Some notable philosophers and scientists throughout history have experienced voices and visions, here are some examples (click on the name for more information):
René Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) was a French philosopher, mathematician, and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’, and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day.Descartes was born in La Haye en Touraine (now Descartes), Indre-et-Loire, France. When he was one year old, his mother Jeanne Brochard died. His father Joachim was a member in the provincial parliament. At the age of eight, he entered the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Flèche. After graduation in December 1616, he studied at the University of Poitiers, earning a Baccalauréat and Licence in law, in accordance with his father’s wishes that he should become a lawyer.
“I entirely abandoned the study of letters. Resolving to seek no knowledge other than that of which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth traveling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situations which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it.” (Descartes, Discourse on the Method).
In 1618, Descartes was engaged in the army of Maurice of Nassau in the Dutch Republic, but as a truce had been established between Holland and Spain, Descartes used his spare time to study mathematics. In this way he became acquainted with Isaac Beeckman, principal of Dordrecht school. Beeckman had proposed a difficult mathematical problem, and to his astonishment, it was the young Descartes who found the solution. Both believed that it was necessary to create a method that thoroughly linked mathematics and physics. While in the service of the Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, Descartes was present at the Battle of the White Mountain outside Prague, in November 1620.
On the night of 10–11 November 1619, while stationed in Neuburg an der Donau, Germany, Descartes experienced a series of three powerful dreams or visions that he later claimed profoundly influenced his life. He concluded from these visions that the pursuit of science would prove to be, for him, the pursuit of true wisdom and a central part of his life’s work. Descartes also saw very clearly that all truths were linked with one another, so that finding a fundamental truth and proceeding with logic would open the way to all science. This basic truth, Descartes found quite soon: his famous “I think”.
Oliver Fox was the pseudonym of Hugh George Callaway (30 November 1885–28 April 1949), an English short story writer, poet and occultist, chiefly remembered for his Astral Projection: A Record of Research (1939), an account of his lucid dreams and out-of-the-body experiences.
Fox was born in 1885 and spent childhood in northeast London progressing, as he puts, ‘from illness to illness’ and often dreading sleep because of the nightmares it might bring. He saw apparitions both terrifying and pleasant; and he feared moments in which, when he was occupied in some normal activity, things would ‘go wrong’, leaving him feeling temporarily paralysed and with everything around him seeming to separate and stretch him. His early dreams are important because it was through dreaming that he first learned to project at will. His first control over his dreams came when as a child he used to see small blue or mauve vibrating circles, something like a mass of frogspawn. Either grinning faces would appear, presaging a nightmare, or little inkpots, saving him from one, and so he learned to call upon the inkpots to avoid the terror of a bad dream.
Sigmund Freud born Sigismund Schlomo Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939), was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis experienced “vivid verbal auditory hallucinations” in which his name was called out. He considered them to be “telepathic or at least coincidental hallucinations. He wrote,
“During the days when I was living alone in a foreign city … I quite often heard my name suddenly called by an unmistakable and beloved voice. I then noted down the exact moment of the hallucination and made anxious enquiries of those at home about what had happened at that time. Nothing had happened.”
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British ruled India. Employing non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi, the man who almost single handedly achieved Indian independence from Britain, relied on an “inner voice” for guidance.
“For me the Voice of God, of Conscience, of Truth, or the Inner Voice or ‘the Still Small Voice’ mean one and the same thing. I saw no form. I have never tried, for I have always believed God to be without form. But what I did hear was like a Voice from afar and yet quite near. It was as unmistakable as some human voice definitely speaking to me, and irresistible. I was not dreaming at the time I heard the Voice. The hearing of the Voice was preceded by a terrific struggle within me. Suddenly the Voice came upon me. I listened, made certain it was the Voice, and the struggle ceased. I was calm. The determination was made accordingly, the date and the hour of the fast were fixed…”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Julian Jaynes (February 27, 1920 – November 21, 1997) was an American psychologist, best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples were not conscious.
