How Do We Know What is Real?


MIT Press has released Hallucination: Philosophy and Psychology, a collection of both scientific and philosophical essays co-edited by University of Glasgow’s Fiona Macpherson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses, that explore different theories and ideas about hallucinatory experiences. In Metapsychology Online, Sasha Benjamin Fink describes one section of the book as a “joy” and “thrill” to read, as the essays grapple with our “ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not” and invite us to re-evaluate our own experiences. “They will, I’d predict, prove to be useful inspirations for those being riddled by hallucinations and their caretakers, maybe even inform new methods of self-therapy,” writes Fink.

In a Psychiatric Services review of the book, Paul Lieberman seems less inspired by this move towards deep self-questioning, frequently linking hallucinations to words like “error” and “incorrectly.” Lieberman writes that, “It seems unarguable that hallucinations arise from disorders of brain functioning”; however, he simultaneously concedes that, “even this most natural assumption can raise philosophical puzzles.” Lieberman also writes that, “Although it includes a few scientific papers dealing with the neuroimaging and neuropsychology of some hallucinatory experiences, most of the book is philosophy, and it is philosophy that is dense, closely reasoned, up to date, and of a very high caliber.”

The reviews and descriptions of the book do not indicate if it includes contributions from shamanistic thinkers or researchers into non-ordinary states of consciousness.

Hallucination: Philosophy and Psychology (Macpherson, F. and Platchais, D. (2013) (eds.) MIT Press.)

Fiona Macpherson on Hallucination (Philosophy Bites Podcast, March 3, 2013)

Review – Hallucination Philosophy and Psychology (Sascha Benjamin Fink, Metapsychology Online Reviews, June 17, 2014)

Hallucination: Philosophy and Psychology (Paul B. Lieberman, Psychiatric Services. August 1, 2014. doi: 10.1176/


  1. Many things experiences in daily life by pretty much everyone can be classified as hallucinations and delusions of sort. Not mentioning some other bizarre experiences like sleep paralysis, lucid dreams etc.

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  2. According to my medical records, I was declared to have “hallucinations” because I was very upset by 9.11.2001. What is real? Most people think 9.11.2001 was disgusting. As a matter of fact, I’ve never met anyone, other than doctors wanting to tranquilize me to cover up the sexual abuse of my child and prior medical mistakes, who didn’t think 9.11.2001 was bad.

    And, according to my medical records, all my thoughts, gut instincts, and dreams were called “voices.” Apparently my psychologist never thinks, dreams, or has gut instincts. What is normal? I believe thinking, trusting in my gut instincts, and dreaming of a better world is perfectly normal.

    But the neuroleptics can cause terrifying psychoses (hallucinations), and incessant “voices” in people who didn’t previously have these problems.

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  3. People who haven’t experienced “hallucinations” have no more standing in discussing them, whether philosophically or psychologically, than someone who has never balanced their checkbook talking about the workings of the stock market. You might sound very smart to people who haven’t been there, and even convince the committees that grant fellowships and awards and publications that you know something. All these people are ignorant. But in the end — when history looks back on you — you will sound exactly as well-informed as those who speculated about dragons in distant lands, and what would happen when you sailed off the edge of the earth. The only people who have any standing to talk about “hallucinations” are those who have had them, and those with the humility and long experience to work with such people. Imagine a free white man, with every privilege, writing in the nineteenth century about the experience of a black slave woman. That’s what we can expect from these outside experts. They can amuse themselves, and play with ideas, and in the end they will contribute nothing.

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