“We watched at the eye-machine…”


“According to Lindner, his patient first began experiencing a strange feeling while reading fanciful adventure novels during his youth. “In some weird and inexplicable way I knew that what I was reading was my biography […]. Nothing in these books was unfamiliar to me: I recognized everything… My everyday life began to recede at this point. In fact, it became fiction—and, as it did, the books became my reality.” At the further stage of this “psychosis,” the patient “filled in the spaces” between the written stories with “fantasy ‘recollections.'”

“If, in fact, the man described here is Paul Linebarger (a.k.a. Cordwainer Smith), this strange, distorted sense of reality did little to hinder his success in the more conventional world that you and I inhabit. He earned a Ph.D. in political science at Johns Hopkins, and in his early life he mastered six languages. He served on the faculty of Duke University, advised the military on psychological warfare (and wrote a seminal book on the subject), did work for the CIA, and advised President John F. Kennedy. And those are merely highlights of his terrestrial CV.

“Smith’s science-fiction work was obsessed with grand historical concepts and organizational philosophies, and describes in great detail command structures—in particular what he calls the Instrumentality of Mankind, a galactic governmental framework that recurs again and again in his work—and transformational epochs. A particular fixation of his was his projected future “Rediscovery of Man,” in which a technologically superior race of human beings deliberately renounces its advantages and blandly perfected lives in order to reintroduce risk and uncertainty into the sphere of day-to-day events.

“What an odd change from those all-too-familiar sci-fi books about the future, in which some authoritarian dystopian society is postulated. Here instead Cordwainer Smith envisions a future in which the powers-that-be prefer to embrace a messy, uncontrolled imperfection. In an unusual twist on the typical futurist saga, Smith describes a fierce backlash against the grand achievements of the social engineers—but only because they have succeeded so completely.

“The rulers now decide that they need to return to the less predictable ways of the past. Only 42 people in the entire universe know how to read English, that archaic language of a dead society, and a Common Tongue now allows universal communication, but that is now to be replaced by the reintroduced old languages. A host of other advances—medical, sociological, psychological, economic—are similarly seen as obsolete.

“I myself was the first man to put a postage stamp on a letter, after fourteen thousand years,” announces the narrator Paul in Smith’s short story “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.” “I took Virginia to hear the first piano recital. We watched at the eye-machine when cholera was released in Tasmania, and we saw the Tasmanians dance in the streets, now that they did not have to be protected any more. Everywhere, men and women worked with a wild will to build a more imperfect world. I myself went into a hospital and came out French…”

Text: Ted Gioia, Remembering Cordwainer Smith: Full-Time Sci-Fi Author, Part-Time Earthling, The Atlantic.

Image: Kazuya Akimoto, The Evil Eye, 2010.

The Imposter Lives with the Patient



“Mary, aged 40 years, was referred for psychiatric evaluation out of concern that a mental health diagnosis was interfering with her ability to appropriately and safely care for her child. The patient had stated on numerous occasions that her 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, had been placed in the custody of Child Protective Services and replaced by an imposter. Mary also reported that she had given birth to twins but that the hospital record only documented the birth of Sarah. On occasion, she had shown up at her daughter’s school, refusing to pick her up, screaming, “Give me my real daughter; I know what you’ve done.”

“Despite reassurance from multiple health care providers and relatives, Mary continued to express concern that her daughter was not, in fact, her own. Furthermore, she related several episodes in which her daughter was “whisked away before I could talk to her” while going about her daily business. For example, Mary related that a car driven by an unknown person, with Sarah in the passenger seat, passed by her while she was running errands but sped away once she was noticed…


“A case has been described in which a mother believed her adult daughter had been replaced with a look-alike imposter. On delving into the patient’s history, it was found that the patient had to leave a very serious relationship with a man she loved because she was pregnant with another man’s child. The baby eventually grew into the adult daughter who the patient believed had been replaced. The patient’s resentment for having to leave her lover when she was pregnant was believed to be the psychodynamic source for the current delusion.

“With Capgras syndrome, the family member who is believed to have been replaced is most often a spouse, parent, or sibling. For unknown reasons, the “replaced” family member is rarely the child of the delusional person and even more rarely is the child younger than 20 years. Although violence aimed at any person is a significant threat, violence aimed at children is particularly worrisome. Mary’s case is unique because the increased potential for violence in her relationship with her daughter needs to be taken into consideration when assessing the patient’s ability to be a safe and effective parent.

