Monday, 1 October 2012

How do you know you've never hallucinated?

Ghost treeI've never had a hallucination! I don't misperceive! Not my words, but those of people I've spoken to when I've offered possible explanations for their strange experiences, at their request. The last bit is important! I don't go around forcing my theories onto unwilling witnesses. I only offer my opinion if someone asks for it. And I emphasize that is is only an opinion, based purely on the evidence that they've offered.

How can anyone be sure they've never hallucinated or misperceived? Well, since everyone misperceives all the time, I guess if you're awake you know you must have done that one. Most of the time it hardly matters because our brains are making good, informed guesses about what is being perceived and probably getting it right most of the time. If you're in a familiar room, what is in your peripheral vision is probably quite correct, because your brain knows what's there, even if can't see it too well in the 'corner of your eye'. While everyone misperceives, only a few people notice it and those that do might report what they see as paranormal (like the 'ghost tree' pictured - see here for story).

What about hallucinating? The problem here is that there is still a commonly held view that hallucinating is symptomatic of a medical condition. For this reason, many people resist the idea that they might ever hallucinate. In reality, most people have near sleep experiences at some time in their life and, usually, it is not a sign of any kind of 'condition'. A big problem is, how do you actually know when you're hallucinating - it can be very difficult to tell. I'm not going into that complex question here because the real point is this - how can anyone say definitively that they've never hallucinated? In my opinion, it is almost certainly impossible.

When people say they don't hallucinate or misperceive, they are generally using it as a way to discount those possible explanations for their weird experience. But, in reality, we all misperceive and most people have hallucinated at some time or other. Maybe they hallucinated at precisely during the time when they had their weird experience!

The main point is this - people use arguments to discount possible explanations for weird stuff that don't always stand up to close scrutiny. Before you allow yourself to be persuaded by such arguments, ask yourself if they are realistic.

PS: I saw a common name on an email sent to me recently, except it turned out to be a rare one (with a similar spelling) when I looked again! I had misperceived the real name to a common version, actually seeing it with the wrong letters! See here for similar text misperception.

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