I was considering what are thought to be the causes of psychosis and schizophrenia the other day with the help and insight of my voices — I hear voices, and much of what I write is based on what they say — and my voices suggested to me that there might be a connection between the causes of psychosis and schizophrenia on the one hand and the Fermi Paradox on the other. I thought this was an interesting connection, and my voices explored it further. What follows is the result of that line of thought.
1. The Fermi Paradox
The well-known Fermi Paradox, as it’s called, can be stated simply: that there are billions upon billions upon billions of planets like Earth in our universe alone, each fully capable of sustaining life like our own—never mind what profusion of life forms might have evolved on other planets with different environmental conditions— so there is plenty of opportunity for intelligent life to have developed all over the universe. And yet, according to most scientists, we see little evidence that it has, at least according to the standards of most scientific endeavors, such as archeology (looking for traces of alien visitation in the physical remains left behind on Earth) or physics (searching for what seems to be non-existent radio traffic coming from space, for instance). So why is that? If the universe has so many opportunities for intelligent life — aliens — to have developed, why haven’t any of these aliens yet shown up and introduced themselves? Why haven’t we detected their presence in the universe?
It’s a pretty important question.
Some years ago, an article came to my attention that attempted to answer this. One of the ideas it presented, based on the ideas of many scientists and other theorists, was that there are a number of great “filters” in the history of different species that prevent the spread of intelligent life in the universe. These are the great barriers to progressing from one stage of a species’ existence to the next, the barriers to a species’ further development or continued existence that screen out the winners from the losers in evolution’s deadly race, which occur at points in time ranging from the beginning of their development (dying just as it evolves due, say, to a natural catastrophe) to its logical end (losing in a battle for supremacy, for instance). There is almost always something that could kill you off or otherwise prevent you from spreading. Disease. Starvation, because you misused your food supply and destroyed it, or because of lack of some other resources, like water or energy. And let’s not forget other species. Or self-destruction, by continuing to maintain stocks of nuclear weapons, by exhausting our natural and artificial resources, or by destroying our environment — just to mention three of the more urgent of the seemingly countless problems that humanity faces right now.
Another possible filter that the authors of the article mentioned is the idea that there is some kind of super-predator out there: a species so much more advanced than other species that it has simply traveled throughout the universe and eliminated all the competition. In other words, intelligent life develops, but it is continually being held back by something so much more advanced than it is that there is no contest in the battle for supremacy.
So the upshot of all this is that some people conclude that we are more or less alone in a universe full of potential disasters— alone, that is, except for some sort of super-predator, and all of which speeds us along to the almost inevitable conclusion that our turn to be wiped out just hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s coming soon.
All of this sounds clear enough, doesn’t it? But, convincing as it might be, it all rests on one simple and possibly false assumption: the idea that we haven’t already been visited by aliens, that aliens aren’t still here, and that we simply haven’t noticed because they exist in a form we don’t recognize.
In other words, the aliens might actually be here, but they’re hiding themselves for some reason.
This is where we get a little closer to the subject of schizophrenia.
2. Alien Ethics and Legal Systems
So let’s just say for argument’s sake that there is a profusion of aliens out there on those billions of Earth-like and other kinds of planets in the universe. Let’s also say that the universe, being so overpopulated, has developed a society. Why? Well, with so many species out there making contact with each other, possibly peacefully, possibly aggressively, the extraterrestrial world might even have discovered that you have a better chance of surviving if you don’t go to war all the time and if, God forbid, you even cooperate with one another now and then. When people think of evolution, we tend to think in terms only of the competition of species; we forget that the other half of evolution’s struggle is cooperation and that cooperation might be even more important to a species’ survival than competition.
Aliens would, in other words, have a highly evolved and possibly highly complex society, and along with that would come all sorts of questions. Law. Ethics. Justice. Morality. And that’s to say nothing of all the other things that are involved in the interactions of intelligent beings. They would, therefore, most likely have all the apparel of modern civilization, including a system of interspecies ethics and laws, as well as a court system for settling interspecies disputes.
One particularly important example of the kind of thing that their ethics might cover is the question of how advanced species, like theirs, might deal with emerging species, like ours, during the eons before we have developed enough to join the interspecies community. That’s what we are, after all — an emerging species. Modern humans themselves have been here for only fifty thousand years or so, and human civilization is just a few thousand years old.
