Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

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Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby James Carlson » Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:31 am

The following comes from a recent essay by Jonathan C. Smith, PhD., clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Chicago's Roosevelt University, entitled "Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia". I propose it as a possible explanation for certain observed behaviors in response to arguments raised (I thought it was amusing; I hope you do too):

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder characterized by distortions in perception of reality, disorganized speech and thinking, and serious deterioration of the ability to function with others. ... Many schizophrenics have auditory hallucinations in which they hear voices. Actually, auditory hallucinations are relatively common even among perfectly normal people. Often, schizophrenics claim their voices and perceptual distortions come from outside sources, like space aliens, CIA operatives, therapists, their mothers, and so on, trying to control their thoughts. Why do such delusions emerge?

One popular theory is that the terrified and confused schizophrenic tries to make some sense out of a frightening world by concluding their voices are coming from an outside source, like space aliens. At least this explanation reduces some of the anxious uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on. When such explanations are challenged or don’t fit apparent reality (no flying saucers are found), the patient patches up the false belief so it is still believable.

Logically, there are only a few ways of doing this. First, you can conclude you are very special, a truly unique person, the only one who has paranormal abilities that enable you to hear these voices. Second, you can conclude that these voices could be heard by others, if some external paranormal force or agency wasn't preventing it. These two explanations may account for why some schizophrenics have delusions of grandeur (“I’m unique and special”) or embrace delusional conspiracy theories (“God, fate, negative energies, space aliens, and the CIA are blocking others from seeing the evidence”).

I propose that perfectly sane, intelligent, and honest true believers in the paranormal -- those who refuse to question or use sensible tools of critical thinking -- possess a similar thinking process. For example, Sue might believe she has been abducted by space aliens. Maybe one night she woke up paralyzed, and saw a dark figure of a space creature that stood by her bed, touched her, and took her breath away. Or course, there may be numerous explanations: perhaps Sue experienced a sleep-related hallucination, misinterpreted a shadow, or has faulty memory. Maybe there is a natural explanation, one that current technology can't measure.

However, Sue is convinced her alien experience is real, and can't be explained through science -- that it was a paranormal event. Sue looks for reassuring answers. Like the schizophrenic, she has two choices.

One possibility is that she is unique and special. Sue may then seek out others who have had similar experiences and form a unique and special group, something like the “Church of the Abductee.” Their core belief is that space aliens have selected them to communicate with the people of Earth. (Every decade or so another odd and occasionally deadly flying saucer cult emerges; one has even become a world religion.)

Alternatively, Sue (and her abductee friends) might favor an external explanations. There are two popular explanations: First, scientists see no evidence for abductions because some external paranormal force or agency is getting in the way. Perhaps scientific skepticism or the cold atmosphere of a science lab emits a certain paranormal “negativity” that blocks alien energy or scares the poor, sensitive aliens away. Maybe such skepticism annoys the aliens. Similar explanations are often given for why scientific and objective evidence for paranormal phenomena is lacking. Second, evidence for alien abductions eludes scientists and experts is because there is a conspiracy among those in power to keep us in the dark. Who is part of this conspiracy? Perhaps the U.S. government, the CIA, religious authorities, or the scientific community -- or maybe even a medical community fearful that doctors would be put out of business if the common man had access to alien medicine. To be consistent, we would have to conclude that if the conspirers were any good, even this would be unclear.

Like the schizophrenic, Sue may be motivated to "patch up" her beliefs when confronted with conflicting evidence. She may spin a never-ending web of ad hoc rationalizations that render her claims unfalsifiable. For the schizophrenic, such efforts help protect against fears of the unknown. Both a paranormal believer and a schizophrenic can create belief systems of exquisite complexity, rivaling ancient charts of astrology and acupuncture. Delusional systems can acquire a life of their own, protected from critical assessment through their own complexity.

