By Amy Flis
Now that the elections are over, we can get back to more important topics—such as questioning my sanity. In light of the media’s recent focus on politics and in an effort to bring a little levity to the serious politically-minded media, I’ve looked into research done on hearing voices in your head, and there is a surprising amount of it.
The conventional medical causes of hearing voices, as stated in the article “Hearing voices: Explanations and implications” in Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, include drug side effects, brain lesions and culturally-sanctioned phenomena.
However, according to researchers at the University of Manchester, hearing voices in your head is not necessarily a symptom of insanity. In fact, many of the people they questioned in the study said the voices were positive and encouraging, even helping to motivate them from day to day. This investigation was done after Dutch research found that one in 25 people regularly hears voices, a number much higher than previously conjectured. That means that, statistically, about one person in each of your classes and 168 at this school hear voices in their heads.
Interestingly, there is an international organization and Web site devoted to the topic. That organization is INTERVOICE, started in 1997 with 18 member countries as of June 2007 according to an article on medicalnewstoday.com.
“We think our site is very distinctive from the way mental health and psychiatric sites usually provide information about hearing voices,” Marius Romme, professor of psychiatry and president of the INTERVOICE, said according to the article. “For a start we do not automatically assume that hearing voices is in itself a problem. On this site we have not only provided information about ways of overcoming the difficulties faced by the estimated 4 (percent) of women, men and children who hear voices across the world, but have also provided information about the more positive aspects of the experience as well as the cultural, alternative and spiritual perspectives, recognising the historical significance of this important variation in human behaviour.”
It is true that many historical and mythological events have involved some sort of voice, although it is often assumed the voice was divine or prophetic. However, this recent data raises the question of what these events were. They have been worshipped as divine interventions, but on the other hand, they could merely be a result of the variation in human behavior, in an event which happened to occur in a way open to symbolic, grand interpretation. Ironically, trivial research on voice hearers points toward conjectures that could cripple the supposed accuracy and validity of many religious texts.
Could such religious visions really have been only a part of a random behavioral pattern? Considering how influential those visions have been, it seems inconceivable. As with anything religious, the possibilities in interpretation are infinite. I will go no farther in conjecture on this topic beyond saying that the implications are as infinitely amusing as they are infinitely incomprehensible.
It is important to note what it means to hear voices. I hear voices in an “I’m not crazy but I do talk to myself” kind of way. In my case, I have learned to internalize conversations with myself in order to avoid looking like a freak literally talking to myself. However, the voice I hear is my own, which doesn’t quite count (I think that then qualifies me as sane!). In studies conducted by Romme, the participants are usually disturbed by their voices and cannot attribute a source to them. However, the Dutch researchers noted above stated in their findings that there are likely more people who hear voices and do not seek help than there are people who do seek help.
Even if voice hearing ever becomes more prominent and accepted by society, the voices heard in historically auditory visions will not be discredited entirely. If there ever is a concrete scientific explanation for such occurrences, the very fact that they occur in such a manner as to cause such an improbable, stupendous impact still makes them astounding. No matter the research, that will not change. On that final note, I will heed the voices in my head and stop talking now. Amy Flis is the editor in chief of the HiLite. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.