November 25, 2008

The Truman Show Delusion Is Not Real

Interpret that any way you want.

In a news article out today, that is remarkably like the one that came out in July (my post here):

Researchers have begun documenting what they dub the "Truman syndrome," a delusion afflicting people who are convinced that their lives are secretly playing out on a reality TV show. Scientists say the disorder underscores the influence pop culture can have on mental conditions.
Other examples are thinking your life is the Matrix, an ARG, an A&E documentary.

If you break the delusion down, there are two primary characteristics: someone else, more powerful, is observing and orchestrating; and this is not your actual life, your actual life is something else.

When you phrase it like this, the delusion becomes revealed: it's regression into childhood.  It doesn't discount the delusional aspect, but understanding it as a regression helps make sense of it.

By analogy, it's a conspiracy theory.  Conspiracy theories provide two very important psychic comforts.  First, if someone else is controlling things, then your failures are not entirely your fault.  Second, it is a proxy-parent; it is comforting to know that there are powerful individuals closely following, monitoring, and influencing everything.  Suddenly, there is no catastrophe that won't be averted; suddenly life has meaning, even if it isn't one you pick.

One question is to what extent one changes their own behavior to fit their role: do you play to the camera? If you're on a reality TV show, do you then also choose to dress more provocatively; talk in soundbites; make relationships the main focus of your day to day life, etc?  A conscious decision to act more superficially than you would otherwise?

I'd argue that non-delusional people do this already, though much less.  In tiny ways, we act like someone else is watching, we narrate or soundtrack our lives, which is fine; but the types of narration and the types of music all come from what already exists-- TV, movies, etc.

It's the Wittgenstein argument about language and thought, applied to the media. 

The "medium is the message" is now the medium is the viewer.  Control the medium, and you control the viewer.


There's a typo in your post... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2008 5:12 AM | Posted by Neuroskeptic: | Reply

There's a typo in your post title.

Also - couldn't this delusion be seen as a variant of the "Capgras delusion" (people around one are imposters - i.e. actors) or even the "Cotard delusion" (you are dead - or in this case on TV - but at any rate you are not really living a normal life)?

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What about multiple/overlap... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2008 7:52 AM | Posted by varangianguard: | Reply

What about multiple/overlapping delusions? If I'm delusional and you're delusional, our delusions are interacting (because both of us will claim that our own life is reality). Wouldn't this quickly become the multiple reflections of looking at oneself's mirror image in a mirror?

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And what about those that r... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2008 9:46 AM | Posted by Philip : | Reply

And what about those that reality is constructed socially vs those that hold it to be objective and out there for us to discover?

Could you say that true beliefs in this regard can be discerned by how one acts? The social constructivists being more likely to mimic the delusion?

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Many believe their lives ha... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2008 10:07 AM | Posted by Per Jørgensen: | Reply

Many believe their lives have been arranged and are controlled by a supernatural entity, omnipresent and all-knowing, according to a master plan.

Typical markers of this belief are variations of the statements "It was meant to be" applied to past events and "[insert name of entity] willing" applied to the future.

The belief appears quite common.

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To varangianguard: ... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2008 6:39 PM | Posted by theskepticalshrink: | Reply

To varangianguard: If I'm delusional and you're delusional, we'll make some mutual concessions and reach an acceptable compromise that could be called "consensual reality." But since we don't realize what we're doing, we'll leave off the consensual part and just call it "reality." Sound familiar?

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Can I just say "AMEN" to th... (Below threshold)

November 26, 2008 9:49 PM | Posted, in reply to Per Jørgensen's comment, by JC: | Reply

Can I just say "AMEN" to that?

You took the words right out of my mouth!

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I have read your articles d... (Below threshold)

December 1, 2008 4:42 PM | Posted by Lee: | Reply

I have read your articles dealing with this concept and it describes me perfectly. I had no idea this type of thinking was a 'delusion'. After looking at myself very critically the past few weeks, I do see it as a problem.

You write a lot about this phenomenon, but what I am really interested is treatment. Is this even fixable? What should I do?

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