Joan and I will be traveling very soon, but O and his folks started their trip a day early. He got his first lookee out of an airplane, and at their hotel he got to see a funny contraption that he's not quite sure of.
The Latvian psychologist Konstanins Raudive spent the summer of 1965 trying to contact the dead. Every day, with careful precision, he would take a new reel of recording tape from its box, thread the tape through the rollers of the recorder and set up the microphone next to a mistuned radio. The static hush was saved on to the recorder and he would spend hours reviewing the audio, listening for the quiet whisper of the deceased.
But the dead were frustratingly shy. Despite his technical skills and linguistic abilities he heard nothing except the fuzz and pop of the radio for months on end. But slowly, with time and attention, words began to form. "It takes at least three months for the ear to adjust itself," Raudive wrote later. "To begin with, though [the ear] may hear speech-like noises, it cannot differentiate the words, let alone understand what they mean."
He amplified and re-recorded his samples to help him find meaningful sounds and gradually the spirits seemed more present. When Raudive summoned an old girlfriend from Scotland who had since passed away, she seemed to reply: "All sait dein, Aileen" using a single word from English, French and German to say: "Your Aileen knows all" (except, it would seem, the consistent use of grammar). Even stranger was that the spirits often spoke in languages they had never known in life. Raudive's mother, a firmly Latvian woman by all accounts, seemed to speak in mixed Spanish, Italian, Swedish, German, standard Latvian and her own dialect.
Although baffling to many of his scientific peers, Raudive eventually published his discoveries in a book that appeared in English asBreakthrough. It was a massive success and the media lined up to listen to the "electronic voice phenomena". The results were somewhat mixed. When the BBC science programme Tomorrow's World turned up to film Raudive in action, only the odd indistinct word could be made out. They left, unimpressed.
A Cambridge parapsychologist, David Ellis, studied Raudive's attempts to contact the dead but all the evidence pointed to the impressions having been formed by the listeners. Later, psychologist Imants Barušs attempted to listen for ghostly words using Raudive's methods under laboratory conditions but few could be found and, when they were, every listener seemed to hear something different.
Rather than discovering a form of communication with the dead, Raudive had inadvertently rediscovered the remarkable human talent for perceiving meaning where there is none. Known as apophenia or pareidolia, it is something we all experience to some degree. We see faces in the clouds and animals in rock formations. We mishear our name being called in crowds and think our mobile phones are vibrating when it turns out to be nothing but the normal sensations of our own movement.
In many ways, this tendency is the basic ingredient of hallucination and it is present to a much stronger degree in people who have frank and striking hallucinations, most notably as part of the range of experiences that can accompany a diagnosis of schizophrenia. A classic study by Sanford Mintz and Murray Alpert found that more than 80% of psychiatric patients who experienced hallucinations falsely perceived the sound of Bing Crosby's White Christmas when asked to listen for it amid the sound of static. Those who think that people with schizophrenia are "out of touch with reality" may be surprised to hear that 40% of the healthy participants in the study heard the music. The music was used a decade earlier in one of the first ever lab studies on hallucinations in everyday people. The same approach has been used many times since, making Bing Crosby the most hallucinated man in science.
Recently, the concept has been turned into a test to help detect hallucinations in people with degenerative brain disorders. Dementia is usually a disease of old age where the brain declines quicker than would be expected from normal ageing. It can lead to confusion and, in some cases, hallucinations, but because of its impact on thinking and communication, just asking people if they are "seeing things" is not always possible. A team from Tohoku University in Japan created a series of ambiguous photos including things such as birds in curious formations and shadows that scatter across the floor. They found that the number of false perceptions seen in the photos could distinguish between patients with Lewy body dementia, a type known to cause a high level of hallucinations, and Alzheimer's disease.
Less clinically, the Swiss neuroscientist Peter Brugger has discovered that this tendency is raised in people who have greater numbers of supernatural beliefs and experiences but aren't unwell in any sense of the word. With increased apophenia, perhaps, the world just seems more imbued with meaning.
