Posted in Psychology & Medicine

The Three Christs Of Ypsilanti

On July 1, 1959, a social psychologist named Milton Rokeach began an experiment in Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan to explore the nature of delusions. He gathered three paranoid schizophrenics who each believed they were Jesus Christ and put them in one room. Technically, there can only be one Jesus Christ. So how did the three schizophrenics respond to each other’s claims that they were Jesus?

The experiment ran for two years, with the three patients meeting regularly with Rokeach (under the guise that it was a support group). The initial meetings were far from peaceful. One “Christ” would yell out that the other two were fakes, while another would decry that he would not worship the other Christ as he was the real Jesus. The third reasoned that there cannot be more than one Jesus, and that he was the Good Lord. The arguments escalated to the point of physical violence in many cases. No one would budge and accept that the other person could be Jesus, as they themselves were Jesus. It was the ultimate paradox and cognitive dissonance, as there can be only one Jesus.

Rokeach hoped that the patients would soon see the error of their delusions. He even went as far as sending each of them fake letters from the patient’s “wife” and “the hospital boss” to see if they would alter their routine as the letter advised. But instead of breaking down and accepting that they were deluded, the three patients each found an explanation to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

One patient declared that his fellow patients were actually dead but being controlled by “machines”, thus their arguments were not credible. The other two explained that the other patients were “crazy” people with mental health issues, thus they should not be believed.

This is not a surprising ending to the story, as the definition of a delusion is that it is a “fixed, false belief not amenable to reason”. By definition, a delusion cannot be “reasoned” or broken with logic. Even if you blatantly show the patient proof that their delusion is not real, the patient will not yield. Instead, they will find creative ways to work around the inconvenient truth. Ergo, no matter what evidence you put forward, those three patients would always, in their mind, be the one and only Jesus Christ.

Now let us assume that you met a doppelgänger who states that they are the real “you”, challenging your identity. How would you respond? Challenging one’s identity is the most vicious attack possible, as no person is secure enough with their own identity to be unaffected by the attack. Because people define themselves with a set identity, changing even a small portion of their identity causes extreme confusion and panic. To avoid such emotional turmoil, the brain does everything in its power to protect the identity it believes in. This is why people will respond with fury and anger when their identity is challenged.

People say that “I know myself the best”. But if we construct our identities around flimsy, false foundations, we would still cling to the idea that that is our true identity. If people were to suggest that we are not who we think we are, our brain would defend its identity at all costs. In that case, are our identities delusional? How do we know whether our identity is the real us, or a delusion our brain is clinging to?

Better yet, imagine that everyone around you claimed that you are a duck. Even though you know for sure that you are not a duck, everyone else sees you as a duck and defines you as a duck. An interesting thing about delusions is that the definition includes the phrase: “…and not in keeping with that person’s subculture”. This means that if everyone in your subculture were to say that your belief and your identity were wrong, you could be labelled “delusional”. In that case, are you crazy or is everyone else crazy?


Posted in Psychology & Medicine

The Desire Of Others

This world endlessly tells us to live for the desires and wants of others. We live every day to fulfil the desire of our parents, our teachers, our friends and our lovers. But to live for other people’s desired, you must first fulfil your own desires. For our weak “self” identity to survive and develop, we cannot allow other people’s desires dominate us.

There is a mental illness called delusional disorder where the patient is obsessed about a “false belief” and is completely convinced that it is the truth. The word “delusion” brings to mind strange cases such as “I was abducted by aliens” and “the government is monitoring my phone calls”, but these delusions are more common with conditions such as schizophrenia. Instead, delusional disorder presents with delusions such as Othello syndrome (believing your spouse is having an affair) or hypochondria that are not too strange and allows for a relatively normal day-to-day life, making delusional disorder very hard to detect. Furthermore, the patients form these delusions in a very logical and highly structured manner, causing the patient to become easily obsessed with it and make the delusions more believable.

