robots with brain implants

Brain Implants: From Science Fiction to Science Fact

Guest blogger Bob Bly

In Battlefield Earth, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler makes a shocking discovery: that the overlord Psychlos are not in fact inherently evil!

Rather, they have a device implanted in their brains that makes them extremely cruel and sadistic toward other species including men.

The idea, while intriguing, is certainly not original to Hubbard, and he never claimed it was.

Mind control through various means–brain implants, drugs, hypnosis, psychological conditioning, and telepathy–has long been an SF staple.

The SF pulp magazines began publishing mind control stories after Franz Anton Mesmer started practicing “animal magnetism”–called “mesmerism”–in the 18th century; in 1842 the technique was renamed “hypnosis.”

Many 19th century writers based stories around mesmerism and hypnosis including Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Blithedale Romance (1852) and Edgar Allen Poe in “Mesmeric Revelation.” (1844).

In a series of short stories written in the 1950s by James Schmitz, a young girl, Telzey Amberdon, develops psionic powers as a teenager. One is telepathy–the ability to read minds–and another is mind control.

In his 1950 story “March Hare Mission,” Ford McCormack imagines a mind control drug, “nepenthal,” that made the subject unable to sustain thought by wiping out his or her short-term memory.

In his 1954 short story “Big Game Hunt,” one of several he has written on mind control themes, Arthur C. Clarke describes a mind-control machine based on the technique of “neural induction.”

The concept: processes that take place in the mind are accompanied by the production of minute electric currents. By “playing back” the impulses he had recorded, the protagonist in this story could compel his subjects to repeat their previous actions–whether they wanted to or not.

In the 1960 movie Village of the Damned, based on a John Wyndham novel, aliens cause the women in the village to become pregnant.

Nine months later, the women all give birth to a group of children possessing mind control and telepathic powers. The children’s mind control abilities are so strong, they force adults they don’t like to commit suicide.

In Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master (1966), a psychotherapist uses machine-enhanced telepathic and mind control powers to treat patients by manipulating their dreams during therapy sessions.

In his short story “Deeper than the Darkness,” published in his 1971 collection Alone Against Tomorrow, Harlan Ellison envisions a society where psionic powers are not rare, and people with them are grouped into categories.

The “Mallaports” can manipulate matter. “Blasters” can emit energy beams with incredible destructive power. The “Mindees” are telepaths.

In more recent SF, Professor X, a mutant in the X-Men comic books, has the power of mind control–as does Andy McGee in Stephen King’s novel and motion picture Firestarter.

Regarding Battlefield Earth, L. Ron Hubbard wrote, “Actually, I was a bit disgusted with the way psychologists and brain surgeons mess people up, so I wrote a fiction story based in part on the consequences that could occur if the shrinks continued to do it.”

Today Hubbard’s prediction of an implantable device for mind control is now science reality: Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine have built a brain implant, as small as a human hair, which can alter the subject’s brain chemistry via wireless remote control.

In his book Mind Control-World Control, Jim Keith says that researchers working for the CIA bombarded the brains of lobotomized monkeys with radio waves.

Keith also claims that the U.S. military experimented with extremely low frequency electromagnetic transmissions (ELFs) designed to “cause aberrations in the thought processes of human beings” including hallucinations, disordered thought, confusion, depression, anger, and hopelessness.

In addition, he says that the CIA allegedly developed a mind control technology called Radio Hypnotic Intracerebral Control Electronic Dissolution of Memory (RHIC-EDOM). Produced through electromagnetic broadcasting or implantable devices, the RHIC-EDOM system can remotely induce a hypnotic state and impart hypnotic commands without the subject knowing this was done.

Another mind control system, “acoustic psycho-correction,” supposedly developed by the Russians, transmits specific commands via static or white noise bands into the human subconscious. The low-frequency transmission reaches the brain not through the ear but through bone conduction, so ear plugs cannot block the mind control signal.

One can only hope the CIA, U.S. military, the Russians, and the University of Washington don’t perfect their brain manipulation technology to the point where we become a real-life Battlefield Earth, with mind control widely practiced throughout the population.

Bob Bly holds a BS in chemical engineering and has been a full-time freelance writer since 1982. His more than 85 books include The Ultimate Unauthorized Star Trek Quiz Book (HarperCollins), The Science in Science Fiction (BenBella), and a collection of science fiction short stories Freak Show of the Gods and Other Tales of the Bizarre (Quill Driver Books). Bob has written over 100 articles for publications including Cosmopolitan, City Paper, Writer’s Digest, The Record, and Target Marketing. His SF web site is

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