Dr. Charles T. Tart 2019-04-08 14:05:17

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Apr 082019


Do You Hear Voices?  Strange Experiences and Mental Health For more than a half century, once it became known that[…]

Ordinary Hallucinations

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Sep 212016


As politics heats up, many very bright people do not understand how other people can be so stupid in not detecting lies and other nonsense by candidates.  Can’t they see what’s happening, hear what’s being said, make sense of things?


This is a demo as to how off we can be…  Just “logically” working with what we hear…  It’s hard for reasoning to transcend what we obviously perceive…

The attached mp3 file contains a single word, “cogitate.”

This is a demonstration devised by neurophysiologist John Lilly back in the 70s when a psychologist colleague of mine scoffed at him when he said ordinary people could hallucinate.  So Lilly recorded the single word “cogitate” on a tape recorder, cut that section of tape exactly at the beginning and the end of the word, spliced the two ends together, and put the loop into a tape recorder so it repeated with practically no break in between each repetition.

I’m sure some of you were old enough to remember tape recorders, yes?

Now for Windows machines, if you’ll double-click on that cogitate MP3 file, and then click the circular arrow that tells it to start looping, turn the volume up moderately loud and spend 10 minutes or so listening to it, I think you’ll discover that there are actually many different words than cogitate on there.  Now intellectually you know that’s nonsense, and I’ve just told you there’s only one word.  Yet for almost all of you within 10 minutes you won’t find that the word sounds a little unclear so you can logically deduce that perhaps it’s some other word, you’ll simply hear the other word, as plain as day.  Our minds or brains, choose your preference, are pattern detectors and pattern creators, and when they get tired, as in this unusual situation of the same stimulus over and over and over and over and over, you’ll begin to see how they can actually create something that isn’t there, but is as real as a perception can be.  So if you want to demonstration that you can hallucinate, or be subject to illusions if you want to be technically more proper, give it a try.


I did this with my altered states of consciousness classes for many times over the years.  Maybe 1% or less of the class would hear only cogitate, and some people, instructed to write down any different words they heard (actually heard, not imagined), heard as many as 75 or so words in 10 minutes.

The most fun I ever had with the class of a couple of hundred or so students was like this.  I explained to them that we were going to do an experiment, then I divided the class down the middle, stepped to my left and said these were instructions just for the people on the left.  Of course everybody could hear what I said but… So I instructed the people on the left that this was a test of sensory sensitivity, and if they were really sensitive they’d be able to detect many of the interpolated words: write them down.  Then I stepped to the right, and told the students that I had just lied to the people on the left, there was really only one word, although they might occasionally hear another one, then I stepped back to the left and told them of course I was messing with their minds, but try to follow the instructions.

Even with everybody perfectly clear on what was going on, just about everybody heard extra words, and the people told to think of it as a test of sensitivity heard a lot more than those who were told there was only a single word…

Wonderful thing, our minds.  That pattern creation function does indeed help us see some movement in the grass and worry that a tiger might be coming, it’s time to get out of there.  Better to run uselessly and feel like a fool than to stand there thinking about it more carefully and be eaten.

So “beliefs” are not just a mental concept, as this demonstration shows they can bias your perception strongly enough so they are “perceptions,” not “beliefs.”

This is how it works with a PC, I’m sure there’s something similar with a Mac that you can make a sound file loop.