The Gentle Art of Creating an Alternate Reality

By George A. Boyd © 2021

Q: How do political and religious leaders move their followers into an alternate reality, so they believe lies and conspiracy theories?

A: This hypnotic co-option of the follower’s reality testing and judgment appears to come from both the behavior of the leader and the response from his or her followers.

When you look at the behavior of the leader, you see:

  • The leader will modify and distort perception by magnifying certain elements and minimizing others
  • The leader will change beliefs about events and other people, so that people will only get information about the world the way the leader sees it
  • The leader will declare the world your senses perceive is unreal
  • The leader will lie to people incessantly, so followers begin to doubt their own beliefs and perceptions

When you observe the behavior of the leader’s believers, you commonly see

  • They proclaim the leader is the only source of truth, and tell other people to only listen to their leader
  • They cast the leader as a savior, someone who can alone solve the problems of the people and the nation
  • They make the leader appear as larger than life, as super-human
  • They believe the leader has charisma, or God has chosen him or her
  • They pledge fealty or allegiance to the leader, and obey his or her commands as infallible
  • They dedicate their life to the leader, and are willing to fight and die for him or her
  • They listen to the leader’s advice, abandoning their own judgment
  • They do anything the leader wishes, leaving aside their life’s goals
  • They live in fear that the leader will withdraw his or her approval and support, and they believe terrible consequences will ensue if the leader does not support them—in religious groups, this may be framed as going into eternal damnation or losing their chance for salvation
  • They create a larger-than-life myth about the leader, inflating his or her deeds, so they appear heroic or superhuman
  • They want to see and be in the presence of the leader, so they will receive his or her supernatural force (mana)
  • They believe the leader, no matter what, even when he or she blatantly lies to them
  • They are loyal to the leader, even if he or she uses them and betrays them

While not an exhaustive list, these are several of the features you see in political and religious cults that authoritarian leaders control. A common theme in these groups is that followers are swept up into an alternate perception of reality. In this state of heightened suggestibility, it is very easy for them to believe in the most absurd conspiracy theories their leader promulgates. We certainly see this occurring in nations where authoritarian leaders have seduced a large portion of the populace in believing his or her lies.

Co-opt reason, and you create an alternate world where anything can be true. Suppress judgment and you can believe the most absurd conspiracies. Control others through fear and guilt, and you create a group of obsequious myrmidons.

Those who have been drawn into this vortex of delusion no longer realize they have become unmoored from reality; they become hypnotized to believe the alternate reality the leader disseminates, in which he or she controls them.

Conspiracy Theories and Fear

By George A. Boyd © 2020

I once attended a workshop, where the group leader gave a talk about fear. He said if you create an acronym for each of the four letters of “fear,” it would spell out:

F – False

E – Evidence

A – Appearing

R – Real

When I reflect upon “False evidence appearing real,” I am struck by how conspiracy theories are founded upon false evidence—or sometimes, on no evidence at all—yet those who believe in conspiracy theories have a tenacious conviction that what they believe in is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.

If I desperately want something to be real, even when it is not—the unconscious mechanisms of projection will kick in and they will shape my perception so other people and events appear the way I want them to be. For example:

I desperately want the candidate I voted for president to win. Even though the votes received were accounted for during each step of the mail-in or in-person voting process; all legal procedures were followed; and the votes were counted and verified—sometimes even more than once—I will falsely perceive a fraudulent process took place. I am in denial that my candidate could lose.

So my belief that fraud occurred is false, yet I continue to embrace this belief, because I don’t want to admit to myself that I will lose the person I want to be “my president.” I’m afraid I will lose him, and all that I believe he did on my behalf will be uprooted and swept away.

I will therefore manufacture false evidence through perceiving innocent events as sinister ones, and these will appear as real to me. For example, in a video, an elections official places a box of mailed ballots on a table: I see this as false evidence that illegal ballots are being dumped to fraudulently ensure the candidate of the other side wins.

The same thing happens when fear colors your perception. For example:

I’m camping in a forest. I see a large male grizzly bear. My fearful imagination kicks in: I’m visualizing the bear is going to run towards me, maul me, kill me, and eat me.

The truth is, the bear doesn’t want to mess with me anymore than I want to mess with him. As long as I don’t threaten his mate or his cubs, or make him feel I am going to attack him, he’s going to leave me alone—as long as I leave him alone.

