Memory, brainwashing and the Cold War

I’ve just watched part two of Adam Curtis‘ series on the relationship between memory and the history of the 20th century where he explores the link between brain washing, the emergence of cognitive science and the politics of the cold war.

Curtis is a documentary maker who is particularly interested in the link between psychology and history and creates gripping programmes that are always thought-provoking even if you don’t agree with all of his analysis.

He has a gift for finding archive material and this programme is no exception where he finds film footage from previously secret research programmes.

The programme is actually from his 1995 series The Living Dead which tackles the relationship between memory and the political manipulation of history.

The first part is about how the ‘official’ memory of the Second World War was created – a process psychologists call ‘social remembering‘. Essentially, the social psychology of how we construct history, either on the scale of cultures, subcultures or families.

However, the second part focuses specifically on the rise of cognitive science and how theories of memory during the 50s and 60s were key to some of the Cold War efforts to research and create ‘brain washing’ and other mind manipulation techniques.

Curtis is probably best known to psychologists for his remarkably 2002 series Century of the Self where he tracked the Freudian idea of the self as one of the major social influences of the 20th century.

Virtually all of Curtis’ programmes are available on Google Video and they’re fantastic viewing. One of the few people who can genuinely said to be making powerful intellectual arguments on psychology through the medium of video.

Link to part two of The Living Dead.

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