Hearing voices in the head – Are they real?

hearing voices
Joe Simpson

One well know example of some hearing voices is Joe Simpson. Whilst climbing on the West Face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, Simpson fell from high up on the mountain and was left for dead. Frostbitten and slowly freezing to death he recovered consciousness to realize he had a broken leg throbbing with pain and unusable, yet he was precariously placed on a snowy ledge above a glacier and six miles from base camp.

`Cold had long since won its battle. I accepted that I was to die. Sleep beckoned insistently; a black hole calling me, pain-free, lost in time, like death’. Yet without help he amazingly survives to tell his story of extreme hardship in his book Touching the Void.

Joe reported hearing voices inwardly in his head

“It was as if there were two minds within me arguing the toss. The voice was clean and sharp and commanding. It was always right, and I listened to it when it spoke and acted on its decisions. The other mind rambled out a disconnected series of images, and memories and hopes, which I attended to in a day dream state as I set about obeying the orders of the voice ”.

He had to get to the glacier. He could then crawl on the glacier, but he did not think that far ahead. If his perspectives had sharpened, so too they had narrowed, until he thought only in terms of achieving predetermined aims and no further. Reaching the glacier was his aim. The voice told him exactly how to go about it, and he obeyed while his other mind jumped abstractly from one idea to another.

Ivo Weisner reported hearing voices

Ivo Wiesner reported he was hearing voices but he has never been thought to be mad. Born in north Germany in 1960, Ivo was aged eight when he started hearing voices inside his own head. To start with it was a man’s voice and to Ivo’s astonishment on occasion he uncannily and correctly predicted events. Ivo, very frightened, told no one about hearing voices, not even his mother. It would appear when he was in an empty state of mind, a clear line of words. The voice did not echo his thoughts or comment or argue about them with another voice, as is frequently the case in schizophrenic illness. It would tell him things that were, as far as he knew, not in his own mind.

According to psychologist Peter Chadwick (see his book Schizophrenia: The Positive Perspective), this brave child saw no psychiatrists and needed no treatment of any kind. He was never diagnosed as schizophrenic – although probably he would have been had he consulted medical authorities simply because for many clinicians just hearing voices is regarded as evidence for psychotic hallucinations and seen as proof that one is suffering a mental illness. Instead he carried this experience around him in silence, unknown to anyone, for years.

Wiesner continued to have these eerie experiences into adulthood.

Emanuel Swedenborg reported hearing voices

The spiritual philosopher Emanual Swedenborg experienced dreams of an unusual nature where the dreamer keeps a degree of self-awareness as if awake. Today, psychologists call these lucid dreams. He also described visions of angels and spirits when his eyes were open. He is careful to distinguish this experience from ordinary imagination. Some people likewise report seeing apparitions.

Swedenborg’s own extraordinary experiences had started when he had been exploring the pattern of thoughts and images that arose in his mind during meditative and trance states. In his normal waking consciousness, he learned to detect the process, of what we term extra-sensory experience.

Swedenborg’s explanation of hearing voices

He discovered that the mind is naturally capable of becoming aware of symbolic images that reflect an inner awareness within the individual. Based on his extra-sensory experiences, he maintained that all of us have both internal and external sensation; with our internal senses we at times may be able to perceive a spirit dimension to life which is normally hidden from view, and with our external senses we perceive the familiar physical universe of nature.

He reports, from his extraordinary experiences, that the spirits of people in human form exist in a spirit world. This realm, with its objects and scenes, is a projection of and reflects the inner character – that is the spirit – of these people. An ugly environment represents people in a bad state and a beautiful environment people in a good state. He emphasised the reality to the senses of this non-physical existence.

Moreover, he said that the voices he inwardly heard actually reflect the presence of these spirits who have bodily died but who are alive in the spirit world. Some of these are of good and others of bad character.

Likewise, he said that some dreams come by way of spirits who are close to a person when he or she is asleep which also have psycho-spiritual significance for the dreamer. Bad spirits bring on nightmares and deceptive dreams.

Psychological explanations of hearing voices

This may sound like a return to medieval myth. Swedenborg lived before the birth of psychoanalysis, since which, when anyone experiences dreams or hallucinatory material, psychologists tend to assume they must be pieces of the self welling up from the repressed unconscious rather than evidence of any hidden spiritual world.

However, according to clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen the various states of extraordinary consciousness e.g. dreaming, the hypnogogic, trance states, voices, apparitions, lucid dreams etc. are different ways of viewing a single process, that is ordinarily unconscious.

He agrees with Swedenborg that such altered states of consciousness reveal a spirit dimension of which the person is a part. This dimension also contains the inner world of mind with all its inner dispositions, tendencies, and values. The manifest world of spirit thus mirrors the inner psychological life of the individual. Waking consciousness in the physical body normally blocks out this inner psychic process, yet the world of spirit is experienced with the senses as just as real as the outer world of physical life. This account is given in Van Dusen’s book The Presence of Other Worlds.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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