A Mind Rape technique popularised by 1984: The villain has the hero in his clutches, but the hero simply... won't... crack. Sometimes the villain has to do more, i.e., to make the hero's mind break. This means using Cold-Blooded Torture (both physical and psychological) to make the hero see things that aren't there or being forced to acknowledge things that are patently untrue, self-contradictory, and/or irrational.
The villain needs to make the hero believe that 2 + 2 = 5. It is said that the Truth will set you Free, and when truth loses all meaning, it becomes just another method of Orwellian Mind Control.
Often occurs in a society where Big Brother Is Watching; bonus points if the operation is carried out in a Room 101. Also a good way of procuring a Manchurian Agent or otherwise Brainwashed drone: if you can break someone down so much that they end up believing this, then you can put them back together however you want.
Fortunately, this is a case of Artistic License Medicine and its use in 1984 itself is a case of Science Marches On, as it turns out that you quite simply cannot torture someone into believing something, and if anything they're going wind up far less receptive to whatever beliefs you were trying to instill on them, since they'll associate it with torturers.
- In One Piece, Kaido uses torture to break down people he sees as potential and makes them join his crew.
- Lampshaded/spoofed in The Invisibles when Sir Miles is using the drug Key 17 to mess with King Mob's mind. He causes King Mob to see, among other things, five fingers where there are four. The illustration is subtly creepy. At the end, when King Mob escapes, he returns the favor: "How many fingers am I holding up, Sir Miles? Just two."
- The Green Goblin attempted this in an issue of Spider-Man. Having captured Spidey and held him hostage for several days, to the point where he was dying of thirst, Goblin presented two glasses of water. One was underneath a beam of light while the other was kept in shadow. Every time Spidey reached for the lit-up glass, he was electrocuted, but was told the glass in the darkness would be perfectly safe. In other words, Gobby was trying to goad him into literally choosing the dark side.
- Lampshaded by Nice Guy Eddie, in Reservoir Dogs:
Nice Guy Eddie: If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don't necessarily make it fucking so!
- Land of the Blind: The new regime apparently mandates vegetarianism, and forces dissidents in the re-education camps to recite: "A dry crust of bread is better than nothing, but nothing is better than a big juicy steak. Therefore, a dry crust of bread is better than a big juicy steak." Plus of course "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."
- The Attorney General wanted to find which was his best law enforcement agency, so he held a contest. The FBI, the CIA, and the NYPD all took part, meeting the AG at the edge of a large forest.
The AG said, "There is a rabbit out in the woods. Each agency will take turns, and whoever finds it in the least amount of time is the best.
The FBI went first. They returned two hours later without a rabbit and made a report: "We surveilled the rabbit, bugged his house, and built an airtight case against him."
The AG said, "Bull. You guys never found the rabbit."
The CIA went into the woods. An hour later, they came out without the rabbit and made a report: "We kidnapped the rabbit, turned him by offering him money and female rabbits, and now he works for us, spying on other rabbits."
The AG said, "Bull, you guys never found the rabbit."
The NYPD detectives went into the woods. Fifteen minutes later a bear walked out, bruised, black-eyed, and swollen, holding his hands in the air, and yelled, "All right, I'm a rabbit, I'm a rabbit!"
- In Russia, this joke was formerly told with the KGB as the butt of the joke.
- In the Brazilian version, the Scotland Yard finds the rabbit in two hours by using deduction, the CIA finds the rabbit in one hour by using surveillance and the Rio de Janeiro Police returns in 30 minutes with a beaten up drug addict claiming to be a rabbit.
- There are also versions that combine◊ the US and Russian versions.
- George Orwell used this for 1984. Winston Smith writes that freedom is the ability to say "two plus two is four," then later tries to make himself believe in Doublethink by changing it to five. During his torture, the torturer forces him to see five fingers when there are only four. After Winston is released, he at one point subconsciously writes "2 + 2 = 5" on a coffee table's dust layer. Interestingly, several editions of the book list "2 + 2 = " instead. Alas, it's actually a typo: Winston really did write "2 + 2 = 5".
