The concept of idea seeding is about the common notion of suggestibility. It refers to one’s propensity to be influenced by outside ideas. Idea seeding is really about feeding someone information. Depending on how suggestible the person is, the are more or less likely to accept idea seeds. More suggestible people are more likely to adopt ideas from others, while less suggestible people are less likely. After an idea seed has been planted, it may grow into a rigid, inflexible, and resilient tree, or it may grow into a blade of grass, depending on how well-supported that idea seed is. Here we explore idea seeding and suggestibility in relation to psychedelics and schizophrenia, which may reveal opposing patterns, although it is quite a bit more nuanced than this.
Suggestibility refers to how likely someone is to adopt suggested ideas. Suggestion is essentially the spread of memes through social contagion and communication. We are capable of priming each other with different expectations of the outcomes of events, like in the case of whether or not a drug might work. Suggestion drugs are what we call placebos. There are various factors that influence how well a placebo will work. For example, the placebo can be administered by someone with medical authority, like a doctor. A more realistic pill is more convincing. As you could imagine, many other factors of set and setting are crucial to how well a placebo will work. Hypnotic suggestibility even seems to correlate with placebo responsiveness, though only subjective effects and not physiological responses (Sheiner, Liftshitz, & Raz 2016).
Whether or not someone is willing or capable of adopting an idea depends on two major factors.
- Preconceived Notions: Does the person already hold ideas that compete with the idea seed? The individual must have room for the idea. People who hold contradicting ideas will often resist the new idea unless effectively persuaded, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Changing beliefs is hard.
- Trust: Does the person trust the idea seeder as a legitimate or worthy source of idea seeds? If a person is an authority on the idea being presented, the person may be more suggestible to this. This one will become especially important in the case of schizophrenia as you will see in later sections.
If a person is free of preconceived notions and also full of trust, they may be more suggestible and open to new ideas. This is something that society is dependent on. We form trust in experts of various fields of studies or in various professions and expect that these people can be trusted to do their jobs. We trust the information given by a doctor or some authority figure and this helps organize society into the systems we have. The ideas of experts essentially spread through dogma. People are essentially hypnotized by those who they claim as their authorities.
Of course, you have probably noticed that this is something that is currently changing in society. We do seem to be less suggestible to the influence of the news, to authorities, to our leaders, and there is even a growing distrust in doctors. At the same time, we are observing what appears to be a borderline crash of society.
The most extreme end of low suggestibility might be something like paranoia and Machiavellian-style distrust. Machiavellianism is basically the ‘dog-eat-dog’ mindset. People will often be suspicious that others are trying to manipulate them and likewise, they will justify manipulating others. Such a society would lack sufficient bonding and trust and lead to a lot of cheating, betrayal, and essentially be psychopathic. It is essentially a breakdown of reciprocal altruism and prosociality.
Psychedelics Are Placebo Enhancers
Psychedelic drugs may boost the power of suggestion by disrupting preconceived notions, making one more prone to adopt seeded notions. In some sense, this is what Robin Carhart-Harris’ REBUS model of psychedelics is about. REBUS stands for ‘relaxed beliefs under psychedelics’ (Carhart-Harris, Friston & Barker 2019). Normally, someone low in suggestibility may have more stubborn expectations that have already developed. People who have beliefs about the outcome of some event may be less prone to adopting other people’s seeded beliefs about the outcome of that event, while those without beliefs may be suggestible to seeded beliefs. By relaxing out preconceived notions, psychedelics may make us more suggestible and prone to change.
There is actually some research showing that psychedelics enhance suggestibility in participants (Carhart-Harris et al 2015). This study looked at the drug LSD and found that suggestibility was enhanced. The suggestibility increased to the degree that a person’s conscientiousness was high in the sober state. This might suggest that those with conscientiousness have more preconceived notions that block out one’s suggestibility. In the essay Adultification, I argued that openness and conscientiousness are somewhat opposed, which is significant in this case because psychedelics seem to enhance openness (MacLean, Johnson, & Griffiths 2011). Conscientiousness might somehow enhance one’s tendency to develop fixed patterns of thinking or behavior, ones that often help us perform better on tasks in the same ways that routines do. Those with higher conscientiousness also may be more prone to suggestibility generally, especially with authority. To become conscientious might be to have obedience that leads to the development of skills in getting tasks done well.
