Is this hypothesis good? (concerning paranoia)

The hypothesis:

Paranoia results from a failure of the brains self-diagnostic ability.

Normal paranoia (NP) is a hard-wired mental diagnostic function.

The brain needs to test its faculties to see if they are in working order. NP is the testing of the danger sense. It is called normal because if the danger sense is found to be working, the test is concluded and normal mental functioning returns.

If however the brain can’t establish a positive result for the test, it is forced into a continuous loop whereby the danger sense is continually stimulated, and the bloodstream tested for levels of stress hormones.

What happens when a negative result is obtained is open to speculation.

What is termed paranoid delusion occurs when a positive result can’t be established and the sufferer attempts to, unsuccessfully, rationalise the cause of the stimulation.

One common reason for not obtaining a positive result, is I believe, short-term memory loss. The brain may record that the danger sense is working correctly, but this result may be lost due to bad memory.

This of course leads me to one obvious example - Cannabis use. We know that Cannabis use leads to both short-term memory loss and paranoia.

It is my contention that the paranoia results directly from the short-term memory loss as described above.

The way to test this hypothesis is to take 2 groups: A) sufferers of paranoia who have used Cannabis extensively, and B) sufferers of paranoia who have not.

For both groups test short term memory, and see if there is a pattern.

Would this work?

Hi — officially designated paranoid schizophrenic checking in!

Interesting theory. I like your general ‘NP’ theory better than your conjecture about how and why it goes haywire, though.

I’m more inclined to stress context. If I plucked the average person up from their locale and plunked them down in an imaginary world where people’s behavior made no sense when one made the default assumption that they were all just ordinary people making reasonable assessments of things around them, that average person would most likely start wondering “what the fuck is up with these people?”, and, furthermore, because these people’s behavior isn’t following normal expected trajectories, that average person would feel a bit scared of them, right? If you can’t predict the behavior of people around you (in the general everyday “ordinary people do normal things” kind of way), you don’t know what they’re going to do next, right?

Well, people obtain their sense of logical “normal” behavior on the part of other people the same way they reality-check their own perceptions —we project what we think, feel, perceive, or think that we would think, feel, or perceive if we were in the other person’s situation as we comprehend it, and then we compare notes with other people to see if we’re all sort of seeing things the same way, give or take a small margin of variation.

When your estimation of how other people would logically behave totally tanks in the face of very different behavior, you could conclude “Aha, my brain is messed up, that’s why I’m not behaving just like these other jerks”, but it’s far more likely that you’re going to think there’s an in-joke that you’re just not in on (“All right, I give up, why is everyone hiding under their desks when the receptionist walks in instead of saying ‘Hi Judy did you have a nice vacation in Haiti’? What did I miss out on?”) — right? Then, if some initial probing seems to eliminate that possibility (your coworkers insist with seriousness and anger that hiding under the desks is the only rational behavior and they’re irritated that you’d question it or think something ‘funny’ is going on), it’s liable to make you angry, feel a bit threatened, and you start thinking they’re clued into something that you’re left out of but in a darker way. (“Oh shit, my whole office must be composed of folks who seriously believe that Judy’s voodoo jokes last week were for real…either I’m working with religious fundamentalist fruit-bats and never knew it or I’m the oblivious innocent about to be hexed by an evil bruja, either way get me out of here…”).

In other words, it’s mainly a normative emotional-perception reaction to not being on the same wavelength as the people around you to the point that you don’t feel safe around them. What compounds it is that when this is happening you don’t have anyone to compare notes with to whom the world makes the same kinds of sense as it does to you. (“Hey Rob, what’s your take on this? The way everyone in the office is so weirdly avoiding Judy? I asked Pete and Joanne and they got all bristly…”) So whatever notion you entertain as a possible explanation is one that you’ve got to embrace or discard on your own, you don’t get to do the reality-checking thing 'cuz there’s no one to do that with, you’re on your own. Which adds to your fear.

Right? Right?

::backs away slowly from people who are nodding in agreement, moving to as to put objects between us, reaching behind for the doorframe::


Short-term memory doesn’t mean what most people think it means. It refers to whatever you’re concentrating on right now. As I’m writing this post, the words I’m writing are in my short-term memory. As soon as I finish and start concentrating on something else, they’ll move to long-term memory. I’m not sure that you’re aware of this, but I’m not sure that you’re not, so I thought I’d throw it out.

Also, the definition of paranoia you’d find in the DSM-IV is not along the lines of “they’re out to get me”. You might also want to look that up.


I know the kind of thing you mean. If you try and rationalise stupid behaviour (like your people hiding under the desk), you’re left with a stupid rationalisation. I think the important thing to bear in mind is that not all things conform to reason, and hence rational enquiry.

Do you think that if the people around you behaved in a rational way, you’d feel safer?

I know I would.

Anyway thanks for the feedback.


I’m not sure I understand - I can’t see how our definitions of “short-term-memory” are actually different. Maybe you could elaborate?

It looks like you’re using short-term memory to refer to the system that remembers things that happened recently. Maybe I’m reading you wrong.