Alien ethics are likely to be tricky, but let’s say that one thing that would most likely unite most aliens would be a near-universal aversion to being exterminated or unduly interfered with. It is more than likely that most aliens just want to be left in peace, free to develop as they like and free of the artificial constraints and needless interference of outsiders holding them back, just as we would. After all, would you like it if someone came along and enslaved you too early in your development to protect yourself, or who came along and stripped your environment of its most valuable resources and left you to struggle on in deprivation?
It therefore follows by extension that, just as aliens would want to be left alone, it’s only natural that they would extend to others the same right to be left alone, or at least not harmed and maybe actually even helped in achieving their goals as they themselves would define them. There would, in other words, most likely be an aspect of the aliens’ legal system that said: If you can’t or won’t help a new species, then at least don’t hurt them. And not hurting them might very well mean that you don’t even reveal your presence to them at all, since it does, after all, create a ruckus for the new species to all of a sudden find themselves surrounded by aliens
3. What Would Aliens Want?
Now let’s add another thing, which is that a variety of different alien species may all have very different agendas from each other: that there is complexity to their motivations, just as there is in our own.
As an example of what motivates different alien species, there is the possibility that some of them may not be concerned with us at all, or at most only peripherally, simply because we aren’t competing for the same food, shelter, territory, etc. On the other hand, some of them might want to help us — seeing us as potential allies and friends in the struggle for existence. And some of them might want to hurt us — seeing us as competition for the control of scarce resources, for control of territory, etc.
Encountering a new civilization like our own, aliens therefore might have a wide variety of agendas, which might include:
- Simply disregarding the new intelligent life and going on their way.
- Revealing themselves to the new life and/or attempting to help the new life develop.
- Killing off the new life, either directly or indirectly, such as by stripping its environment of resources and leaving the new life to die off, or even by exploiting the new life as a resource in itself, just as we have done with Earth’s animals.
- Simply sitting back and watching as the new intelligent life develops, without revealing their presence, and possibly intervening in that development anywhere from never to all the time. They might do this — remain hidden — simply because that’s what works out best for everyone in the end.
It is the conflicts between these different agendas that we are most concerned with. But to get to that subject, we need to clarify why, how, and when aliens might choose to reveal themselves to or intervene with a new species.
They might, for instance, want to reveal themselves in order to bring friendship, or war. On the other hand, they might want to remain concealed in order to watch the new life as it develops through various stages and to see how it behaves when left on its own, in order to understand how the subject species might behave in the future among other species … when it gets to that point.
There are different possible motives behind wanting openness or concealment. But it’s more or less impossible to satisfy both demands at once. So what do you do?
Well, that’s what the alien legal system is for. Let’s assume everyone in the situation has some kind of parity — all the different alien parties, as well as the emerging species. It’s the easiest way to go, usually, since it might prevent war. Also assume that everyone is heard and gets some of what they want in their disputes, at least if it seems just. So, if you have parity of alien species of some sort in this justice system, you have to give each side what it wants. In other words, the aliens have to both reveal and not reveal they’re there at the same time; they have to both intervene and not intervene.
So how would they go about that?
The answer I came to — with the help of my voices, of course: where do you think I get all my ideas? — is that the aliens would have to reveal themselves only in situations where certain benchmarks of not revealing oneself were met, i.e., they would reveal themselves only to a select number of individuals of that subject species, thus satisfying one side’s demand to be revealed, but then at the same time the aliens would also make sure that they will be individuals who would for some reason not be believed by the others in their group, satisfying the other side’s demand for concealment.
One cannot emphasize strongly enough how there is a constant contest between the species that want to help the new species and those that want to hurt it or get it out of the way.
In addition, there might also be conflicts among groups of each type, e.g., two members of the same group want to help a given species, but they want to do so in differing ways that lead to differing and possibly opposing ends. An example of this would be a group of aliens who wanted to help a species with its technology (but doing so comes at the cost of stripping its environment), which is one kind of benefit, while another group of aliens might want to teach the new species how to protect and preserve its environment, which is a very different kind of benefit and which has different requirements.
