The book of reality distortions

I’m happy to announce that I’ve just finalised an agreement with Penguin to write a book on what hallucinations tell us about the mind, brain and human nature. From the proposal:

The mind and brain can generate fantastical visions and disembodied voices, illusory people and shifting landscapes, internal symphonies and sensed presences. These states happen at the extremes of human experience, in madness, terror and brain disturbance, but they are often an exaggeration of our natural tendency to hallucinate that we rely on for everyday perception – a tendency that has inspired great works of art and shaped history.

We all hallucinate, and our perception relies on it. We have blind spots in our vision that our brain fills with hallucinated experience. Occasionally we experience intense and vivid hallucinations, after taking certain drugs, during mental illness, with epilepsy or brain injury, during hypnosis, after being taken hostage, during deep-sea dives, while blacking out at high Gs, or at other extremes of human experience that tax the body and mind. But it is not just these situations that trigger hallucinations: one in ten healthy adjusted people hallucinate more than patients in hospital with psychosis. In other words, hallucinations are part of human nature.

The book explores different types of hallucinations and their historical and cultural significance, and explains how they arise and what they tell us about normal psychology and neuroscience. This is the central theme of the book: that hallucinations are not just mental junk; rather, they are windows into the workings of the mind and brain that can reveal the essence of our inner lives.

It won’t be out until 2012, but I’ll make sure Mind Hacks readers get to preview the adventure as it gets written.

Also, if you know of any fascinating research or interesting types of hallucinations – please let me know by posting in the comments or getting in touch.

I’m always pleased to receive tip offs and, as well of doing plenty of scientific investigation, I’m also planning to visit many interesting people and places.

37 thoughts on “The book of reality distortions”

  1. Where are you getting your research? I assume from various sources, but is this going to be first hand experience from people that have the hallucinations or research? The book should be interesting and I will look forward to it. Thanks!

  2. I’m pretty sure the neurologically-fixated have long since been uninterested in penetrating S. Freud, but he wrote – I think – a revealing, fascinating and humane piece about a case, a German man in the late 1800’s, who held political office while holding quite firmly to the belief that he was slowly transforming into a woman, while suffering assaults on his body from elements of nature, in order to save the human race. (“Doctor Schreber,”

    There is a durable tradition, within psychoanalytic thought and practice, of entering into the patient’s “inner world,” and becoming familiar and literate with the language and laws of more livable realities created by people with “schizophrenia” or psychotic organization (a well-known representation of this in prose is “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by Hannah Green). Such entering-in is, after all, the sine qua non of any psychotherapy worth doing (in my view), a non-either/or approach to diagnosing crazy/sane that your book might support with findings from the level of neurobiology.

  3. Fantastico! Can’t wait to get my hands on it. Good luck, and I look forward to habing lucid conversations about hallucinations back in Londinium.

    Cheers for you, Penguin, and your luck readers.


  4. Great stuff! Really looking forward to reading it – and your blogs on the research that’s going form its content. Congratulations!

  5. This seems quite sensible – reading the messages of various types of hallucinations and telling the difference between a hallucination and an ordinary sleep, and what people in earlier ages used to call ‘vision’:))))

  6. Hi, I’d like to see some coverage of Sleep Paralysis in this book – does that count as hallucination? I’ve experienced it for years but not really seen any good research into it.

  7. Great to hear – and what a wonderful topic! In my own personal research I have found that the human imagination is an integral part of a healthy mind. I am glad you are taking on this hard and difficult task of proving this fact to a wider audience, one where hallucinations and mental distortions are seen as dysfunctional and hazardous, rather than facts of human nature.

    Looking forward to reading it when it is finally released!

  8. Mind is root of all mystery and revealing the truth behind mind and brain should be helpful in understanding of our own mental life.As a human our most of the poblems are same with different intensity and any insight and experience will work like a supporting pillar in solving our own porbs. Keep it up!

