That is an interesting question, or is it a terrifying reality? If everyone you know and everyone you meet is suffering from some sort of a delusion, could you be delusional too? How would you know? Would you want to know if there was a way to make you understand? Would you be able to recognize someone else that wasn’t suffering from a delusional disorder? If everyone is delusional, doesn’t that mean no one is? What does delusional mean? Are you sure?
These types of questions are more for fun than for science. Seemingly every question that is answered brings about two or more different questions. You can really wrap your mind in knots if you are willing and able to play along. Maybe you are the one that will figure out just how deep the rabbit hole actually is.
To understand how relevant or irrelevant any of these musings actually are, a concise definition of delusional is required. Unfortunately it is not that easy to define delusional. There are many aspects to consider and variables to be accounted for.
For the purposes of this article the following simplified delusional definition will be used:
Delusional – The act of vigorously and relentlessly maintaining false beliefs even when confronted with facts or evidence of unquestionable authority that discredit the belief.
Many familiar mental illnesses usually include some form of delusion. Some examples of these illnesses are:
However, it can be argued that not every person that is technically delusional is mentally ill. The best example to illustrate this point is someone who plays the state lottery or multi-state lottery every week, without fail; because they are convinced it is just a matter of time until they win the jackpot.
Is this individual mentally ill? With only the lottery evidence at hand – no, this individual would not be considered by most to be mentally ill. Is this person delusional? By definition – yes they are.
Or – maybe this individual is holding on to an unreasonable expectation of winning the lottery and, on some level, has even the slightest doubt that it will actually happen. In that case they simply and harmlessly have overvalued the idea of winning the lottery and aren’t delusional at all.
On and on and on it goes. Diagnosing someone as delusional is as much art as science and should be left to the professionals.
Generally, delusions are separated into one of four types. Delusions can be further classified by specific themes.
The types of delusions are:
- Bizarre delusion – A very strange and completely implausible delusion. Example: Aliens from space have removed the person’s organs with alien organs for reproduction purposes.
- Non-bizarre delusion – A delusion that is clearly false but is at least possible. Example: A person completely believes that they are under FBI surveillance, when none exists.
- Mood-congruent delusion – A delusion that is consistent with a depressive and/or manic state. Example: A person suffering from depression believes the television news man is criticizing his wardrobe, or a person in a manic state might believe they can fly.
- Mood-neutral delusion: A delusion not related to an emotional state, such as the patient believing their hands are growing an independent set of feet.
Delusions can occur with any theme but some are more common than others just as some themes are self-explanatory. The most common delusion themes include:
- Delusion of control: The false belief that an external force or other people control the thoughts or actions of the sufferer
- Cotard delusion: The sufferer believes they do not exist or have expired
- Delusional jealousy: Self Explanatory
- Delusion of guilt or sin: Self Explanatory
- Delusion of mind being read: Self Explanatory
- Delusion of thought insertion: Self Explanatory
- Delusion of reference: The sufferer believes that comments or remarks are directed toward them
- Erotomania A delusion where the sufferer thinks one or more others are in love with them.
- Grandiose religious delusion: The sufferer believes they are a God or God-like
- Somatic delusion: A delusion associated with the body of the sufferer. Usually the body is thought to be somehow defective.
- Delusion of poverty: A delusion where the sufferer believes they are completely broke when they are not
The types and themes of a delusions listed above are the cold, dry science associated with delusional individuals. While it may not be the most fascinating reading, it is important to the discussion.
Symptoms, Causes and Treatments of Delusions
As shown by the types and themes of delusions, the delusional individual, or at least the delusion from which they are suffering will most likely be readily apparent. For example, if the individual playing the lottery in the earlier example is also convinced that they are being compelled to play the lottery by a time traveling cyborg sent from the future. This individual would be diagnosed with the Bizarre Delusion type with a delusion of control theme.
There are two primary precursors that are thought to be a factor in the development of delusions. It should come as no surprise that a malfunctioning brain combined with the individual’s temperament and personality determine if, and what type of delusions an individual is most susceptible to.
Again, explaining the exact cause or causes of delusions cannot be done with absolute certainty. One theory relies on a genetic predisposition. The two other most common theories include a malfunction of the way an individual ‘explains’ their life to their self and the other involves a defense type of mechanism where the sufferer blames others for their problems coping with their circumstances.
Delusions, by and large, are part of a larger, diagnosable mental illness and should be addressed in the treatment of the illness.
So after all of that discussion is everybody clear on what constitutes a delusion? Hopefully the answer is yes. Now, can anybody explain what a delusion is? If your answer to the second question was yes (or even if it wasn’t), then play along.
If you are familiar with the science fiction movie “The Matrix” you will know the premise of the movie was that artificial intelligence had taken control of the world and enslaved the human race. The human experience had become no more than a computer generated dream world.
Certainly anyone who firmly believed they existed in a dream world would certainly be thought of as delusional right? Moving on….
If you have listened closely to the news recently you may have heard of something called the holographic theory (or holographic principle). The physics associated with this principle are simply too much for the average Joe (yours truly very much included) so to state it simply some high level physicists are convinced that are three dimensional universe is nothing more than a two dimensional etching on the outer edge of the known universe. Huh!?
There is also something called the multiverse theory. This gem of a theory is also brought to us by physicists and suggests the universe in which we live is just one of a possible infinite number of parallel universes. In these parallel universes, everything that could ever happen actually happens.
Now is the thought of living in a computer generated dream world any less probable than either the holographic principle or the multiverse theory.
If not, then how is something so inconceivable to the majority of the population considered valid scientific theories and others considered delusions? Could it be the pedigree of those presenting the theory? Maybe the number of people who subscribe to the idea makes it a theory and not a delusion, but that couldn’t be right – right?
If sheer numbers could turn a delusion into a valid principle, idea or belief then the concept of an almighty creator couldn’t be a delusion on a mass scale. But wait – which creator? Is it the Christian version of an almighty God or some less popular version? Or – is the Christian version less popular than others?
What about evolutionists and the theory of natural selection? That seems every bit as improbable as a creation theory doesn’t it?
In this case, not everyone can be right. So how can you determine which theory, or whose version of that theory is actually a theory. More importantly, how do you tell the others they are suffering from a delusion?
Didn’t some of you say you could explain what a delusion is earlier?
The point of all this tail chasing is to say maybe not all delusions are as bad as the connotation of delusional carries.
Clearly, some delusions are part of real and serious illnesses and require professional medical attention. This article is not intended to make light of, or dismiss mental illness.
Maybe, just maybe everyone who isn’t seriously ill is also partaking in one or more delusions and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
So keep it in mind the next time you say (or think) someone who is not suffering from a mental illness is delusional, maybe you are too. Maybe everyone you know is delusional.
To use a quote from the movie, “Do you think that is air you are breathing? Hmmm….interesting.”