Jaynes received the inspiration for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind from an “auditory hypnagogic hallucination.” Jaynes was struggling with a philosophical problem, the question of knowledge. Napping one afternoon, he heard a loud voice saying “Include the knower in the known.” Including “the knower in the known” is a basic precept of much metaphysical and mystical thought, and was a response to Jayne’s epistemological despair. Jaynes, however, was a convinced materialist; he ignored this insight and chose to see this hypnagogic gem as simply a “nebulous profundity”, failing to grasp its import. His book is about hearing voices in the head.
Carl Gustav Jung (26 July 1875 – 6 June 1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist, the founder of analytical psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as “by nature religious” and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and symbolization. While he was a fully involved and practicing clinician, much of his life’s work was spent exploring tangential areas, including Eastern and Western philosophy,alchemy, astrology, and sociology, as well as literature and the arts.
A solitary and introverted child, Jung was convinced from childhood that, like his mother, he had two personalities — a modern Swiss citizen and a personality more at home in the eighteenth century. “Personality Number 1,” as he termed it, was a typical schoolboy living in the era of the time, while “Personality Number 2” was a dignified, authoritative and influential man from the past. Although Jung was close to both parents he was rather disappointed in his father’s academic approach to faith.
A number of childhood memories had made a life-long impression on him. As a boy he carved a tiny mannequin into the end of the wooden ruler from his pencil case and placed it inside the case. He then added a stone which he had painted into upper and lower halves and hid the case in the attic. Periodically he would come back to the mannequin, often bringing tiny sheets of paper with messages inscribed on them in his own secret language. This ceremonial act, he later reflected, brought him a feeling of inner peace and security. In later years he discovered that similarities existed in this memory and the totems of native peoples like the collection of soul-stones near Arlesheim, or the tjurungas of Australia. This, he concluded, was an unconscious ritual that he did not question or understand at the time, but which was practiced in a strikingly similar way in faraway locations that he as a young boy had no way of consciously knowing about. His findings on psychological archetypes and the collective unconscious were inspired in part by these experiences.
Shortly before the end of his first year at the Humanistisches Gymnasium in Basel, at the age of twelve, he was pushed to the ground by another boy so hard that he was for a moment unconscious (Jung later recognized that the incident was his fault, indirectly). A thought then came to him that “now you won’t have to go to school any more.” From then on, whenever he started off to school or began homework, he fainted. He remained at home for the next six months until he overheard his father speaking worriedly to a visitor of his future ability to support himself, as they suspected he had epilepsy. With little money in the family, this brought the boy to reality and he realized the need for academic excellence. He immediately went into his father’s study and began poring over Latin grammar. He fainted three more times, but eventually he overcame the urge and did not faint again. This event, Jung later recalled, “was when I learned what a neurosis is.
In 1913 at the age of thirty-eight, Jung experienced a horrible “confrontation with the unconscious”. He saw visions and heard voices. He worried at times that he was “menaced by a psychosis” or was “doing a schizophrenia.” He decided that it was valuable experience, and in private, he induced hallucinations, or, in his words, “active imaginations.” He recorded everything he felt in small journals. Jung began to transcribe his notes into a large, red leather-bound book, on which he worked intermittently for sixteen years.[ Jung wrote about experiencing lots of different visions and voices. He thought some of these were parts of his subconscious, but believed that others were supernatural. One of the voices he heard (Philemon) appeared to him when he needed advice or guidance.
“At times he seemed almost physically real. I walked up and down the garden with him, and he was to me what Indians call a guru”
On October 11, 1994, John Forbes Nash, Jr. won the Nobel Prize for pioneering work in game theory. Nash was 66 and, for most of his adult life he’d lived with the diagnosis of “paranoid schizophrenia”.
Nash began his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1948 – when he was just 20. While he was still only 21, he wrote a 27-page doctoral dissertation on game theory – the mathematics of competition. Nash put a whole new face on competition, and he drew the attention of theoretical economists. They turned game theory into a tool. This young genius brought the field to fruition.