But fear turns this situation into a vision of danger. There is a risk of course:

  • The bear might have rabies, and will act unpredictably.
  • It might be a bear that is a “man-killer,” who has gotten the taste for human blood. He is hungry… and I’m a man.

But the odds of these events are low. It’s unlikely they will happen.

So I do my thing; the bear does its thing. The bear and I experience “peaceful co-existence,” to borrow a popular phrase of the cold war era. I don’t harm him; he doesn’t harm me.

These same dynamics are operating beneath many of the popular, contemporary conspiracy theories, such as:

  • Q-Anon – Your president is working to save you and your children from a group of blood-drinking, Satanic pedophiles in government and the media
  • Joe Biden, Jr. won the election through fraud
  • The government is trying to take away your guns
  • Secret cabals of [Jews, wealthy industrialists, bankers, members of a secret world government, the Masons… insert your favorite perpetrator of evil here] are plotting to take over the world and control your life
  • Other ethnic or racial groups are coming by the millions to take away your food and your jobs… and ultimately replace you
  • The world is flat
  • The United States faked the moon landing
  • The government planned and conducted the events of 9/11, so they could get a hold of Iraq’s oil
  • Vaccines will implant tiny tracking chips in you
  • The government is actively persecuting members of your religion
  • Space aliens are consulting with top secret cells within the government to transfer alien technology; they have been given permission to abduct people and perform experiments on them
  • A demagogue, cult leader, or dictator is your savior—despite of the evil deeds and atrocities that he or she condones, directs, or personally commits]

Might I ask those of you who believe in conspiracy theories like this to answer some questions? Here are four questions that will help you get to the core of the fear that locks this conspiracy theory in place in your mind, which acts like a filter that colors the appearance of anything you perceive.

  • What about this person or group—or about an event, or a potential outcome if what is described in the conspiracy theory comes true—makes you feel afraid?
  • What do you catastrophize might happen?
  • What would you perceive if none of what you believe about this is true—if this is just false evidence appearing real?
  • What would it be like for you to live your life without believing this? How would you act differently than you do now?

I think we would get along much better if we stopped believing in conspiracy theories… if we stopped demonizing each other… if we tried to work together on our common goals…

We share many things in common; we have common needs:

  • We need to eat and have clean water to drink
  • We need a safe and decent place to live
  • We need to have an education to acquire the skills and the knowledge to contribute to our community
  • We need a legal means to provide for our livelihood
  • We need to be treated with dignity and respect
  • We need the opportunity to pursue our worthy goals and dreams
  • We need to be able to embrace and practice the faith or philosophy of our choice, provided that we don’t impose it on others against their will

Perhaps if we could stop embracing conspiracy theories that distort out perception of the world and other people, we could support one another in achieving these needs. You might ask, “How do I provide solutions that get results—and that don’t cause harm?” If we each can do this, we can contribute to a better world for all of us.

The Two Orders of Validation

By George A. Boyd © 2020

Q: It seems both reason and intuition have the capacity to generate error. Can you shed some light on this?

A: Let us tease apart the verification processes of reason and intuition:

Reason arrives at tentative, consensual truth through a process of analysis and critique, and testing.

  • It starts with facts, data, or evidence.
  • It generates a hypothesis to explain the fact.
  • It tests the hypothesis to determine whether it is true or not.

It observes, measures, weighs, detects, tests, and sets criteria for the statistical probability that the hypothesis is likely true.

  • This estimate of the likelihood that something is true can range from five out of 100 in social science to one in 100 billion in physics.

Empirical verification is a step-by-step algorithmic process, which is subject to peer review, analysis, and critique.

Intuition reveals truths that dwell in the sphere of the Soul’s consciousness.

  • It uses the faculty of discernment (Vijnana) to locate the object in the inner mandala of the Soul’s consciousness and recognizes it and labels it.
  • It employs the faculty of contemplation (Dhyana) to gather information about the object of meditation through observation, reflection, comparison, and identifying analogies or correspondences.
  • It is founded upon the Soul’s consciousness, which is the anchor of spiritual law and the foundation of inner Truth (Dharma).

Finding the ground of intuitive truth enables you to identify the stable markers of Subplanes, Planes, and Divisions of the Continuum, and to locate your spiritual essence in inner space.

