Conformity controls our identity. We are a slave to other people’s perception.
Who are you?
The ego develops at an early age. We aren’t born with it. It is a metacognitive sense of self. It is a generalization of your own observations of your self and your behaviors. This generalization becomes a factor in your decisions. Then you generalize the new set of behaviors that are based on your metacognitive generalizations of your self. This pattern continues until you are left with a hyper-generalized state of identity that is based on recursive generalizations of your self, until your behavior becomes a very predictable and patterned existence.
This is what psychedelics undo.
Identity controls our behavior, sometimes to an extreme degree. We condition each other with reward and punishment by using praise and shame. When we are conditioned, our behavior becomes nearly automatic in response to familiar contexts. Our automatic social reactions to familiar contexts will condition those around us until they have a solid sense of our identity and patterns of behavior. Even if you were to change your behaviors and free yourself and become an entirely new person, others will still be conditioned by your past behaviors, they will not be free and they will impose assumptions through their predictions of your behavior that condition you back to your old self once again.
It is a confirmation bias loop. People don’t easily recognize when you change, or if they do, they will interrogate you on why you are acting so strangely, so out of character. In this way, having an identity is much like being an ex-alcoholic. You may change your booze habit, but you may still be surrounded by constant reminders from an alcohol-obsessed culture. Confirmation bias from other’s perceptions of your identity, combined with your openness and gullibility, can shape your own biased perception of yourself. If someone says you make a lot of mistakes, the focus of your attention quickly becomes self-criticism.
This post explores what it would be like to ‘have schizophrenia‘.
When you are diagnosed with schizophrenia, you adopt a label akin to “a person who is usually wrong, in both perception and rationality” which boils down to chronic dismissiveness from the people who surround you. Your emotions, ideas, and experiences are taken less seriously. This is an example of the concept of the nexus (at least my reinterpretation of it). Essentially, the nexus is a judgement or collection of judgments in a social group that converge, particularly judgments that have social influence and pressure others to conform to that collection of judgments. This is especially important in the case of influencing an individual within the group. This alone can be disturbing to an individual. This is an element of mental health that is often not considered, where instead we see basic checklists of general behaviors that confirm whether you are human or broken.
It may be common that the problem begins when an individual has increased exploratory tendencies and finds a novel solution or idea based on their unique experiences. One gene associated to this is the DRD4 7r gene. Longer DRD4 genes such as this 7r polymorphism, have been associated to schizophrenia and also exploration and openness. With enough exploration, it is guaranteed that your experiences will diverge from those who have decreased exploratory tendencies.
Openness to experience predisposes you to both more positive and negative experiences. The concept of trial and error in relation to exploration becomes important here. Trial and error can either be rewarding or punishing. Those who explore less instead find themselves focused more on strict lifestyles based on the experiences of others, following rules that were formed based historical accounts of trial and error. Whereas the more exploratory types engage directly with trial and error. Of course this means the explorer is more prone to error. This proneness is the core of the problem.
Interestingly, schizophrenia is associated with decreased openness to experience, despite having this openness gene, which I believe to be due to trauma and negative experiences playing a role very commonly in the disorder’s emergence. Trauma seems to reduces openness to experience, simply because being low openness may reduce vulnerability to potential errors and dangers in the future. Being closed is secure, so by the time someone gets diagnosed, they are likely already fearful and no longer open or willing to become vulnerable. It is a case of being more eager to learn leads to higher potential for bad learning (PTSD) which then makes you much less eager to explore because you are scared of things now. This will make more sense further along in this reading. Police officers who experienced trauma have shown decreased openness to experience after the experience, which supports this idea.
Once you make enough errors, your family and peers may begin to identify you as the error-maker. The invalidating nature of this identity becomes increasingly apparent as any non-socially-conforming conclusions the explorer finds and expresses, will be countered by their surrounding humans with doubt and a confirmation bias set to the expectation of error. Relatively, the explorer does make more errors, especially in their naïve youth. But such an identity can halt exploratory growth, especially if the parents are very traditional and sheltered. If they impose sheltering onto the explorer, more problems will emerge. All while meaning to protect the ‘error-maker’.