Raudive dismissed psychological explanations for the "messages" he found and instead was steadfast in his belief that they were the voices of the dead. Towards the end of his life, he began to investigate a budgerigar called Putzi, which he believed was transmitting spirit voices through its birdsong, unintentionally demonstrating apophenia in a particularly striking form. Raudive died in 1974 but, rather appropriately, he still appears, to his followers, in the hiss and static of their amplified recordings.
Which illness frightens you most? Cancer? Stroke? Dementia? To judge from tabloid coverage, the condition we should really fear isn't physical at all. "Scared of mum's schizophrenic attacks", "Knife-wielding schizophrenic woman in court", "Schizo stranger killed dad", "Rachel murder: schizo accused", and
"My schizophrenic son says he'll kill… but he's escaped from secure hospitals 7 times" are just a few of dozens of similar headlines we found in a cursory internet search. Mental illness, these stories imply, is dangerous. And schizophrenia is the most dangerous of all.
Such reporting is unhelpful, misleading and manipulative. But it may be even more inaccurate than it first appears. This is because scientists are increasingly doubtful whether schizophrenia – a term invented more than a century ago by the psychiatric pioneer Eugen Bleuler – is a distinct illness at all. This isn't to say that individuals diagnosed with the condition don't have genuine and serious mental health problems. But how well the label "schizophrenia" fits those problems is now a very real question.
What's wrong with the concept of schizophrenia? For one thing, research indicates the term may simply be functioning as a catch-all for a variety of separate problems. Six main conditions are typically caught under the umbrella of schizophrenia: paranoia; grandiosity (delusional beliefs that one has special powers or is famous); hallucinations (hearing voices, for example); thought disorder (being unable to think straight); anhedonia or the inability to experience pleasure; and diminished emotional expression (essentially an emotional "numbness"). But how many of these problems a person experiences, and how severely, varies enormously. Having one doesn't mean you'll necessarily develop any of the others.
Why hasn't this been noticed by clinicians? Mental health professionals, inevitably, tend only to see the most unwell individuals. These patients tend to suffer from lots of the problems we've mentioned – the more difficulties you're experiencing, the more likely it is that you'll end up being seen by a specialist – prompting psychiatrists like Bleuler to assume these problems are symptoms of a single underlying condition. But defining an illness by looking only at the minority who end up in hospital can be a big mistake.
The traditional view has been that schizophrenia occurs in approximately 1% of people. But it's now clear that the sort of experiences captured under the label are common in the general population – frequently far less distressing and disruptive, for sure, but essentially the same thing. Take paranoia, for instance. Almost 20% of UK adults report feeling as though others were against them in the previous 12 months, with 1.8% fearing plots to cause them serious harm. We tested the level of paranoia among the general public by asking volunteers to take a virtual reality tube train ride, during which they shared a carriage with a number of computer-generated "avatars". These avatars were programmed to behave in a strictly neutral fashion, yet over 40% of participants reported that the avatars showed hostility towards them.
What all this suggests is that schizophrenia isn't a specific, relatively rare, and rigorously defined illness. Instead, it covers a wide range of often unrelated conditions, all of which are also seen in people who are not mentally ill, and all of which exist on a continuum from the comparatively mild to the very severe. People with conditions like schizophrenia are simply those who happen to fall at the extreme end of a number of these continua.
Genetic factors also play a part, though there's no evidence for a single "schizophrenia" gene. Instead, a multitude of genes are likely to be involved – with their effect, crucially, conditioned by environmental factors. So the people who end up being treated for schizophrenia aren't the unlucky few who happen to have inherited a rogue gene. Genetic susceptibility exists on a spectrum too. The more of the relevant genes you possess, the further you are to the extreme end of the spectrum and the less of a push you'll need from life events to become ill. It's worth remembering, however, that genetic research into schizophrenia has focused on the people who present for treatment: the severest end of the continua. What it hasn't done is look at the various types of psychotic experiences across the general population.