- Fyodor Dostoevsky offers us this joyful piece of wisdom:
"Once it's proved to you that, essentially speaking, one little drop of your own fat should be dearer to you than a hundred thousand of your fellow men, and that in this result all so-called virtues and obligations and other ravings and prejudices will finally be resolved, go ahead and accept it, there's nothing to be done, because two times two is-mathematics. Try objecting to that."
- Dostoevsky is actually inverting this trope: the torture comes from the reality that 2 + 2 = 4 and that there is no realistic hope to escape from it. Only when you can say 2 + 2 = something other than 4, can there be hope and freedom. Perhaps a version of I Reject Your Reality when the reality is gloomy and tortuous.
- In one of The Stainless Steel Rat books, "the grey men" mess with Jim's mind using hypnosis to make him think they've chopped off his hands and reattached them.
- In the children's book Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver (Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer) by Michael Ende, the dragon Mrs. Grindtooth (Frau Mahlzahn) tries to use this technique on her pupil/slave Li Si. Li Si, being both very intelligent and very brave, refuses to fold.
- Part of what happened to Tycho Celchu at the beginning/in the backstory of the X-Wing Series. He was bent pretty terribly by Isard but didn't actually break. When she overlaid Rebel and Imperial insignia and tried to transfer his loyalty to one over to the other, the contradiction sent him into a catatonic state. She later tried it on Corran Horn with even less success. However, Isard used it successfully to brainwash many other people into becoming Manchurian agents before. They were just resistant from the start, thus they wouldn't turn.
- Within the Star Wars universe, the Sith have a tendency to use this and Being Tortured Makes You Evil on Jedi captives. Unfortunately, it's often successful because the Sith are not only exploiting loopholes in the Jedi's dogma of emotional repression, but they also exploit the Order's chronic bad habit of telling their rank-and-file "a certain point of view" when it comes to critical information.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- In the fifth book, Ramsay Bolton tortures Theon Greyjoy and conditions him to accept a completely different identity.
- This also pops up in the backstory novel Fire & Blood. The conspiracy against King Aegon III (and more specifically, against his Lyseni in-laws who have gained massive influence in the court) sets up his regent Lord Thaddeus Rowan as a scapegoat, torturing him to the point where he'll give a seemingly honest confession to being accused of trying to assassinate the king on behalf of the aforementioned in-laws. This ends up backfiring on the conspirators, as Aegon's brother Viserys quickly realizes that Rowan will just as earnestly confess to anything, from contradictory accusations about aspects of the conspiracy all the way up to being responsible for the Doom of Valyria. This exposes the false nature of his "confession" and brings down the conspiracy.
- In Night Watch Discworld, the utterly mad Captain Findthee Swing uses craniometrics to determine whether someone was a criminal or not. And funnily enough, "after a short stay in the care of his much more direct underlings, he would inevitably be proven right".
- Albert Camus wrote, very similarly to Orwell "again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two makes four is punished by death" in his book The Plague.
- Alias: Some of the bad guys attempt this with Sydney but as she can't be brainwashed she merely pretends to be broken.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Chain of Command, Part II," Picard is captured during a black op and taken to Gul Madred, who thinks that Picard knows Federation defense plans. Madred tries to force Picard to tell him that there are five lights on the wall when there are really only four. Every time Picard insists that there are four, Madred zaps him with an Agony Beam. When Picard is finally released, due to a deal being struck between the Federation and the Cardassians, he defiantly proclaims "THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS!" to Madred as he is leaving, but it's not as triumphant as it seems — later, Picard admits to Troi that not only would he have readily said there were five lights just to make the pain stop if he hadn't been released at that exact moment, he was so much at his wits' end that he for a moment actually saw five lights.
