It seems to me that when hallucination is discussed in Phenomenology, it is generally in the context of perception. Hallucination might be considered a type of perception, but this is not very illuminating for a phenomenon that seems to be so apart from what we consider normal perception. In the phenomenological context of perception we tend towards three modalities: memory, present perception (normal perception) and imagination. Hallucination is generally just lumped in as a part of present perception. The peculiar nature of a phenomenology of hallucination becomes more clear when we consider just what we mean by memory, perception and imagination. Memory is perception of things “as they were,” with the hedge that we are the same person that originally perceived particular events in a then present. Imagination might be related as perception of things “as they might be.” If there is a displacement of the present self in memory, especially revelry, it must be noted that despite the most involved potentials of day-dreams we are still surrounded by reality in the present, so the present self is not suspended.
Finally we have the most common modality, present perception, which is most often considered: perception of things “as they are now.” It is on this note that hallucination emerges as peculiar and I wonder if a more detailed understanding of hallucination will lead us to remove it from the modality of present perception. In the discussion that follows I hope to give hallucination a more detailed and phenomenological description, thereby coming to dismiss its inclusion in present perception or reinforce it.
It is important to begin by noting that a phenomenology of hallucination does not threaten Brentano’s or Husserl’s notions of consciousness as consciousness of something. Hallucinations have objects in just the same way that other perceptions have objects. In my opinion hallucination does not cause a problem for Intentionality in the same way that pain does.
“Hallucination: A profound distortion in a person’s perception of reality, typically accompanied by a powerful sense of reality. An hallucination may be a sensory experience in which a person can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that is not there” (MedTerms.com). Perhaps this is the time to mention some varieties of hallucinatory phenomena. Hallucinations may effect all the sensory systems. Research conflicts over which are the most common types of hallucination. While some claim that gustatory and olfactory hallucinations are the most prevalent, others claim these are the least prevalent. It seems that hallucination can have a profound effect on the concept of self; as evidenced in the traumatic and difficult lives of untreated schizophrenics and people suffering the aftereffects of overdoses on hallucinogenic drugs. Since hallucinations are perceived in the same way that reality is perceived, the self may lose the ability to recognize itself in reality. Intersubjectivity begins to disintegrate and the self is isolated.
The importance of these notes is to illustrate the profound difference between hallucination and present perception. Hallucination’s objects are entirely in the mind, despite their perception being as if they were real and present. Hallucination is not simply an illusion or inaccuracy of perception.
Hallucination is not memory. Memory, as we have come to understand it, is the reliving of past experiences and involves a suspension of self; or perhaps more accurately, an acknowledgment that the event and perceptions are in the past. The self in the present is believed to be the self that experienced those events in the past, but with that hedge in place. The other perceptual modality we discussed was imagination. Imagination requires a suspension of the “self-in-the-world” as well, but it is obviously much different than memory. Our imaginings are rooted in reality, and regardless of how caught up we might get in a day-dream reality is still around us containing the self. If memory is “as it was,” then imagination is “as if it might be.” Some drug users and migraine sufferers, and I am sure others, experience hallucinations but perceive them as such. Which is to say that they realize they are hallucinating, they realize that reality is being distorted because they are perceiving things without real-world-objects. It is important to distinguish this in some way from hallucinations as discussed in this essay. One author coined the term, “illusionations” (Liam Carney) to describe the hallucinations experience by many users of LSD, varieties of marijuana, and psilocybe mushrooms. In these cases real world objects are distorted, but experiences do not lack external stimuli. Hallucinations of the variety we are concerned with here have objects much like those of memory or imagination. They are in a sense, hyper-real. The object is displaced but experienced as present. Some day-dreamers have been displaced by reverie, and may have felt that their imagining took on perceptual modalities of present perception. This is similar, though obviously not synonymous with hallucination. The power which hallucination can have over the person experiencing it serves as distinction enough from imagination or memory.
Perhaps one difficulty that arises in describing hallucination is that the person experiencing the hallucination cannot contrast it with reality, since it is in fact striking the mind as reality. In the case of “illusionations” the realization that one is hallucinating differs it from reality – though this does not account for the hallucinations of psychotics or those heavily under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.
It is important to understand the Phenomenology of hallucination since it is so peculiar a phenomena. Unlike present perception it has no external stimulus. It may be non-phenomenological to describe it as such, though one would hardly assert that hallucination is simply another form of present perception. I think at least it should be described as a sub-modality. Simply because we find our perception to have been false does not eliminate the importance of discussing false perceptions. These are as integral to Phenomenology as memory and imagination. Not to mention that hallucination is not an occurrence among a fringe of the population, it is in fact fairly common. Understanding this phenomena plays roles in psychiatry and medicine as well as it does in philosophy of mind and Phenomenology. The significance of memory to formation of the self is not overlooked simply because memories have no real-world-objects, nor should hallucination. Despite the difficulty in pinning down the precise modality of hallucination it should be considered as apart from memory, perception and imagination.
The reference to Liam Carney’s term “illusionations” was found in a number of online sources, though I cannot seem to find its original source.