Sane, intelligent, educated, honest, and perfectly decent people are quite capable of experiencing profound delusions and distortions. They include your favorite professors, preachers, and friends – even your mother. They can believe in their delusions and distortions with convincing and authentic intensity. These people are not crazy. And the fact that many may have the same experience proves nothing. One thousand people seeing the same mysterious flying-saucer-like light over Kansas proves nothing. One thousand people seeing the Virgin Mary in a stain on a Chicago freeway embankment (or a grilled-cheese sandwich) proves nothing. People have believed in the curses of witches for many millennia and put hundreds of thousands of "witches" to death. Extraordinary beliefs can have extraordinary consequences.

The schizophrenic may embrace paranormal explanations in a desperate attempt to reduce the terrors of a mysterious medical illness. For those blessed with at least a modicum of sanity, the tools of critical thinking give some chance of remaining grounded in the world as it is.

Let the screaming begin...
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Access Denied » Tue Dec 14, 2010 4:35 am

James, I moved your post to this forum for discussion. I understand this article is/or will be published in Skeptical Inquirer but I couldn’t find a link so here’s a link to Dr. Smith’s home page…

http://stores.lulu.com/stress

He probably needs to work on the layout (doesn’t fit this screen anyway) making it difficult to navigate but there’s links to a number of YouTube videos and other material that’s worth checking out there.

As to the article, I think comparing “perfectly sane, intelligent, and honest true believers in the paranormal” to schizophrenics is somewhat of an oxymoron and probably a little too harsh in some cases.

Certainly there are many “true believers” that seem to fit that profile (and tend to be very vocal) but I think the theories of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias may offer a better explanation why many otherwise perfectly rational people can hold irrational beliefs.

It is this “condition” I think can be “cured” with the development of critical thinking skills. Anything else I think is best left to the professionals…
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby James Carlson » Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:41 am

You're right, it was published in the last SI; I went to his website looking for it, but all I found were the two articles that he (kind of) combined to make this one article. Pretty much all of it is on his website, but you have to look through the articles he's got posted to realize that.

I was a little bugged that so much of his work is being sold on his website; I guess I'm a little prejudiced, because everytime I see that particular characteristic, credibility drops. Logically,I know that's absolutely not a fair conclusion to reach, but it's the one I always grab at first. Although I admit as well, that on other sites, once I've bought a book or something, if I agree with everything that's discussed, the prejudice goes away immediately. Isn't psychology great? It allows us to reach any critical opinion we want, no matter how problematic, until we learn enough about the subject that we can agree with. In any case, most of it was in one article, and I found it really interesting.

Also, to an extent I agree with you about it being a somewhat harsh comparison; on the other hand, he might be discussing schizophrenia more as an analogy for the behavior exhibited. If that's the case, I think it would apply equally well to any strong belief, such as a religous affirmation, or an insistent nationalism, or even the second amendment to the Constitution. I'm guessing the most important symptom is an unconscious refusal to consider anything else. Just a guess, though.
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Buckwild » Thu Jan 13, 2011 5:43 am

Hi guys,

Just to give another POV, here is an interesting book review done by

Mark LEARY
Department of Psychology
Duke University
Durham, NC, 27708, USA

On THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PARANORMAL BELIEF: A RESEARCHER'S HANDBOOK by Harvey J. Irwin. Hertfordshire, England: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2009

Irwin devotes four chapters to detailed scholarly analyses of four prevailing hypotheses regarding the antecedents of paranormal beliefs, hypotheses that focus on social marginality, people's worldviews, cognitive deficits, and psychodynamic functions....

...After reviewing the empirical evidence, Irwin concludes that research findings do not support the social marginality hypothesis. The worldview hypothesis, which links paranormal beliefs to a broader worldview involving subjective and esoteric beliefs, fares somewhat better, although Irwin notes that other considerations, such as a sense of being vulnerable to uncontrollable events, may also be involved...

...A third perspective, the cognitive deficits hypothesis, suggests that people who adopt paranormal beliefs tend to be illogical, irrational, uncritical, or credulous, if not downright unintelligent. By and large, the data do not support the notion that people believe in paranormal events because they are unable to think carefully and critically about such things. Finally, the psychodynamic functions hypothesis suggests that people adopt paranormal beliefs when those beliefs serve psychological functions for them. Although the hypothesis has little support with respect to adopting paranormal beliefs in general, Irwin suggests that it might apply to certain kinds of paranormal beliefs. Given that many of people's beliefs serve psychological functions for them--warding off anxiety, providing meaning, reducing uncertainty, and so on--it would be surprising if paranormal beliefs did not serve these functions as well...

