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(The online version of this article appears in four parts. Click here to go to part one, part two, or part four.)

PLANNING for the last of Murray's "multiform assessments" was well under way by the spring of 1959. The idea, according to Murray's notes, was to "call for volunteers from a large undergraduate course."

Get about 80 sophomores; administer a series of scales or questionnaires dealing with various dimensions of personality; pick 25 subjects, some extremely high, some extremely low and some in middle on each of these scales; study these 25 subjects over a three year period by the multiform method of assessment; come up with 700 rank orders, and using a computer, obtain clusters of intercorrelations, factors, but final decisions are reached after prolonged discussions and reassessments; enormous amount of data which staff analyzes, interprets, formulates.

Kaczynski told Mello that he was "pressured into participating" in the Murray experiment. His hesitation turned out to be sensible. Researchers gave the volunteers almost no information about the experiment in which they would participate. Each was simply asked to answer yes to the following question: "Would you be willing to contribute to the solution of certain psychological problems (parts of an on-going program of research in the development of personality), by serving as a subject in a series of experiments or taking a number of tests (average about 2 hours a week) through the academic year (at the current College rate per hour)?"

In fact it would never be clear what the "certain psychological problems" were. And the test that served as the centerpiece for this undertaking appears remarkably similar to the old OSS stress test. Students would be given the third degree. But whereas the OSS applicants must have known that enduring unpleasant interrogations could be part of their job, these students did not. The intent was to catch them by surprise, to deceive them, and to brutalize them. As Murray described it,

First, you are told you have a month in which to write a brief exposition of your personal philosophy of life, an affirmation of the major guiding principles in accord with which you live or hope to live.

Second, when you return to the Annex with your finished composition, you are informed that in a day or two you and a talented young lawyer will be asked to debate the respective merits of your two philosophies.

When the subject arrived for the debate, he was escorted to a "brilliantly lighted room" and seated in front of a one-way mirror. A motion-picture camera recorded his every move and facial expression through a hole in the wall. Electrodes leading to machines that recorded his heart and respiratory rates were attached to his body. Then the debate began. But the students were tricked. Contrary to what Murray claimed in his article, they had been led to believe that they would debate their philosophy of life with another student like themselves. Instead they confronted what Forrest Robinson describes as a "well-prepared 'stooge'" -- a talented young lawyer indeed, but one who had been instructed to launch into an aggressive attack on the subject, for the purpose of upsetting him as much as possible. Robinson has described what happened next.

As instructed, the unwitting subject attempted to represent and to defend his personal philosophy of life. Invariably, however, he was frustrated, and finally brought to expressions of real anger, by the withering assault of his older, more sophisticated opponent.... while fluctuations in the subject's pulse and respiration were measured on a cardiotachometer.

Not surprisingly, most participants found this highly unpleasant, even traumatic, as the data set records. "We were led into the room with bright lights, very bright," one of them, code-named Cringle, recalled afterward.

I could see shadowy activities going on behind the one-way glass ... [Dr. G] ... started fastening things on me. [I] had a sensation somewhat akin to someone being strapped on the electric chair with these electrodes ... I really started getting hit real hard ... Wham, wham, wham! And me getting hotter and more irritated and my heart beat going up ... and sweating terribly ... there I was under the lights and with movie camera and all this experimentation equipment on me ... It was sort of an unpleasant experience.

"Right away," said another, code-named Trump, describing his experience afterward, "I didn't like [the interrogator]."

[Dr. G] ... came waltzing over and he put on those electrodes but in that process, while he was doing that, kind of whistling, I was looking over the room, and right away I didn't like the room. I didn't like the way the glass was in front of me through which I couldn't see, but I was being watched and right away that puts one in a kind of unnatural situation and I noted the big white lights and again that heightens the unnatural effect. There was something peculiar about the set-up too, it was supposed to look homey or look natural, two chairs and a little table, but again that struck me as unnatural before the big piece of glass and the lights. And then [Mr. R] ... who was bubbling over, dancing around, started to talk to me about he liked my suit.... the buzzer would ring or something like that, we were supposed to begin.... he was being sarcastic or pretty much of a wise guy.... And the first thing that entered my mind was to get up and ask him outside immediately ... but that was out of the question, because the electrodes and the movie and all that ... I kind of sat there and began to fume and then he went on and he got my goat and I couldn't think of what to say.... And then they came along and they took my electrodes off.

