Articles / Beliefs / Media

So confident

Here’s a topic that deserves thoughtful, in-depth treatment. Unfortunately, I don’t have time for that now, so consider this a placeholder.

Today Metafilter had a post linking to a front-page Washington Post article about people who hear voices. Here are some notable highlights, starting with the first sentence:

IF HARLAN GIRARD IS CRAZY, HE DOESN’T ACT THE PART.

There’s a lot more in the article on how the people interviewed seem perfectly normal, lucid and coherent other than insisting that the government is controlling their minds. This reminds me of a quote from Deborah Rudacille’s The Riddle of Gender, where she asserts that transgender people can’t be crazy because they seem so normal otherwise. Anyone who says that can’t have met very many mentally ill people.

In her book, Abducted, Harvard psychologist Susan Clancy examines a group that has striking parallels to the TIs: people who believe they’ve been kidnapped by aliens. The similarities are often uncanny: Would-be abductees describe strange pains, and feelings of being watched or targeted. And although the alleged abductees don’t generally have auditory hallucinations, they do sometimes believe that their thoughts are controlled by aliens, or that they’ve been implanted with advanced technology.

(On the online forum, some TIs posted vociferous objections to the parallel, concerned that the public finds UFOs even weirder than mind control. “It will keep us all marginalized and discredited,” one griped.)

Clancy argues that the main reason people believe they’ve been abducted by aliens is that it provides them with a compelling narrative to explain their perception that strange things have happened to them, such as marks on their bodies (marks others would simply dismiss as bruises), stimulation to their sexual organs (as the TIs describe) or feelings of paranoia. “It’s not just an explanation for your problems; it’s a source of meaning for your life,” Clancy says.

Comment on the Metafilter discussion thread by spiderskull:

They’re so confident in their unwavering belief, you almost want to believe them, if only to release them from what seems to be a tremendous burden.

Comment by Kattullus:

Also, this is an extreme manifestation of something that exists in all humans, the ability to recognize patterns. It’s like when people believe their iPods “favor” some songs or knows to put on particular songs in certain situations.

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