Another study found that the effects of microdosing psychedelics on mental health are dependent on people’s prior expectations of what the drug will do to them (Kaertner et al 2021). Those who expected positive outcomes had positive outcomes, while those who didn’t expect positive outcomes didn’t have them. This is suggestive of placebo the author’s argued. What’s interesting is that the drugs may work by actually enhancing placebo proneness, making people more suggestible. So much of our experience of the world seems to be guided by expectancies and biases, so the subjective effects of psychedelics may be produced by a disruption of our normal processing of expectancies. Psychedelics may be the ultimate active placebo, something I’ve argued in Placebodelic.
The idea that set and setting play a major role fits well here. An interesting paper has explored this overlap between placebo theory and set and setting in the context of psychedelics (Hartogsohn 2016). We may become increasingly suggestible to outside influences under the influence of psychedelics. If we believe we will panic, perhaps we do just that. If we believe we will reach peak euphoria, we do. We may go in whatever direction we suspect to go. The people around us become much more influential to our state of mind on these drugs. Our normally limited perception and cognition may not be as fixed as we predict it to be, but our prediction of its’ stubborn nature may leave us trapped in the world of our expectations. Psychedelics help us escape this, unleashing our state of mind so that it can reach any state we imagine it to. This is obviously both very useful and also potentially leaves us vulnerable to scary experiences.
In a 2020 study titled Tripping on Nothing: Placebo Psychedelics and Contextual Factors, researchers found that psychedelic effects could be induced via placebos (Olson et al 2020). The study found that more than half of participants reported some effects of the placebo that was suggested to be psilocybin. Some subjects even experienced effects comparable to moderate to high doses of psilocybin. This suggests that we might be capable of such experiences without drugs, but perhaps our expectancy biases prevent such states. We do not expect to be in radically altered states, so perhaps we are in a ‘placebo sober’ type state most of the time. Mystical experiences in the context of religion may reveal such altered states via the belief of their possibility and reality. Our beliefs may constant guide our experiences and psychedelics may alter how we believe things. Importantly, the beliefs people have about the effects of psychedelic drugs might lead to such effects, a kind of chemical spirituality. This could partially account for the wide range of diverse experiences people report on these substances.
The effects and states of mind that people experience on psychedelics may not be special or particular to psychedelics and may be producible in the sober mind, so long one were to believe the same beliefs that led the psychedelic intoxicated individual to their bizarre state of mind. The effects and states produced by psychedelics may be indirect, secondary to their actual effects, which may be a modulation of the mechanisms of belief.
The hospital may prime the beliefs of medical authority, thus enhancing trust in placebo effects. Meanwhile, the church may prime beliefs in religious authority, allowing for religious mystical experiences to unfold. The belief that leads to such altered states in the religious experience may simply be the notion that a supernatural force has visited you, which induces a state of awe and shock. Our rigid sober state may also be a product of our beliefs, often ones that are primed into us by culture. Rather than the church or the hospital, it is the society and our social connections that prime us to live in the states we commonly inhabit. These states even change with the culture. For example, in the case of the pandemic, people’s normal state may be removed from its typical mundane quality, becoming quite ‘awe-like’ even. The psychedelics may simply breakdown our beliefs that have induced all such states, allowing for a freedom of the state and a pronounced sensitivity to the influence of suggestion and the immediate environment.
The therapeutic potential of psychedelics may come down to the way that mental disorders heavily involve preconceived notions. Bad (nonpsychedelic) experiences leave us with painful or impairing beliefs about other people or the world that prevent growth, prevent normal or healthy function, and lead us down paths of suffering. Someone who is betrayed early in childhood might develop a preconceived notion that people are not safe. This may prevent them from actually opening up or bonding to their peers and lead to ongoing social difficulties. A depressed person might have preconceived notions about their probable suffering or failure in the future. Learned helplessness is an example of this. Learned helplessness is when repeated failure to solve some issue leads a person (or animal) to believe that the problem cannot be solved and thus leads one to stop trying.
