Excruciatingly Large Things

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Opening the Doors of Perception: Hallucination, Schizophrenia and Reality

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"Scientists have discovered that schizophrenia sufferers are not fooled by a visual illusion and are able to judge it more accurately than non-schizophrenic observers. The study by UCL (University College London) and King's College London suggests that in everyday life, schizophrenics take less account of visual context. If this is part of a more general failure to deal appropriately with context, it could explain why some sufferers might misattribute people's actions or feel persecuted." - link
This little snippet blew me away, not least because of its ramifications for understanding schizophrenic sufferers and how they interact with society, but for the underlying distinctions in our realities it exposes. I was reminded of a quote by Phil K Dick, always the most distinctive voice when it comes to alternative perspectives on perception and reality:
"Too much is emanating from the neurological apparatus of the organism, over and beyond the structural, organising necessity. The percept system in a sense is over perceiving, is presenting the self portion of the brain too much. The organism is seeing what is there, but no one else does, hence no semantic sign exists to depict the entity and therefore the organism's empathic relationships break down." - from The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick...
Phil is here talking about the social outcomes of hallucination and schizophrenia. Could it be possible that in moments of alternate consciousness, such as drug taking or religious experience, our brains tune in to aspects of reality we otherwise cannot perceive? And further more, as the study cited above may show, in the social irregularities of the schizophrenic could there be signs of windows looking out over varied vistas of reality? Aldous Huxley defined it best for me in his culturally-reforming Doors of Perception:
"Reflecting on my experience, I find myself agreeing with the eminent Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad... "The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful."...

...As Mind at Large seeps past the no longer watertight valve, all kinds of biologically useless things start to happen. In some cases there may be extra-sensory perceptions. Other persons discover a world of visionary beauty. To others again is revealed the glory, the infinite value and meaningfulness of naked existence, of the given, unconceptualized event. In the final stage of egolessness there is an "obscure knowledge" that All is in all - that All is actually each. This is as near, I take it, as a finite mind can ever come to "perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe." -
For a brief, but scintillating reality check have a look at this previous post on optical illusions and the way your brain fills in the gaps of reality...

And for a glimpse into the kind of mind that is "capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe" the stunning book 'The Mind of a Mnemonist' is no greater guide...

UPDATE: You can now try out the visual illusion mentioned in the article above on the BBC online website. The BBC story also goes into greater detail on the implications of the study for our understanding of schizophrenia - link

Keep perceiving.

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Blogger Daniel Poynter said...

That may be the best essay in the book. Right after the passage you quoted is this, "Hallucination, mental illness, drug experiences of "expanded consciousness" are menacing to the organism because of the social results. It is obvious, then, what role language plays in human life: It is the cardinal instrument by which the individual worldviews are linked so that a shared, for all intents and purposes common reality is constructed. What is actually subjective becomes objective -- agreed on. So, viewed this way, sociologically and anthropologically, it does not matter where the hallucinations originate or even whether they are accurate -- but unique and hence unshared -- perceptions of "higher levels of reality unglimpsed ordinarily," even by the person himself."

February 07, 2006 4:27 AM    

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, but one should never forget that schizophrenia always goes along with sever mental suffering - accompagnied with e.g. disturbed prenatal hemispheric lateralization and unusual hand features. Thanks, Martijn.

August 19, 2006 1:02 PM    

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was diagnosed with schizophrenia when i was 14 and i started taking medication but they misdiagnosed me cuz what i really has was psycosis because all of the drugs i used

October 09, 2008 9:12 PM    

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