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Grey Matter

Lesley is also a columnist for UFO Magazine. Check it out !


Hallucinations, Reality and Delusion

This week, I want to continue what I started last week, when I was trying to figure out if hallucinations were fantasy or if they may be real and just not something that can be shared or measured scientifically.

About 3 years ago, at Christmas time, Britton and I went to the local mall. He was busy at a certain store that I didn't have much interest in and so I headed off in search of some new jeans. I ended up at The Gap, where I tried on several pairs of pants and then got in line to purchase some of them. Suddenly, I looked up at the lights to find rainbows around each and every one of them. My first thought was that somebody had dropped a tab of acid into my drink, but no such luck, I hadn't even had a drink. Everything else seemed as it should be.

I paid, walked back and met Britton where I had left him and I was still seeing the rainbows. I told him about it. He asked if I wanted to go the doctor, but I felt fine other than that and declined and said that maybe I was just hungry -- an excuse I use for many things. Sometime during our restaurant lunch, the effect just disappeared.

However, it reappeared later that night and continued off and on for the next couple weeks, sometimes 3 or 4 times a day and occasionally lasting up to an hour. I finally went to the doctor (since the only explanation my medical book gave for seeing rainbows was a stroke) and they gave me a brain scan, nothing wrong with me. Later I found out this probably had to do with my detached retina. Some others with detached retinas experience the same thing. I had went to the wrong kind of doctor to figure out what was wrong. Wrongly assuming that I was hallucinating, not that it was an eye problem.

Since those few weeks, I have not experienced the 'rainbow effect' more than a couple times. I am not sure what was causing it, maybe something in the air was irritating my eyes. Still, what I saw was not able to be seen by others or measurable with scientific instruments and yet it also was not a hallucination. My eyes were actually seeing that. I wasn't imagining it.

I have another strange thing that happens that I suppose is also caused by my detached retinas. I refer to this experience as 'fairy lights.' Suddenly, small orbs of white light will appear and float around me. They are only about 1 inch across. I think they are very pretty. Funnily enough, it has never occurred to me to try to touch one, but next time it happens I am going to try. This never lasts more than a couple minutes (and normally much less than a minute), but it happens fairly often, at least several times a year.

I also mentioned schizophrenics in last week's column about hallucinations. I have only ever observed one person that was schizophrenic, but it was interesting. A group of friends and I were hanging out with a girl and her male friend. We hardly knew them, but they seemed nice. Anyhow, the male was rather quiet, but totally nice and for most of the day he seemed to enjoy himself. Later that day he started acting strangely, he became totally withdrawn and started sitting with his hands over his ears and his knees drawn up to his chest. As I remember it, he was sweating and shaking a bit. The girl then told us that he was schizophrenic and his meds had worn off and we needed to get him home.

People are often afraid of schizophrenics. That is because of the few that commit very violent acts, like Cho Seung-Hui, the VA tech killer. However, from what I understand it is far more likely for a schizophrenic to kill themselves than it is for them to commit a crime like Cho Seung-Hui. This is often blamed on "the voices" telling them to kill. I am sure that sometimes they do think the voices are telling them that and it is the reason, but I think most times any violent act they may commit is really an effort to try to quiet the voices (visions, smells and so on) because they can no longer stand it.

If you do a search and try to find an explanation of what causes schizophrenia, you will soon discover that nobody really knows. There are many theories, including genetic, environmental, brain chemical imbalances and abnormal brain structure. Whenever there are that many theories, it becomes clear that nobody really knows the answer.

If we don't know the answer, how can we say that what they experience is their brain causing them to hallucinate voices and sensations that aren't real? And if they do have chemical imbalances or abnormal brain structure how do we know that this doesn't cause them to pick up on things that are real but the rest of us are unable pick up on?

For example, when I see rainbows around lights, I am seeing what white light is actually made of, red, green and blue. Just because I don't normally see it in that way doesn't mean it isn't always made up of those colors -- it is. Things like that make me think that whenever we dismiss something as hallucination (meaning an imagined event, containing nothing real) we may be doing a great disservice to our understanding of ourselves and the multiverse.

That is not to say there aren't people that suffer from what is called delusion. There are people that will see a weather balloon and believe they saw a UFO, no matter the evidence. There are also people that will believe any conspiracy, no matter how flimsy the evidence, just because it supports their personal, political or religious viewpoint. There are those that don't hallucinate, but rather see what they wish to see.

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    As well as her Beyond the Dial blog