Keep Your Experience to Yourself

Voice-hearing is one of those odd experiences that most of us ignore. Unless you’ve personally experienced it, it isn’t real. But for those who have, it can be one of the most real things they know, voices that can be as ever-present as the air one breathes.

In a book I was reading, the author mentioned visiting a conference for voice-hearers. Some people had been attending such conferences for years and they were old hands at talking about the voices they hear. Others were attending their first conference and it was a new experience to meet other people who also heard voices.

At the conference, there was a young man who came with an assistant. He was a voice-hearer who had autism. The author explained that he would get irritated. He heard voices and couldn’t believe that everyone else didn’t also hear voices. He thought others were putting him on by pretending they didn’t hear like he heard. I can imagine how autism would complicate the experience of voice-hearing.

What interested me is the basic situation of that young man. We all have experiences and we tend to assume that others experiences are more or less like our own. It is the opposite problem of lacking some experience and assuming everyone else also lacks it. Even language can’t overcome such gaps of experience. Sometimes language hides the gaps, to such an extent we don’t even suspect anything is unusual.

It amuses me to think of a scenario in an ancient bicameral society. Voice-hearing, according to theory, would have been the norm. Someone who didn’t hear voices would have been the crazy one. That person might assume everyone else was speaking metaphorically when they mentioned voices they heard. And so that person might even act like he was hearing voices because that is how everyone else was acting. It might not even occur to him to argue with anyone about whether the voices are real. If he did argue with others about it, it wouldn’t likely lead to happy results and easy relationships.

It’s not wise to argue with people about their experience of reality, especially when they are part of the majority.

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