What if, through advanced psychological techniques and enough knowledge of a human mind, could someone construct a building that when a person lives there for an amount of time, could subliminally influence their thoughts to such an extent that a sort of program could take place, which could give the person living there hallucinations or make them think a certain way.

When I say program, i mean a sort of arrangement of mental associations that would be built into the architecture (e.g. a certain shape a person associates with murder appearing in a pattern in the carpet) that person living there would connect with to create a state of hypnotism through the subliminal messages within the architecture that would trigger a series of events which the person who built the building had pre-planned to take pace.

For example: in the shining, Jack lives in a hotel for a few months during the winter and eventually goes insane and tries to kill everyone, also experiencing several conversations with "ghosts". What if, instead of the hotel actually being haunted, (hand-waving aside the reasons why someone would go through all the immense trouble to pull this off) someone with full knowledge of how jacks brain works and how all his memories and synapses link together to form connections and associations, build the hotel with subliminal messages that with the act of looking around at the different parts of the hotel (the walls, wood fixtures, doors, carpeting) would trigger his sub-conscious into acting on what the builder had "programmed" him to do.

-Is this possible or pure pseudo-science?

-What would such a thing be called, would the building itself qualify as a physical program, or some kind of data that the mind could compute

E.g. an SD card holds memory but only the computer can read it just as the building can only store the information but the human brain can read it?


no chemicals, only the architecture can influence the person inside by direct observation of the architecture alone

Looking for any scientific answers

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is the building allowed to pump chemicals into the air vents or perhaps lace its surfaces with drugs? Once you allow in direct chemical control everything gets a lot easier. $\endgroup$
    – GrinningX
    Sep 26 '16 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Consider changing the "a physical program" title to something more specific. For instance, "Is it possible to affect a human mind via visual images". $\endgroup$
    – enkryptor
    Sep 26 '16 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ There is an incredibly relevant blog post somewhere on rifters.com/crawl but for the life of me I can't find it right now. $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Sep 27 '16 at 4:35

Short answer: human beings are not programmable, as such. Also, subliminal messages are not comprehensive.

Long answer:

You've already used two suspect terms in your premise: hypnotism and subliminal messages. Hypnotism is a real thing, don't get me wrong, but it comes with some important caveats:

  1. To be hypnotized, you must let yourself be hypnotized. Which means you can't hypnotize an unwilling participant.
  2. Someone being hypnotized is more susceptible to suggestion, but no one can be forced to do something they categorically would not do. This is why hypnosis is most often used for two purposes:
    1. Sideshow entertainment with low stakes.
    2. Medical treatment (either low-grade anesthesia or mental rehabilitation). Both are, hypothetically, for the patient's own good, so even though it's high stakes the patient is typically willing. As for mental rehabilitation, hypnosis can be useful for reducing: phobias, anxieties, and addictions. Conversely, on the malicious side, hypnosis could increase: phobias, anxieties, and addictions (but you'd still have to convince the person to enter a hypnotic state willingly). Hypnosis can also implant false memories (still need a willing participant).
  3. To hypnotize someone, you must get them into a hypnotic state. This requires significant effort on the part of the participant, and is not something that can passively be done without their active cooperation.

Which brings us to subliminal messaging. Subliminal messaging is useful for binding associations together. It's most often seen as part of propaganda campaigns. If you can associate your opponent with "crook" and yourself with "great", people are more likely to vote for you. But, if you just come out and say your opponent is a crook and you're great, everyone will just go, "Well, of course he'd say that. He's just a braggart trying to win votes." With subliminal messaging, the idea seems to originate within the target's head, so it is not examined as critically.

This makes subliminal messaging useful in very specific circumstances. Remember: you can only create associations, and while you can sometimes use this to predict behavior (e.g., voting pattern), there will always be something outside your control that can change the outcome. For instance, subliminal messaging tends to be very fragile. As soon as someone has the thought, "Why do I think they're a crook?" they're leading down a path that will not just break the association, but assert it's opposite (assuming, upon investigation, the political opponent really isn't a crook).

Creating a complex subliminal program... it's just not going to happen. First of all, you'd have to have exactly the right person, or they'll just reject your program out of hand. People all the time have thoughts float through their head that make them go, "Woah! Where did that come from? Better just forget I ever thought that."

So, it's not just knowing everything about a person's brain, but the right person's brain.

