A new study looks at why mysterious voices are sometimes taken as spirits and other times as symptoms of mental health issues.
- Both spiritualist mediums and schizophrenics hear voices.
- For the former, this constitutes a gift; for the latter, mental illness.
- A study explores what the two phenomena have in common.
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ5Nzc1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTU1ODQwOX0.wlQLO9cjh2hFAz9BXwf2DpaqwepAlybru_OH6J4ZwzI/img.jpg?width=2000&coordinates=64%2C74%2C64%2C74&height=1500" id="1156f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6f17461592da75794c7c53dab73bdfed" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1500" />
Credit: Camila Quintero Franco/Unsplash<p>The researchers, led by <a href="https://www.dur.ac.uk/research/directory/staff/?mode=staff&id=15156" target="_blank">Adam Powell</a> of Durham University's Hearing the Voice project and Department of Theology and Religion, conducted online surveys of 65 clairaudient mediums they found through contact with spiritualist communities. The survey also included 143 people from the general population who responded in the affirmative to the question "Have you ever had an experience you would describe as 'clairaudient?'" posed through an online study recruitment tool.</p><p>All participants spoke English and were aged 18-75. Most (84.4 percent) were from the U.K., with the rest mostly from the North Americas, Europe, or Australasia.</p><p>Of the spiritualists surveyed, 79 percent said hearing voices was a normal part of their lives at church and at home, while 44.6 percent said that they heard voices every day. Most respondents reported the voices as being inside their heads, though 31.7 percent said they came from outside their bodies.</p><p>Not surprisingly, more spiritualists reported believing in the paranormal than did the general population participants. They also cared less about what others thought of them.</p><p>Both groups were prone to visual hallucinations as well.</p>
Youth and absorption<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ5Nzc2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzE3MTUyNn0.BsqsYO4KFNF9RX9O6TXYE14RysJgiwXua7FegMBf8Ss/img.jpg?width=980" id="5fe11" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6fb24471c94f7e69617c763927c1dc0e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
Credit: Tanner Boriack/Unsplash<p>Spiritualist clairaudients reported their first experiences with other voices early in life. Of these participants, 18 percent said they had heard voices for as long as they remembered. The average age, however, for first hearing voices was 21.7 years. Schizophrenia typically presents when a person is somewhat older than this, in the <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354483" target="_blank">late 20s</a>.</p><p>Significantly, 71 percent said their experience with voices pre-dated their awareness of spiritualism. Rather than religion prompting the hearing of voices, it seems that it's more the other way around — voices led them to religion.</p><p>Says Powell, "Our findings say a lot about 'learning and yearning.' For our participants, the tenets of spiritualism seem to make sense of both extraordinary childhood experiences as well as the frequent auditory phenomena they experience as practicing mediums."</p><p>Still, the voices came first he says, so "all of those experiences may result more from having certain tendencies or early abilities than from simply believing in the possibility of contacting the dead if one tries hard enough."</p><p>The more likely factor is spiritualist clairaudients' relationship with absorption. Responses to questions based on the 34-point <a href="https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~jfkihlstrom/TAS.htm" target="_blank">Tellegen Absorption Scale</a> revealed that these people tended toward absorptive personality characteristics. These are described by the study's authors as "being readily captured by entrancing stimuli, reporting vivid mental imagery, becoming immersed in one's own thoughts."</p><p>Some, though not all, voice-hearing individuals from the general population were found to exhibit high levels of absorption — those that did were more likely to believe in the paranormal than others.</p>
Implications<p>The study's finding regarding the relative young ages at which spiritualist clairaudients begin hearing voices suggests that these individuals' more welcoming attitude toward the phenomenon may have to do with malleability of youth — a belief in the fantastical is part of being young.</p><p>"Spiritualists tend to report unusual auditory experiences which are positive, start early in life and which they are often then able to control," says co-author <a href="https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/our-staff/m/peter-moseley/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Peter Moseley</a> of Northumbria University. "Understanding how these develop is important because it could help us understand more about distressing or non-controllable experiences of hearing voices too."</p><p>The authors of the study do note, however, that their findings leave two big unanswered questions: Does a tendency toward absorption reveal "a predisposition to having RSEs or a belief in the plausibility of having RSEs?"</p><p>The other obvious big question? It's beyond the scope of this survey, but are those really the voices of the dead?</p>
Imagine Heraclitus spending an afternoon down by the river...
A new survey shows who believes what and how it differs from what Americans believe as a whole.
- The newest survey of congressional religious beliefs shows our representatives aren't quite like us.
- Members of Congress are much more religious and more Christian than the general population.
- The effects of this disconnect are debatable.
