Could I have an appointment at your convenience? You won’t regret having given it to me.
Make the appointment for “Robert Stanley,” a subterfuge to keep my name out of your date book. As you can see from the letterhead on this stationery, I direct operations at the main biochem research laboratory for Creative Development Associates, a subsidiary of Futurex International. If you know the nature of CDA’s business, you will understand the need for circumspection.
As ever, Ogden Salsbury
He had expected to get a quick response with that letter, and his expectations had been met. At Harvard, Leonard had been guided by two shining principles: money and God. Salsbury had supposed, and rightly, that Dawson hadn’t changed. The letter was mailed on Tuesday. Late Wednesday Dawson’s secretary called to make the appointment.
“I don’t ordinarily sign for registered letters,” Dawson said sternly. “I accepted it only because your name was on it. After I read it I very nearly threw it in the trash.”
“Had it been from anyone else, I would have thrown it away. But at Harvard you were no braggart. Have you overstated your case?”
“You’ve discovered something you think is worth millions?”
“Yes. And more.” His mouth was dry.
Dawson took a manila folder from the center desk drawer. “Creative Development Associates. We bought that company seven years ago. You were with it when we made the acquisition.”
“Yes, sir. Leonard.”
As if he had not noticed Salsbury’s slip of the tongue, Dawson said, “CDA produces computer programs for universities and government bureaus involved in sociological and psychological studies.” He didn’t bother to page through the report. He seemed to have memorized it. “CDA also does research for government and industry. It operates seven laboratories that are examining the biological, chemical, and biochemical causes of certain sociological and psychological phenomena. You’re in charge of the Brockert Institute in Connecticut.” He frowned. “The entire Connecticut facility is devoted to top secret work for the Defense Department.” His black eyes were exception-
ally sharp and clear. “So secret, in fact, that even I couldn’t find out what you’re doing up there. Just that it’s in the general field of behavior modification.”
Clearing his throat nervously, Salsbury wondered if Dawson was broadminded enough to grasp the value of what he was about to be told. “Are you familiar with the term ‘subliminal perception’?”
“It has to do with the subconscious mind.”
“That’s right—as far as it goes. I’m afraid I’m going to sound rather pedantic, but a lecture is in order.”
Dawson leaned back as Salsbury leaned forward. “By all means.”
Extracting two eight-by-ten photographs from the briefcase, Salsbury said, “Do you see any difference between photo A and photo B?”
Dawson examined them closely. They were black and white studies of Salsbury’s face. “They’re identical.”
“On the surface, yes. They’re prints of the same photograph.”
“What’s the point?”
“I’ll explain later. Hold on to them for now.”
Dawson stared suspiciously at the pictures. Was this some sort of game? He didn’t like games. They were a waste of time. While you were playing a game, you could just as easily be earning money.
“The human mind,” Salsbury said, “has two primary monitors for data input: the conscious and the subconscious.”
“My church recognizes the subconscious,” Dawson said affably. “Not all churches will admit it exists.”
Unable to see the point of that, Salsbury ignored it. “These monitors observe and store two different sets of data. In a manner of speaking, the conscious mind is aware only of what happens in its direct line of sight, while the subconscious has peripheral vision. These two halves of the mind operate independently of each other, and often in opposition to each other-”
“Only in the abnormal mind,” Dawson said.
“No, no. In everyone’s mind. Yours and mine included.”
Disturbed that anyone should think his mind performed in any state other than perfect harmony with itself, Dawson started to speak.
“For example,” Salsbury said quickly, “a man is sitting at a bar. A beautiful woman takes the stool next to his. With conscious intent he tries to seduce her. At the same time, however, without being consciously aware of it, he may be terrified of sexual involvement. He may be afraid of rejection, failure, or impotency. With his conscious mind he performs as society expects him to perform in the company of a sexy woman. But his subconscious works effectively against his conscious. Therefore, he alienates the woman. He talks too loudly and brashly. Although he’s ordinarily an interesting fellow, he bores her with stock market reports. He spills his drink on her. That behavior is the product of his subconscious fear. His outer mind says ‘Go’ even as his inner mind shouts ‘Stop.’”
