“Hallucination and Madness”, an original history essay by rootsnwingz

Note from the author: The present academic paper focuses on the way hallucinations have been perceived and treated by societies from a historical perspective.  As it was originally written in the summer of 2010 for a university class, entitled Madness and Society in Historical Perspective, I would like to take the opportunity to thank my classmates and professors for one of the most interesting and inspiring trips I’ve ever taken academically.

Hallucination and Madness

“I’m not completely sure we aren’t all living in a hallucination now”,
–           Marc Maron

“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
–           Phillip K. Dick

“And how do you know that you’re mad? ‘To begin with,’ said the Cat, ‘a dog’s not mad. You grant that?’ I suppose so, said Alice. ‘Well then,’ the Cat went on, ‘you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tale when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’”
–           Lewis Carroll

Examining hallucination from a historical perspective is not a pleasant task. Although hallucination is an ancient phenomenon, most societies throughout history have condemned those who courageously admitted to and talked about this sort of experience, be it auditory, as in hearing voices when no sound source exists, or visual, as in seeing things that are not really there. On the other hand, certain cultures accepted hallucinations as meaningful to the individual or the society in whole. But, generally, hallucination was considered a sign of insanity, i.e. a symptom of mental illness, or even the devil’s work and anyone who would claim having such experiences would be labeled mad or possessed.

In my essay, by showing that endogenous etiologies, such as trauma and abuse, have been discovered for hallucination, I will argue that considering it a disorder that could be explained supernaturally was wrong. Further, I will show that as a result of ignoring the physical basis of hallucination, its treatment was immoral, in the sense that people who had hallucinations that they did not understand and that they were scared of, were often deemed insane, whereas a genuinely moral and actually effective attempt to heal them would have aimed at helping them recall the traumatic experience that triggered the hallucinations, accept it as real and face up to it. Obviously, my overview of the history of hallucination and its treatment throughout history cannot be 100% comprehensive. However, I will use a variety of historical cases to forward my argument and to portray the multifaceted nature of hallucination as best as I possibly can. Ultimately, though, the central message I want to impart the reader with is that due to misinformation concerning hallucination and how it worked, serious problems arose in its treatment that persist, to a certain extent, even in modern societies. Continue reading


“Drugs World” Visual Venn Diagram


Accurate Venn diagram showing and categorizing natural and chemical drugs according to their effects and uses. The simple and self-explanatory design by David McCandless successfully depicts each drug in terms of its effects as a depressant, hallucinogen, stimulant and anti-psychotic. Thus emerges a clear image of the nature of drugs and their effects / uses. I won’t say much more, except look at where cannabis lies on the diagram… How much more in our face could the truth be??!! Could it be that nature provided us with a medicine that is superior to pharmaceuticals? Nah, it couldn’t, could it? 😉

*For those who still don’t get it, the diagram conclusively shows cannabis as the only drug with active ingredients that can cause depressive, hallucinogenic, stimulant and anti-psychotic effects (all 4 types of psychoactive effects). Its medicinal benefits and superiority to pills become evident when we consider the range of uses the plant could therefore have. Moreover, this brings to question the necessity for synthetic pharmaceuticals even existing, when there already is a drug found in nature that covers the entire spectrum of psychoactive effects. What a threat to these corporations’ current profits it would be if there was a scientific consensus on cannabis…

Legalize it!

Visualization of the major causes of death in the 20th century

In November, two years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Wellcome Collection in London, UK. The unique exhibition was entitled “Death: A self-portrait – The Richard Harris Collection” and focused on the iconography of death and humanity’s complicated attitudes towards it. From rare paintings, medical documents to scientific specimen and ancient skulls. The first exhibition I visited at the Wellcome Collection was about the brain and was a lot more disturbing than this one, yet I loved it and found it amazing. So I was mentally prepared for what awaited me. Albeit macabre, the exhibits were remarkably interesting and the analysis and explanations provided were very insightful and well-researched. Essentially, the exhibition succeeded in depicting humans’ journey in history to come to terms with and comprehend death.

On the wall of the final exhibit room was the most impressive, in my opinion, piece: a massive visual diagram showing and effectively ranking the major causes of death (counted in millions) in the 20th century. Simply and elegantly designed, this artwork was commissioned by the Wellcome Collection to David McCandless of http://www.informationisbeautiful.net, who created an extremely helpful visualization of greatly significant, very well researched facts and data about death. I particularly appreciated the original statistical information on the leading causes of death and risks in life. Note that diarrhea killed 226 million people in the 20th century, while only 6 million were killed by snake bites. Kind of makes you re-prioritize your fears, doesn’t it? Another good one is that illegal drugs caused 6,5 million deaths, whereas tobacco caused a stunning 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone! Click on the image to see for yourself the diagram in full size and zoom to explore the information easily.

Entrance to the Wellcome Collection is free to the public and its exhibitions are always on topics of extraordinary relevance and interest. For instance, the current exhibition, which I really hope I get a chance to go to, is on the history of the human study and perception of sexuality (on till September 2015).