And so it went. One subject, Hinge, thought he was "being attacked." Another, Naisfield, complained, "The lights were very bright.... Then the things were put on my legs and whatnot and on the arm, ... I didn't like the feel of the sticky stuff that was on there being sort of uncomfortable."

Although the "stressful dyadic proceeding" served as the centerpiece of Murray's experiment (it occurred during the second year of the three-year study), it was merely one among scores of different tests the students took in order to allow Murray and his associates to acquire, as Murray wrote, "the most accurate, significant, and complete knowledge and understanding of a single psychological event that is obtainable."

Before the dyadic confrontation took place, Murray and his colleagues interviewed the students in depth about their hopes and aspirations. During this same period the subjects were required to write not only essays explaining their philosophies of life but also autobiographies, in which they were told to answer specific, intimate questions on a range of subjects from thumb-sucking and toilet training to masturbation and erotic fantasies. And they faced a battery of tests that included, among others, the Thematic Apperception Test, a Rorschach test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the California Psychological Inventory, a "fantasy inventory," a psychological-types inventory, the Maudalay Personality Inventory, an "inventory of self-description," a "temperament questionnaire," a "time-metaphor test," a "basic disposition test," a "range of experience inventory," a "philosophical outlook test," a food-preference inventory, analyses of their literary tastes and moral precepts, an "odor association test," a "word association test," an argument-completion test, a Wyatt finger-painting test, a projective-drawings test, and a "Rosenzweig picture frustration test." The results were then analyzed by researchers, who plotted them in numerous ways in an effort to develop a psychological portrait of each personality in all its dimensions.

Only after most of this data had been collected did researchers administer the stressful dyadic confrontation. During the year following this session each student was called back for several "recall" interviews and sometimes was asked to comment on the movie of himself being reduced to impotent anger by the interrogator. During these replays, Murray wrote, "you will see yourself making numerous grimaces and gestures" and "uttering incongruent, disjunctive, and unfinished sentences."

During the last year of the experiment Murray made the students available to his graduate-student assistants, to serve as guinea pigs for their own research projects. By graduation, as Kenneth Keniston, one of these researchers, summarized the process later, "each student had spent approximately two hundred hours in the research, and had provided hundreds of pages of information about himself, his beliefs, his past life, his family, his college life and development, his fantasies, his hopes and dreams."

Why were the students willing to endure this ongoing stress and probing into their private lives? Some who had assisted Murray in the experiment confessed to me that they wondered about this themselves. But they -- and we -- can only speculate that some of the students (including Kaczynski) did it for the money, that some (again, probably including Kaczynski) had doubts about their own psychic health and were seeking reassurance about it, that some, suffering from Harvard's well-known anomie, were lonely and needed someone to talk to, and that some simply had an interest in helping to advance scientific knowledge. But in truth we do not know. Alden E. Wessman, a former research associate of Murray's who has long been bothered by the unethical dimension of this study, said to me recently, "Later, I thought: 'We took and took and used them and what did we give them in return?'"

What was the purpose of the experiment? Keniston told me that he wasn't sure what the goals were. "Murray was not the most systematic scientist," he explained. Murray himself gave curiously equivocal answers. At times he suggested that his intent was merely to gather as much raw data as possible about one interpersonal event, which could then be used in different ways to help "develop a theory of dyadic systems." At other times he recalled the idealistic goal of acquiring knowledge that would lead to improving human personality development. At still other times his language seemed to suggest a continued interest in stressful interrogations. For example, Murray explained in his "Notes on Dyadic Research," dated March 16, 1959, that an ongoing goal of the research, which focused heavily on "degree of anxiety and disintegration," was to "design and evaluate instruments and procedures for the prediction of how each subject will react in the course of a stressful dyadic proceeding."

