The most recent issue of New Scientist has a story called "Delusional You." The online version is differently titled: Grand delusions: Why we all believe the weirdest things.
Now, most of us consider that it is other people who are deluded, and that we're an exception, being nicely connected to reality. Which, I suppose, is another delusion. Here's an excerpt from the story.
That we are all prone to delusions may not be so surprising. A range of cognitive biases makes the human mind fertile soil for growing all kinds of irrational beliefs. Confirmation bias, for example, means we ignore inconvenient facts that go against our beliefs and uncritically accept anything that supports them. Desirability bias leaves us prone to shoring up beliefs we have a vested interest in maintaining because they make us or our group look good. Clustering bias refers to our tendency to see phantom patterns in random events, impairing our ability to draw logical conclusions from the available evidence.
The New Scientist story includes the Peters Delusion Inventory, "which is the most widely used measure of delusional proneness."
I was pleased to find that I scored in the low range, having answered "yes" to only two of the 21 questions. And one of them seemed problematic to me, Do you ever feel as if some people are not what they seem to be? Yeah, I feel this often, particularly when I'm around politicians. This can be reality, not delusion.
Anyway, below is the Peters Delusion Inventory. I couldn't resist putting four decidedly religious'y questions in red, and three more spiritual/New Age'y questions in purple. This shows that religiosity, or more generally, belief in special powers, makes it more likely that someone will be delusional.
This is somewhat at odds with how the story says we should look upon delusions.
First we need to be clear about what a delusion is. "There's a loose way of talking about delusions -- like when we talk about the 'God delusion' --“ which simply means any belief that's likely to be false and is held despite lack of evidence, or even in spite of the evidence," says Lisa Bortolotti at the University of Birmingham, UK. The psychological take is more nuanced.
Delusions are still seen as irrational, but they are also idiosyncratic, meaning the belief is not widely shared. That rules out lots of things including most religious beliefs, conspiracy theories and the denial of climate change. Furthermore, the idiosyncratic nature of delusions makes them isolating and alienating in a way that believing, say, a conspiracy theory is not. Delusions also tend to be much more personal than other irrational beliefs, and they usually conform to one of a handful of themes.
Hmmmm. The way I see it, just because a delusion is widely shared doesn't make it less of a delusion. Consider the four religious'y questions in red below.
Lots of true believers do feel they are especially close to God, have been chosen by God in some way, believe in the occult, and sometimes feel they have sinned more than the average person. These aren't idiosyncratic beliefs; they rest at the heart of some major religions and mystical paths.
And the questions in purple are widely held by those who follow certain meditation practices.
In the thirteen years since I started this Church of the Churchless blog, I've seen many comments from people who believe in telepathic communication, consider that it is possible to completely stop thinking, and view thoughts as alien to the supposedly pristine "soul consciousness" that is separate from the mind.
Now, feel free to take the delusion test.
How Deluded Are You?
Almost everyone is vulnerable to delusions, but some of us more than others. These 21 questions constitute the Peters Delusion Inventory, which is the most widely used measure of delusion proneness. Give yourself one point for each “yes” and zero points for each “no”, then tot up your score.
1 Do you ever feel as if people seem to drop hints about you or say things with a double meaning?
2 Do you ever feel as if things in magazines or on TV were written especially for you?
3 Do you ever feel as if some people are not what they seem to be?
4 Do you ever feel as if you are being persecuted in some way?
5 Do you ever feel as if there is a conspiracy against you?
6 Do you ever feel as if you are, or destined to be someone very important?
7 Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?
8 Do you ever feel that you are especially close to God?
9 Do you ever think people can communicate telepathically?
10 Do you ever feel as if electrical devices such as computers can influence the way you think?
11 Do you ever feel as if you have been chosen by God in some way?
12 Do you believe in the power of witchcraft, voodoo or the occult?
13 Are you often worried that your partner may be unfaithful?
14 Do you ever feel that you have sinned more than the average person?
15 Do you ever feel that people look at you oddly because of your appearance?
16 Do you ever feel as if you had no thoughts in your head at all?
17 Do you ever feel as if the world is about to end?
18 Do your thoughts ever feel alien to you in some way?
19 Have your thoughts ever been so vivid that you were worried other people would hear them?
20 Do you ever feel as if your own thoughts were being echoed back to you?
21 Do you ever feel as if you are a robot or zombie without a will of your own?
0-5 You are less prone to delusions than most. Your thinking style is probably more analytical than intuitive.
6-7 Congratulations! You are normal. The average score is 6.7, with no difference between men and women.
8-21 You are more prone to delusions than most. You are likely to think intuitively and jump to conclusions.