Eventually the child may stagnate in perpetual naivety. This naivety may pose social issues further down the line, leading to isolation problems. The self-identification with the ‘error-maker’ identity will evolve into self-esteem issues, or if the child remains strong, they will be labeled as grandiose.
Experiments have shown that people will conform to popular opinion even though it is clearly the wrong perception.
Imagine that people conform to a false judgment on your personality or identity. There is no reason to believe that popular opinion on one’s identity would differ from other forms of popular opinion. Or if it does differ, the person with the unpopular opinion would quickly be labeled as delusional, even if that person is you judging yourself. People will doubt your self-awareness and assume they know you better. This is a great example of the nexus, and this sort of groupthink dynamic.
If the popular opinion is that you are the maker of errors, you may find yourself constantly critical of your own perceptions and thoughts. Unconfident in your own judgments. You may find yourself perpetually rethinking and analyzing as if to prevent any errors from occurring, essentially OCD, a disorder related to schizophrenia.
This may be why many schizophrenic delusions appear based on solipsism or philosophical-like conclusions. For example, the Truman show delusion requires an element solipsism. To question the reality of other people’s existence. The people around you could be non-human even. We might live in a simulation (a more popular and socially acceptable version of the Truman show delusion). Much of paranoid and conspiratorial thoughts seem to emerge from habitual distrustful tendency.
If for some reason the explorer remains confident, things could get uglier. The explorer can find themselves in a position of constantly defending their ideas and thoughts, which from other people’s perception looks delusional. From other’s perspective, it appears that the error-maker is in denial of their identity, it appears as grandiosity. Sometimes the explorer is correct and sometimes not. The explorer may often notice other people’s confirmation bias: that the explorer is always wrong. Noticing this, the explorer can justify resistance against popular opinion, as if the masses are fools or sheep, believing in some set of truths dogmatically without deeper critical consideration. This is a common mentality for conspiracy theorists, but in recent times it seems every outgroup judges each other in this way, including the major political parties in America.
The error-maker will face frequent rejection due to fears of negative consequences that come with the errors. For example, let’s say you have been labeled an error-maker. Once you have noticed that you are being rejected frequently, you will start to think the majority of people are against you. This will manifest to others as insecurity, paranoia, and self-doubt. If you act rejected, others will be inclined to reject you because your rejection mentality means that you are likely frequently rejected, which means the popular opinion is you are doing something bad or problematic. Others will submit to this implied popular opinion or else risk their own rejection by association. They cannot accept you because they will get your cooties, guilt by association. A guilty conscience is identifiable by others and can scare people off.
It is known that the number of friends a schizophrenic has negatively correlated with severity of psychosis. The more detached you are from any outside criticism, from any peer group, you may sink deeper into your deviant exploratory thoughts. There is no one to enforce conformity if you are alone. This is especially problematic if the explorer is not trained to explore intelligently and effectively. They may not know common logical fallacies and may have not reached a level of intellectual maturity to figure them out for themselves. Being outside of mainstream culture will also mean breaking social norms, missing out on a lot of information, and becoming incredibly alone and stressed out. You are essentially mechanically and socially detached from reality. It may be that some (or many) psychoses are not a detachment from one’s mental faculties, but that our own sanity is dependent on and tethered to our conformity to whatever dogmatic popular opinions exist within the individual’s culture.
Socializing involves opioid activity which has been shown to have antipsychotic effects. Likely it is the case that this rewarding effect promotes convergence of judgments and gives rise to popularly held opinions via a system of social acceptance and rejection, Pavlovian conditioning. Conformity is rewarded and reinforced, dissent is punished. This reminisces of Karl Marx’s “religion is the opium of the masses” statement. Further support of this exists: Social network size has been correlated to pain tolerance, which seems to occur via mu-opioid. There is also evidence that the punishment opioid, dynorphin, may be at the core of psychotic effects. This correlation between number of friends and degree of psychosis begins to make sense. So becoming outcast from mainstream society is essentially painful, to a degree that it causes enough aversion and stress that it leads to hallucinations. These altered experiences may further pose problems with error-making. Essentially the person is dissociating from various elements of consciousness, reducing their memory, awareness, perception, and ultimately their ability to form successful judgments.
