Malfunctions of the mind

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Tue, 13 Jul 1999 21:11:46 -0500

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
> Of course the mind can do it--every
> experience you have is processed by that wonderfully
> complex machine of your brain; why should it be any more
> immune to an occasional malfunction than any other machine?
> Isn't that a far simpler explanation of these experiences
> than accepting them at face value? Isn't that a more
> profitable line of research than any effort based on
> taking these claims at face value?

Or in other words, given the known fact that at least one set of saucer experiences is the result of hallucinations, it's easier to hypothesize that your own personal experiences - never mind other people's - are false, than to hypothesize that aliens would behave in such weird, pseudo-anthropomorphic ways...

But the really weird, and really frightening part, is that when the brain malfunctions in that way, it usually becomes impossible for the person to accept that vis experiences are hallucinations. No matter how ridiculous, no matter how perfectly conforming to the standard report of schizophrenia, the victim simply becomes unable to wield Occam's Razor.

Someday, when drugs are developed that can temporarily induce schizophrenia or similar disorders, with an absolute guarantee of no long-term side effects, I'd like to try it out - very briefly - myself(*). I'd like to see if my mind is sufficiently software-reengineered to remain sane despite massive perturbations; failing that, it could be useful to know the first symptoms of malfunction, in case something ever goes Really Wrong.

But what it truly is, I suppose, is sheer curiosity; the desire to face a challenge; the need to know one's own mind; the same reason people are so intrigued by split-brain experiments. Who's the actual master of my mind? Is it really me, or am I just a surface veneer of rationality laid over deeper forces that just happen to be cooperating? Do all my hard-held mental disciplines work just because nothing else is opposing them at the time? Organic insanity is the ultimate opponent, and without facing it, there's no way I can ever really know.

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way

(*)  No, I'm *not* looking for a rematch.