The world around us often changes and we really do not have the ability to see some deterministic reality as some think. Despite the changing world, we may develop a kind of change-blindness due to our expectations and preconceived notions. Many mental health problems may be maladaptive preconceived notions. This is not to suggest that people’s deeply painful experiences aren’t real, but it is to suggest that coping with painful experiences may be far more realistic than most people imagine it to be.
Psychedelics may work here by showing people how incapable they are of determining their reality and even their own mind, relieving the person of the assumptions that have depressed them or made them mistrustful of others. Psychedelics have been observed to have a high success rate for depression in early research on this subject (Muttoni, Ardissino, & John 2019). Toxic preconceived notions may be a major factor in various mental health conditions in a similar way and so psychedelics may prove to be useful in other problems as well.
Something to worry about: How much does psychedelic use influence a whole range of biases in the realm of psychedelic research? It could be that the placebo effect has gone haywire in many of the studies, resulting in scientists altering the results through their expectancies. On the other hand, perhaps reducing expectancies with repeated psychedelic use will allow people to develop a sense of caution in forming expectancies, knowing what it is like to have them pulled back.
Before we move onto schizophrenia, it’s worth noting that another psychedelic mechanism theory that is rising in popularity is Neural Annealing by the Qualia Research Institute. This theory posits that psychedelics work their magic by first raising ‘free energy’ in the brain, in accordance to Karl Friston’s work (who is a coauthor on the REBUS paper). This is like adding heat to the system, which then leads to a melting, metaphorically. Next we observe an entropic disintegration, which ties a bit into the REBUS concept. This leads to a re-organization of the way the brain operates, which is then solidified more on the comedown of the drug, in a state of ‘cooling’. I urge you to check out this theory here, as it is a very interesting concept and I am very much oversimplifying it.
The paranoid schizophrenic is an individual who has developed mistrust in people, often times from early and strongly imprinting experiences. After being betrayed by people, the stage for chronic distrust is set. The person may be asocial or distant from others in many ways. The psychopath is similar in the tendency to not get too close to others, avoiding potentially dangerous bonds, though the schizophrenic may often take a more socially odd path.
The lack of trust may inhibit suggestibility. Being low in suggestibility may lead an individual to reject or be skeptical of idea seeds from other people. In other words, paranoia. The schizophrenic may not totally distrust everyone. It may depend on different categories of people. For example, authority may be distrusted due to maladaptive developments arising from abusive parents. This distrust in authority may generalize to the government, leaders, professionals or all kinds of things. It may be a learned form of skepticism that is unguided by academia or critical thinking culture.
The sort of things that schizophrenics are skeptical of may vary. For example, it might be easier to convince a schizophrenic that you’ve poisoned them than to convince them that their delusional belief system is incorrect. There are likely nuances and contextual factors that play into what the schizophrenic will be open to believe, like in the case of the placebo. Schizophrenics might be primed to suspect that other people have bad intentions, thus they may be more prone to an idea seed if the content validates this primed belief. In a bit, we will explore why the schizophrenic may develop an expectancy for other people to be be dangerous and for themselves to be victimized.
For skepticism to be unguided by expert critical thinkers one finds themselves in a dangerous position. One becomes their own expert and allows themselves to reject other people’s thoughts, regardless of whether those people are more educated on the topic. The unguided skeptic does not have awareness for the expert thinker’s depth of knowledge. Yet, the unguided skeptic will remain resistant to people unless they are sufficiently convincing, which is something almost everyone isn’t. The tendency to trust authority plays a critical role in our society and the spread of knowledge. Even philosophers struggle to make convincing arguments about the nature of reality or the mind. The unguided skeptic will be free to believe what they find personally convincing, regardless of whether authorities reject such beliefs. This is the position much of the conspiracy culture finds themselves in.