Intuitive discovery or revelation is a heuristic process, which explores meaning, realizes possibilities, makes associations with other ideas, finds correspondences, and examines the changes that transformation produces.

When this rational and intuitive process goes awry, it gives rise to two forms of distortion:

Conspiracy theories – In this distortion of your rational process, you make assertions without validated facts, you create a hypothesis to explain your assertion, and you believe this hypothesis is the truth without subjecting it to tests. This arises from a failure to conduct empirical verification.

Delusion – In this distortion of intuitive discovery, you assume something is true in error. You use discernment to incorrectly confirm your erroneous belief. You only admit information that supports your belief, and you deny, ignore, or attack information that is contrary to your belief.

Disciples need to correct both types of distortion, and identify what is true behind conspiracy theory and delusion.

You can ask questions like these to examine these patterns:

Is this an intuitive or empirical truth?

How do I know this is true? How can I verify this?

What are the consequences of holding this belief?

  • How does it affect my behavior?
  • How does it shape my emotional reactions and attitudes?
  • How does it color my perception and worldview?
  • How does it alter my beliefs?
  • How does it influence my values?
  • How does it sway my choices?

When I make these choices, how does it impact my life, my relationships, and my career?

The Gentle Art of Spin

Q: What is the process through which truth is perverted so it gives rise to conspiracy theories and delusion?

A: This is both an active process and a passive process:

In the active process, you choose to lie and deceive others. Criminals, con-men, and dictators utilize the active process to control others and make them do what they want.

In the passive process, you start with a logical error and then you begin to justify and defend it. The passive process is generated when you receive incorrect information and you believe it is true. This can result from exposure to those who are telling you lies and you believe them; it can also stem from having incomplete information and making faulty conclusions based on this limited data.

These active and passive “truth cycles” are described below:

The Active Process

In the active process, truth is progressively eclipsed. The dichotomy is between choosing to tell the whole truth as opposed to the choice to lie.

  • The downward cycle for the active process moves from omission to misstating the facts to active distortion to feeling initial anxiety and guilt to rationalization to outright denial.
  • The upward cycle for the active process moves from breaking denial, stopping rationalization, to finding the source of anxiety and guilt to correcting distortion to stating the correct facts to revealing what was omitted.

The Passive Process

In the passive process, rationality is perverted into delusion through warping of information.

  • The downward cycle for the passive process moves from making a logical error to covering up this error to accepting false information to making judgments based on this false information to precipitating a change in mindset to a descent into paranoid thinking.
  • The upward “recovery” cycle for the passive process includes taking responsibility for what you can control to examining your mindsets and rejecting erroneous beliefs and perceptions to rejecting incorrect judgments and founding subsequent judgments on correct information to identifying and rejecting false information and finding correct information to admitting your errors to identifying the source of logical error and correcting it.

To deconstruct a rational or empirical belief, reflect upon:

  • What is the evidence for this contention?
  • What is your belief about the evidence (hypothesis)?
  • How do you prove this is true?

If there is no evidence, it does not exist in the physical universe.

To deconstruct an intuitive belief, reflect on:

  • In what nodal point is this truth anchored?
  • What is your criterion for assuming this is true? [Is this a mathematical proof? Is this a sensory proof? Is this an emotional or experiential proof based on faith or conviction? Is this a proof based on authority or scripture? Is this a revealed (revelatory) truth? Is this a proof based on analogy or correspondence like Gematria, numerology, astrology, or tarot? Is this a proof based on symbolic or linguistic analysis?]
  • How can you verify that truth is reliable?

Truth has many facets. What is true depends upon the means through which you derive it or arrive at it.

Notice how this process of spin can move both ways: you can descend into error; you can correct yourself. You may wish to apply this process of truth recovery to deconstruct your false beliefs.

The Seven Orders of a Conspiracy Theory


The Seven Orders of a Conspiracy Theory

By George A. Boyd © 2020

Q: How do conspiracy theories start? How are they different than a realistic view of the world?

