Harvard created the Unabomber

Harvard's Unabomber Experiment, Class '62

The news The fact that Ted Kaczynski was included in the alumni directory for the 50th anniversary messed up the class reunion. Better known about his Pen name (or "War," Kaczynski named his job as a "prisoner", his awards as "eight life sentences" and his publication as his manifesto "Technological Slavery" in 2010. How and whether his answers to the class questionnaire should have been published has been a lot of cue and reflection in Cambridge triggered. But his crimes were no joke. Kaczynski's letter bombs killed three people and maimed another 23.

In all reports of the 50th anniversary reunification, one strange twist in the history of Harvard Unabomber was not mentioned: during Kaczynski's second year at Harvard in 1959, he was recruited into a psychological experiment that, unbeknownst to him, would take three years. The experiment involved psychological agony and humiliation, a story that I will include in my book Mind Wars: Brain Research and the Military in the 21st Century.

The Harvard study aimed at psychological deconstruction by humiliating students and thereby experiencing severe stress. Kaczynski's anti-technological fixation and criticism itself had some roots in the Harvard curriculum, which emphasized the supposed objectivity of science versus the subjectivity of ethics. He requested it before he was arrested The Washington Post and The New York Times publish a 35,000 word manifesto entitled "Industrial Society and Its Future," a document that expresses its philosophy of science and culture.

Kaczynski believes that the industrial revolution was the script of human slavery. "The system does not and cannot exist to meet human needs," he wrote. "Instead, human behavior has to be adapted to the requirements of the system." The only way out is to destroy the fruits of industrialization and encourage the return of "WILD nature," despite the potentially negative consequences this brings, he wrote.

After Harvard, Kaczynski received his PhD. He studied mathematics at the University of Michigan and briefly taught at the University of California at Berkeley. Then he left the company. For 18 years he used homemade explosive devices to terrorize those whom he viewed as agents of anti-human technology, especially those associated with universities or airlines. When Kaczynski was arrested in his remote cabin in Montana in 1996, he left a trail of chaos.

The man who conducted the humiliation experiment was the brilliant and complex Harvard psychologist Henry A. Murray. Though his fame has waned since his death, Murray was one of the most important scientists of his day, pioneering personality tests that are now a routine part of the industry in management and psychological assessments. It is not too much to say that contemporary psychology would be very different without his contributions. (Full disclosure: Murray was a close friend and colleague of my father's, but we were unaware of this experiment.)

Henry Murray was a native of New York who became a Boston Brahmin. He attended the best schools, Groton and Harvard, and earned an M.D. in Columbia and a PhD in biochemistry from Cambridge University. After reading, he dropped medicine and science for psychology, and published a seminal work in 1938 called Carl Jung Explorations in personality. Before World War II, the US government asked him to create a psychological profile of Hitler, and during the war he helped the Office of Strategic Services (later CIA) evaluate its agents. In the 1950s, Murray's personality test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), was used to screen Harvard students.

In another curious twist that shows why history is stranger than fiction while Kaczynski was going through these humiliation experiments, a young Harvard researcher named Timothy Leary began his career on psychedelics. In 1960, Leary returned from a vacation in Mexico with a suitcase full of Magic Mushrooms. Murray himself reportedly oversaw psychoactive drug experiments, including Leary's. According to Alston Chase, author of Harvard and the UnabomberLeary called Murray "the personality assessment wizard who, as OSS chief psychologist, oversaw military brainwashing and sodium amytal interrogation experiments."

These curious historical intersections remind us that, as William Faulkner put it in another context, “the past is not dead; it's not even over yet. "