...Compared to many other scholars who have focused on unconventional, irrational, or unusual beliefs, Irwin's perspective is both more sympathetic and more even-handed. His approach is sympathetic in that he does not automatically assume that people who believe in things that science does not accept are necessarily deluded, irrational, or psychopathological...


Link : http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Psych ... 0238093023



++
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Luck » Tue Feb 08, 2011 1:14 am

Access Denied wrote:As to the article, I think comparing “perfectly sane, intelligent, and honest true believers in the paranormal” to schizophrenics is somewhat of an oxymoron and probably a little too harsh in some cases.


I suspect too, that he is playing a little fast and loose with the symptoms of schizophrenia to help bolster his arguments.

One popular theory is that the terrified and confused schizophrenic tries to make some sense out of a frightening world by concluding their voices are coming from an outside source, like space aliens. At least this explanation reduces some of the anxious uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on. When such explanations are challenged or don’t fit apparent reality (no flying saucers are found), the patient patches up the false belief so it is still believable.

Logically, there are only a few ways of doing this. First, you can conclude you are very special, a truly unique person, the only one who has paranormal abilities that enable you to hear these voices. Second, you can conclude that these voices could be heard by others, if some external paranormal force or agency wasn't preventing it. These two explanations may account for why some schizophrenics have delusions of grandeur (“I’m unique and special”) or embrace delusional conspiracy theories (“God, fate, negative energies, space aliens, and the CIA are blocking others from seeing the evidence”).


The problem with schizophrenia is that the lines between fantasy and reality become very blurred and it becomes very difficult for the schizophrenic to differentiate between the two. Also, as I recall, the auditory hallucinations experienced often do sound as though they have an external origin and are distinguishable from the internal dialogue that occurs during normal brain function. I don't disagree that schizophrenics will come to the conclusions that Smith outlines above, but I don't necessarily agree with how he describes the mechanism for it to occur.

Maybe I am just quibbling....

edit: moved some of the commentary around for readability
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby nablator » Tue Feb 08, 2011 12:36 pm

The concepts of schizotypy and paraphrenia may be more relevant.

The interest of apparitional experiences to psychology has acquired an added dimension in recent years with the development of the concept of schizotypy or psychosis-proneness.

This is conceived of as a dimension of personality, continuously distributed throughout the normal population, and analogous to the dimensions of extraversion or neuroticism. As long as mental illness is regarded under the disease model, according to which a person either does or does not ‘have’ schizophrenia or manic depression, just as a person either does or does not have syphilis or tuberculosis, then to talk of the occurrence of an apparitional or hallucinatory experience in a normal person is either an oxymoron, or to be taken as an indication of latent or incipient psychosis.

If, on the contrary, a dimensional view of the matter is taken, it becomes easier to conceive of how normal people, more or less high on the putative schizotypy dimension, might be more or less prone to anomalous perceptual experiences, without their ever tipping over into psychosis.

Green and McCreery’s identification of a class of what they called ‘reassuring apparitions’ is of particular interest in this regard, as it suggests that the experiencing of hallucinations may even have an adaptive effect in certain subjects, making them better able to cope with adverse life events.

This would fit with the model of schizotypy as essentially a normal dimension of personality, and might help to explain why the proneness to anomalous perceptual experiences has apparently not been ‘weeded out’ by the process of natural selection.


Paraphrenia is a group of psychotic illnesses distinct from paranoia and from schizophrenia.[dubious – discuss] In patients suffering from this type of psychosis, personality decay is minimal, and emotional rapport is well retained. The onset occurs around age 40.