Not everyone agrees with these new ways of thinking about schizophrenia. An editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry, for example, lambasted the approach as "scientifically unproven and clinically impractical". But one thing is certain: deepening our understanding of psychotic problems must be a priority. Diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses change over time, and the same will happen with schizophrenia. Rather than getting sidetracked by day-to-day debates about the symptoms required for a diagnosis, it will be more productive to focus on the individual psychotic experiences, remembering that they don't only occur in those who come into contact with mental health services but exist on spectra in the general population. This isn't merely a theoretical issue: if we target specific problems, rather than a loosely defined illness, we're likely to improve treatment outcomes for the many people struggling with these debilitating experiences.
TMZ also confirmed that Zimmerman was involved in the domestic violence incident in Orlando.
WESH-TV’s Bob Kealing reported that Zimmerman had been arrested for domestic violence against his current girlfriend.
After being acquitted for the murder of slain teen Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman faced accusations over the summer when authorities were called to the house of his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, to respond to a domestic dispute.
Shellie Zimmerman accused him of threatening both her and her father’s life, but no charges were filed in that case. Zimmerman has also been pulled over twice for speeding in recent months.
Update, 3:30 p.m. EST: Law enforcement sources told TMZ that Zimmerman’s girlfriend claimed that she was pregnant, making the domestic violence charge an automatic felony. Zimmerman reportedly was not eligible for bail.
Update, 5:14 p.m. EST:ABC News reported that Zimmerman was charged with aggravated assault, battery and criminal mischief in connection with the incident.
On November 13, A.D. 1002, Æthelred Unræd, ruler of the English kingdom of Wessex, “ordered slain all the Danish men who were in England,” according to a royal charter. This drastic step was not taken on a whim, but was the product of 200 years of Anglo-Saxon frustration and fear. Vikings, who had long plagued the Isles with raids and wars, had taken over the north and begun settling there. Concerns were growing that they had designs on Æthelred’s southern realm as well.
Æthelred’s order led to what is known as the St. Brice’s Day Massacre, named for the saint’s feast day on which it fell. The event has long been cloaked in mystery and misinformation. Archaeology, so far, has had little to offer in the matter of what actually happened and how many people died that day, but two mass burials recently unearthed are beginning to expose this turbulent period around the end of the first millennium. Could they be the first archaeological evidence of the massacre? Or might they offer a glimpse into some other aspect of the conflict between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings? Archaeologists are examining a trail of clues, including historical sources, wound patterns, and isotopic analysis of teeth, to put what was no doubt a violent series of deaths into perspective.
The Vikings of popular imagination were raiders and pillagers in longboats and (mythical) horned helmets, but the term “Viking” also refers to the farming, trading, crafting, exploring Scandinavian culture from which these raiders came. The Vikings that attacked and settled England and France were, for the most part, from or identified with Denmark. (The Norwegians went north and west, and the Swedes east, though there was a lot of movement of people among the Viking territories.) Viking raids in England began in the late eighth century A.D. and led to the fall of England’s northern kingdoms. Many of the Danish settlers were warriors granted land as a reward for success in battle. The only Anglo-Saxon holdout was Wessex, a powerful and wealthy kingdom that controlled most of the south of the island. An 878 treaty established the boundaries of Wessex and the Danish-controlled area, known as the Danelaw.
There is much discussion among historians about the nature of the relationship between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes. Many of the new settlers had once been warriors, but they eventually brought along their families. The Danes farmed, traded, and even intermarried with the Anglo-Saxon population, and their cultural influence can be seen in language, place names, and surnames that persist in England today. Some historians argue that there weren’t all that many Danish settlers and that they assimilated many local traditions and beliefs. But there was likely some tension and resentment between the Danish settlers and the Anglo-Saxons (who, ironically, were also descended from continental invaders).