In all its dazzling complexities, the human brain can produce truly remarkable experiences. For some, this means hallucinations of the little ones, running fast before their eyes.
Depending on who you ask, lousy human hallucinations can be amusing or terrifying, and descriptions of these ‘microptic’ or ‘Lilliputian’ visions are rare in the scientific literature. In fact, few researchers have tried to figure out what lies behind these strange experiences.
What are Lilliputian hallucinations?
In the early 1900s, French psychiatrist Raoul Leroy took an interest in seeing human figures in comparison to the tiny inhabitants of Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s famous 1726 novel. Gulliver’s Travels, For them, it was the mystery of the mind, begging for a scientific explanation.
Leroy wrote in the introduction of a specific case, “such hallucinations are present outside any microscope, while the patient has a general conception of the size of the objects around him, which only affects the hallucinations.” “
“They are sometimes alone, sometimes with other psycho-sensory disorders.”
The small handful of cases curated by Leroy were remarkably diverse, though in general, he noted that the sights were colorfully dressed, highly mobile, and mostly sociable. Occasionally, the scenes were of individual figures, although most patients reported seeing them in groups, interacting with the physical world, climbing on chairs, squeezing under doors, and respecting the pull of gravity.
Not all experiences were so mild. In one study, Leroy reported a 50-year-old woman with chronic alcoholism who claimed to have seen two men “as tall as a finger”, dressed in blue and smoking a pipe, sat up on a telegraph wire. saw. During the viewing, the patient claimed that he heard her sound threatening to kill him, at which the sight disappeared, and the patient fled.
Leroy commented, “In my previous communication to the Medico-Psychic Society, I said that these hallucinations had a pleasurable character, with the patient looking at them with as much surprise as with pleasure,” Leroy remarked.
“Here, as in the case of M.M. Bourneville and Bricon [two other cases], the phantom created a sense of fear.”
What we can dismiss as mere delusions, Leroy interpreted as possible symptoms of mental illnesses, categorical so that doctors can come up with better ways to diagnose and even treat.
Influenced by Leroy’s work, some psychologists attempted to explain the phenomenon. Accounts were mostly limited to unprovable hypotheses, including the mystical methodology of the midbrain, or some sort of Freudian regression.
Despite this initial interest, Lilliputian hallucinations do not serve as a criterion for any disease. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, It appears to be an almost random quirk of the brain.
Charles Bonnet syndrome is a notable exception: it is a rare disease where vision loss results in hallucinations. While these hallucinations don’t always take the shape of small ones (they can be light flashes, or geometric shapes, or even just lines), they can also be of the Lilliputian variety.
A 2021 study on a sample of volunteers with active Charles Bonnet syndrome found that their experiences of hallucinations actually increased in frequency and intrusiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic, most likely due to the loneliness of the lockdown. In some cases, the sizes of Lilliputian hallucinations increased to more human-scale proportions.
What do we know about Lilliputian hallucinations today?
Despite Leroy’s historical work and advances in understanding many states of mind, surprisingly little is known about why some minds see little people.
More recently, Leiden University medical historian and researcher of psychiatric disorders, Jan Dirk Blom, aimed to change this by rigorously searching for case reports of Lilliputian hallucinations in the Archives of Modern Medicine.
After an extensive search, Blom managed to come up with just 26 papers on Lilliputian hallucinations that could be considered relevant. Of them, only 24 provided details of the original case.
“During the 1980s and 1990s new cases were only rarely published, and the question of the underlying source of Lilliputian hallucinations slipped into oblivion,” Blom wrote in his 2021 study, published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews,
“Despite some renewed interest in the phenomenon over the past two decades, this situation remains basically unchanged.”
Turning his search to more historical and less clinical contexts, including book chapters and medical thesis, Blom eventually compiled a list of 226 unique cases to compare and contrast.
Their experiences and backgrounds were varied, divided equally between male and female reports, the oldest being 90 years old, the youngest only four. But there were too many common threads.
Most people wearing striking, colorful clothing reported hallucinations. It wasn’t some shadowy shadow swirling in the corner of the eye—it was a lively circus of clowns, harlequins, or even leaping soldiers. Only a handful of cases reported ‘moody’ or vision in monotonous shades of gray or brown.
Virtually all figures were strangers, with only a few reporting familiar faces, in some reported cases of autoscopy (seeing yourself as younger). In a fifth of all cases, vision was accompanied by auditory hallucinations, often muffled or high-pitched rhythms.
Man was not the only institution that was observed either. In about a third of the reports, patients claimed to have seen animals, such as little bears, or small horses pulling small carts.
Of particular note was the fact that 97 percent of matter was projective, visible in three dimensions and linked to real-world physics. The rest were reported as 2D projections on the surface, or transferred with the motion of the observer’s head.
It is also interesting to note that almost half of the cases were negatively affected, feeling scared or anxious. Contrary to Leroy’s assessment back in the day, only a third of these cases were calmed or entertained by their experience. One case of a depressed patient claimed that the only sight was his remaining joy.
Turning to reports of clinical diagnoses, Blom listed 10 different groups, with the most prominent being psychiatric disorders, alcohol or drug intoxication, and central nervous system lesions.
It is not hard to imagine any involvement of the visual system of the brain; A study of MRI scans on patients with Charles Bonnet syndrome supported this. But something more specific needs to be done, and detailed investigations at the neurological level are still lacking.
Blom suggests that the loss of peripheral sensory input may mean that the parts of the brain usually involved in processing information, which work together to weave together a spectacular scene of crowd and color, can find what small stimuli. can.
The fact that it is a common experience for people with Charles Bonnet syndrome, and for people with conditions such as Parkinson’s to occasionally report hallucinations in the evening, adds weight to this hypothesis.
Other models may also explain vision, perhaps a means of ‘dream intrusion’, where normally suppressed imagery bubbles up under a blanket of everyday perceptions, intermingled with reality in strange ways. Or perhaps it’s a mix of neurological events, stealing inspiration from memories, or reinterpreting otherwise mundane physical sensations like the eye floaters we all see jerking around in the corner of our vision.
Given the prominence of small human figures in folklore around the world, as mischievous elves and playful ghosts, or terrifying monsters or wise old dwarves, we are more fascinated by reports in the form of stories than by the quirks of neurology.
Perhaps that will change one day, and our accounts about the people among us will tell us as much about the workings of our minds as they tell us about our cultural heritage.
All interpreters are determined by fact checkers to be correct and relevant at the time of publication. Text and images may be changed, removed or added as an editorial decision to keep the information up to date.