told BBC. "We're going to need to change the way they interpret things that happen and we're going to need to stop doing things that people interpret as insulting or challenging to their way of life."
Brainwash us? Good luck...
Critics of the research say what the Pentagon is really trying to do is elevate brainwashing to a science. Others say the goal is to master the art of propaganda.
"The first part would involve analyzing what happens to people when they hear or see a message. It's thought that certain messages or images actually cause a change in the brain to accommodate the new ideas," says an analysis of DARPA's project on the Web site Phys.Org.
"The second part of the study, quite naturally, would involve developing a means for taking advantage of what is learned in the first part. Or, in other words, to come up with a way to find out who is vulnerable to messaging, and then to blast them with a message that would overwrite any undesirable brain changes that occurred as the result of that person being subjected to "bad" messages, so that they would behave themselves," said the analysis, which went on to say the effort likely would not be successful because "governments (and other entities) have been trying to figure out how to brainwash people for thousands of years with very little to show for their efforts."
DARPA researchers discount any notion they are trying to figure out a way to brainwash people.
"None of the work we are doing, nor anyone else I know in the Narrative Networks group, is about increasing the ability of soldiers or sailors to kill people or to brainwash people," Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif, an expert in neuroeconomics whose work has been funded by the DARPA program, told the BBC.
"Is there a way to hold events that might publicise things like healthcare, public health factors, [or] tooth brushing for children and you could give away half a million toothbrushes?" he asked, rhetorically. "There could be things that help countries understand that most of the time what we want to do is get along with everybody.
"Why are we grabbed by some stories and not others? It just seems like such a good question to ask," he said.