Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations

Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations

Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations

Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations

Synopsis

Records of people experiencing verbal hallucinations or 'hearing voices' can be found throughout history. Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity examines almost 2,800 years of these reports including Socrates, Schreber and Pierre Janet's "Marcelle", to provide a clear understanding of the experience and how it may have changed over the millenia. Through six cases of historical and contemporary voice hearers, Leudar and Thomas demonstrate how the experience has metamorphosed from being a sign of virtue to a sign of insanity, signalling such illnesses as schizophrenia or dissociation.They argue that the experience is interpreted by the voice hearer according to social categories conveyed through language, and is therefore best studied as a matter of language use. Controversially, they conclude that 'hearing voices' is an ordinary human experience which is unfortunately either mystified or pathologised.Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity offers a fresh perspective on this enigmatic experience and will be of interest to students, researchers and clinicians alike.

Excerpt

There is an unusual experience which comes under many names-'verbal and auditory hallucinations', 'hearing voices' and 'divine signs' being just three of them. It has always been relatively uncommon, and today fewer than 5 per cent of the population will hear voices regularly at first hand and even then it is not an everyday happening, like, say, talking, thinking or imagining. The experience has been noted for more than 2,000 years, and the league of voice hearers is impressive. Pythagoras was a voice hearer, and Socrates heard a daemon nobody else could hear, and this daemon guided his actions. Voices were implicated in religious conversions of St Augustine and Hildegard of Bingen but they are by no means always mystical matters. They can figure in the bereavement process-Galileo, for instance, heard the voice of his dead daughter. Voices are not always benign, however, and they can be frightening experiences-Daniel Paul Schreber's voices boomed abuse at him and threatened him. Voices are relatively common in schizophrenia and they can be consequences of sexual abuse in childhood. Some voice hearers report that voices try to induce them to harm themselves or others. But then, as we shall document, there are voices which are resolutely mundane-Socrates heard the voice telling him which route to take to his friend's house.

The hearing of voices constitutes a significant problem for psychiatry and psychology. Both disciplines categorise voices as (verbal and auditory) hallucinations and they explain them as being due to failures in reality testing. The mechanics of the proposed reality-testing devices vary but the failures typically involve confusing what is objective and subjective, real and imagined, and seen and remembered. Diagnostically voices indicate mental pathology, or at best a discrete psychological error. The problem is that voice hearers do not in fact usually confuse hearing voices and hearing other people speaking. They hear voices even when they know perfectly well that nobody else is speaking. In fact this has been puzzling voice hearers and their fellows since Plutarch's time-how can one hear a voice when nobody in sight speaks? Rather than to presume reality-testing errors our aim is to determine what puzzles voice hearers themselves about their experiences and how they resolve the enigmas the experience offers them.

There are other reasons why hearing voices is an important problem for psychologists. First, many voice hearers accept that the voices are indeed parts of

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