Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Games

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Games

Article excerpt

My brother, who is a big no-nonsense police sergeant, once told me a story about a young burglar who was being interviewed at the police station about a string of burglaries, all of which he vehemently denied. The interviewer was convinced he'd done them and was pressing for a confession, but the burglar dug in and strongly denied all knowledge. Impasse.

Then another police officer present, a practical joker, sensed that the burglar wasn't quite the full shilling, and tried a novel approach. 'See that machine over there?' he said, pointing to the laser printer. 'That's the latest thing in lie detectors, that is. Fifty thousand quid's worth. All the forces are using them. What we want you to do -- and you won't mind if you're telling the truth, will you? -- is to place your right hand on top and we'll ask you again whether you did them or not.' The burglar agreed to take the test and the coppers did some elaborate stage business, pretending to line his hand up in exactly the right place on the photocopier lid, and got him to take his hat off. Then they told him to close his eyes and said, 'It was you, wasn't it?' And as the burglar denied it for the hundredth time, the officer with a reputation for practical jokes slipped a sheet of A4 through the copier, on which he'd already printed the words 'BIG LIAR'. The burglar was told to open his eyes, the 'test result' was retrieved from the tray and waved in front of him, and the burglar immediately caved in and confessed everything.

I was reminded of this story when I walked into a Scientology centre a couple of weeks ago and asked if I could take the stress test I'd seen advertised in the window. I was expecting it to be a written test.

But I was surprised and somewhat alarmed when a bubbly young woman put a phallus-shaped metal electrode in each of my hands, and switched on a squat machine bristling with knobs and dials, featuring an apparently hypersensitive needle gauge.

'This, believe it or not, ' she said, 'is the most technically advanced machine in the world, and its function is to measure your thoughts. If you have a stressful thought, it'll show up here on this gauge. And once we've identified your stressful thoughts, we can begin to eliminate them!' Naturally, I felt uncomfortable. Either I'd fallen among nutters, or I was about to have my thoughts measured, neither of which thought was very appealing. …

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