- In the Babylon 5 episode "Intersections in Real Time", John Sheridan's torture and interrogation is based around manipulating perspective and convincing Sheridan to accept the fact that the truth is fluid, and therefore he's a mutineer, a conspirator, a terrorist, and a victim of alien influence. They needs him to sincerely believe his confession in order to fool telepathic scans. However, he manages to rather effectively turn the logic around against his interrogator by saying that, essentially, just as their truth is valid to them, so is his to himself.
John Sheridan: You know, it's funny, I was thinking about what you said, that the preeminent truth of our age is that you cannot fight the system. But if, as you say, the truth is fluid, that the truth is subjective, then maybe you can fight the system. As long as just one person refuses to be broken, refuses to bow down.
Interrogator: But can you win?
John Sheridan: Every time I say "no."
- In the first episode of The Thick of It, Malcolm tries to "persuade" journalists that minister Hugh Abbott did make an important announcement at an earlier press conference (though he did no such thing) - it's just that journalists missed it.
- Parodied in a TV show by Swedish comedian Hans Alfredsson, in which he plays the leader of a small semi-Nazi organization, whose main targets are "svartskallar" literally "blackheads", a common ethnic slur in Sweden. The Movement is supposed to be vegetarian and celibate, but when a rich and influential member tells the Leader that he owns a sausage factory and is not about to give up his wife, the Leader tells everyone that from now on, sausages and women are vegetables. At the end of the story, the Leader meets his mother for the first time... and she turns out to be black. When someone asks what this means for party policy the Leader declares that from now on, red is black and black is red... and the members turn on the single red-headed member with evil glee.
- In the Mini Series Roots, Kunta Kinte is whipped until he says that his name is Toby, the slave name given to him by his master.
- Though it involves no torture, in the Red Dwarf episode "Camille", Lister tries to break Kryten's Cannot Tell a Lie programming by showing him an apple and getting him to say it's an orange. He doesn't want to make him believe it — just to get him to say something he knows to be untrue.
- On The X-Files, this is pretty much the objective of the military guards torturing Mulder in "The Truth." After breaking into a government facility and finding "the truth", as well as several other things the government was hiding, Mulder is captured and denied food, water, clothes, and sleep. Whenever the guards come in, they ask him what he's thinking, and beat him for answering truthfully. What is the correct answer? They want Mulder to admit that he illegally entered the facility to obtain non-existent information and killed a man, even though none of those things are true. Why? They're holding a Kangaroo Court and are hoping to get rid of him once and for all. It appears to work, as Mulder repeats the words back. Turns out he's just saying it to get them to leave him alone.
- They did this to Baltar in Battlestar Galactica (2003) to the point that his mind was so mixed up and he was talking so much gibberish that when he confessed to having done some terrible crimes, no one believed him.
- Michael Westen in Burn Notice invokes this trope to state why he never uses torture. To get reliable information, Michael and his friends tend to rely on straight-up disinformation, misinformation, deception and a repertoire of gambits.
- In Game of Thrones, after Ramsay Bolton hears Theon Greyjoy begging him to kill him after being tortured for a long time, Ramsay comes up with the idea that Theon is not Theon anymore, but "Reek." Ramsay slaps him until he admits his name is now "Reek."
- The Outpost: After Garret is nearly killed by Dred, he's taken to the Prime Order capital, where the healer Sana nurses him back to health and strikes up a romance with him. Then the Tormentor comes and takes him to the dungeons to be beaten until he renounces Gwyn/Rosmund as a false queen, before Sana stops him and heals him back to health again. Turns out this is a ploy by both Sana and The Tormentor, who are husband and wife, and are using a combination of brutal torture, gentle healing, and carefully crafted lies to break Garret's spirit to get him to serve the Prime Order.
- As per The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples, this is part of the treatment Petruchio gives Katharine in order to "tame" her in The Taming of the Shrew, when he insists that the food is bad and the clothes are ugly and refuse to allow her to eat or keep them. He also obstinately claims that it is 7 o'clock, when it is only 2. "...it shall be what o'clock I say it is." She later gives in to his game, agreeing with Petruchio that, in spite of it being broad daylight, that the moon is shining, and shortly after agrees with him that it is not the moon after all, but in fact the sun. This is potentially Shakespeare's ode to Gaslighting.
