Friday, October 2, 2009

A new kind of stigma: Not sane enough to be weird

I don't know how often I've attended talks where the researchers are looking into esoteric topics, like flying saucers, past life experiences, etc., and here is how they present their findings: "All the people I interviewed who had reported seeing flying saucers were mentally stable and had no trace of mental illness, otherwise I would have excluded them from the study." Or, re a study predicting the incidence of psychic abilities in the general population. "Of course, I excluded the mentally ill," the researcher said.

So supposedly "sane" people who report the admittedly rather odd phenomena of flying saucers or past lives are somehow "more reliable" than the mentally ill? And, there is something "tainted" about the psychic abilities of the mentally ill?

A lot of researchers rely on the presence of another witness to the event to bolster the claim that a flying saucer isn't just a projection of one person's fantasies. I'm not sure this is a reliable methodology. There is something called "hysteria," which can be contagious. When it is contagious it is called "mass hysteria."

When Chris reported his first alien sighting at the ripe old age of eleven (see: A parallel universe, even in the suburbs - June 2, 2009), he was supposedly sane, too.

If I wanted to learn about the phenomenon of flying saucers, I would study the so-called mentally ill. And if I wanted to learn about psychic phenomena, I would ask them, too. Daniel Paul Schreber has written a classic memoir of mental illness* in which he unveils his detailed understanding of how the universe works. Writing in 1902 he had a precocious appreciation of quantum physics.

Conversely, if I wanted to study these kinds of phenomena, I might want to explore it from the point of view of a sudden energy imbalance. What had happened to the research subjects in the weeks and months leading up to the experience? Was there a death in the family or a physical trauma that could have thrown the assemblage point into the high right position which leads to hallucinations?
Daniel Paul Schreber, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness


  1. Once labelled... There's a blog post on Madness Radio's blog with among others a talk by Ron Coleman:

    In his talk he says, the problem with hearing voices aren't the voices but whether people manage to deal in a for society acceptable way with them, or not. Basically, that makes - directly or indirectly - asking for help the main criterion for "mental illness". Indeed. How this ever could justify the exclusion of anyone, if it is in regard to a study about flying saucers or whatever else, is a mystery to me. But then again, if you believe it's all genes and biochemistry, then of course...

  2. That's a very interesting link you provided. Isn't it sad that asking for help (directly or indirectly) is the main criterion for mental illness? The base for this exclusion seems to be as you said, the belief that there is something so different about the mentally ill as to make them untouchable as research subjects.


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