By Donald Nichol!
BATTLE FOR THE MIND. (A physiology of conversion and brain-washing), by William Sargant (Heinemann, 25.).
MR. SARGANT is at great pains to insist that his study is concerned "not with the immortal soul, which is the province of the theologian, nor even with the mind in the broadest sense of the word, which is the province of the philosopher. but with the brain and nervous system, which man shares with the dog and other animals." And in pis General Conclusions he says, "If this book has offended the religious or ethical susceptibilities of any reader, despite my efforts to avoid doing so, let me plead in extenuation the need for a greater understanding, by as many intelligent readers as possible, of the power and comparative simplicity coufseodm, some of the methods here discussed."
methods he discusses are those used by the Russian secret police, John Wesley, the Jesuits. the Inquisition, Ivan Pavlov and others; these are supplemented by the author's wide experience of changes in the attitudes of people under the strain of war or the stress of battle.
AS a result of his experience and
researches he has come to the conclusion that all normal people can he brought under stress to such a point that they will break down. The mechanism of their brains and nervous systems will then be put into reverse. so that their behaviour will he quite different from normal, and sometimes diametrically opposed to their previous professions.
It will be seen that we are on delicate ground, so delicate that I would only trust an expert to thread his way over it in safety. The trouble is that in spite of Mr. Sargant's well-meant exclusion of the mind from his province it can't, in fact, be kept out. How do you normally know what is happening to the brain except by declarations of the mind?
Like many others before him, Mr. Sargant has hoped to dismiss philosophical issues (rather naively, in his case, by means of the philosophical distinction between brain and mind!) but has only succeeded in disguising them. He constantly speaks, for instance. of a person after brain-washing or conversion believing different tenets from those he previously held. But does the word believe mean the same in both cases? Could we say of Cardinal Minclszenty in 1950. "He believes he is a conspirator against Hungary", and mean the same by "believes" as when we say of him, "He believes in God?"
RECAUSF. I both appreciate Mr.
Sargant's profound and sincere work and fear that it might easily be misunderstood 1 feel that it would be most fruitfully discussed by such a group of psychologists as meet at Spode House. The Spode group might learn a good deal from Mr. Sargant—and he might learn that Rafael Sabatini is no trustworthy guide to the Inquisition!
Nor would Somerset Maugham's be the first name to strike me when I was thinking of some writer to assess St. Ignatius' spiritual exercises!