Since the schizophrenic may be suspicious of other people’s ideas, they may be more prone to adopting beliefs that are counter to common beliefs. In other words, delusions. Once these contrary ideas have been seeded, the individual may become less open to new ideas that contradict the ideas. For example, a flat earther may be less open to the idea that the Earth is round because it contradicts with flat earth theory. The tendency to be stubborn in this way is likely not specific to schizophrenia, but instead a normal pattern of human behavior. Being wrong about physics or the shape of the earth is likely not specific to schizophrenia either, but instead it is that their ideas do not conform to the ‘masses’. It may be that the tendency to deviate from normalized beliefs that is more particular to schizophrenia.
Many of us have heard the meme that conspiracy theorists call other people sheeple, which is just a funny way of calling them gullible, or yes, suggestible. Schizophrenics have been observed to be less suggestible in research. When asked to close their eyes, 85% of the subjects did not do so (Barber, Karacan, & Calverley 1964). During a series of other tests of suggestibility, less than 5% of female and 2% of male schizophrenics scored as highly suggestible. Compared to healthy controls from previous studies, schizophrenics were around half as suggestible. These results make sense, as the core theme of paranoid schizophrenia is mistrust in authority or other people generally. Schizophrenia could be seen as a syndrome that is tied to a defiance that is trained into them by early life experiences. Of course, genetics may bias a person to respond more strongly to such experiences or have a tendency to be mistrustful innately somehow. Though, the author’s of the study do note that there are many other differences that aren’t taken into consideration with the study, for example socioeconomic status, the fact that the controls were volunteers and the schizophrenics were “captives”, among other problems.
Another study found that those with schizophrenia have decreased suggestibility compared to controls, meanwhile those with dissociative disorders seemed to have higher suggestibility (Frischholz et al 1992). There have been studies that found opposite results, that schizophrenics have increased suggestibility (Gruzelier et al 2004). To this, I would note that what we call schizophrenia might include different problems that seem superficially similar. Someone being too suggestible might appear to bring on problems that resemble users of psychedelics, which may not be the same as the problem of being suspicious with rigid delusional beliefs. The level of trust the patients have with the experimenters may also be a key factor in these studies. One study even notes that suggestibility in schizophrenia varies depending on how it is being measured (Pettinati et al 1990). It may not be as simple as being more or less suggestible alone, but perhaps which kinds of people one is suggestible to. Who does the schizophrenic trust? They may have a specific set of people who are triggering their symptoms or mistrust, meanwhile they might be more trusting of others.
Schizophrenics may also be more prone to placebo and nocebo-like effects, possibly due to their already erratic and unstable symptoms being attributed to the fake drug (Palermo et al 2019). Though it is also possible that schizophrenics are more prone to believing their own ideas. That is, perhaps they believe deeper into their own expectations, but are not as receptive to people who hold ideas that contradict their expectations. So it isn’t as simple as them being more or less suggestible. The trait of suggestibility itself may not be so simple that we can claim it as some singular trait, but instead is broken down into multiple components as described earlier.
A lack of suggestibility may lead one to not adopt the ideas of traditional society. A feedback loop exists where the adoption of contrary ideas pushes you further away from society, which frees you from the pressure to conform to that society because it is not part of your life. When you are not a part of the society, there is a deficiency in idea seeders (at least “normal” ones) and thus you will likely only drift further from the idea constructs of the mainstream society.
The schizophrenics have less pressure to conform when living without a close social group. Peer groups regulate beliefs. Suggestibility isn’t only necessary for large societies, but even small groups of friends. Sharing the same ideologies and beliefs facilitates secure social bonds and reduces conflict. Since the schizophrenic is free from peer influence, they may often drift away into belief systems they find in books or on the internet. Once these beliefs have taken hold in the person’s mind, they become much less open to new ideas. They have essentially developed a preconceived notion and as humans tend to do, they will cling onto what they already know to be true rather than adopt someone else’s new idea.