“Although violence can be seen in all psychiatric disorders, there is a higher incidence of severe violence in patients with delusional disorders. In patients with Capgras syndrome, the violence is often directed at the imposter or, in some cases, the people the patient believes replaced the loved one with the imposter.

“Bourget and Whitehurst found several demographic features that increase the likelihood of violence in persons with Capgras syndrome. Specifically, if the imposter lives with the patient or if the delusional person is male, has a persistent and long-term delusion, or has a history of violence or substance abuse, the risk of violence is increased. The sources of violence can be frustration or fear of the imposter, but it can also be cultural.

“Silva and colleagues found that some folklore and regional legends suggest that if a child is thought to have been replaced by another person or even by a demon, battering and being physically aggressive toward the imposter might bring the “real” child back. One Swedish fairy tale recounts the story of a woman who believed her child was an imposter. In the story, she is advised to put her baby into a hot oven; when she does this, her “true” child is returned. This is a severe case that is not necessarily the norm for patients with misidentification delusions; however, it is evidence that violence in delusional persons can happen.”

Text: That’s Not My Child: A Case of Capers Syndrome, by Jeremy Matuszak, MD and Matthew Parra, MD, Psychiatric Times.

Pic: The Lovers 2, 1928 by Rene Magritte

Events Appear Random, Hard to Reconcile


“The belief that an event, a situation, or a set of people is controlled by unknown or secret forces, which usually have unsavory intentions. The conspiracies are supposedly intended to seize or hold political power, keep shocking information from the public, protect parties guilty of a crime, or overthrow social institutions. Conspiracies may be controlled by unidentified figures or by known institutions such as the CIA, the FBI, or the U.S. government; they may refer to known religious groups, such as Jews or Catholics, or they may assume an unprecedented new cabal; they may be attributed to aliens, communists, racial or ethnic minorities, or to a stranger. What all conspiracy theories have in common is the idea that common people have gained secret knowledge that a powerful elite is trying to keep hidden and that uncovering the conspiracy will help explain things that were previously hard to understand.

“Conspiracy theories develop for several reasons. They are a way of making sense of information that is difficult to organize or comprehend. When logic and rationality do not provide a good story to explain something, conspiracy, attached to a series of seeming coincidences, can do the job. Events that appear random and hard to reconcile with known causes can be brought under control if a conspiracy is used to explain them. The effects of actions by large institutions, such as governments or corporations, are difficult to explain because of their complexity; conspiracy can account for their actions in a comprehensive way. Conspiracies are hard to disprove because any opposition to a conspiracy theory can be seen as another part of the conspiracy and as an element of a cover-up.

“Conspiracy theories are popular ways to talk about the unknowable. Big, disturbing events, such as the attacks of 9/11 or the John F. Kennedy assassination, spawn conspiracies because they seem too random or unexpected. The 9/11 conspiracy theorists were not satisfied with the explanation that Al Qaeda operatives were responsible and have developed a series of theories that blame the U.S. government. The Kennedy assassination has nurtured decades of conspiracy theories, in part because the government’s official explanation (in the Warren Commission Report) contained inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Theories such as the crashing of an alien spaceship in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, and the subsequent transport of alien bodies to “Area 51” in the Nevada desert, have become acceptable ways of talking about encounters with the unknown. For more information, see Becker (1994) and Shermer (1997).”

Text: Conspiracy TheoryLarry E. Sullivan, The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

Image: Ant Farm & TR Uthco, The Eternal Frame, 1975.“The Eternal Frame was a project by Ant Farm and T.R. Uthco, 1975, that resulted in a 24 minute video work about the JFK assassination. At the center of this work was a re-enactment of the tragedy produced and performed for the camera, but unexpectedly many bystanders showed up to watch and were interviewed.”