Social isolation stress is mediated by tachykinins. Effects such as aggression and longer reactions to stress have been linked to tachykinins. It’s thought that blocking the Tachykinin receptor (NK3) may have antipsychotic effects. Number of friends has also been negatively correlated to psychosis. Increasing interaction with friends may be crucial to recovery from early psychosis. A study found that paranoia correlates with loneliness, where increasing a person’s loneliness increased their paranoia, while decreasing their loneliness decreased their paranoia. It is likely that bonding and familiarity build social trust and intimacy, thus allowing for more predictable and secure social interactions across people. Social paranoia is really the absence of this familiarity and trust. Instead, the schizophrenic may experience people as generally foreign and be primed to expect distrust-able experiences. It is foreign and mysterious to them, and eventually they would lack recent experiences to base their judgments upon after long enough isolation.
This paper explores the dynamic evolution of psychotic symptoms as a reaction between an individual and a society, a trend that begins with fearful or defensive behavior in psychotic patients. The community narrative created in the psychotic persons mind would have no checks or “peer review” and thus be prone to taking many uncritical subjective directions and eventually dig deeper into a sort of rabbit hole of unchecked ideas. The study describes the community perception on the psychotic part as “pseudo” but another paper says it is actually real, where it is a dynamic, essentially the nexus.
A study found that those with schizophrenia had a blunted medial prefrontal cortex response to social exclusion compared with those who did not have schizophrenia. I think rather than seeing this as some biological anomaly, that it may be evidence that exclusion has been so frequent for those diagnosed with schizophrenia that they have a sort of tolerance to it, that they may even be stuck in exclusion due to fears of opening up or becoming expressive even. It may be that the reaction to exclusion found in the medial prefrontal cortex in healthy participants could be due to problem-solving engagement to a problem that isn’t yet solved, while the schizophrenic may have some sort of automated response to the situation or they may even dissociate from it as a coping strategy. The lack of expressive affect we often see in those with schizophrenia may reveal this unwillingness to be socially and emotionally vulnerable.
Perhaps the medial prefrontal cortex response in healthy individuals is due to the unexpectedness of exclusion while the schizophrenic has an expectation (and thus also automated response). One theory of the medial prefrontal cortex suggests it may deal with predicting the likely outcomes of events. So it could be that the one with schizophrenia is not surprised by the exclusion while the normal participant is shocked and now must try to understand and resolve this confusion in outcome. This may be evidence that frequent exclusion is commonly involved in schizophrenia, blunting the reaction of the medial prefrontal cortex, because a response has already been learned.
In some cases the dissociations are direct responses to the environment as a form of coping mechanism from traumatic stimuli. Recurring traumatic stimuli that requires empathy to experience might lead to dissociation from empathy which prevents the trauma experience. This may be common in people who get bullied. In general, aggression seems to turn off empathy in the person receiving it. Except reciprocation of the aggression. One no longer feels compassion in this instance or very rarely. And so if many people bullied one target, that target may habituate a mentality of defensiveness and non-empathy for others.
Now this only explains one example of the pathway to psychosis. This pathway is much more modular in reality, meaning each factor can be replaced by other factors that are similar enough to lead up to the same conclusion. It may not even involve social factors, or more worrisome is that those who reach psychosis may not even see how their lives significantly differ in ways that are part of the problem. I’m not sure many could be aware on this level. I’m not even sure that mentally ‘healthy’ people are aware of this. This even seems to be the main reason people are inconsiderate to each other’s lifestyle differences, because they aren’t aware but rather judge people based on the outcomes of those different lifestyles. One person may have tons of free time while another has no free time, and both can misperceive each other’s lifestyles. This seems to especially occur across socio-economic class differences.
