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Mental Imagery and Hallucinations as Adaptive Behavior: Divine Voices and Visions as Neuropsychological Vestiges

Brian J. McVeigh
The International Journal of the Image, 2013, 3 (1): 25-36.


"Hallucinations" and "adaptation" are not two words we usually associate with each other. After all, we link the former with loose brain wiring that causes malfunctioning apparent in the nonsensical and irrational ravings of the insane. However, enough pieces of a neurological, phenomenological, and historical puzzle exist to argue that hallucinations used to be adaptive. This is an extraordinary claim, so I begin with the most believable but personally immediate experience we all have, mental imagery. Then I chain together, link by link, the parts of an argument that become increasingly controversial: (1) evidence of an earlier mentality in which hallucinations were adaptive; (2) reactivations of vestigial neurostructures that cause audiovisual hallucinations in modern times. I utilize recent research on hallucinatory reduplications of one's own body (autoscopy, out-of-body experiences [OBs], and heautoscopy). Such phenomena, similar to the ubiquitous theophanies recorded in ancient texts (e.g., Bible), are remnants of an older neuropsychology. Understanding present-day anomalous behaviors aids us in appreciating the hallucinatory nature of subjective inner visualizations as adaptations.

The final link - (3) affinities between introspection and hallucinations - comes full circle: hallucinations are "superceptions" that subsume several types: (a) extraceptions (audiovisual hallucinations interpreted as divine voices and visitations in ancient times); (b) vestigial extraceptions (anomalous behaviors, e.g., hallucinations still experienced by schizophrenics and mystics); (c) introceptions (inner quasi-perceptions, e.g., mental imagery); and (d) coceptions (perceptions and introceptions coincide; such overlapping deludes us into assuming that interior experiences are merely sensory reflections of reality). The mistaken assumption that what is commonly called "introspection" is just a mirroring of the surrounding environment has had profound implications, since many of us believe that introspective experiences can be explained away or reduced to perceptual processes. Consequently, the nature and role of what is usually called consciousness is neglected.