Delusional disorder can be categorised into six types:

  • Erotomanic type: delusion that someone is in love with you
  • Grandiose type: delusion that you are godlike and possess greater value, strength, intelligence or identity than others
  • Jealous type: delusion that your lover is unfaithful
  • Persecutory type: delusion that someone is acting malevolently or trying to harm you
  • Somatic type: delusion that you have a medical condition or physical defect
  • Mixed type: delusion showing characteristics of more than one of the above types, with no one type being prominent

As these patients are so attached to their delusions, treatment is extremely difficult. As soon as a psychiatrist or psychologist attempts treatment or even a close friend denies the delusion, they instantly become an “enemy”. The patient automatically incorporates those people into their delusion and antagonise them to worsen the situation. This is why the key principle of treating delusion is “do not touch the delusion”. For example, if the patient believes they are someone else, instead of negating that delusion you should give them a chance to be that person. A treatment called “psychodrama” uses impromptu acting to bypass the delusion and tries to reach the patient’s subconscious, or their “self”. Through this, one can approach the patient’s “self” via affirming their delusions, allowing the psychiatrist or psychologist to ask what the patient’s “self” wants and discover the source of the delusion. The important point is that this treatment is not an instant cure for the delusions (it takes a while for the patient to rid themselves of the delusions completely).

Delusional disorder is a phenomenon which is not uncommon in people who live for the desires of others. A perfect example would be young celebrities. If young teenagers begin life in the entertainment sector and live for the audience before they develop their own “self”, they may not be able to find answers to questions such as “who am I” and “what do I want”, ultimately causing a weakening of their identity. As the “self” is highly capable of tricking itself, it creates a delusion that can rationalise this situation and works to create a different identity.

Thus, the most important tool for surviving in this world is not money, power, wisdom or love: it is your identity and “self”. If you do not know what you truly want, then life cannot give you happiness and success.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

ICU Syndrome

ICU stands for intensive care unit and is the place where patients are sent after an operation to stabilise and recover under supervision. ICU patients commonly have a very unique and strange post-operative experience.

ICU syndrome is a type of delirium where the patient experiences severe anxiety, fear, hallucinations or delusions. Although the cause has not been determined, it is likely related to post-op stress, the segregation and loneliness in the ICU room and confusion from coming out of anaesthesia. This is especially the case if an emergency situation led to the surgery being longer than expected or resulted in additional surgery, causing extreme confusion in the patient.

A patient suffering from ICU syndrome tends to be extremely excited and unstable. They may develop intense paranoia or distrust (especially against medical professionals), which can lead to fits or dangerous acts such as pulling out cannulas and lines. A friend or loved one talking calmly to the patient has a great effect in helping the patient overcome the delirium. Therefore, allowing the family to visit to keep the patient company and calm is an effective way to prevent ICU syndrome. However, if the situation spirals out of control, a sedative or anti-psychotic may need to be administered.

A study states that about 25% of patients admitted to the ICU suffer from ICU syndrome. It is one of the most common causes of delirium and any patient can get it (elderly patients are more likely to). Interestingly, there is a theory that medical professionals are more likely to suffer ICU syndrome after an operation.
Nowadays, the term ICU syndrome or ICU psychosis is discouraged and is instead grouped under delirium (which is an actual psychiatric disorder, not just a general term).

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


A doppelgänger is popularly known as a “double” of oneself, with the exact same appearance but usually with a completely different personality. 
It comes from German folklore (the word is German for “double walker”), where it is believed that seeing a doppelgänger is an omen of bad luck, possibly death. It is also said that meeting one’s own doppelgänger will result in one of the two dying. 
However, in modern times this concept of doppelgängers have been largely replaced by the first meaning, that of an alter ego who is only identical physically, and completely different persona-wise. This can sometimes overlap with the concept of an “evil twin”, as a doppelgänger is sometimes described to have an inverse personality, values and motives.

Although in most cases a doppelgänger is just a look-alike, it could be the result of the brain projecting an identical image of oneself in another space. 
It has been discovered that electrical stimulation of an area of the brain called the left temporoparietal junction causes the sensation that someone is next to you. This “someone” has the same shape and body posture as the subject, and is sometimes described as having a completely different personality. It is reported that this sensation is extremely unpleasant.
The cause of this phenomenon is that the area of the brain is associated with self-image, such as body posture, location and proprioception (sense of what oneself appears as in space). Therefore, a disruption leads to the self-image being projected elsewhere, which the brain then interprets as a doppelgänger.

There are similar mental disorders such as the Capgras delusion (belief that someone close has been replaced by a doppelgänger), Fregoli delusion (belief that many people are the same person in disguise) and subjective doubles (belief that one’s own doppelgänger is acting on its own to interfere with one’s life).

Doppelgängers are common plot devices in many works, especially fantasy and science fiction where the aforementioned “evil twin” concept is used. However, the doppelgänger may also be described as benevolent or simply a clone.
They are notably used in How I Met Your Mother, where each character has a doppelgänger completely different to their persona (e.g. Stripper Lily, Fertility Expert Barney).