Monday, September 5, 2016

Are Hallucinations Real?

Once an elderly woman asked me a serious question, “Are hallucinations real?” At that moment she was suffering from the earliest stages of dementia, electrolyte imbalances, and side effects from the numerous prescription drugs needed to keep her alive.

I told her, “I believe that your hallucinations are real to you.” Then to the best of my ability I explained how our perception of reality can be altered by chemical imbalances in our brains. I avoided the subject of dementia. I have learned that when people over 80 hear the word dementia, their imagination immediately transports them to a dirty unpleasant Medicaid lockdown ward where they are suffering the later stages of Alzheimer’s. It seems easier to start these conversations with the family doctor and the spouse than with the patient.

I have learned from my training in hypnotherapy that a perfectly healthy mind, unclouded by drugs or physical abnormalities can experience hallucinations that seem as real to the five senses or emotions as what we experience in the real world.

We can also suffer from self induced hallucinations or become deluded by believing the suggestions others. We all have our own metanarrative, the overarching story we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it. I have come to believe that most of this story exists in our subconscious, that part of our mind that allows us to make quick decisions without involving the time to engage the higher levels of our conscious mind in rational analysis. This is a survival mechanism. When our ancestor heard a noise in the bushes, she ran away instead of investigating to discover if it was a tiger or an antelope. She lived to pass her genes on to me. However, this rapid reaction mechanism can betray us, if we misapply it in a complex modern situation involving our interactions with the world.

When we are presented with facts, we don’t leave them alone. We have to create a story to fit these facts into our understanding of the universe, our metanarrative. If the facts don’t line up with our metanarative, we will typically ignore them or force fit them into our prejudices and preconceptions. We strive for internal consistency. Experiencing a disconnect between reality and our metanarrative results in a form of mental anguish termed cognitive dissonance. We tend to reduce our suffering by seeking explanations or excuses that will reinforce our existing belief system. This is why conservatives prefer FOX News and the Rush Limbaugh radio show, just as liberals prefer outlets like the Washington Post and NPR.

This tendency can be limiting or even self destructive. If an individual believes that he was unfairly fired because his employer didn’t like the way he looks, he may be correct if he is a corporate attorney who decided to get a purple Mohawk and a facial tattoo. However, if he worked for a carnival side show that plays at motorcycle rallies, he might have other problems beyond employer bias.

Because we like to feed our metanarrative, we typically find experiences and facts that reinforce our personal protective amour. One day, as I was out walking in the woods, I noticed a clump of large oddly shaped mushrooms growing by the side of the trail. I don’t know why, but for some reason this discovery excited me. I began to find different kinds of mushrooms growing all over the forest. The day before, I hadn’t noticed any mushrooms, but I am certain they were there. I just wasn’t looking for them. If you believe the world contains all sorts of opportunities, chances are you will find opportunities. If you believe the world contains all kinds of problems, chances are you will find problems. None of us have a metanarrative that is perfectly aligned with reality. Sometimes our metanarrative can help us survive and thrive, but on other occassions our metanarrative can limit our experience of life or even end it.

“In the abundance of water the fool is thirsty.”
Bob Marley

Sir John Templeton, considered one of the greatest investors in history, started on the road to becoming a billionaire during the depths of the Great Depression. With the little he had, augmented by some borrowed money, he bought 100 shares of every stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange that was selling for less than one dollar a share. When factory orders generated by World War II greatly increased the profitability of American industry, Templeton became one of the richest men in the world.

On occasion, as I interact with others in many different kinds of social settings, my mind returns to the old Indian story of the wish granting tree. I have learned wisdom literature that has been around for a couple of thousand years or more, generally has more than one level of application. This story is no exception.

Once upon a time, a man exhausted from a hard day on the road spotted a large tree in a nearby field. Thinking that this would be a good place to rest, he sat down under the tree. Speaking to himself, he said, “I am so thirsty, I wish I had something cool and refreshing to drink.”

Then a perfectly chilled goblet of his favorite white wine miraculously appeared at his feet.

Now, his appetite stimulated by the wine, the man then thought, “I am so hungry. I wish I had something good to eat.”

As before, a small table covered with covered dishes containing his favorite foods appeared out of nowhere.

After finishing his meal, the man sighed in contentment, “I am so tired. I wish I could take a nap on a comfortable bed.”

Suddenly he was lying on a large ornate bed covered with pillows that was fit for a king. In minutes he fell in to a deep restful sleep.

A few hours later, upon awaking, the man began to worry. He thought, “There is some kind of magic going on with this tree. Perhaps it contains a goblin that will jump out of the tree and eat me alive.”

Then a horrible goblin jumped out of the tree and ate him alive.

No comments:

Post a Comment