Sometimes Murray suggested that his research might have no value at all. "Cui bono?" he once asked. "As [the data] stand they are nothing but raw data, meaningless as such; and the question is what meaning, what intellectual news, can be extracted from them?" In another context he asked, "Are the costs in man-hours incurred by our elaborate, multiple procedures far greater than any possible gains in knowledge?"

Such equivocation prompts one to ask, Could the experiment have had a purpose that Murray was reluctant to divulge? Was the multiform-assessments project intended, at least in part, to help the CIA determine how to test, or break down, an individual's ability to withstand interrogation? The writer Alexander Cockburn has asked whether the students might have been given the hallucinogenic drug LSD without their knowledge, possibly at the request of the CIA. By the late 1950s, according to some, Murray had become quite interested in hallucinogenics, including LSD and psilocybin. And soon after Murray's experiments on Kaczynski and his classmates were under way, in 1960, Timothy Leary returned to Harvard and, with Murray's blessing, began his experiments with psilocybin. In his autobiography, Flashbacks (1983), Leary, who would dedicate the rest of his life to promoting hallucinogenic drugs, described Murray as "the wizard of personality assessment who, as OSS chief psychologist, had monitored military experiments on brainwashing and sodium amytal interrogation. Murray expressed great interest in our drug-research project and offered his support."

Forrest Robinson reports in his biography that Murray took psilocybin and in 1961 delivered a talk on his experience to the International Congress of Applied Psychology. That Leary had Murray's support was confirmed by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Schlain in their book Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD (1985).

Leary returned to Harvard and established a psilocybin research project with the approval of Dr. Harry Murray, chairman of the Department of Social Relations. Dr. Murray, who ran the Personality Assessments section of the OSS during World War II, took a keen interest in Leary's work. He volunteered for a psilocybin session, becoming one of the first of many faculty and graduate students to sample the mushroom pill under Leary's guidance.

Kaczynski thinks he was never given LSD. And after exhaustive research I could find no evidence that LSD was ever used in Murray's research. Nevertheless, whether the research had a defense connection of some sort remains an open question. Although direct evidence of support from a federal defense grant is so far lacking, circumstantial evidence exists: the strong similarity between the OSS stress tests and the later experiments, Murray's association with the OSS, his grant proposal to do research for the Navy Department, and the lack of any clearly explained purpose for the study. Obviously, the dyadic studies would have had considerable utility for the defense establishment, either as a framework for testing recruits or as continuing work on how to improve interrogation techniques.

A Turning Point

WHAT was the state of Kaczynski's mental health at the time of the multiform-assessments project and immediately afterward? The evidence suggests that he was entirely sane during those years. By the spring of 1998 Kaczynski had obtained from the Murray Center his answers (along with those of other Murray-experiment participants) on the Thematic Apperception Test, which Murray had given to Kaczynski during the first year of the experiment. At Kaczynski's request, his lawyers sent these to a psychological-testing expert: Bertram Karon, at Michigan State University. Because participants were identified only by code names, Karon was able to conduct a blind evaluation -- measuring the answers without knowing who had given them. Karon found that on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 a complete absence of illness and 10 the highest degree of illness, "Lawful" scored 0 for "Schizotypy" and 2 for "Psychopathy." Kaczynski's undergraduate experience and behavior had been unremarkable. The reports of his housemaster, his adviser, and the university doctors attested to his normalcy, as did the observations of classmates. There is no evidence of immediate mental degradation in the project's aftermath. Emotional turmoil is another matter. As Sally Johnson, the forensic psychiatrist, reported, Kaczynski clearly began to experience emotional distress then, and began to develop his anti-technology views. And there is one thing that comes through clearly in the essays, test answers, and interviews of Murray's subjects at the outset of the experiment: many of these young men already exhibited attitudes of anger, nihilism, and alienation -- reflecting, perhaps, just how persuasively a culture of despair had infused student attitudes and suggesting that some might have been especially vulnerable to stress.