Dawson’s expression was sour. He didn’t appreciate the nature of the example. Nevertheless, he said, “Go on.”
“The subconscious is the dominant mind. The conscious sleeps, but the subconscious never does. The conscious has no access to the data in the subconscious, but the subconscious knows everything that transpires in the conscious mind. The conscious is essentially nothing more than a computer, while the subconscious is the computer programmer.
“The data stored in the different halves of the mind are collected in the same way: through the five known senses. But the subconscious sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels far more than does the outer mind. It apprehends everything that passes too quickly or too subtly to impress the conscious mind. For our purposes, in fact, that is the definition of ‘subliminal’: anything that happens too quickly or too subtly to make an impression on the conscious mind. More than ninety percent of the stimuli that we observe through our five senses is subliminal input.”
“Ninety percent?” Dawson said. “You mean I see, feel, smell, taste, and hear ten times more than I think I do? An example?”
Salsbury had one ready. “The human eye fixates on objects
at least one hundred thousand times a day. A fixation lasts from a fraction of a second to a third of a minute. However, if you tried to list the hundred thousand things you had looked at today, you wouldn’t be able to recall more than a few hundred of them. The rest of those stimuli were observed by and stored in the subconscious—as were the additional two million stimuli reported to the brain by the other four senses.”
Closing his eyes as if to block out all of those sights he wasn’t aware of seeing, Dawson said, “You’ve made three points.” He ticked them off on his manicured fingers. “One, the subconscious is the dominant half of the mind. Two, we don’t know what our subconscious minds have observed and remembered. We can’t recall that data at will. Three, subliminal perception is nothing strange or occult; it is an integral part of our lives.”
“Perhaps the major part of our lives.”
“And you’ve discovered a commercial use for subliminal perception.”
Salsbury’s hands were shaking. He was close to the core of his proposition, and he didn’t know whether Dawson would be fascinated or outraged by it. “For two decades, advertisers of consumer products have been able to reach the subconscious minds of potential customers by the use of subliminal perception. The ad agencies refer to these techniques by several other names. Subliminal reception. Threshold regulation. Unconscious perception. Subception. Are you aware of this? Have you heard of it?”
Still enviably relaxed, Dawson said, “There were several experiments conducted in movie theaters—fifteen—maybe twenty years ago. I remember reading about them in the newspapers.”
Salsbury nodded rapidly. “Yes. The first was in 1957.”
“During an ordinary showing of some film, a special message was superimposed on the screen. ‘You are thirsty,’ or something of that sort. It was flashed off and on so fast that no one realized it was there. After it had been flashed—what, a thousand times? nearly everyone in the theater went to the lobby and bought soft drinks.”
In those first crude experiments, which were carefully regulated by motivation researchers, subliminal messages had been delivered to the audience with a tachistoscope, a machine patented by a New Orleans company, Precon Process and Equipment Corporation, in October of 1962. The tachistoscope was a standard film projector with a high-speed shutter. It could flash a message twelve times a minute at of a second. The image appeared on the screen for too short a time to be perceived by the conscious mind, but the subconscious was fully aware of it. During a six-week test of the tachistoscope, forty-five thousand theater-goers were subjected to two messages:
“Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat Popcorn.” The results of these experiments left no doubt about the effectiveness of subliminal advertisement. Popcorn sales rose sixty percent, and Coco-Cola sales rose nearly twenty percent.
The subliminals apparently had influenced people to buy these products even though they were not hungry or thirsty.
“You see,” Salsbury said, “the subconscious mind believes everything it is told. Even though it constructs behavioral sets based on the information it receives, and although those sets guide the conscious mind—it can’t distinguish between truth and falsehood! The behavior that it programs into the conscious mind is often based on misconceptions.”
“But if that were correct, we’d all behave irrationally.”
