Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Posts Tagged ‘hearing voices’

Mediumism gradually undermined by science

Posted by robertpriddy on February 24, 2014

There are countless instances in history ancient and modern of persons claiming that God or other ‘spirits’ speak through them, and that they are merely instruments of ‘divine will’. Among those who profess powerful convictions about divinity, many claim they are ‘hearing voices’, whether that of God or other entities. The phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’ is also alleged in some sects to be divinely inspired wisdom, though it is often sounds entirely  unintelligible to the non-initiated. The suspicion is easily aroused that,  by some ‘sleight of mind’, the claimants are deceiving themselves and/or others. By disclaiming wilful intention,  they may say whatever they want while denying responsibility for it. There can be many and diverse motives for such a deception, from simply  impressing others to trying to overthrow existing powers-that-be.  Historically, many mediums who claimed that spirits were speaking through them were exposed as fraudulent. Notable instances were those of the production of spiritual ‘protoplasm’, of instruments being played and so forth in seances in the dark rooms.  It is well recorded that such duplicity can arise from personality disturbances involving cognitive and emotional confusions, or vague intuitions and subliminal perceptions the medium over-interprets and dramatizes. They may really believe that what in fact are their own ideas or convictions and show signs of forgetting afterwards what was uttered by them, indicating neurological pathology which may be represented as some kind of split mind or dual personality. Thus to hide behind an assumed ‘other entity’ may also imply chronic character weakness in lacking the self-confidence simply to be themselves. Meanwhile, ‘hearing voices’ is a phenomenon that many claim they suffer from badly and an international organisation ‘Hearing Voices’ attempts to explore the many aspects of the matter and seek answers and solutions. Many mediums doubtless have problems about personal identity, multiple personality role problems or even outright schizophrenia.  Though the existence of a pathology called ‘schizophrenia’ is contested due to vague definitions, false assumptions and other reasons, there is good evidence that some of the population from which it was derived were suffering from a later-identified neurological disorder.

Many explanations for such behaviour have been put through the ages. In early times, visitations from the dead, hearing voices, ‘speaking in tongues’ and the like were probably easily believed to be the actual work of spirits, deities, or demons. In more modern times it was popular to attribute such phenomena to nature spirits in a throwback to paganism. However, these beliefs are still widespread in mainstream religion, such as in Hinduism, Islam and not least Roman Catholicism and other Christian sects. Religions all assert a ‘spiritual realm’ and this is often taken to be an astral realm (or akasha) wherein supposed disembodied entities in astral form that can enliven ‘dead thoughts’ from mental remnants of departed persons or create images, sounds, visions, apports, and even manifest actual objects. These spirit entities have been grouped together as ‘elemental nature spirits’.  However, apart from accepting that mediums are actually delivering messages from divine beings (as in Mohammed’s outpourings or Swedenborg’s writings), and apart from the belief in ‘demonic possession’, it has also widely and increasingly been put down to psychological disturbances or what is roughly defined as  ‘mental illness’. In schizophrenia, for example, hearing voices, it is a quite common symptom (‘auditory hallucination’) and the voices can be many, frequent and very insistent. 

To attempt to contact or ‘channel’ such sources – a popular pastime or ‘spiritual’  investigation in New Age communities – often leads to experiences which seem to the participants to have a supernatural origin of some kind. The calling up of spirits through the ouija board  legible text, taken as answers to questions. The exact details of how the mind produces such effects as ‘voices’ are not known, but however fascinating alleged paranormal phenomena of these kinds may be and however genuine they may seem, there is no decisive evidence so far to show that they are not products of the human mind and imagination (with subconscious input). One only has to consider that famous imaginative authors are largely ignorant of the processes by which their own creativity works in producing what are for many people ‘unimaginable’ scenarios of huge complexity and consistency.

It has further been shown that hearing voices can arise through neurological misinterpretation of signals and their origin (i.e. within or outside the brain – see Neurology throws light on ‘hearing God’s word’, ‘channelling’. All in all, the progress of the sciences in researching mediumism and other psychic paranormal phenomena is slow compared with advances in other fields concerned to understand the complexity and effects of brain power. Since it is hardly 100 years since the natural sciences showed any interest in investigating paranormal claims, such as by the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, and the issues have so far remained relatively peripheral to the main concerns of humanity, parapsychology not being a priority of present aims in the relevant sciences. However, in the last few decades, the technological advances in instruments like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (which now can study the brain at the microscopic level in real-time) and much more are making it likely that such claims may be resolved definitively.

