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Many Realities?

Posted on September 29, 2006 in Psychosis Reflections Schizophrenia

square077“We each have our own reality.” I heard that one again, the other night, in a support group. A tired and untrue phrase that neither Science nor Christianity nor Buddhism supports. In fact, aside from a few independent New Age sects or individualists and a few of my fellow mental patients, no one believes it.

Some people might mean “truths” or “viewpoints” when they say “Reality”. “We each have our own point of view” is perfectly reasonable. To say that there are many truths is to acknowledge the Blind Men and the Elephant problem that afflicts us because of the variety of religions that clamor for our attention. But to say that there are many realities is to invite absurdity. Just how do we interact?

I once believed that I had my own reality and from my perspective, it was the ONLY reality. I controlled everything. What people said or did or looked like was entirely up to a secret process in my brain. Being in control of the world is a lot less fun than it sounds: for one thing, everything bad that happens is due to you. And you don’t seem to have direct control: things happen which can only be presumed to be due to that hidden mechanism that you can’t influence much. You don’t get to be rich — you have to watch others live in comfort while you suffer. It’s a hell of a world where God lives in less than heavenly surroundings, I’ll tell you.

The trauma that scores us is that of not knowing what is happening in different brains. Could that homeless man be an emperor in his Reality? He may say that he is but does that mean that we have to accept that he just lives in our Reality and his Own? (And if we have overlapping realities, doesn’t that imply a greater Reality where all the Realities get to collect like so many marbles or see-through plastic overlays?)

This is what I have worked out: there is, as the great religions and Science teach, one Reality. Everyone is subject to the same physical laws and you are the same thing in all objective contexts.

There are subjective influences. These may be due to chemicals in the brain or beliefs. This can lead someone to believe, for example, the many realities myth — usually without having thought it through. Schizophrenics may experience hallucinations that seem real. In the shared experience, there is indeed an explanation and, more importantly, a mechanism for this: brain dysfunction. Triggers fire that create, in the head of the sufferer, the appearance of something that is not there. And it is not there. It is not Reality.

The fallout from the belief is that you can make it very hard for yourself to live with other people. You engage your brain in a continuing argument about what is real and what is not real. If left to depend only on yourself, you may find this distinction impossible to establish.

We who suffer from psychoses and mood disorders must face these challenges as part of living with our syndromes. Yet the problem also faces people who have never had a mood swing or experienced a hallucination. Take for example the difficulty many people have separating Science from Pseudo-Science. Or in understanding the Gambler’s Fallacy: You flip a coin five times. Every time it comes up heads. Is there a greater chance that it will come up heads than before? (Leave out the assumption that the coin is somehow fixed to come up heads. It’s an ordinary coin.)

Many ordinary people, feeling that they have a sure thing, would put down money that the coin will come up heads again. Yet in our universe it is possible for a coin to come up heads five times and, when you get to the sixth toss, have an equal chance of coming up heads or tails.

The Gambler’s Fallacy — the belief that the result of the sixth toss will be weighted by the previous five tosses — is an Everyday, Plain Old Delusion. Obsessive compulsives get lost in them, but normal folks buy lottery tickets and make bets based on them, too. Again, we come back to the blessing of mental illness: we have to face our fallacies. And, with the help of the medications, we may arrive in a more aware place than those who think themselves unafflicted by delusion around us.

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