What puts the ‘ice’ in voices?

Why do some people ‘hear voices’ saying negative things?

Good question.

Here are our musings on this, in a new paper published this month.

It is free-to-read, thanks to the support of the Wellcome Trust.

Just click on the image below to access it.

One thought on “What puts the ‘ice’ in voices?

  1. I was glad to see you discuss Tanya Luhrmann. You’ve only mentioned her once in your blog and it was only in passing. I learned of her work because her entire career was originally inspired by Julian Jaynes’ radical hypothesis. That relates to the issue of the bundle theory of mind (as opposed to the ego theory of mind), either in its origin in Buddhism or its later formulation with David Hume. Voice-hearing is about the voices we dis-identify with, but there is also the voice(s) we identify with.

    Negative content, obviously, isn’t only limited to the voices we hear outside of our egoic boundaries. And the egoic boundaries, anyway, are artificially constructed and constantly have to be defended. Over a lifetime, we end up taking up many voices as being perceived as our own. Continuity is a story we tell ourselves. The thick boundaries in the Western mind probably play a large part in the negative content, as Luhrmann explored. This creates a conflict because, in reality, the boundary is never as thick as we Westerners pretend it to be. We fear those other voices because we sense how easily they can intrude. And this is why we there is so much stigma surrounding those who do hear voices for they are a threat to the egoic social construct and the egoic social order.

    This is the kind of thing Jaynes explored. It has to do with authorization and self-authorization. And it further relates to issues of hypnotism, authoritarianism, and individualism — all three closely linked in Jayne’s’ view. What follows from this is the power voices, our own and others, have over us. And our relationship to those voices shapes their content. All voices, in the end, are voice-hearing. It is through listening to the voices of others that we eventually internalize a voice to be claimed as our own. But none of us is born with an egoic voice or the egoic self that goes with it. That takes immense effort to be built and requires an entire civilizational project. This accords with the suggestion that we develop a theory of mind in ourselves by first applying a theory of mind to others.

    It’s so important, therefore, to look to societies with positive content of voice-hearing and with more fluid boundaries of self and other. The identities of some hunter-gatherers is amazingly fluid in ways that is almost unimaginable to Westerners, especially Americans. The idea of loss of self is a fearful prospect to those of us who cling so tightly to our egos as if they were our true and only selves. I’d point out that trauma is an important factor. One thing that stood out to me about a tribe like the Piraha is how little trauma they seemed to experience with their having little fear of death and apparently none of the high rates of anxiety and depression that are so common in the modern industrialized world. Something about their culture, lifestyle, or whatever seems to protect them against trauma. Maybe thick boundaries are psychological scar tissue from unhealed psychological wounds.

    That leads to the question of why so many people act traumatized in the Western world, even when their lives otherwise are objectively safe and comfortable. Our assumption that WEIRD societies are normal and should be held up as the human norm is obviously false. But that leaves so much in doubt, since almost all social science research has been done on the WEIRDest of the WEIRD populations.

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