Assume you have the right person. You've (somehow) gotten a complete scan of their brain, and (somehow) know exactly what all their neural connections mean. Now you have to build a building. That takes months. Or, in the case of The Shining, decades? Centuries? That was an old house. That person you got a scan of their brain? That person doesn't exist anymore. Brains change constantly (that's basically what memory and learning is), and when we're talking about such delicate, error-prone system as subliminal programming, you would need a brain scan that is current at the time the program starts running.

Okay, so, (somehow) you've got a scan of the brain at the time your program will start running. Good. Now you have to make sure your program activates in exactly the right way. If Jack gets a flat tire and is one hour later than you thought, everything's been for nothing, because the program won't run properly. If he gets dust in his eye at the wrong moment, and looks in a direction you weren't expecting, missing a piece of architecture you expected him to see, the program's ruined. If his family acts in an unexpected way, his program is ruined, so you better get scans and programs for them as well. And hope all their programs don't interfere with each other.

At this point, I'd like to direct you to the Cthaeh, a villain in The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It can see into all possible futures, and chooses its own actions in such a way to bring about the worst possible future. Essentially, this is what you have to do. Forget neural connections and psychology; you need a way to look into the future. Then, you can iterate through your architectural design until you get a future that you want.


Yes, it is possible to affect a human mind using visual images in architecture, but not just the images but the design of the space. Take a look at the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture site. There are actual studies and research within the neuroscience community in the last two decades about the human responses to the built environment.

  • $\begingroup$ Affecting someone and creating a program to make them murder their family are vastly different things. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Sep 26 '16 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Azuaron, I agree. However the title question was answered and a source for further references and research was provided. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Sep 26 '16 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ The title is not the question; it's the title. The question is the full question body. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Sep 26 '16 at 19:21

Non-fiction, read "The Design of Everyday Things", which gets into how we will react to an interface, whether physical or software, based on the signals it raises for us.

Fiction, read "Aristoi" by Walter Jon Williams. The first couple chapters deal with a building that does exactly this... and discusses why it works on these particular humans. As other answers noted, the subliminal messaging requires mental associations to work, but if those are sufficiently formed then the architecture can elicit the responses.

  • $\begingroup$ the answer could be better by having brief annotation/spoilers about the topic $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Feb 4 '17 at 5:20

Architecture does affect the minds of people. Specifically visual cues, from architecture or anything else, trigger memory associations. Same is obviously true of other kinds of sensory cues.

Usually this is used to make buildings and cities easier to navigate. Slightly more complex associations can be done on a culture dependent basis. National symbolism was used to create associations with nationalism. In neoclassical architecture, architecture created associations with academic and political traditions going back to antiquity. Ancient kings ornamented their palaces to mark their status. Sheer scale has been used since ancient times to send a message about the relative importance between you and the owner of the building.

In all cases the visual cues simply trigger an already existing association. They do not create, program, or input anything to the minds of people that is not already there.

That said more often a specific association is triggered the stronger it is. And the mind, by itself will create associations with close by things. If you preach in a church with architecture that evokes associations with sanctity, your words will be remembered as more authoritative. Filling your capital with buildings evoking nationalism will make the people more responsive to nationalistic ideology. Impressive buildings will make your government seem more powerful.

So if you actually target a specific person that you know well and he has strong associations to some murders that you know of... why not? If your architecture has something he associates with the brutal murder of a petite blonde woman in the area where he interacts with a petite blonde woman then if the association is strong enough he will think about the woman getting brutally murdered. Our minds are constantly creating such spurious associations. That is where superstitions come from. And, unfortunately for your scenario and fortunately for mankind, why we are usually so good at dismissing and ignoring such associations.

So I really think it would require something special in the background of the target that would make him vulnerable that you could reinforce with external cues. And if you know them well enough to know their issues, you probably occasionally talk with them and can simply use verbal cues Iago style to mess with their minds. People generally respond much stronger to people they talk with than buildings they are in. Also using physical cues in the environment would help, I guess. But they would also add cost and risk of getting caught.

Realistically, you would use verbal cues to make the target... wonder about their violent impulses... see themselves as potential killer... wonder about whether they would like killing a person in specific way... see themselves as a killer who hasn't killed... see themselves as a brutal monster that is held in check. Then give them a push. That is what friends are for, after all. Go on, help your friend be all he can be.


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