Skepticism, Psychosis, and Hallucinations as Evidence for Our Beliefs

This essay by Bradley Astra Aldridge has been published on the website of the BC Hearing Voices Network. It begins:

“Sextus Empiricus was a physician and ancient philosopher who argued that human beings should be suspicious of our capacity for knowledge, and of the means through which we commonly understand ourselves as acquiring knowledge. According to Sextus Empiricus, we should restrict the truth claims we make to the realm of appearances only. I will argue that this version of skepticism anticipates and is supported by 21st Century trauma-informed and enactive understandings of mental experience, and that the implications these theories have for the nature of differing perceptions–especially hallucinations–are similar to the implications of the argument presented by Sextus Empiricus. Drawing on recent innovations in psychosocial treatments for hearing voices, I will argue that the ‘tranquility’ (Empiricus 5, par. 10) described by Sextus Empiricus as following from his way of thinking can be found in parallel form in the success of trauma-informed understandings of hearing voices that encourage participants to let go of making judgements as to whether or not the voices they hear are ‘objectively real’ or ‘not real,’ and instead to accept them as they appear to be. First, I will briefly outline some of the arguments made by Sextus Empiricus in support of his view, and then I will describe a potential objection to his view from exclusively biological understandings of hallucinations. I will then examine how trauma-informed and enactive critiques of an exclusively biological model support the views of Sextus Empiricus, and how the psychological benefits to voice-hearers from using these frameworks of understanding provide a modern example of tranquility following from skepticism …”

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