He went on to MIT and for eight years dazzled the mathematical world. He worked in economics. He even invented the game of Hex, marketed by Parker Brothers. He married in 1957. New York Times writer Silvia Nasar tells how “Fortune magazine singled him out in July 1958 as America’s brilliant young star of the ‘new mathematics.’”
Nash engaged in sporadic same-sex relationships throughout his life, despite having married a woman. As a graduate student, in his circle,his homosexuality was mostly accepted,or at least tolerated. However, upon graduation, homosexuality was less accepted in the McCarthy era government department in which he worked; he was fired from the job after being arrested for “indecent acts” in a men’s room at a public park. As an adult,Nash was involved in a serious relationship with a man, which may have contributed to his hesitancy to marry Alicia.
He began hearing voices. He’d once astonished mathematicians with his unlikely results. Now his results stopped making sense, and the dividing line wasn’t clear at first. He began looking for secret messages in numbers. He disappeared for days. He could, in Nasar’s words, “no longer sort and interpret sensations or reason or feel the full range of emotions.”
Throughout his years at Princeton (1945-1949) he believed he had a roommate while records show he lived by himself. He became paranoid and was committed into the McLean Hospital, April-May 1959, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and mild depression with low self-esteem. After a problematic stay in Paris and Geneva, Nash returned to Princeton in 1960. He remained in and out of mental hospitals until 1970, being given insulin shock therapy and antipsychotic medications, usually as a result of being committed rather than by his choice.
From 1970, by his choice, he never took antipsychotic medication again. According to his biographer Sylvia Nasar, he recovered gradually with the passage of time. Encouraged by his wife Alicia, Nash worked in a communitarian setting where his eccentricities were accepted.
Nash’s “hallucinations” were exclusively auditory, and not both visual and auditory as shown in the film “A Beautiful Mind”. The film also has Nash saying at the time of his Nobel acceptance speech in 1994 “I take the newer medications”, when in fact Nash didn’t take any medication from 1970 onwards.
Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727), English natural philosopher, generally regarded as the most original and influential theorist in the history of science. In addition to his invention of the infinitesimal calculus and a new theory of light and color, Newton transformed the structure of physical science with his three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. As the keystone of the scientific revolution of the 17th century, Newton’s work combined the contributions of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and others into a new and powerful synthesis. Three centuries later the resulting structure – classical mechanics – continues to be a useful but no less elegant monument to his genius.
Isaac Newton was born prematurely on Christmas day 1642 (4 January 1643, New Style) in Woolsthorpe, a hamlet near Grantham in Lincolnshire. The posthumous son of an illiterate yeoman (also named Isaac). When he was barely three years old Newton’s mother, Hanna (Ayscough), placed her first born with his grandmother in order to remarry and raise a second family with Barnabas Smith, a wealthy rector from nearby North Witham. Much has been made of Newton’s posthumous birth, his prolonged separation from his mother, and his unrivaled hatred of his stepfather. Until Hanna returned to Woolsthorpe in 1653 after the death of her second husband, Newton was denied his mother’s attention, a possible clue to his complex character. Newton’s childhood was anything but happy, and throughout his life he verged on emotional collapse, occasionally falling into violent and vindictive attacks against friend and foe alike.
With his mother’s return to Woolsthorpe in 1653, Newton was taken from school to fulfill his birthright as a farmer. Happily, he failed in this calling, and returned to King’s School at Grantham to prepare for entrance to Trinity College, Cambridge. Numerous anecdotes survive from this period about Newton’s absent-mindedness as a fledging farmer and his lackluster performance as a student. But the turning point in Newton’s life came in June 1661 when he left Woolsthorpe for Cambridge University. Here Newton entered a new world, one he could eventually call his own.
