15 August 2020

Metachoric experiences

metachoric experience = experience in which the whole of a subject’s visual field is replaced by a hallucinatory one

Our research on lucid dreams, false awakenings and out-of-the-body experiences highlighted the capacity of the brain to generate experiences which provide a convincing replica of normal perceptual experience.

In lucid dreams, the subject appears to be relatively ‘normal’ in terms of cognitive faculties, as evidenced by the fact that he has awareness of his actual state, i.e. that he is asleep and that the experiences he is having are hallucinatory. In false awakenings, the subject appears to ‘see’ a convincing replica of his normal bedroom environment. He may then see monsters or other figures of various kinds, apparently superimposed on this otherwise faithful replica, although in fact the whole of the visual field is of course hallucinatory. In out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs) the subject is typically awake but appears to be seeing his environment from the wrong perspective — often as if from a point of view above his head. Again, the brain appears to be generating a highly convincing replica of the normal environment, visually speaking.

In the case of OBEs, there is also the observation that the hallucinatory state can apparently be entered with little or no awareness that a discontinuity has taken place from (a) actually seeing the environment to (b) hallucinating the same environment, albeit from a different perspective.

These experiences suggested a departure from the previous idea of a hallucination as an isolated area of the visual field which was generated erroneously by the brain, and then somehow superimposed on the rest of the visual field which was generated from actual input in the normal way.

Certain features of our research on apparitional cases — cases where an apparitional figure or object is seen against the background of the normal environment — led us to the possibility that many apparitional experiences, and possibly all of them, were analogous to lucid dreams and OBEs in being totally hallucinatory. That is to say, rather than the experience consisting of normal perception plus a finite hallucinatory element (the two elements being integrated in some way), the perceptual environment is entirely replaced by a hallucinatory one, at least as long as the apparitional figure is being perceived.

In our 1975 book Apparitions we proposed the term metachoric to designate such experiences in which the normal perceptual environment is entirely replaced by a hallucinatory one.

Celia Green
Charles McCreery

Read more