I have heard:
It happened in the Second World War. Many people were needed in the army so all kinds of people were being recruited. Everybody was asked to sacrifice for the country, for the motherland, for the fatherland and all that nonsense. A professor of philosophy was also recruited.
The first day the corporal calls the newly enlisted men for their first training and starts shouting, “Platoon, attention! Platoon, halt! Platoon, attention! Platoon, about face! Platoon, halt! Platoon, right face!”
The professor steps out of formation and starts to walk away.
“Hey! you!” shouts the corporal. “Where are you going?”
“To the pub,” says the professor, “I’ll come back when you’ve made up your mind.”
Naturally, a man who thinks will see the whole nonsense of it. What is the point of it? Why should one do all these things? But they have a certain reasoning behind it: this is how your intelligence is killed, this is how you are slowly transformed into a robot, into a machine. The man is slowly killed; then you start functioning like a machine. “Right turn!” and you need not think, you simply turn right. Not that you think why – there is no question of why – no question arises in you. In fact, your body functions almost mechanically. Just as you push a button and the light goes on or off or the machine starts functioning. So when the soldier hears “Right turn!” he simply turns right without paying any attention to what is being done by him; it simply happens.
I have heard about William James – one of the most significant psychologists that America has contributed to the world. He was sitting with a friend in a restaurant talking about conditioning. It was the talk all over the world because just recently the Russian psychologist Pavlov had discovered the conditioned reflex: that a man can be conditioned so deeply that he starts functioning like a machine.
And Pavlov has become the father of Russian psychology and communists have been following his ideas for all these sixty years.
William James was talking to his friend, but the friend was not willing to accept the idea so easily – it was so new.
At that very moment a retired soldier was passing along the street with a bucket full of eggs. To demonstrate, William James shouted, “Attention!” and the poor old soldier simply went into the attitude of attention. The bucket fell; all the eggs were destroyed. He was very angry. He said, “Who has done this?”
William James said, “But we didn’t say that you had to follow!”