It has also been clearly shown by constructed experiments that fictional entities created for the experiment can just as easily be contacted and give answers etc.  Such a proof was provided by an experiment by Derren Brown on BBC TV in which a complete recreation of a Victorian-type spiritualist seance with events such as smashing wineglasses, ringing bells, ouija phenomena and the fear reactions of  (and later relief) of the participants, twelve students, picked from volunteers at Universities around UK. Use of hidden cameras exposed the actual causes of the phenomena, which were entirely unknown to the chosen volunteer who acted as medium.All was set up in advance and all done through Derren Brown’s psychological suggestions, as he explained in detail afterwards.

The proof was also shown by the famous 1970s ‘Philip experiment’ in Canada:- See (Create a ghost – How to create a ghost – Paranormal Phenomena   http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghosthuntinggeninfo/a/create-a-ghost.htm

The Philip Experiment – documentary and footage Part of a documentary and actual footage from the Philip Experiment. http://paranormal.about.com/od/Ghost_Videos/v/the-philip-experiment-video.htm)

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Neurology throws light on ‘hearing God’s word’, ‘channelling’

Posted by robertpriddy on April 20, 2012

Modern neurological science is gradually unravelling phenomena which provide likely fresh explanations for schizophrenic symptoms, and also not least the claims of divine inspiration in allegedly hearing God’s voice, or those of other non-incarnate entities. This breakthrough could, when thoroughly explored, undermine all religious texts claimed as expressing the word of God, as well as countless claims of having received messages and entire doctrines or philosophies from supposed ‘disincarnate’ personalities – whether saintly figures, well-known geniuses of literature and art etc. or also just ordinary persons who are thought to have ‘passed over into a realm beyond’.

Of course, many believers in this or that religion, in saints, holy men or women and gurus of all kinds who claim to be mediums or ‘channels’ for divine beings will react against this because it would rob them of any remaining rationale for the unquestionability of holy scriptures and more besides. There are those who believe that schizophrenia and other diagnoses of serious mental dysfunctions are merely labels put on persons who do not conform to the accepted pattern because they have insight into ‘other dimensions’ which are closed to ordinary persons. This kind of theory – made popular from the 1960s onwards by psychiatrists like R.D. Laing, Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz, has been increasingly discredited with advances in science, especially in genetics, psychopathology and neurology. Thomas Szasz, who was famous for his book ‘The Myth of Mental Illness’ has in recent years honourably refuted his own theory as untenable. That schizophrenia has a genetic basis has been proven in research since the 1970s, even though it is still possible that many persons were wrongly diagnosed as psychotic, schizophrenic and so on due to incompetence, intense pressure from families or others for confinement of very difficult relatives etc.

Breakthrough research using magnetic imaging of the brain:  Many scientists have noticed that when patients hallucinate voices, neurons in brain regions associated with processing sounds spontaneously fire despite there being no sound waves to trigger this activity. That’s an indication of brain overload.

But when presented with real-world voices, other studies showed, hallucinating patients’ brains often failed to respond at all, in contrast with healthy brains. These studies pointed to a stifling of brain signals.

By analyzing all of these studies together, biological psychologist Kenneth Hugdahl of the University of Bergen in Norway found the simultaneous over-stimulation and dampening of brain signals to be two sides of the same coin. The findings help explain why schizophrenia patients retreat into a hallucinatory world. Now, Hugdahl wants to use this knowledge to help patients reverse that tendency. Hugdahl remarks that schizophrenia is marked by delusions, hallucinations, breakdowns in thought processes — as many as 35 separate symptoms, presenting differently in every patient.

Bjarte Stubhaug, Medical Director, Division of Psychiatry at Bergen’s Haukeland University Hospital in Norway, has endorsed the discovery of evidence that the brain interprets certain inner impulses as sounds and voices, a spontaneous hearing activity without external stimuli. Such experiences are therefore not based on ‘objective’ fact (i.e. real external sources). Further, he holds, the brain can develop functions that are quite new, such as through meditation.

Stubhaug writes concerning pathoplasticity: “Through history this process of changing labels, attributing old symptoms to new labels and discovering new symptoms once they have been presented and described, has been characteristic for several illnesses, mostly within this pool of medical unexplained complaints and functional somatic illnesses. The symptoms and subjective complaints can be varied, often unspecific, and the causes or “attributions” seem to move from inner demons to external toxins and invisible waves. (https://bora.uib.no/bitstream/1956/3221/6/Dr.Thesis_Bjarte_Stubhaug.pdf)

The following is another analysis of the same kind of symptoms:-
CICK ON IMAGE BELOW TO ENLARGE

 

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