Furthermore, paraphrenia is characterized by the preoccupation with one or more semisystematized delusions. These delusions are not encapsulated from the rest of the personality as in delusional disorder. The affect is notably well-preserved and appropriate, as is the ability to maintain rapport with others. There is no intellectual deterioration, no flat nor grossly inappropriate affect. Disturbance of behavior is understandable in relation to the content of the delusions. The illness is associated with distress and agitation. Irrational behaviour may appear as delusions become more vivid and judgment lessens. Patients may accuse others of persecution and complain to the authorities.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizotypy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraphrenia
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Tim Hebert » Wed Feb 09, 2011 7:01 am

Ah, finally an area that I actually work in and truly can relate with...psychiatric healthcare! I've been working in this field some 15 years since leaving the Air Force.

Luck wrote:The problem with schizophrenia is that the lines between fantasy and reality become very blurred and it becomes very difficult for the schizophrenic to differentiate between the two. Also, as I recall, the auditory hallucinations experienced often do sound as though they have an external origin and are distinguishable from the internal dialogue that occurs during normal brain function. I don't disagree that schizophrenics will come to the conclusions that Smith outlines above, but I don't necessarily agree with how he describes the mechanism for it to occur.


True, the schizophrenic has difficulty with correlating to our reality. He/she live in their own version of reality as it's internally interpreted and perceived. There is a lot of truth to the saying, "perception is reality". Auditory hallucinations are indeed manifested internally, researchers have speculated that the source may lie in the auditory regions of the brain. With the male schizophrenic, the voice tends to be female in nature, initially soothing, fawning and eventually accusatory and commanding. Thought content and process is fragmented and disorganized. Grandiosity of various natures are generally present as well as other delusional traits.

Anyway, sorry guys to barge in, your discussion is interesting. I did my clinicals at the VA, St. Louis, MO and I tagged along with two paranoid schizophrenic for 3 months. An eye opener for me, but fell in love with the psychiatric field.

I don't know if you have been following any of the Malmstrom discussion, I know, old boring stuff, but I'm in the process of formulating a theory in regards to the case. Old cases have something in common, there appears to be a fragment of truth wrapped around the normal distortions of time. We tend to exaggerate the facts and overtime this exaggeration fully takes over...forming a confabulation, not to be confused with a delusion. Delusions are false ideations not based in reality, but a confabulation has some element of truth. Old UFO cases appear to fit this profile, ie, Roswell, Malmstrom AFB, etc.

Anyway enough of me

Tim

edited secondary to my wife barging in on me because she had to use the computer thus breaking my concentration. :)
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Luck » Wed Feb 09, 2011 6:59 pm

Tim Hebert wrote:Anyway, sorry guys to barge in, your discussion is interesting. I did my clinicals at the VA, St. Louis, MO and I tagged along with two paranoid schizophrenic for 3 months. An eye opener for me, but fell in love with the psychiatric field.


Not at all, in fact I welcome your expertise! :)

Tim Hebert wrote:I don't know if you have been following any of the Malmstrom discussion, I know, old boring stuff, but I'm in the process of formulating a theory in regards to the case. Old cases have something in common, there appears to be a fragment of truth wrapped around the normal distortions of time. We tend to exaggerate the facts and overtime this exaggeration fully takes over...forming a confabulation, not to be confused with a delusion. Delusions are false ideations not based in reality, but a confabulation has some element of truth. Old UFO cases appear to fit this profile, ie, Roswell, Malmstrom AFB, etc.


Interesting and certainly plausible in my thinking. I would be very interested in hearing more about your theory when you are are ready to go into more detail.
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Tim Hebert » Wed Feb 09, 2011 9:39 pm

Luck wrote:Interesting and certainly plausible in my thinking. I would be very interested in hearing more about your theory when you are are ready to go into more detail.


When I say that there is an element of truth, you have to take into account that "truth" is a reletive concept. What I believe to be true may not necessarily conform to what you believe is true. The nature of "truth" is shaped by many extrinsic factors: Culture, religion, education, and so on.

