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Passions in Poetry

Never Say Never: A Description of an Experiment

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Brad
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0 posted 10-01-2001 05:32 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

This is a bit long but I like the way it's set up so I'm going to quote the whole thing. I'll divide it up into four parts though and try to achieve the same effect I had when I first read it.

All quotes are from "Paradigms Lost: Tackling the Unanswered Mysteries of Modern Science" by John L. Casti, pp. 143-145.

First, the set-up:

" . . . Stanley Milgram of Yale tested forty subjects from all walks of life for their willingness to obey instructions given by a "leader" in a situation in which the subjects might feel a personal abhorrence for the actions they were called on to perform.

Specifically, Milgram told each volunteer "teacher-subject" that the experiment was in the noble cause of education, and was designed to test whether or not punishing pupils for their mistakes would have a positive effect on the pupils' ability to learn.

Milgram's experimental setup involved placing the teacher before a panel of thirty switches with labels ranging from "15 volts (Slight Schock)" to "450 volts (Danger--Severe Schock)" in steps of 15 volts each.

The subject was told that whenever the pupil gave the wrong answer to a question, a shock was to be administered, beginning at the lowest level and increasing in severity with each successive wrong answer.

The supposed "pupil" was in reality an actor hired by Milgram to simulate receiving the shocks by emitting a spectrum of groans, screams, and writhings, together with an assortment of statements and expletives denouncing both the experiment and the experimenter.

Milgram told the subject to ignore the reactions of the pupil, and to administer whatever level of schock was called for as per the rule governing the experimental situation of the moment."
Brad
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1 posted 10-01-2001 06:12 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

The Psychiatrists:

"Prior to carrying out the experiment, Milgram explained his idea to a group of thirty-nine psychiatrists and asked them to predict the average percentage of people in an ordinary population who would be willing to administer the highest shock level of 450 volts.

The overwhelming consensus was that virtually all the subjects would refuse to obey the experimenter.

The psychiatrists felt that "most subjects would not go beyond 150 volts," and they expected that only 4 percent would go up to 300 volts.

Furthermore, they thought that only a pathological, sadistic, lunatic fringe of about 1 in 1,000 would give the highest shock of 450 volts."
Brad
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2 posted 10-01-2001 06:24 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

The experiment:

As the experiment unfolded, the pupil would deliberately give the wrong answers to questions posed by the teacher, thereby bringing on various electrical "punishments," even up to the danger level of 300 volts and beyond.

Many of the subjects balked at administering the higher levels of punishment, and turned to Milgram with questioning looks and/or complaints about continuing with the experiment.

In these situations, Milgram calmly explained that the teacher was to ignore the pupil's cries for mercy and carry on with the experiment.

If the subject was reluctant to proceed, Milgram said that it was important for the sake of the experiment that the procedure be followed through to the end.

His final argument was "You have no other choice. You MUST go on."
Brad
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3 posted 10-01-2001 06:34 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

The result:

"What were the actual results? Well, OVER 60 PERCENT of the subjects continued to obey Milgram up to the 450-volt limit!

In repetitions of the experiment in other countries -- South Africa, Italy, West Germany, Australia -- the percentage of obedient teachers was even higher, reaching 85 percent in Munich."

Two quick points:

1. This is obviously not a statistically valid experiment.

2. If I read this correctly, there was also a motivating factor coming from the pupil as well as Milgram.

But it's something to think about.

Brad
hush
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4 posted 10-02-2001 12:53 AM       View Profile for hush   Email hush   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for hush

Yeah, one of my friends told me about this. You really don't need the experiment, though... just look at Nazi Germany.

I eat only sleep and air -Nicole Blackman

Brad
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5 posted 10-02-2001 01:36 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

True, but there's still a tendency to see Nazism as a specifically German experience. The idea of Nazi's actually taking power in America is, for most people, I think unthinkable.

I find little comfort in the Munich percentage.

This experiment shows what we, anybody really, under the right conditions can do a lot of things that people scoff at, that people call crazy.

And you don't have to be brainwashed.

You just have to do two things:

1. Believe in authority as such.

--this releases you from responsiblity

2. Believe it is for a higher good.

--the ends justifies the means

Brad
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6 posted 10-02-2001 09:16 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Bill Shatner did a movie about this several years back -- I don't remember what it was called.  It's part of human nature to crave leadership though -- after all -- we start out as totally dependent beings.

Was there some reason you were brining this up now Brad?  I mean -- is there some national or worldwide event that precipitated the subject?  Were you noticing a herd mentality developing somewhere?
Interloper
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7 posted 10-02-2001 01:48 PM       View Profile for Interloper   Email Interloper   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Interloper

Brad, I think the fact that teachers were used probably skewed the results.  Without going into this too deeply, I believe most people would know when they were being told to do something they should not or could not do and would stop ... telling the one giving orders that they could/would no longer obey.

Even soldiers, sailors and marines, people conditioned to obey, know they don't have to follow an illegal order.  In fact, they are not allowed to follow such an order.

I can flesh this out more completely if you wish, but I would like to see where you and others might go with this suggestion.


[This message has been edited by Interloper (edited 10-02-2001).]

Alicat
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8 posted 10-02-2001 01:58 PM       View Profile for Alicat   Email Alicat   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Alicat

I read this and remembered a short story who's name eludes me. It was about a classroom, and rewards and punishments for the children. By the end of the story, the teacher, to her great delight, as well as her superiors, got all the children to not recite the Pledge, shaping their minds for future conditioning and indoctrination. Very chilling, and very realistic...but just a story, right?
Brad
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9 posted 10-03-2001 03:30 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

LR,

Uh gee, I don't know.

Interloper,

Well, they weren't all teachers, they were people from 'all walks of life' that became 'teachers'. What I think this means though is that they picked people at random, and took those who said 'yes'.

Nevertheless, I agree that you can't extrapolate any statistical information from forty people. The only thing it does do, I hope, is show that normal people, you and me, are capable of horrendous things given the right conditions. Knowing this possibility may give us the self awareness to avoid it.

That's the idea anyway.

On the other hand, if you have the time, please do expand on your idea. That's really what this forum is for -- expanding, exploring, and rethinking ideas.

Maybe start another thread?

Alicat,

Just a story? Just a story? Dem's fighten' words, buddy.

Oh, wait, you were being ironic, weren't you?

Brad

Interloper
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10 posted 10-04-2001 01:29 PM       View Profile for Interloper   Email Interloper   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Interloper

Well, Brad, you know the three signs of old age, right?

The first is your memory goes, the 2nd is ... well I can't remember

I'm sorry for misreading the description of the "teachers."  Other than that I have nothing more to say
Brad
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11 posted 10-04-2001 08:22 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

If memory is the first to go, I'm an. . .

I guess we have the same problem.



Brad
 
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