“And we all do,” Salsbury said, “in one way or another. Don’t forget, the subconscious doesn’t always construct programs based on wrong-headed ideas. Just sometimes. This explains why intelligent men, paragons of reason in most things, harbor at least a few irrational attitudes.” Like your religious fanaticism, he thought. He said: “Racial and religious bigotry, for instance. Xenophobia, claustrophobia, acrophobia . . . If a man can be made to analyze one of these fears on a conscious level, he’ll reject it. But the conscious resists analysis. Meanwhile, the inner half of the mind continues to misguide the outer half.”
“These messages on the movie screen—the conscious mind wasn’t aware of them; therefore, it couldn’t reject them.”
Salsbury sighed. “Yes. That’s the essence of it. The subconscious saw the messages and caused the outer mind to act on them.”
Dawson was growing more interested by the minute. “But why did the subliminals sell more popcorn than soda?”
“The first message—’Drink Coca-Cola’—was a declarative sentence,” Salsbury said, “a direct order. Sometimes the subconscious obeys an order that’s delivered subliminally—and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“Why is that?”
Salsbury shrugged. “We don’t know. But you see, the second subliminal was not entirely a direct order. It was more sophisticated. It began with a question: ‘Hungry?’ The question was designed to cause anxiety in the subconscious. It helped to generate a need. It established a ‘motivational equation.’ The need, the anxiety, is on the left side of the equals sign. To fill the right side, to balance the equation, the subconscious programs the conscious to buy the popcorn. One side cancels out the other. The buying of the popcorn cancels out the anxiety.”
“The method is similar to posthypnotic suggestion. But I’ve. heard that a man can’t be hypnotized and made to do something he finds morally unacceptable. In other words, if he isn’t a killer by nature, he can’t be made to kill while under hypnosis.”
“That’s not true,” Salsbury said. “Anyone can be made to do anything under hypnosis. The inner mind can be manipulated so easily. . . For example, if I hypnotized you and told you to kill your wife, you wouldn’t obey me.”
“Of course I wouldn’t!” Dawson said indignantly.
“You love your wife.”
“I certainly do!”
“You have no reason to kill her.”
Judging by Dawson’s emphatic denials, Salsbury thought the man’s subconscious must be brimming with repressed hostility toward his God-fearing, church-loving wife. He didn’t dare say as much. Dawson would have denied it—and might have tossed him out of the office. “However, if I hypnotized you and told
you that your wife was having an affair with your best friend and that she was plotting to kill you in order to inherit your estate, you would believe me and—”
“I would not. Julia would be incapable of such a thing.”
Salsbury nodded patiently. “Your conscious mind would reject my story. It can reason. But after I’d hypnotized you, I’d be speaking to your subconscious—which can’t distinguish between lies and truth.”
“Ah. I see.”
“Your subconscious won’t act on a direct order to kill because a direct order doesn’t establish a motivational equation. But it will believe my warning that she intends to kill you. And so believing, it will construct a new behavioral set based on the lies—and it will program your conscious mind for murder. Picture the equation, Leonard. On the left of the equals sign there is anxiety generated by the ‘knowledge’ that your wife intends to do away with you. On the right side, to balance the equation, to banish the anxiety, you need the death of your wife. If your subconscious was convinced that she was going to kill you in your sleep tonight, it would cause you to murder her before you ever went to bed.”
“Why wouldn’t I just go to the police?”
Smiling, more sure of himself than he had been when he entered the office, Salsbury said, “The hypnotist could guard against that by telling your subconscious that your wife would make it look like an accident, that she was so clever the police would never prove anything against her.”
Raising one hand, Dawson waved at the air as if he were shooing away flies. “This is all very interesting,” he said in a slightly bored tone of voice. “But it seems academic to me.”
Ogden’s self-confidence was fragile. He began to tremble again. “Academic?”
“Subliminal advertising has been outlawed. There was quite a to-do at the time.”
“Oh, yes,” Salsbury said, relieved. “There were hundreds of newspaper and magazine editorials. Newsday called it the most alarming invention since the atomic bomb. The Saturday Re-