So based on "truth", the concept of fact comes into play. A fact is verifiable. In confabulatorial thinking, the thought process and eventually thought content plays out over a period of years:

1. Sam is told by a friend of a friend that a UFO caused the friends T.V to shut off on a given date/time.
a. Sam never sees a UFO, but his T.V. did shut off at the same given date/time.
b. Sam asks around the neighborhood and finds out that everyone else experienced the same.
c. What is not known to Sam is that on the date/time in question, the local cable provider had
equipment difficulties that effected the signal going out to the local area.

2. Over a period of years Sam retells this story and becomes convinced that a UFO was responsible for the T.V. outage. Eventually his story changes to reflect that his entire city lost T.V. coverage and that SAM himself saw the UFO in question.

The confabulation is built upon a verifiable fact that on the date/time in question, all of the local area cable was affected. The "truth" is that Sam's friend believed that a UFO had caused the outages, even though the other unnamed friend is the one that started the UFO rumor. The fact/truth kernel is eventually, over a period of time overlayed with embellishments and fantasy. Thus in the end a true delusion may developed and given decades this delusion becomes fixed and is with Sam until the day he dies. BTW, Sam is for all practical purpose a fully functional member of society, highly educated, a great guy to be around, sound family man, however, imbedded is this confabulation. So when others explain that the outage was caused by a known problem with the cable company, Sam tells them that it is BS and they are all full of it, because Sam was there and he witnessed it personally.

Admittedly, I've over simplified things, but I think that you can see where I'm headed with this.

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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Luck » Thu Feb 10, 2011 12:29 am

Luck wrote:Admittedly, I've over simplified things, but I think that you can see where I'm headed with this.


Makes sense to me. 8)

Our memories are not writ in stone but are powerful, malleable, fluid things with the capacity for great insight or great deception.
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby nablator » Tue Feb 15, 2011 7:10 pm

Tim Hebert wrote:When I say that there is an element of truth, you have to take into account that "truth" is a reletive concept. What I believe to be true may not necessarily conform to what you believe is true. The nature of "truth" is shaped by many extrinsic factors: Culture, religion, education, and so on.

You explained it beautifully. =D>
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby ryguy » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:00 pm

Tim Hebert wrote:Admittedly, I've over simplified things, but I think that you can see where I'm headed with this.
Tim


VERY well explained, and I believe you've also just provided the perfect explanation for how cultural legends and myths are created - and why memes work, especially when based on some obscure "fact" that will solidify the story, even though 99% of it is bunk.

Unfortunately, too many people like to convince themselves that the 1% of truth in UFO cases has to do with Aliens rather than some other, more earthly truth. :-)
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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Tim Hebert » Thu Feb 17, 2011 6:48 am

ryguy wrote:VERY well explained, and I believe you've also just provided the perfect explanation for how cultural legends and myths are created - and why memes work, especially when based on some obscure "fact" that will solidify the story, even though 99% of it is bunk.


Sometimes the "facts" are not so obscure, simple non-complicated in nature. The obscurity occurrs over time, yet the simple facts remain, buried but still there. Based on the current project underway (I believe you know which one), most of the participants are truthful based upon the element of a simple fact. Everyone is correct as to what they heard. They're not delusional...save for one or two, yet I believe highly suspect to suggestion.

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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Buckwild » Thu Feb 17, 2011 8:10 pm

ryguy wrote:Unfortunately, too many people like to convince themselves that the 1% of truth in UFO cases has to do with Aliens rather than some other, more earthly truth. :-)


Hi ryguy,

Some people on the other hand try to convince themselves that the remaining 1% of "truth" in UFO cases can be explained by mundane phenomenas when in fact they rely on what they think/believe/suppose are "similar" examples/cases where more data was gathered which led to the final & prosaic explanation. Simple lack of evidence should do the job, no need to theorize the "unknown" if you ask me.

The only thing that is unfortunate, are the methods used to come to the "truth" or conclusion. Why ?

Unlike ghosts or legendary creatures, what we've learned and keep discovering about astronomy, cosmology, biology, and evolutionary science naturally & logically make us wonder about past, present and futur ETI visitations or artefacts left behind them*. I do not like the word "truth" and Tim explained very well why so many factors can influence our vision & definition of truth.

