How to start a cult

2010-12-16

in Geek stuff, Psychology, Science, Security

While I am having difficulty finding a reputable source to confirm it, I have been told the following odd thing about human psychology: if a person wears glasses that flip their vision upside down, about three days later their brain will adjust and invert their sight. If they then remove the glasses, their vision will seem to be upside down before it flips again, more quickly.

I don’t think all that many people are aware of this quirk of human psychology. As such, it seems like something you could build a cult around.

You would come up with a long and convincing build-up to a supposedly sacred ritual in which people wear the glasses. You tell them that if their vision eventually flips, it is because your deity has deemed them worthy of being tested. Then, you tell them that when they remove the glasses, one of two things will happen. Either their vision will be inverted forever, or it will flip back. Tell them that if it flips back, it means your deity has found them worthy, and they are on track for some sort of magnificent afterlife.

Because people would think the flipping was supernatural, it would make a gullible subset believe anything else you cared to tell them (like about how they need to sell their home to help fund the crystal statue that will bring about the end of the world). Eventually, people will leave the cult and tell their story, and neurologists will appear on the news to explain that the vision-flipping is normal and being used to scam people. By then, however, you will be long gone with a lot of money.

I think this could work partly because vision is such a key part of a person’s life. Seeing it flip would be a powerful emotional experience, especially if you were prepared in advance to interpret it in a specific metaphysical way. The period between the first and second flip would be full of anxiety – since you already know the flipping is possible, but fear it could be permanent for you. Then, the second flip would really lock at least a few people in. It would feed their narcissism by telling them they are special, and it would seem to be something beyond the power of ordinary science or reasoning to explain.

I think people have probably bought into cults on the basis of less convincing evidence than this. Get a couple of celebrity adherents and the road to wealth and influence would be short and smooth.

Disclaimer: While you might actually be able to start a cult in this way, it wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt December 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm

This could be a ritual in your cult, but I don’t think it’s a method to start one. To start a cult you have to be crazy and/or an alcoholic. Examples:

David Koresh
Jim Jones
L. Ron Hubbard

I’m sure there are others, and I’m sure they’re all crazy.

R.K. December 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

I need a credible source on the vision flipping claim before I start investing in priestly garb and innocuous welcoome centres.

Milan December 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I don’t think you necessarily need to be crazy to start a cult for financial reasons. Just being sufficiently greedy and unconcerned with the welfare of your fellow human beings would probably be adequate.

oleh December 19, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I think the vision flipping account is very interesting and I would also like to learn more about that.

dot April 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm

FANCY founding a religion? Keen to reform a flagging faith? Here a few tips on how to attract and retain followers, thus ensuring that your gospel spreads far and wide, affording spiritual solace to as many souls as possible.
 
At the outset, you must realise that success is unlikely if you go wholly against the grain of human nature. Granted, religion is all about forging the perfect man, or at least ensuring that, as far as possible, he lives up to divine expectations. But preternatural power has forged man in such a way that he will swallow some of your ideas about how to achieve this more easily than others.
 
By stressing the right ones, then, you can do to give a fillip to the painstaking process of perfecting mankind. This is what some temporal powers have been doing of late, when trying to nudge their citizens towards individual choices which are more socially desirable, with notable success. You can do the same. This will, however, require that you rein in your dislike for a moment and listen to what those ungodly scientists have to say, despite their unremitting efforts to explain away the need for your enterprise.
 
As in the case of states, your principal concern is to encourage co-operation among your flock. In the long run, groups that co-operate more have an advantage over those whose members are less willing to do so. This also means limiting the number of actual and potential shirkers. People, it seems, are naturally inclined to do this anyway, but you can egg them on with a few simple tricks.
 
First, you are better off plumping for a personal god, rather than some sort of indeterminate life force. Research shows that people who profess a belief in such a deity judge moral transgressions more harshly, which in turn tends to make them more willing to abide by the rules, and expend resources on enforcing them. This may be down to a conviction that they are being incessantly watched over by an attentive minder, who tallies their contributions (or lack thereof) and rewards (or punishments) in a cosmic ledger. Speaking of which, incorporating the idea of just deserts is a fine plan, too. Apparently, people are born with an intuition to that effect. Just remember to keep the misfortunes visited on wrongdoers commensurate with their misdeeds. Otherwise people will think it unfair and won’t buy it. No fire and brimstone for littering, and suchlike.
 
http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/04/science_and_faiths

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