Control Threats

“People’s desire to make sense of the social world is closely coupled with the extent to which they experience control over their environment. Various complementary theoretical perspectives, on meaning-making (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006; Park, 2010; Van den Bos, 2009), paranoia (Kramer, 1998), and compensatory control (Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009; Rutjens, van Harreveld, & van der Pligt, 2013), assume that threats to control increase people’s mental efforts to make sense of the social world, imbuing the world with meaning, purpose, and order. These insights may explain why conspiracy theories seem to gain momentum particularly following impactful societal events that are likely experienced as control threats by citizens (e.g., a terrorist strike, a war, or a natural disaster; see Pipes, 1997; Robins & Post, 1997; Shermer, 2011). Indeed, research reveals that people are more likely to attribute impactful, harmful societal events (e.g., a politician is assas- sinated) to conspiracies than societal events that are less impactful or harmful (e.g., someone tries to assassinate a politician but fails; see McCauley & Jacques, 1979), a finding that is attributable to people’s sense-making motiva- tion (Van Prooijen & Van Dijk, 2014).


“In a similar vein, various operationalizations of control threats have been found to predict conspiracy beliefs. For in- stance, an external locus of control—that is, a dispositional tendency to believe that one’s outcomes are controlled by external forces—is correlated with interpersonal mistrust and paranoia (Mirowsky & Ross, 1983) and belief in conspiracy theories (Hamsher, Geller, & Rotter, 1968).

“Furthermore, a seminal study by Whitson and Galinsky (2008) reveals that experimentally induced control threats increases the extent to which participants perceive patterns, such as images in random noise, patterns in stock market information, and conspiracies. Complementary findings indicate that control threats elicit responses that are widely associated with conspiracy belief, such as attributing increased power to one’s enemies (Sullivan, Landau, & Rothschild, 2010), and scapegoating (Rothschild, Landau, Sullivan, & Keefer, 2012). Furthermore, constructs that are closely associated with control threats, such as death anxiety (Newheiser, Farias, & Tausch, 2011), uncertainty (Van Prooijen & Jostmann, 2013), and attitudinal ambivalence (van Harreveld, Rutjens, Schneider, Nohlen, & Keskinis, 2014), have been found to similarly influence conspiracy beliefs. In the following, we discuss how the present contribution is designed to expand on these insights.”

Text: The Influence of Control on Belief in Conspiracy Theories: Conceptual and Applied Extensions, Jan-Willem Van Prooijen and Michelle Accker, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 29: 753–761 (2015).

Image: Adolph Gottlieb, Green Dream, 1969, Serigraph, 24.13 x 19.13 inches

Mental Time Travel


“To think positively about our prospects, we must first be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind. Although most of us take this ability for granted, our capacity to envision a different time and place is in fact critical to our survival. It is easy to see why cognitive time travel was naturally selected for over the course of evolution. It allows us to plan ahead, to save food and resources for times of scarcity and to endure hard work in anticipation of a future reward. It also lets us forecast how our current behaviour may influence future generations. If we were not able to picture the world in a hundred years or more, would we be concerned with global warming? Would we attempt to live healthily? Would we have children?”

Text: Tali Sharot, The Optimism Bias, TIME

Pic: Thomas Cole, The Architect’s Dream, 1840.

Subconscious Driving

“Highway hypnosis, also known as white line fever, is a mental state in which a person can drive a truck or automobile great distances, responding to external events in the expected manner with no recollection of having consciously done so. In this state, the driver’s conscious mind is apparently fully focused elsewhere, with seemingly direct processing of the masses of information needed to drive safely. Highway hypnosis is just one manifestation of a relatively commonplace experience, where the conscious and unconscious minds appear to concentrate on different things.

“The concept of “highway hypnosis” was first described in a 1921 article that mentioned the phenomenon of “road hypnotism”: driving in a trance-like state while gazing at a fixed point. A 1929 study Sleeping with the Eyes Open by Miles also dealt with the subject, suggesting that it was possible for the motorists to fall asleep with eyes open. The idea that the unaccountable automobile accidents could be explained by this phenomenon became popular in the 1950s.The term “highway hypnosis” was coined by GW Williams in 1963. Building on the theories of Ernest Hilgard that hypnosis is an altered state of awareness, some theorists hold that the consciousness can develop hypnotic dissociation. In the example of highway hypnosis, one stream of consciousness is driving the car while the other stream of consciousness is dealing with other matters. Amnesia can even develop for the dissociated consciousness that drove the automobile. The phenomenon is an example of automaticity in cognitive psychology…” [1]


“It does not take a hypnotist to induce a hypnotic state of mind. In fact, we are all constantly moving in and out of these fluid hypnotic states as we engage in normal daily activities, such as day dreaming, studying, watching television, and even driving our cars. These transitions are so natural that they usually go undetected, except at times when we are startled to discover that we have driven 50 miles past our destination on the freeway.

