How the Light Gets in is a philosophy and music festival which takes place annually at Hay-on-Wye. This May was the seventh festival with over 650 philosophy, comedy and music events over a 9 day period.
On the 24th May I attended a workshop run by Richard Bentall about hallucinations – in particular
There are a significant number of people in the population who experience ‘voices’ who do not consider themselves to be ill and do not seek psychiatric help (ibid). Secondary symptoms, such as stress relating to the experience of mis-attribution of one’s own internal voice to external others can be ameliorated by conceptualising the experience in ways that are meaningful to the person experiencing the phenomenon. Marius Romme is not in the business of ‘curing’ those who experience voice hearing. He is more interested in understanding the meaning that the experience holds for those facing the phenomenon. Bentall referred to the oft-cited example (Romme, 1993) of a voice hearer who read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes – a book that argues that consciousness as we now understand it is a recent phenomenon (Jaynes, 1976). The ‘voice hearer’ saw that there was hope for her predicament - perhaps she had the pre-conscious mind of an ancient Greek person and this was why her mind seemed to be in dialogue with gods or others. This gave her some relief regarding the tension and stress associated with the experience and changed the way she (and her psychiatrist, Romme) conceptualised voice hearing. Bentall's presentation was followed by a lively discussion with a diverse audience about the nature of hallucination.