I, like many people, have minor hallucinations when I'm tired or stressed. Nothing big, just flashes in the corners of my eyes and thought-I-saws in the shadows.

Sometimes those minor hallucinations are people. Not threatening people or dangerous people, just people, minding their own business. Actually, that's phrased wrong. Sometimes nearly 100% of those hallucinations are people; sometimes nearly 0%. It's very binary.

I think I've figured out one of the determining factors. Yesterday I spent all day at work talking. I argued and tried to convince and figured out and explained and asked and laid out and worked through and generally spent my whole day in small-group or 1-on-1 active communication. Then I went to a small-group event in the evening with interesting people and had active and lively communication. By the time I went home, there were people in every fencepost and pool of shadow.

When I was about ten, my family gave me a kit for making balloon animals. It had an instruction book, a hand-pump, and a bunch of long thin balloons. I loved that kit and I spent most of the day playing with it. When I went to bed that night, I could still feel the smooth curved pressure and the almost-squeaks of balloon-twisting in my hands. My pattern-matching brain had been trained to expect the tactility of balloons.

I think the people-based hallucinations may be caused by a similar mechanism: if I spend much of my waking attention focused on people, then the lazy pattern-matcher in my brain will continue to overlay people on all of its interpretations. Then, when it's reaching for ridiculously under-informed snap judgements (which is what my hallucinations seem to all be), it knows what to fill in. People, people, people.

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malka

June 2014

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