The demographics of Congress and their constituents<p> A whopping 88 percent of Representatives and Senators are Christians. Breaking this down, 55 percent of them identify as some sort of Protestant, and another 30 percent are Catholic. Mormons make up around 2 percent of the legislature, with Orthodox Christians following at just above 1 percent. This puts them well behind the Jews, which 6 percent of the body identified as. </p><p>Behind them came the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Humanist, and Unaffiliated members. Each of these categories amounts to under one percent of Congress by themselves, for a collective total of 12 members. </p><p>Eighteen members refused to answer the survey; many of them also refused to answer two years ago—speculation as to why this is and what they actually believe continues elsewhere. </p><p>For comparison, only 65 percent of the general public identifies as a Christian. Beyond that, only 20 percent of the population is Catholic, and another 43 percent Protestant. People with no religious affiliation make up another 26 percent. Judaism is three times as common in Congress as it is elsewhere in the country, with only 2 percent of the population identifying as such. </p><p>Mormons and Orthodox Christians enjoy nearly propositional representation, as they make up 2 percent and just under 1 percent of the population nationally. The remaining represented religions are in a similar situation. They are under-represented but not nearly as much as the non-religious—Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus each make up about one percent of the general population. Unitarian Universalists are seated in Congress at the same rate as the aforementioned faiths but are just under one percent of the population. </p><p>Some trends emerge in this data. Since 1961, the year this survey was first sent out, the percentage of Christians has fallen, though by far less than the population overall. Like the rest of Protestant America, members of Congress are increasingly likely not to name a denomination, such as Lutheran or Baptist, but to instead identify with the more general term of Protestant. </p><p> It is also worth mentioning that there may be more to this topic than these questions can reveal.</p><p>Many Jewish people identify as such while also being agnostic or even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_atheism" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">atheistic</a>. It is possible that the degree of actual belief among some of the members of Congress using the term varies dramatically. Likewise, the one "unaffiliated" member has stated before that they don't want to be bound by <a href="https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2012/11/09/breaking-kyrsten-sinema-is-not-an-atheist/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">labels</a>, further reducing the usefulness of a survey that tries to label everybody.</p>
Why might this be?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Yz8VbAxkaDw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> In addition to the previously mentioned difficulties of having an entirely representative legislature, some religious groups are still more electable than others.</p><p>A recent <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/285563/socialism-atheism-political-liabilities.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gallop poll</a> demonstrates that only about 60 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified atheist and that only a few more would support a similarly capable Muslim. While these numbers have increased over time and differ greatly based on party affiliation, it is probable that many non-Christian potential candidates justify not running on the grounds of these numbers. </p><p> Before you point out that these are majorities, that is who is <em>willing</em> to vote for such a person at all, not a list of people who <em>would</em> for sure. You'd probably want better numbers than that unless you're sure you can get all of them. </p>
What does this mean for legislation?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KS7pnPlQLcY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> It doesn't necessarily need to mean anything. Representatives of all faiths or lack thereof can govern in a secular manner that doesn't favor any particular worldview.</p><p>The Congressional Freethought Caucus, dedicated to fostering science and reason while defending the secular nature of <a href="https://secular.org/governmental-affairs/congressional-freethought-caucus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">government</a>, has 14 members. It is, obviously, impossible for all its members to be non-religious. Its members represent a variety of faiths and denominations of Christianity, including humanism, while supporting all people's rights.</p><p>A remaining concern is that the disproportionate representation could lead to specific points of view not being <a href="https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/01/04/the-religious-makeup-of-the-117th-congress-includes-a-few-surprises/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heard</a>. There are no atheists in Congress to articulate their viewpoints on legislation that concerns others like them. This lack of representation is <a href="https://www.teenvogue.com/story/why-representation-in-politics-matters" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">something</a> that <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/campaign/297143-why-our-representation-in-government-should-look-more-like-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">can</a> and <a href="https://genderwatch2018.org/scaling-womens-political-representation-matters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has</a> been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/oct/04/few-us-politicians-working-class" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> for <a href="https://www.voanews.com/usa/why-arent-more-native-americans-members-us-congress" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">other</a> demographic groups both now and at different points in our history. </p><p>In any small body representing a larger one, there will be strange demographic mismatches by necessity. In the case of the United States Congress, these differences are rather pronounced. While they may have only a limited effect on legislation, there may be other, less tangible ways that this disconnect causes issues. </p><p>Or, it might be nothing more than a statistical curiosity. </p>
Is death the final frontier? We ask scientists, philosophers, and spiritual leaders about life after death.
- Death is inevitable for all known living things. However on the question of what, if anything, comes after life, the most honest answer is that no one knows.
- So far, there is no scientific evidence to prove or disprove what happens after we die. In this video, astronomer Michelle Thaller, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, science educator Bill Nye, and others consider what an afterlife would look like, what the biblical concepts of 'eternal life' and 'hell' really mean, why so many people around the world choose to believe that death is not the end, and whether or not that belief is ultimately detrimental or beneficial to one's life.
- Life after death is also not relegated to discussions of religion. "Digital and genetic immortality are within reach," says theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Kaku shares how, in the future, we may be able to physically talk to the dead thanks to hologram technology and the digitization of our online lives, memories, and connectome.
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