So let’s add one last twist, which is that, as part of the ethics in dealing with the new species, in line with the “if you can’t help, don’t hurt” system for dealing with new life, all interactions between aliens and the subject species must, in principle, be to the emerging species’ benefit.
In addition to wanting to reveal/not reveal themselves, some of these aliens might want to intervene with and some of them might want not to intervene with the subject species. This presents much the same dilemma as the first problem, and the answer is much the same: Intervene only with a select number of individuals who will not be believed and are easily discredited by others in the group, and, in addition, hide all signs of this intervention, and render those they have intervened with incapable of acting effectively on the information, images, and ideas that are imparted to them.
So how would you go about all that?
4. The Ethics of Alien Contact
According to the aliens’ principle that “if you can’t help, don’t hurt” a new species — the principle that all interactions between an advanced species and an emerging species must be to the emerging species’ benefit — there are likely also rules to how they interact with that new species, and with those specific, select individuals that they contact. And don’t forget: Different aliens have different agendas. Some want to reveal themselves. Some want to stay hidden. Some of them are in competition with you. Some come in friendship. Some may simply like you or not like you. And some may not care about you at all.
So it would only make sense, then, that contact with the new species is governed by ethics and their supporting laws and a court system in which those making contact or not making contact settle their disputes about the frequency (from never to all the time) and nature of that contact. And, since all contact must be to the new species’ benefit, anything the aliens did with a new species would have to be at least presented as being to the new species’ benefit. At one and the same time, however, you would not only have those who actually do want to help you (your potential friends), but who do not want to help you, who may want to hurt you (your enemies), all presenting themselves as trying to intervene to your benefit, when they actually may not be doing that at all.
And they have to prove their case in court. All contact with, all intervention with, the emerging species is subject to review by a “guardian” species appointed to safeguard the emerging species’ future while it is in its infancy before any of that contact or intervention takes place.
What you would very likely have is a court system in which these outside alien contingents would be arrayed against each other in sometimes protracted, and sometimes intense, battles for control of contact and intervention. So who would the aliens subject to this, and what would that be like?
An answer that comes to mind is that there would probably be court battles even to determine with whom contact would be made or in whose lives the aliens would intervene. Criminal histories would be exhumed. Moral violations — such as killing a bunch of spiders that massed on your porch as a kid, if one of the aliens you’re dealing with is a highly advanced spider-type being — would be weighed, and for each there would be an objection, an impediment to your progress added to all the other impediments you are weighed down by. At the same time, the aliens’ information and ideas and images are being transmitted to you, or perhaps you are being shown visions of some part of the possible past or the possible future or the possible present, or you are being guided toward making visionary art, or you are imagining the technology that the aliens themselves possess — whatever might advance your agenda, or that will advance the agenda of the aliens who are supposedly on “your” side.
And it is all done in the name of a “benefit” to the emerging species—us humans.
This is where we get to schizophrenia, that elusive and dreadful monster, whose existence as a disease is indisputably false, but the signs of which most definitely appear in a lot of people’s lives: 20 million of them or thereabouts on Earth in the present era, the last time I checked. (I use the umbrella term “schizophrenia” to refer not only to actual schizophrenia, which I regard as a kind of experience and not as a disease, but also to include other forms of psychosis as well.)
The common symptoms of schizophrenia, as usually defined, include various, broad groups of what psychiatry calls “symptoms” by which the “disorder” is “diagnosed” by psychiatrists under their disease model, but which we will take as simply describing different characteristics of a psychotic-type experience which is caused by the nature of the alien interaction that is involved. Discounting the so-called “negative symptoms” (lack of expression, thought, social connection, energy, etc.) as being, for the most part, a direct result of antipsychotic drug “treatment” and not as being a part of schizophrenia itself, these characteristics include:
- positive symptoms (hallucinations and delusions)
- cognitive symptoms (thought disorder, memory loss, confusion, etc.)
In other words, what you may have is someone who:
- is confused
- is disoriented
- seems irrational
- seems delusional
- and who sees, hears, or touches things that don’t seem to be there, leading to more of all the above.
A schizophrenic, in other words, would commonly be — and is — discounted as an unreliable witness at best, and their word would easily be discredited. I think most schizophrenics (and other psychotics) would agree that this is generally the case in our world in this, our own benighted time.