Bulwer admitted that "right now I have sort of a nihilistic outlook on life.... How do you justify studying if you regard yourself as an ant crawling through a great huge anthill with millions of others?"

Ives (speaking of living a conventional life) confessed,

And for doing all this I will hate myself. I mourn the world in which I live because for me there is no place unless I compromise. All I can do is gather up the shattered remains of my hope and love and in the debris of the world keep at least one small blaze of poetry burning.... I most feel akin to the artists and the philosophers and have a hatred for the scientists. The scientists I hate because they are pursuing goals which are destined to remove man even further from himself.

Naisfield averred, "I don't feel that there is any purpose in my being alive ..."

To describe his philosophy of life, Oscar (roughly) quoted Bertrand Russell (whose writings were assigned in Gen Ed): "Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Quartz announced that there were "no such things as objective values."

Dorset wrote simply, "Society as I see it stinks."

Sanwick, as one researcher put it, is "basically distrustful of the whole enterprise of life." Researchers found analyzing him "almost impossible," because "his whole life is conceptualized within a bombastic framework of philosophical concepts: being, life, death, transcendency, preservation, liberation, repetition, chaos.... One feels ... a great tumult and chaos of awarenesses, perceptions, and feelings."

The analysts deemed one subject "a young man in a state of considerable distress, depression, and confusion.... extremely alienated" and another prone to "withdrawal, silence." And so on, and on.

It is clear, also, that Murray's experiment deeply affected at least some of its subjects. From interviews conducted after the project ended, it is apparent that certain students had found the experience searing. Even twenty-five years later some recalled the unpleasantness. In 1987 Cringle remembered the "anger and embarrassment ... the glass partition ... the electrodes and wires running up our sleeves."

Likewise, twenty-five years later Drill still had "very vivid general memories of the experience ... I remember someone putting electrodes and blood pressure counter on my arm just before the filming.... [I] was startled by [his interlocutor's] venom.... I remember responding with unabating rage."

What Hinge remembered most vividly twenty-five years later was being "attacked" and hating "having all my movements and sounds recorded.... we were led over to the chairs and strapped in and as the wires were attached to us.... I began to get more involved in the situation and I began to realize that ... there I was, actually was going to be in front of the movie camera ... I was surprised by how strongly he was attacking me...."

And twenty-five years later Locust wrote,

I remember appearing one afternoon for a 'debate' and being hooked up to electrodes and sat in a chair with bright lights and being told a movie was being made.... I remember him attacking me, even insulting me, for my values, or for opinions I had expressed in my written material, and I remember feeling that I could not defend these ideas, that I had written them not intended for them to be the subject of a debate ... I remember being shocked by the severity of the attack, and I remember feeling helpless to respond.... So what I seem to remember are feelings (bewilderment, surprise, anger, chagrin) sensations (the bright lights used for the filming, the discomfort of the arrangements) reactions (how could they have done this to me; what is the point of this? They have deceived me, telling me there was going to be a discussion, when in fact there was an attack).

And at his twenty-fifth college reunion Ives wrote to Murray,

My memories of the encounter 25 years ago ...
The young lawyer was surprisingly hostile ...
He had wavey jet black hair ...
The subject was the nature of love.
I argued that love could only be for a specific person.
He argued that one could love all mankind.
We talked about Natasha from WAR & PEACE.
I did not enjoy the experience.

We don't know what effect this experiment may have had on Kaczynski. As noted, I did not have access to his records, and therefore cannot attest to his degree of alienation then. Diana Baumrind, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, observes that deceitful experimentation can be harmful if the subjects "have been emotionally unstable prior to the experiment." Kaczynski must certainly have been among the most vulnerable of Murray's experimental subjects -- a point that the researchers seem to have missed. He was among the youngest and the poorest of the group. He may have come from a dysfunctional home.