A: There appear to be seven orders of a conspiracy theory. The layers that make up these seven orders appear to reify the belief systems of both conspiracy and reality based frames; conspiracy theory deviate from sound logic and facts, or interpret them through a distorted filter. These layers are as follows:

Order

Content

False view
(conspiracy theory)

Correct view
(reality based frame)

1

Supporting Data

Selects data to confirm false premises

Selects data to confirm verifiable and correct data

2

Emotionalized Idea

Creates negative fascination with an idea, which motivates action based on fear, guilt, hatred, or prejudice

Creates sober realization, activates actions based on thoughtful judgment and clear thinking

3

Coherent synthesis

Premises and data construct a false narrative, and puts together a conspiracy theory as an explanation of the selected facts

Premises and data construct an accurate narrative, and a consensual worldview based on verified facts and validated inferences

4

Worldview or mindset

Those who believe the conspiracy theory hold that they access to hidden or secret knowledge that makes them aware of sinister activities that only they are privy to; they ignore data that conflicts with their core beliefs that make up the conspiracy theory

Those who adopt an accurate narrative do not perceive any sinister activities and can find no evidence for them; they rely upon consensually validated knowledge to inform their world view, which changes as new data becomes available

5

Identity

Those who believe in the conspiracy theory identify as a member of a secret group that is dedicated to exposing and defeating perceived evil actors; they may separate themselves from groups or individuals they perceive as evil; more radical groups among believers may attack these individuals or groups that are perceived as evil

Identifies as a member of a diverse society, with people who have many different ways of perceiving the world and who hold different values; the world is not perceived as evil

6

Psychological matrix

As the conspiracy theory becomes integrated into character, it becomes a paranoid system expressed as behavior (paranoid personality disorder), belief (delusional disorder), and ultimately contaminates core identity, giving rise to paranoid schizophrenia

Integrated personality functioning; there is coherence between behavior, belief, and core identity (integrity)

7

Karmic matrix

Accretions of karmic impressions of ignorance, negative passions, and delusion; feelings of upset and rage mark the emergence of these impressions

Accretion of impressions of understanding, integrated knowledge, and wisdom

Q: How could someone realize they are ensnared with a conspiracy theory, and extricate themselves?

A: It is a matter of recognizing the errors in belief and reasoning that lock the conspiracy theory in place. It is hard to be objective when the conspiracy theory mindset has taken over your rational faculties. Usually, someone outside the conspiracy theory group has to point out to you the logical inconsistencies and implications of continuing to hold the conspiracy theory.

If you are capable of objective self-analysis, you may be able to recognize the signs of layers four and five—whether the group you belong to contends it is privy to secret knowledge or if you identify with a secret group whose mission is to combat perceived evil, for which there is no objective evidence. That is a clue you might have gotten yourself involved in a conspiracy theory.

Many people in the USA are under the thrall of a variety of conspiracy theories; we suspect that if they could emerge from these delusional world views, much of the animosity for those who hold different political views would dissipate, and we would see enhanced cooperation between the members of both parties.

Q: Are members of right wing and left wing extremist groups under the sway of conspiracy theories?

A: You could use this schema as a framework to analyze their beliefs and mindsets. We suspect that a central conspiracy might indeed play a role in the hateful and paranoid behavior, beliefs, and identification seen in these groups.

We invite you to reflect on these layers, and see if you can recognize any of these patterns operating in you, or in other people. Awareness of these patterns is the first step to eradicating them; it will take some courage and discipline to willingly uproot them and admit that you were wrong.

Given the right circumstances, almost anyone could succumb to these subtle delusional beliefs and perspectives. If you know what to look for, you can often stop yourself from getting involved before you travel down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

Reflections on Conspiracy Theories

By George A. Boyd © 2019

Q: What makes people believe in conspiracy theories?

A: When we analyze conspiracy theories, we find there are several levels at work.

  1. Sensory gating or filtering – When you believe in a conspiracy theory, you only look at the sensory information that confirms your belief. You ignore contrary information that doesn’t support your belief.
  2. Emotional bias – This attaches negative emotions to beliefs that disagree with the theory you hold, and positive emotions to the beliefs of your own theory.
  3. Cognitive distortion – This minimizes flaws or errors in your own viewpoint, and magnifies errors or flaws in other views.
  4. Egoic defensiveness – You use denial, projection, and rationalization to support your own view. You criticize and blame others that don’t hold your views.
  5. Values deconstruction – This uses justification to support hypocrisy, lying, and unethical behavior required for you to embrace a conspiracy theory.
  6. Intellectual narrowing – This labels your own theory as unassailable. You do not give yourself permission to reflect upon or consider alternate viewpoints.
  7. Mythic worldview – This embodies the secret desires and fantasies that underlie the conspiracy theory. You might secretly wish to be seen as a hero, to be vindicated when people disagree with you, to be superior to others because you know the truth.

