It may not be necessary to consume psychedelic drugs in order to experience the sights and sounds of things that are not there. A team of scientists recently concluded that audible and visual hallucinations often happen naturally, as a way for the brain to fill in the missing pieces needed to help a person makes sense out of their surroundings.
Researchers from Cambridge University in conjunction with Cardiff University have determined that the human mind is capable of producing the types of hallucinations often experienced by people with psychotic disorders in an attempt to give us some insight as to what to expect next. It is a natural process that we typically take for granted—one that allows humans to positively identify a random object, like a family pet, that might dart past us in a room.
According to the study, the brain was designed to teeter on the verge of a hallucinogenic event.
The mind computes these types of blurred images to let us know that what we just saw was our cat chasing a bug through the house. But researchers say that when this happens, we are one step away from reveling in full-blown delirium.
“Having a predictive brain makes us efficient and adept at creating a coherent picture of an ambiguous and complex world,” professor Paul Fletcher, with the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge University, told The Independent. “But it also means we are not very far away from perceiving things that aren’t actually there, which is the definition of a hallucination.”
Scientists were curious to find out whether the concept of the predictive brain could be used to forecast a person’s predisposition to a psychotic disorder.
To do this, they assembled a group of people, showing them a series of black and white blotches to see which of them were able to indentify the objects in the photos before the full image was revealed. They found that those people in the beginning stages of mental illness were much better at identifying the vague images than those with a healthy mind.
Researchers believe the study shows just how resilient the human brain can be.
“These findings are important because they tell us that the emergence of key symptoms of mental illness can be understood in terms of an altered balance in normal brain functions,” said Naresh Subramaniam with Cambridge University. “They also suggest these symptoms and experiences do not reflect a ‘broken’ brain but rather one that is striving—in a very natural way—to make sense of incoming data that are ambiguous.”
Interestingly, because the brain seems to be hardwired through evolution to produce figments of our imaginations, drugs are becoming less important in the quest to experience mind-bending pleasure.
Scientific minds are now using virtual reality and artificial intelligence to trick the brain into taking the same kind of “trip” that was previously only available through the consumption of LSD and magic mushrooms.
It was recently revealed that researchers with Sussex University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science have developed what they call the “Hallucination Machine,” which supposedly takes the place of drugs in the way that it distorts human senses and makes people believe they are seeing and hearing things that are not really there.
However, it has yet to be determined just how similar this trip technology is to the real thing. After all, there is something to be said about altering the chemical composition of the brain in search for doors that we are unable to open in our right minds.
We’ve got to believe that it is going to be a long time before virtual hallucination devices are able to transport humans into the same realm of perception as psychedelic substances. But we are certainly eager to give it a shot!