  9. Hallucinations – real or imagined?

    For so much of my life I’ve been fascinated by hallucinations. Over 40 years ago I had a breakdown where I went “off the deep end” big time, was diagnosed as schizophrenic and remanded to a state hospital for 6 months. During this time I experienced powerful hallucinatory visions.

    Now, all these years later, I still very much remember many of the most vibrant hallucinations, including the contexts and mind associations. I’ve actually worked with these hallucinations. Through my work with the “hallucinations”/dream/visions I’ve overall benefited. Today they are intrinsic woven into my spiritual practice.

    1. I have talked to Metzinger for my articles two times, he is a lucid man, and deep in the stuff of consciousness and hallucination. Perhaps it is a good idea to visit him.


  10. Well done – it’s a book that needs to be written! Such an important subject usually occupies a relatively small proportion of psychopathology texts.

  11. I would suggest that you look at what linkage there is between hallucination and synesthesia (for those that don’t know: the intermingling of sense). I’m sure Vilayanur Ramachandran has as lot to say on the subject as well as what that linkage might have to creative people. Are creative people (visual artists, writers) just hallucinating quietly. People have remarked that my dialogue in my fiction seems original and real and I can tell you from firsthand experience that I can “hear” the voices; and they’re not exactly under my control either. Is that a hallucination I am somehow in control of?

    Also note, that halluciantions don’t just have to be visual or auditory. There are good examples in the literature of proprioceptive illusions/hallucinations–so-called out of body experiences, and they can even be induced.

    Well, great job, and good luck.

  12. I look forward to it.

    As Russel mentions it would be great to include hallucinations in the other senses as well. My hypnagogia sometimes presents itself as touch or ‘phantom’ limbs instead of sight or sound, unfortunately it’s a rarely mentioned part of hallucinations.

  13. When my lover died, too soon and too suddenly, “I” observed “my mind” play out in story form these two scenarios: In the first, he would always be on his way home; in the second, I would never have actually known him.

    The observer self weighed the options and “decided” that psychosis would not satisfy the problem that the story maker was trying to solve.

    True story. You may quote me.

  14. I second the hypnogogia vote. I’ve had it all my life. Every night, before I fall asleep, I hallucinate all kinds of things, albeit behind closed eyes. I hear it’s not uncommon & associated with creative people. Would love to read about it in your book.

  15. I see things all the time now. I am always looking for new insight on my condition as it is getting progressively worse..To keep from going completely mad I paint, and faces appear simply by running my brush across the canvas..Horrible images of what I think of now as lost souls..I pray they find God, and its as if someone loud is living with me..I have found myself driving up one way streets with the whole ground waving before my eyes..The stars move all the time..I see faces everywhere..I am a total wreck and unable to function .. I look forward to reading this book..

    Thank You.

  16. 1. Closed Eye Visuals and subtle auditory hallucinations before sleep or during exhaustion.

    2. Hallucinations during alcohol or drug withdrawal, or when sick.

    3. Situational Awareness, or the sense of one’s surroundings, which may include things unseen.

    4. Self-Awareness, or the perception of one’s self, which may include a sort of mental movie from an impossible perspective or images of oneself that are not wholly accurate.

    5. Cases of mistaken vision–“I thought I saw a cat over there, but it was just a shoe.”

    6. Cases of mistaken identity–“I thought you were someone else.”

  17. Very good!

    Don’t forget:

    -release hallucinations (including Charles Bonnett syndrome and musical hallucinosis)

    -visual hallucinations in cortical blindness and Anton’s Syndrome

    -palinopsia and palinacusis

    -peduncular hallucinations

  18. I came to your website while searching for information on CEV’s as I had an insane night long experience beginning with robbing banks, watching multitudes of architecture from celtic to modern float by, designing runway gowns and finally writing a novel. Also had a complete world of alien life forms and their interactions. I have been on a “mood stabilizing” drug and decided to cut down on it just by a little. I laid in that fully aware eye closed dreaming state for about 12 hours. If you are interested let me know. I have had a few interesting experiences.

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