Bearing all that in mind, we might want to consider the resemblance between what might happen to a person to whom the aliens have revealed themselves and what we know about schizophrenia.
An alien species that wants to reveal itself, communicate with the new life, and/or intervene with a new species might want to:
- reveal itself only to certain individuals, and hide this by continuing to conceal itself from other members of the new species by appearing in a form that others would not perceive or would not recognize—for instance, by appearing in a form that others of the same species don’t have access to. An example would be hearing voices, or other so-called “hallucinations,” such as appearing in the form of what we would take as an angel, a demon, a ghost, an alien, a saint, a person’s spirit, a fairy, or even the Lord God Himself (if He feels the notion; He’s an alien too, as far as I can tell).
- disguise any information, ideas, or images they give the new species in forms that others of that species would not easily recognize, such as telling them (not out loud but in their thoughts or through some other means such as what sounds like an ordinary television or radio broadcast) that their thoughts are being read by the NSA or by ghosts or by their ex-wife’s husband when, in fact, your thoughts are being read by the aliens themselves and they are only getting you accustomed to the idea. In addition, telling others about the experience only leads to a lack of credibility.
- force other perceptions and beliefs on that person directly, by introducing thoughts and emotions directly into their minds, ideas that seem odd and incomprehensible to other members of the same species, and which lead to a further lack of credibility. Again, the aliens would allow or deliberately perpetrate concealment by allowing these thoughts and ideas to manifest as so-called “delusions”— for instance, the belief that there is a conspiracy to take over the world— when in fact . . . well, there are probably many conspiracies to take over the world, but you get the idea: that individual’s “delusion” would not be believed by other members of the same species.
- confuse someone’s communication system by interfering with their thought process and making them speak in fragments or in what other members of their species perceive as delusional or as nonsensical terms when they try to impart the information, ideas, and images the aliens have imparted to them.
- disrupt someone’s ability to think at all or to process information at all. This furthers the break in communication with others in the same species.
- disrupt their lives in other ways as well.
- when they do intervene directly, cause subtle changes in the subject species’ world —by tampering with their computers, for instance, or putting five dollars in someone’s pocket when they need it, or taking away a piece of vital proof that what they are saying about things is true. It must something that won’t be seen by others: something that can’t be verified, something that when you talk about it will seem unfounded, irrational, and unwise; or, in Psychiatric Speak, delusional.
As a result of all this, the people to whom the aliens have revealed themselves will not be believed about their otherworldly experiences, nor will be their visions or their perceptions be taken seriously. So that when someone says, “I just talked to an alien in my head,” or “the TV just talked about me,” they will be easily discredited due to their strangeness in the past or because what they’re talking about simply disagrees with other people’s limited experience.
What aliens might want to do, in other words, is turn people into schizophrenics.
6. The End of Psychosis
There is one bright spot in all this confusion: that schizophrenia, in the end, does resolve into a positive, if given enough time and under the right circumstances, in this life or the next. To the aliens, who know how to continue their existence past the life of a mere body, whether you are still living or dead is an almost trivial detail; your existence goes on until finally, someday, your case makes it through the alien court and your enemies lose their legal ability to influence you or cause you problems—whether that comes before your death or after.
At least if you end up in the hands of the right aliens.
The balance between those who want to help you and those who want to hurt you is constantly adjusting as they negotiate you through different periods of your confinement, your time as a confused schizophrenic who seems “delusional” and out of touch. Eventually, those who want to hurt you will either lose their case in the alien court for punishing you or putting any more roadblocks in your way, and those who want to help you take over. From being given “delusional” information, the information becomes clearer, and starts to form connections and patterns and ideas between different bits and pieces of what had seemed like nonsense. What is false falls away and what is left is clear, and in time you find yourself back among your society, able to share freely what you have learned from the aliens. Not everyone gets there — the fight for your mind may be lost. But for everyone who doesn’t make it out, there are a couple, maybe three, maybe even four others who will—at least if they aren’t stoned into oblivion by psych drugs. The only question is who exactly will end up like Socrates or St. Joan of Arc or Swedenborg, and who will end up shuffling along down psych-ward hallways under the burden of hostile forces, lost in a haze of benzos and antipsychotics.
Good luck to you all.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.