Lois Skillen, Kaczynski's high school counselor, is among those who believe that the Murray experiment could have been a turning point in Kaczynski's life. Ralph Meister, one of Turk Kaczynski's oldest friends and a retired psychologist who has known Ted Kaczynski since he was a small boy, also raises this possibility. So does one of Murray's own research associates. The TAT results certainly suggest that at the outset of the experiment Kaczynski was mentally healthy, but by the experiment's end, judging from Sally Johnson's comments, he was showing the first signs of emotional distress. As Kaczynski's college life continued, outwardly he seemed to be adjusting to Harvard. But inwardly he increasingly seethed. According to Sally Johnson, he began worrying about his health. He began having terrible nightmares. He started having fantasies about taking revenge against a society that he increasingly viewed as an evil force obsessed with imposing conformism through psychological controls.

These thoughts upset Kaczynski all the more because they exposed his ineffectuality. Johnson reported that he would become horribly angry with himself because he could not express this fury openly. "I never attempted to put any such fantasies into effect," she quoted from his writings, "because I was too strongly conditioned ... against any defiance of authority.... I could not have committed a crime of revenge even a relatively minor crime because ... my fear of being caught and punished was all out of proportion to the actual danger of being caught."

Kaczynski felt that justice demanded that he take revenge on society. But he lacked the personal resources at that time to do so. He was -- had always been -- a good boy. Instead he would seek escape. He began to dream about breaking away from society and living a primitive life. According to Johnson, he "began to study information about wild edible plants" and to spend time learning about the wilderness. And like many American intellectuals before him, from Henry David Thoreau to Edward Abbey, he began to form a plan to seek personal renewal in nature.

TODAY society would not tolerate the deceptions inherent in the Murray experiments. The researchers seem to have failed at least two requirements in the American Psychological Association's current code of conduct: that they obtain "informed consent" from their subjects and that they "never deceive research participants about significant aspects that would affect their willingness to participate, such as physical risks, discomfort, or unpleasant emotional experiences." But different standards prevailed then, and what we now view as the abuse of human subjects was common. Researchers around the country performed experiments on undergraduates that put them in psychological peril.

In an infamous experiment conducted in 1962 by the Yale professor Stanley Milgram, subjects (forty men recruited through mail solicitation and a newspaper ad) were led to believe that they were delivering ever-more-powerful electric shocks to a stranger, on orders from the researcher. Nearly two thirds of them continued to obey the orders even when they were asked to administer the highest level of shock, labeled "Danger: Severe Shock." Some participants broke down on learning of their potential for cruelty. "I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the laboratory smiling and confident," Milgram wrote, concerning one of his study subjects. "Within 20 minutes he was reduced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching a point of nervous collapse."

A 1971 experiment by the Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo embodied the pursuit of scientific truth at the expense of students' psychological health. Zimbardo selected twenty-four students to play a game of guards and prisoners. Nine were "arrested" and taken to a basement "prison," where they were guarded by the others. In a very short time the guards began abusing the prisoners. This sadism erupted so quickly that Zimbardo discontinued the experiment after six days -- eight days earlier than originally intended.

The Murray experiment may not have been as intensely traumatic as these other experiments. And its ethics were definitely acceptable in their day. But the ethics of the day were wrong. And they framed Kaczynski's first encounter with a reckless scientific value system that elevated the pursuit of scientific truth above human rights.

When, soon after, Kaczynski began to worry about the possibility of mind control, he was not giving vent to paranoid delusions. In view of Murray's experiment, he was not only rational but right. The university and the psychiatric establishment had been willing accomplices in an experiment that had treated human beings as unwitting guinea pigs, and had treated them brutally. Here is a powerful logical foundation for Kaczynski's latterly expressed conviction that academics, in particular scientists, were thoroughly compromised servants of "the system," employed in the development of techniques for the behavioral control of populations.


(The online version of this article appears in four parts. Click here to go to part one, part two, or part four.)

Alston Chase is the author of Playing God in Yellowstone (1986) and In a Dark Wood (1995). He is at work on a book about Theodore Kaczynski.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 2000; Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber - 00.06 (Part Three); Volume 285, No. 6; page 41-65.