“Let’s take that driving example further. Think about it for a moment. When you drive, you are in many ways driving subconsciously. If you were to consciously think about all of the dangers associated with your driving, you would immediately stop the car and leap out of the vehicle! Your heart would be pounding fiercely and you would break out in a cold sweat. Driving is the most dangerous activity we engage in, and yet we do it every day, scarcely giving a second thought to the daring high-speed maneuvers we execute in our attempts to be the first to get where we want to go.

“We accomplish this dramatic feat by turning the task of driving over to our subconscious mind and autonomic nervous system. The subconscious is quite skilled at driving, just as it is at walking, swimming, or riding a bike. Once it knows how to do something, it just does it; it doesn’t need to think about it again. When you drive, your subconscious mind handles most of the driving while your conscious mind entertains higher cognitive functions such as contemplating your golf score, anticipating your evening date, or deciding what you will have for dinner.

“This is a natural process that in effect minimizes the dangers of driving on a conscious level so that you can function behind the wheel. It does a fine job. So good, in fact, that many people not only minimize their fear of the danger of driving, but they actually become totally oblivious to those dangers. These people then carelessly speed, tailgate, swerve recklessly in and out of lanes, read, talk on the phone, eat, and even apply makeup while driving. They are totally hypnotized at this point, operating on a purely subconscious level, totally oblivious to the danger that they are creating for others as well as themselves….” [2]

Texts: [1] Highway Hypnosis, Wikipedia. [2] Most People Hypnotized While Driving Their Cars, via 24/7 Press Releases.

Pic: Dennis Hopper, Double Standard. 1961. Gelatin silver print.

Swathed In Patterns

“For it is possible to recognize the dominance in the unconscious mind of a ‘compulsion to repeat’ proceeding from the instinctual impulses and probably inherent in the very nature of the instincts — a compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character, and still very clearly expressed in the impulses of small children; a compulsion, too, which is responsible for a part of the course taken by the analyses of neurotic patients. All these considerations prepare us for the discovery that whatever reminds us of this inner ‘compulsion to repeat’ is perceived as uncanny.” – Freud

“Kubrick swathes his film in repeated numerical patterns. Wendy swings the bat at Jack 42 times. Tony says “Redrum” 42 times. Danny looks up and sees the door of room 237 at exactly :42 minutes into the movie and Wendy finds Jack’s novel at exactly 1:42, her fingers stopping at line 21 in the typewriter.

“Danny and Wendy watch “The Summer of 42” at exactly 1:21 minutes and the scene used by Kubrick is exactly :24 minutes into that movie. Likewise, “Redrum” is written on the door 2 separate times, combining a total of 24 lipstick strokes. The timecode in the last scene (2:21), corresponds to 21 pictures on the wall, the middle of which says 1921, a date which itself adds up to 24. Wendy also reveals 21 (or is it 12?) pages of Jack’s book and the staircase she lures him up is comprised of 42 steps.

“Similarly, Danny says “REDRUM!” 42 times (in Tony’s voice) and Wendy tugs at the pantry latch 24 times. The use of 42, 24, 21 and 12 in a movie already filled with doublings and mirrors seems odd and uncanny and this is exactly the intention Kubrick hoped to create.

“There are many people who document all these weird occurrences, but perhapsthey succumb to what Freud calls the “childish superstitious mentality”, ascribing “mystical meanings”  to the Uncanny in the hope of reasserting order, of resolving the mysteries of the film.

“But as Freud says, it is the “compulsion to repress and repeat” coupled with an “inability to be rational and reject the superstitious” which is horrific, and not Kubrick’s semiotic fabric, which aims instead to symbolically reinforce Freud’s themes…”

Text: Kubrick Corner: The Uncanny.

Image: This Is Uncanny: Number-play in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.: “In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick makes extensive use of number play, employing the same visual mirroring and doubling motif throughout the film. Specifically, there are several repetitions of the numbers 42, 24, 21, and 12. With the aid of some handy visual aids, here’s what we mean… In Room 237, the product of 2, 3 and 7 is 42. The sum of 2, 3 and 7 is 12.”