Try to imagine what a human would be like if it didn’t grow up in human culture. Imagine that a human is raised by wolves. Such a person wouldn’t behave very human at all. This reveals the significance of idea seeders in the development of what it means to be ‘human’. In some sense, being raised by wolves is to live a life in absence of suggestions. The feral child also reveals that there isn’t only one way for humans to be. A human without any human influence would essentially behave like a wild animal to a great degree. The jump from human to animal behavior and thinking seems to be a massive one. Culture could have been many other ways than it is currently, and in fact, there are actual counter cultures in which the schizophrenics often drift to. Cultures like the flat earth society, conspiracy cults, or religions like scientology. Everything that we know of to be normal and human is not really about what it means to be the human species, but instead represent how humans become among a very specific system of suggestions such as those provided by parents, academia, and everything else. Schizophrenics merely represent alternate ways that a human can be, often very ways that are very foreign to much of us.
To understand why a schizophrenic might have a primed belief that they will be harmed by other people, consider their experiences. The schizophrenic is one who has almost entirely abandoned society. The early life distrust may lead to a failure to integrate with the rest of their peer group. This may leave them vulnerable to bullies, as they have little allies to defend them. Being bullied will reinforce the distrust in other people. This will then lead to a feedback loop that reduces the capacity for the individual to integrate into society and form trusting bonds. Research has found that schizophrenic participants were twice as likely to have been bullied than controls (Trotta et al 2013). The study also found that controls who have been bullied often had at least one psychotic symptom. A meta-analysis backed this connection up, showing that bullying does seem to predict the later development of psychotic symptoms (Cunningham, Hoy, & Shannon 2016). Bullying may give someone the preconceived notion that one is a victim and that others are against them, which later evolves into the perception that the government is full of bullies or psychopaths (which may be true too). This ties into the social defeat hypothesis of schizophrenia, which posits that rejection and social isolation may be components of the development of schizophrenia. This is something I covered in much more depth in Dynorphin Theory.
An important note: Bullying is simply one way to be victimized. There is also parental abuse and other forms of peer abuse.
In that theory, I also explore the possibility that psychedelics could actually treat schizophrenia, despite that there is a common preconceived notion that they may be risky for individuals predisposed to the disorder. Consider that delusional belief systems are preconceived notions, often ones that block out alternative and often more popularly accepted belief systems. Psychedelics may offer hope by inhibiting the power of one’s prior beliefs, allowing for new ones to override them. These drugs may enhance the suggestibility that is impaired in the schizophrenic that normally prevents them from accepting alternative beliefs that contradict their own. It is possible that this is no easy task. Simply taking the drug as if it were a cure might fail, but if the drug is paired with the presence of an idea seeder who is trained and effective at changing beliefs and ideas, the schizophrenic might be able to accept new ideas and adopt beliefs that facilitate social integration into the society that is bound by those belief systems. The goal may be to plant new idea seeds during the psychedelic trip, while their typical reality is broken down.
It is worth noting that it isn’t about whether a belief is true or not here. What matters is that the belief is shared by others and that the belief is used to bond and function in society. Holding beliefs that cause one to lose jobs or to distrust peers and family will leave the schizophrenic trapped and less able to make personal progress. Even what we define as progress is very subjective. Getting a job is something we may believe is good for the schizophrenic, though some people might feel that our work culture is highly toxic and unethical. The shared belief that holding a normal job is a good thing is something that could be pushed into the schizophrenic’s mind so that they are more likely to live a life that people consider healthy and normal. One could also suggest that people or authorities are more worthy of the schizophrenic’s trust. This might have more expansive and generalized benefits, aiding the schizophrenic in societal integration.
In essence, a lot of people tend to follow belief systems in which they are avoiding persecution. The schizophrenics sometimes adopt persecuted beliefs systems (flat earth, conspiracies, and so on). This means they become persecuted. They may develop defensive behavior in response to persecution. It may escalate until they are very unwell, depressed, angry, given up, numb, hallucinating, and really paranoid of people. Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia might be one’s that most of us would experience given the circumstances, though we are not usually ever in such drastic circumstances.
Lastly, this narrative may not apply to everyone being labeled with schizophrenia. It may especially relate to the type of person who is being described here and nothing more. There may be very different narratives that fall under the umbrella of schizophrenic diagnoses but that are almost contradicting to what is described here. The topic should be approached with caution and sufficient nuance.
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