Several characteristics mark conspiracy theories:

  • Those who embrace conspiracy theories supplant facts with opinion.
  • They prefer untested speculation to careful analysis to arrive at the truth.
  • They make logical leaps without taking in the big picture.
  • They validate their mistrust and paranoia through believing in spurious narratives.
  • They follow charismatic thought leaders who advocate and disseminate conspiracy theories, and become true believers.
  • They ignore information that contradicts the conspiracy theory, and they cling tenaciously to information that upholds it.
  • They envision hidden or secret actors that attempt to hide the truth that the conspiracy theory purports to reveal, and that this truth is either unknown or is actively suppressed.
  • They hold that the conspiracy theory is a hidden truth that conventional sources do not believe in or condone, and they believe they must advocate for this revolutionary new truth.
  • They believe that those who hold an alternative viewpoint are ignorant or deceived. They may actively attack or demean others who hold other beliefs.

The Slippery Slope to Paranoia

Many conspiracy theories are steeped in paranoia. This progression to a paranoid mindset does not happen instantaneously, but appears to follow several steps.

  1. You come to doubt one element of a belief you hold. You make note of it, but do not reject the belief outright.
  2. You come to see several flaws or omissions in the belief you hold. This may lead you to investigate why there are discrepancies or things that do not seem to fit.
  3. In the course of your search for answers, you come upon the alternative viewpoint of someone who advances a conspiracy theory. You begin to study this material.
  4. At some point during your exploration of this material, you find a key idea that makes you believe that everything you formerly believed was wrong. This makes you embrace the conspiracy theory and reject your former view. This is the conversion stage.
  5. Once you have begun to view your old mindset is flawed, you begin to replace your former beliefs with the beliefs of the conspiracy theory. You begin to deny, justify, and rationalize these new beliefs if you are challenged.
  6. You become a “true believer,” and you begin to advocate for this new conspiracy theory. You may attend conferences advocating the conspiracy theory, publish articles about it, or post about it on social media.
  7. As you receive more pushback about the error or limitations of your conspiracy theory, you may retrench and hold the belief more tenaciously. You begin to believe you are under attack: that others are trying to undermine you, to persecute you, and to crush you. At this stage, you may begin to shift into full-blown paranoia.
  8. As paranoia begins to envelop you, you may become delusional. For example, you may believe that secret actors are attempting to silence you or eliminate you; your phones are tapped and your rooms are bugged; or government agencies are trying to arrest you under false charges to suppress your viewpoint.

The Erosion of Reality Testing

Those that embrace conspiracy theories may shut off aspects of their reality testing to adhere to their beliefs. Some of these pillars of reality testing include:

  1. Sensory evidence – You are able to verify that the information you are receiving is accurate. It is not the opinion or interpretation of someone else. You are able to validate the experience is accurate.
  2. Impartiality – You become emotionally open to listen to each of the voices of an argument. You determine independently what is true after listening to the different opinions.
  3. Introspection – You examine your own beliefs to ensure that you are rightly weighting each element of your belief.
  4. Vulnerability – You become honest about what you feel and believe, and you are willing to be corrected. You stop blindly defending your beliefs.
  5. Moral reasoning – You think through the consequences of holding a particular value—and if it is untenable, not founded in truth, you jettison it. You do not automatically introject the beliefs of the conspiracy theory unexamined; you look at the implications of adopting this value.
  6. Intellectual prehension – You look at different explanations and the evidence supporting them. You give yourself permission to examine other viewpoints and explanations.
  7. Uncovering motivations – You uncover your motivations for holding beliefs and viewpoints, discovering what you “get out” of holding a belief or adopting a mindset.

If you think that you might be embracing a conspiracy theory, you may wish to apply the pillars of reality testing to determine if you are deceiving yourself. We suggest that you hold the contentions of a conspiracy theory as an unproven hypothesis. Listen to facts pro and con, and be willing to reject the conspiracy theory if you cannot verify its claims.