Hallucinatory ‘voices’ shaped by local culture, Stanford anthropologist says

Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann found that voice-hearing experiences of people with serious psychotic disorders are shaped by local culture – in the United States, the voices are harsh and threatening; in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful. This may have clinical implications for how to treat people with schizophrenia, she suggests.

The striking difference was that while many of the African and Indian subjects registered predominantly positive experiences with their voices, not one American did. Rather, the U.S. subjects were more likely to report experiences as violent and hateful – and evidence of a sick condition.

The Americans experienced voices as bombardment and as symptoms of a brain disease caused by genes or trauma.

One participant described the voices as “like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone’s head and drink their blood, really nasty stuff.” Other Americans (five of them) even spoke of their voices as a call to battle or war – “‘the warfare of everyone just yelling.'”

Moreover, the Americans mostly did not report that they knew who spoke to them and they seemed to have 
less personal relationships with their voices, according to Luhrmann.

Among the Indians in Chennai, more than half (11) heard voices of kin or family members commanding them to do tasks. “They talk as if elder people advising younger people,” one subject said. That contrasts to the Americans, only two of whom heard family members. Also, the Indians heard fewer threatening voices than the Americans – several heard the voices as playful, as manifesting spirits or magic, and even as entertaining. Finally, not as many of them described the voices in terms of a medical or psychiatric problem, as all of the Americans did.

In Accra, Ghana, where the culture accepts that disembodied spirits can talk, few subjects described voices in brain disease terms. When people talked about their voices, 10 of them called the experience predominantly positive; 16 of them reported hearing God audibly. “‘Mostly, the voices are good,'” one participant remarked.

Individual self vs. the collective

Why the difference? Luhrmann offered an explanation: Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity, whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self interwoven with others and defined through relationships.

In America, the voices were an intrusion and a threat to one’s private world – the voices could not be controlled.

However, in India and Africa, the subjects were not as troubled by the voices – they seemed on one level to make sense in a more relational world. Still, differences existed between the participants in India and Africa; the former’s voice-hearing experience emphasized playfulness and sex, whereas the latter more often involved the voice of God.

Excerpts from an article written by Clifton B Parker   Stanford Report, July 16, 2014  http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/july/voices-culture-luhrmann-071614.html

I have been looking at the work of Deluze and Guattari – in order to gain a better understanding of their complicated theories  I went back to basics and asked what is schizophrenia? – I then stumbled upon the above article. It leads me to question -If culture (belief systems) can dictate the voices you hear then is schizophrenia only a condition of the mind ?   If society labels this disease and states what will happen – in America for example you will go to the dark side and hear atrocious voices – then are the voices coming from ones own mind and not from other intangible sources such as ancestors, god  etc

I  recently saw a quote that claimed Native Americans see people with schizophrenia as ‘gifted’ as they have ‘special sight’ and they would never think of locking them up in a concrete building. The interconnection with all life is obvious to this culture as they treat their ‘schizophrenics with the respect of a sage. It is without question that the voices are coming from outside of themselves.

‘It is a given that in the practice of institutional psychotherapy that the schizophrenic who is most lost in himself will suddenly burst out with the most incredible details about your private life, things that you would never imagine anyone could know, and that he will tell you in the most abrupt way truths that you believed to be absolutely secret. It’s not a mystery. The schizophrenic has lightening-like access to you; he is focused, so to speak, directly on those links that constitute a series in his subjective system’……………                                                                                                                                       Felix Guattari Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972 – 1977  Semiotext(e), 2008          (reprint ed) pgs. 67-68

‘Thus, Deluze and Guattari’s understanding of the schizo experience, and the subsequent aim of schizoanalysis, is realisation of the interconnected state of all things, and as a “break ” or fracture that allows the entity that we mistakenly refer to as the ‘individual’ to make a jump, a leap onto the plane consistency where processes of becoming can take place’                                                                                                                     Both quotes above and below in pink are from :                  https://deterritorialinvestigations.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/how-does-schizoanalysis-work-or-how-do-you-make-a-class-operate-like-a-work-of-art/

So from my present limited understanding – Deluze and Guattari are on the same page as the belief systems that exist in India, Africa and within the native American communities.

the non physical space right on the fluctuations of flow between one thing and another….He deterritorializes himself right down to these flows that actually create the individual’    

I am interested in this ‘grey’ area but now my head hurts – more Deluze and Guatarri to come…….                                                                                                   



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