Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hollow, Empty, Thud

Three words from a 1973 psychology study by David Rosenhan.
Twelve participants (many of them psychologists) walked into clinics, complaining of one strange occurrence: they’ve heard a voice (or voices), other than their own, in their head, saying: hollow, empty or thud.
All were admitted into psychiatric wards. None complained of relapses. Some took notes about the experience… all waited to see how long it would take to be discharged, to be seen as sane.
And so the discussion was about being sane in insane places.

At this moment, I’m thinking of the study a little differently. Imagine flying out to a Northern community—somewhere in Alaska. Imagine walking out to where there’s no one, possibly for miles. Imagine the sounds things make. Sometimes all you can do is hear. You’ve walked so far that your traces have vanished. Its just you and the North.
Now, imagine deciding that this isn’t right, this isn’t really what you wanted… you wanted something else. Who do you turn to, to say that you never heard that voice, that you just made it up, that you want to go home now.
And so the discussion seems to be about those places in the world where the only voices are those in your head, imagined, invented, or otherwise; being social in unsocial places.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder how far we could push the parallel?

    In the asylum, it is alleged voices in your head that cause you to belong in that singular place, while in the wilderness, the voices are the thing preventing you — or your way of preventing yourself — from being absorbed into the environment. Or else they are a symptom of the fact that you don't belong there, instead of the missing symptom that would indicate you do, as in the Rosenham case.

    I don't want to push the parallel too far. I'm afraid of belaboring the joke with too much elaboration. (My sense of humor doesn't have the attention span for that.)