- According to some interpretations, though, this is a subversion; Katharine takes Petruchio's lies and stretches them even further, coming up with speeches so patently ridiculous it's hard to think she's not making fun of him. And this may be where they reach an understanding with each other - from this point forward, they start teaming up to terrorize other people instead of each other.
- In Equivocation, Shag protests that a Gunpowder Plot conspirator's confession obtained by torture isn't the best evidence by pointing out the misspelling of his own name (Winter where it should be Wintour). Cecil threatens he can have similarly done to Shag, giving justification to playwright Bill Cain's use of William Shagspeare in place of the well-known William Shakespeare.
- Invoked by Assassin's Creed: the Final Boss wields a device that can cast illusions and control human minds, with the only exception being someone trained to withstand it (in this case, the player character). He goes for full-on solipsism and declares the Apple of Eden proof that "Nothing is true... and everything is permitted!"
- Hilarious — and simultaneously terrifying — is the Shout-Out to this trope in Portal. Midway through the struggle with Big Bad GlaDOS, she angrily seethes, "You think you're doing some damage? Two plus two is... f-f-f-f- Ten. ...In base FOUR! I'm FINE!"
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Interestingly, if you shoot Ocelot with a tranquilizer round, he claims he has drug resssistannce trrraiiinnninnng. Repeated shots eventually make him insist "Two plus two equals five. TWO plus two equals FIVE..." without any outside assistance. As it turns out, he's intentionally torturing himself with reinforced contradictory beliefs because Venom Snake is on the verge of accidentally breaking his hypnosis, and like in Metal Gear Solid 4, he kind of needs to semi-forget that Venom Snake isn't Big Boss to pull this insurrection off.
- Inverted in the American Dad! episode where Deputy Director Bullock is sleeping with Hayley and Stan tries to make her ex-boyfriend Jeff more assertive. Stan states a blatant falsehood (that the orange he's holding is a banana), which Jeff agrees to because he's that much of a wimp. Stan then electrifies Jeff until he stops agreeing with Stan and sticks up for himself (and one more time by accident).
- In an episode of ChalkZone a horrible counselor sets out to make sure that Rudy understands what is "real" and what isn't. She straps him to a chair that shows him two pictures (generally a photo and a cartoon image) and asks him which is better. Every time he gets it wrong, it honks loudly at him. Later in the episode, we see him feebly trying to answer and getting honk after honk after honk until he says "whatever you say", which is the answer she was looking for. She even uses the word "ungood" instead of "bad," straight of 1984's Newspeak dictionary.
- Robot Chicken does the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques version with the nerd, who's being questioned as to the location of Mordor. He finally tells them what they want him to say.note
- Spoofed in the South Park episode "Fishsticks" when Kanye West, denying that liking fish sticks makes him a gay fish, tracks down Carlos Mencia, believed at the time to be the originator of the "fish sticks" joke, and tortures him. When Mencia is unable to crack and break from the "reality" of the joke, Kanye decapitates him with a baseball bat.
- One reason for the Blatant Lies in the pronouncements of repressive regimes (like North Korea's statement that their country is one of the happiest places on Earth) is that citizens wind up repeating them (to avoid being accused of disloyalty) even though they know the statements are untrue. This makes the citizens psychologically complicit in the regime's lies, and less likely to resist. That's the theory, anyway.
- And judging by the (seemingly legitimate) outpouring of grief after Kim Jong-Il's death, the new theory is that, like Winston, the populace also convinces itself of this reality.
- Although there is also evidence that they know perfectly well what the propaganda is after messages were intercepted banning the use of sarcasm to mock the government. Apparently there were a lot of citizens who would say "this is the fault of America" regarding everything in order to make fun of the same phrase used constantly in propaganda announcements, in the same vein as the "thanks Obama" joke.
- Joseph Goebbels: "The principle and which is quite true in itself and that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily." In short: "The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed."
