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Don't be intimidated by the academic language of the theoretical paper ( "Theoretical Orientation" ). You don't have to be familiar with that language, or with the literature on delusions, nor do you have to read that paper. If you are interested in the difference between craziness and sanity, I hope to interest you in this project.

There have been many attempts to define delusions, but they've all failed to achieve consensus. Pinning down the differences between delusions and other kinds of beliefs has proven to be elusive. Many "normal" beliefs share one or more of the properties that are typical of delusions, such as implausibility, being unshared or disbelieved by others, being held with extraordinary certainty or interfering with functioning. There are no characteristics that are exclusive to delusions and to no other unprovable beliefs such as some unusual religious or scientific beliefs.

Underlying this problem and bolluxing up the situation is a lack of explicit agreement about what the word "delusion" should refer to. Should it refer to "psychotic" beliefs? All false beliefs? Some false beliefs? How we define delusions might differ depending on whether the term is limited to psychotic beliefs or includes other false beliefs.

Since there is no agreement on whether "delusion" should refer exclusively to psychotic beliefs (although it tends to be used that way) or, for that matter, what psychosis is exactly, we don't have to worry about what words we use to refer to different kinds of beliefs. What's interesting is what similarities and differences may exist among different kinds of implausible beliefs.

For example, what similarities and differences exist among the following: someone's belief that he is Jesus Christ, the belief of a dangerously thin person that she is overweight, the belief that the Holocaust never happened, the false belief that one has the winning lottery ticket? What's similar and different about the common belief in "signs" (eg., that the sun coming out means you'll get the job), and the belief that "they're talking about me on the radio"? Similarities are as important as differences, because determining what's common to all false beliefs is essential to determining the unique characteristics of "crazy" beliefs.

In other words, please oh please write something on the Define Delusions Bulletin Board! You can write about anything related to delusions and psychosis. What is craziness anyway, whether or not it is embodied in a delusion? Contributions that come from outside academia are as compelling as those from within, and sometimes the most atheoretical observations are the freshest.

I'm especially hoping that people who have experienced delusions, or have observed people with delusions, will participate in this forum. First-hand experience offers an irreplaceable perspective, providing grist for theory as well as potential implications for the self-monitoring and self-management of delusions. For example, there may be typical subjective experiences or "markers" (eg. feelings, thoughts) associated with being in a delusional state, which could prove useful in helping people recognize when they are vulnerable to delusions.

So if you believe you have experienced delusions in the past, it would be interesting to know the following: what would make you suspect now that an idea you're having might be a delusion? Are there any differences between beliefs that turn out to be delusions, and other beliefs, in terms of their qualities, how they are experienced, or anything associated with experiencing the belief? For people close to someone who has had delusions, what have you observed?

I've been told that my delusion was that anyone would participate in this project. Academics would chose other venues, such as journals, to discuss delusions, and everyone else would be intimidated by the academic nature of the Web site. But I still believe in the value of the project, and I hope you'll join in. No special experience necessary!


© 2001 Alice Krakauer, Ph.D.