* : them is not necessarily equal to exogenous entities

I would rather use the words : "explanation for observable reality" to define truth.

Darwin's work (theory) resulted from observation, which he explained, but he excluded the alternatives only by presupposition. On a pseudo-scientific level, this is what ufo-(ETI related)-believers think they are doing. They are convincing themselves by excluding the alternatives and that is what I consider to be unfortunate. It's what brought them to their conclusion or belief that is fallacious & unfortunate. The problem starts upstream, it's not the conclusion that is wack but the (or the lack of) methods used to get there.

On the other hand, some ufo-skeptics rely on the lack of evidence and to some extent, to some (pre)suppositions without any methods neither or fallacious if not relatively stupid arguments :arrow: (like the famous astronomers should report more UFOs quote).

In our society, truth or scientifically accepted/able truth rely on facts that are the result of experimental evidence which can exclude alternative theories, and deal with observable & repeatable phenomenas. Add to this, the test of time that usually leads to commercial application$, and there you have the ultimate proof of their truthfulness.

With UFOs and their hypothetical relation to ETI, none of that was or is brought to the table sort of speak, so speculations, belief-systems and unfalsifiable hypothesis are brought to the table instead. Imo, this is almost natural in human nature because it is connected to our need to rationalize.

This is why I think the UFO-related ETH is a philosophical hypothesis and that those beliefs when they surpass the hypothesis serve psychological functions for those inclined to them...(and profit & fame for $ome)

The truth (reality) is that we did not even start looking for "them" in our own backyard (within 1 AU), besides Freitas & Valdez search near the Earth-Moon Lagrangian Points*. I think that we can speculate and say that some UFO manifestations might be related to ETI without being irrational but by being scientifically realistic, humble and most importantly, aware of the lack or research programs/initiatives in that direction.

* : http://www.rfreitas.com/Astro/SearchIcarus1983.htm

For those who do not agree and think ufology & scientific ufology (i.e : Blue Book & GEIPAN to name two) can help us answer this question and come to conclusions, keep on dreaming/believing...you are making the exact same errors than the ones you point your finger to. That is coming to conclusions with unsufficient & erroneous data without proper scientific methods and (re)search initiatives.

The only proper and acceptable conclusion we can come to is that there's no scientific evidence yet that supports ETI existence in the Universe but that we should start searching for it* before coming to conclusions.

* : in our front porch and backyard as well

“The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found” Miguel de Unamuno


With that being said and to avoid a full off topic, I would had that learning how to clearly identify the boundaries that separate objective truth from subjective truth should be a key aspect of critical thinking. Easier said than done in some cases.



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Re: Paranormal Beliefs and Schizophrenia

Postby Luck » Sun Feb 20, 2011 4:56 pm

Tim Hebert wrote:
ryguy wrote:VERY well explained, and I believe you've also just provided the perfect explanation for how cultural legends and myths are created - and why memes work, especially when based on some obscure "fact" that will solidify the story, even though 99% of it is bunk.


Sometimes the "facts" are not so obscure, simple non-complicated in nature. The obscurity occurrs over time, yet the simple facts remain, buried but still there. Based on the current project underway (I believe you know which one), most of the participants are truthful based upon the element of a simple fact. Everyone is correct as to what they heard. They're not delusional...save for one or two, yet I believe highly suspect to suggestion.

Tim


To be quite honest, this is the aspect that interests me the most. How most of these stories become folklore because the "facts" are obscured through time and through the narratives of people who think the "real facts" come from their memories or the stories told to them by others (not to mention the distortions of people who are trying to fit the evidence or "proof" to their theory or world view).
It is also apparent that ufology becomes a dogma or religion to some of the "true believers" and if you question their beliefs and positions they get very defensive, because a lot of what they base their positions on is faith and not fact.
I feel that the problem with most modern religions is that they confuse mythological (allegory & archetypal) truth with historical and scientific fact. And it seems to me that at least in this respect in watching the Malstrom story unfold, ufology has a lot in common with religion.
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