- And this is where the infamous phrase "A lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth" comes from.
- In Nazi Germany's case the torture was economic collapse and Adolf Hitler was the one to say 2+2=5.
- Hitler had this trope backfire against him in the later stages of World War II when his subordinates started forging military reports and making false claims about e.g. troop strengths to avoid punishment from their delusional Führer. This is where the saying "Never trust any statistics that you didn't forge yourself" originated, which was then (possibly as a by-product of Nazi propaganda) falsely attributed to Winston Churchill.
- Consistent with the Fyodor Dostoevsky's version: the torture is 2+2 = 4 that you can't escape from and the escape is fantastical and "unscientific."
- The form of emotional abuse known as Gaslighting.
- Not torture, but a similar concept: a common trick in hypnosis shows is to convince the person under hypnosis that a number (say, 8) doesn't exist, leading to confusion when the person is then asked to count his or her fingers and invariably winds up at eleven, despite knowing that there should only be ten fingers.
- This is one of the arguments against "enhanced interrogation techniques": are they really giving up what they know, or are you just making them say what you think they know so you'll stop? Actual stats on the reliability of information gained from torture suggests that Real Life is not an episode of 24.
- It's also been shown that in practice, "brainwashing" of at least military prisoners doesn't seem to work; POWs who cooperate with their captors (by, say, making derogatory statements about their own country or government) for better conditions (or to avoid torture) don't generally change their actual beliefs. One rather famous example is the crew of USS Pueblo captured by North Koreans; they were told under threat of torture to issue a formal statement confessing their "crimes" and praising North Korea and its leader, which they did. However, the commander chose to use the word "paean" (which really does mean "praise"), so it came out sounding like "We pee on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. We pee on their great leader Kim Il Sung."
- When the long-delayed State Department report was released in 2014, it was revealed that several innocent people had been waterboarded by the US and/or its allies. Why had they been detained by coalition forces in the first place? Because friends of theirs had been waterboarded and in an effort to make it stop, blurted out the names of everyone they knew, conspirators or no.
- Amnesty International Belgium ran a series of anti-torture ads in 2014 that played with this trope using famous celebrities Photoshopped into beaten, broken people admitting something very contrary to their known beliefs—like Iggy Pop describing Justin Bieber as "the future of rock 'n' roll".◊ (Other posters showed the Dalai Lama praising yuppie-style consumerism and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld extolling Hawaiian shirts and flip-flop sandals.)
- Antique trials were quite often this. For example, in witch trials, suspects would be tortured to make them "confess" to witchcraft. If they confessed, then Burn the Witch!. If not
then keep on torturing them until they do.
- During the Salem witch trials, as dramatized in The Crucible, Giles Corey was one of the few who withstood the torture till the end. If he had confessed, he would've been excommunicated from the church and his property would've been lost; if he'd denied the accusation, he'd have been prosecuted anyway and his property would've still been lost. To ensure that his family would inherit his property, he remained Defiant to the End as his interrogators slowly crushed his body under heavyweights. His last words when asked if he'd confess? "More weight."
- The Salem trials were in fact a rare case where confessing spared you, while refusing got you hanged. Despite this, nineteen people hung rather than falsely confess to doing witchcraft. The rest confessed as a result of torture or fear they'd be hung (except Corey, as stated above). Slow realization of how this could procure false confessions caused torture to be slowly banned (although sadly, as mentioned previously, it's made a comeback for anti-terrorism campaigns currently).
- The Chinese advisor Zhao Gao decided to test whether he could pull off a coup by bringing up a deer and calling it a horse. The Emperor Qin Er Shi, confused, asked why he was calling a deer a horse. Zhao then asked the other officials what the deer was, then later ordered that anyone who either called it a deer or stayed silent be marked for death. His logic was that if they called it a horse, they were more loyal to him than to their own eyes—and by extension, the Emperor. This story is also the origins of the Chinese idiom "calling a deer a horse" (指鹿为马 zhi lu wei ma).
...So, Torture = 3?