This article discusses how differences in social class and political affiliation generate paranoia. I would extend this notion to differences in general mean a lack of trust based on familiarity and predictability. Essentially this is like xenophobia. The typical schizophrenic may be more open to various tribes initially, with high curiosity, until they’ve adopted ideas or traits that each individual tribe tend to judge each other over. At this point the schizophrenic type may be judged by both/all tribes, being exiled from many communities in general. The presence of the schizophrenic and their set of differences would make the community nervous for the same reason the schizophrenic becomes nervous after their long periods of isolation: because of unfamiliarity and a lack of bonding. Ultimately it may be true that those on the schizophrenic side of things end up more inclusionary than those who remain in more homogenous tribes.
This next passage is only to share an example of how such psychoses can manifest. I’m sure this is somewhat a common case, but not something everybody will relate to. For some it could be as simple as trying drugs and misusing them. For some it could be parental abuse. For some it could be isolation caused by agoraphobia. And so on.
Let’s consider the case of the homosexual Christian. Imagine that they themselves believe that homosexuality is a sin. They may begin to reject their urges and thoughts that relate to homosexuality, and eventually may cope via dissociative tactics. Assuming that these thoughts and urges are not really their own but part of a sickness or demon infestation within their mind. We don’t usually control our thoughts for the most part. Instead, we struggle to filter thoughts and silence them. This inability to do so can come off stressful and appear to the individual as intrusive. Most people may accept and humor many ideas, but for the Christian, it is a sin to do so and there is a threat of eternal damnation. Even if this itself isn’t traumatic enough, the individual will experience a culture on a daily basis that opposes them and expects them to oppose themselves.
Imagine if this individual were to confess to their urges. They would find themselves suddenly exiled from many family and friends who are immersed in the Christian culture. They would further try to separate themselves from their inner thoughts and feelings. This is a common trend we see in schizophrenics. It could even be that these thoughts and urges would manifest as an auditory voice eventually, thoughts perceived as not owned by the thinker. Often with a compulsory, intrusive nature.
Now try to generalize this story and imagine how many individuals from various situations could similarly suffer these sort of fates. Even among those diagnosed with schizophrenia we see dramatically different outcomes and sets of symptoms. We even know that a gene linked to schizophrenia (DRD4 long form variants) is also linked to increased sensitivity to trauma. Presumably this is by enhancing general learning, which I’ve made a case for here.
As a note, this may not be all Christians of course, acceptance of homosexuality seems to be rising, but for the sake of this example we will assume an individual who is not in an accepting culture.
Psychedelics and cannabis are thought to precipitate psychotic episodes. Imagine all the coping strategies and avoidance tactics washing away from the effects of psychedelics. You are left raw and unconditioned to a reality that you spent years being conditioned in. This means a kind of naïve sensitivity and lack of tolerance to many experiences, fresh as new. Many take these drugs exactly for this reason. This can help when you are stuck behaving traumatized after an abusive relationship, even years after the abuse has ended.
UPDATE: I consider psychedelics to be a potential treatment for schizophrenia now! Check out Psychedelics and Schizophrenia. That said, this is hypothetical still.
These drugs can also unravel your fixed-state personality based on these traumas. This could mean a lack of protective inhibitions, allowing you to confess personal values, perhaps that you are homosexual. These protecting inhibitory habits may have actually been vital to your mental health status. After confessing some secret you may find that you lose many relationships or that others suddenly treat you differently. You may reveal personality traits that were being suppressed from bullies or ideas that you feared to share because others won’t understand. Then you quickly find new bullies or people actually don’t understand, which validates the initial fear that held you back.
Without all of your protective behaviors and habits, including cognitive blindnesses, you find yourself in a very vulnerable state, something many psychedelic users are familiar with. For someone who won’t open up to new people because of an abusive relationship, this can be useful to be a little more vulnerable. Otherwise they might close up to people forever. But if you are a homosexual within the Christian community, you may find yourself losing all the relationships that you’ve built over your lifetime within a very short period of time. The shock this produces is likely why psychosis may occur from psychedelic use. After the drug wears off your reputation is forever changed. You may seem to have ‘lost your mind’ or ‘turned gay by LSD’. This sudden isolation effect is likely responsible for the psychotic effects. The genes associated to schizophrenia may simply promote exploratory behavior that makes it more likely to develop an idea or personality trait that results in these sort of isolation events.
To explain this, consider that exposure therapy in PTSD patients seems to result in a state where they are numb and accepting of the traumatic stimuli. Those who are avoiding the stimuli may remain sensitive and worried about contact with the stimuli while those who have exposed themselves so repetitiously, may find themselves dissociated from the experience and in some sense this can be beneficial to those who are in constant exposure to their trigger, or when avoiding the trigger is harming their lives. When taking psychedelics, this dissociation may be suddenly absolved, resulting in the initial sensitivity to the trauma, and without any avoidance behavior as well, leading to a direct contact with the triggering experience. For those who have become numb and managed their symptoms this way, they may find that psychedelics now cause them to start avoiding or developing differential reactions to the trigger. So for those who are still in the constant presence of the traumatic problem, like say the homosexual Christian, we might see a worsening of the problem or a resulting psychotic reaction. For those who are not still exposed to the problematic environment, and still have lingering dissociation or avoidance behaviors, we may find the drug essentially cures them and frees them from these tendencies. This can be good in the case of an ex-abuse victim who now avoids all people who remind them of the experience, or avoidance of intimate relationships. For these people the psychedelic drugs may act as a cure.
From here, we can dive into a much trippier realm of ideas. Society and cultures seem to normalize traumatic responses via avoidance and dissociative techniques which eventually become established norms. Challenging these norms can result in strange responses, which we often label as cognitive dissonance. There is some amount of constant suffering to which society labels as normal, and we assume we must simply toughen up. When there is social and ethical progress, conservatives tend to think that the liberals leading this progress are being too fragile and that they must join these mass PTSD norms. This is part of what we see in the university cultures of today, with trigger warnings and things like this. People who live in a better, less stressful, more ethical environment will ‘overreact’ to people who are still behind, living in colder tougher world. It may be similar to slave-owners in the south arguing that people are being too idealistic and sensitive when they ask people to stop having slaves. That it is a harsh but necessary reality.
I’ve explained this concept in this video, where I refer to veganism as an example, because this is an emerging ethical culture that is spreading around the world at this time and because I was part of this movement so I was able to see people’s reactions first-hand.
In a sense, society has undergone exposure therapy to all the stimuli they associate with involving animal death and abuse on a daily basis. For less common stimuli, such as seeing animal abuse or slaughterhouse footage, they become triggered, reactive, and engage in avoidance. Despite the fact that this is a major repetitious aspect of their life. These people directly contribute to the thing they fear and avoid to watch. As if it is merely some distant fantasy existence rather than the most impactful decision towards society that they may make on a daily basis.
To ever reach a kind of Utopia we must confront the problems we have turned numb to. The conservative mentality is of practicality, security, and stability. The liberal mentality is to confront these negative existences and change them, for moral and ethical progress.
Currently, it appears that social media is ramping up the level of social fluidity, expanding our social circles and increasing the frequency of interaction. There has been experiments with mice showing an effect known as the behavioral sink. Our social value and self worth becomes inflated as social circles expand, much like printing excess money does to the value of the dollar. As our social presence becomes ubiquitous we become less and less part of a solid community. Our presence is replaceable more easily and so treatment of each other degrades rapidly as we no longer fear this sort of loss of an individual friend. We are no longer a vital component of local communities.
We are headed for a mass psychosis epidemic. The low worth of each person is similar to the exclusion effects noted earlier in this article. We are no longer needed or useful to each other due to sheer volume of useful people. The quality of interaction will degrade and many will give up, making them even more worthless to others. The lack of concern shown by others due to inflation of self worth will result in many craving a sense of belonging but without being able to achieve it. Social media is addicting because it does not satisfy the need. Instead it teases us with some hope that we can find importance in someone else’s eyes. A sense of belonging.
This is much like the mouse utopia experiment by Calhoun:
I’ve written in depth about this in my Utopia 2: Sociological Death.
If this topic is interesting, you should check out the podcast where I explore these ideas in more depth, also connecting them to many other mindblowing topics.
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