Little is known of Newton’s formal studies as an undergraduate, but he likely received large doses of Aristotle as well as other classical authors. And by all appearances his academic performance was undistinguished. In 1664 Isaac Barrow, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, examined Newton’s understanding of Euclid and found it sorely lacking. We now know that during his undergraduate years Newton was deeply engrossed in private study, that he privately mastered the works of René Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, Thomas Hobbes, and other major figures of the scientific revolution. A series of extant notebooks shows that by 1664 Newton had begun to master Descartes’ Géométrie and other forms of mathematics far in advance of Euclid’s Elements. Barrow, himself a gifted mathematician, had yet to appreciate Newton’s genius.
In 1665 Newton took his bachelor’s degree at Cambridge without honors or distinction. Since the university was closed for the next two years because of plague, Newton returned to Woolsthorpe in midyear. There, in the following 18 months, he made a series of original contributions to science. As he later recalled, ‘All this was in the two plague years of 1665 and 1666, for in those days I was in my prime of age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since.’ In mathematics Newton conceived his ‘method of fluxions’ (infinitesimal calculus), laid the foundations for his theory of light and color, and achieved significant insight into the problem of planetary motion, insights that eventually led to the publication of his Principia (1687).
In April 1667, Newton returned to Cambridge and, against stiff odds, was elected a minor fellow at Trinity. Success followed good fortune. In the next year he became a senior fellow upon taking his master of arts degree, and in 1669, before he had reached his 27th birthday, he succeeded Isaac Barrow as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. The duties of this appointment offered Newton the opportunity to organize the results of his earlier optical researches, and in 1672, shortly after his election to the Royal Society, he communicated his first public paper, a brilliant but no less controversial study on the nature of color.
In 1678, Newton suffered a serious emotional breakdown, and in the following year his mother died. Newton’s response was to cut off contact with others and engross himself in alchemical research.
Historical records suggest that in 1693 that he experienced an episode of psychosis at the age of 51 that was characterized by paranoid delusions, insomnia, irritability, and loss of appetite. He wrote several letters in which he cut ties with close friends and colleagues and made various accusations and references to conversations that never occurred. For example, one letter was written to his friend and colleague Samuel Pepys on September 13, 1693.
Sir, Some time after Mr. Millington…had delivered your message, he pressed me to see you the next time I went to London. I was averse; but upon his pressing consented, before I considered what I did, for I am extremely troubled at the embroilment I am in, and have neither ate nor slept well this twelve month, nor have I my former consistency of mind.…I must withdraw from your acquaintance, and see you nor the rest of my friends any more. (quoted in Christianson)
Pepys was innocent of the accusations Newton alluded to and was quite shaken by his letter. Moreover, the conversation with Millington that Newton refers to apparently never occurred R1573BABHJGDC.
Shortly thereafter, Newton wrote a letter to John Locke, a philosopher and Newton’s personal friend, in which Newton admitted that he had been of the opinion that Locke was attempting to “embroil him with women.” The news of Newton’s “mental breakdown” spread widely. One German philosopher wrote that he had heard that Newton was “so disturbed in mind…as to be reduced to very ill circumstances”
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre ( 21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism, and one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy and Marxism. His work, in addition to being influential to existentialism and Marxism, has also influenced sociology, critical theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines. Sartre has also been noted for his relationship with the prominent feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir.Sartre used to have hallucinations of lobsters, which once even chased him down the Champs Elysées.
“Yeah, after I took mescaline I started seeing crabs around me all the time. They followed me in the streets, into class … I would wake up in the morning and say, ‘Good morning, my little ones, how did you sleep?’ I would say, ‘Okay guys, we’re going into class now . . . ‘ and they would be there, around my desk, absolutely still, until the bell rang. I began to think I was going crazy.”
However, Sartre ultimately stopped seeing the lobsters.
“The crabs stayed with me until the day I simply decided that they bored me and I wouldn’t pay attention to The crabs were mine. I had got used to them. I would have liked my crabs to come back. We call them crabs because of my [Altona] play but they were really lobsters. And you know, I’ve never said this before, but sometimes I miss them … I remember how they used to sit there on my leg.”
Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (25/27 February 1861 – 30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, and esotericist. He gained initial recognition as a literary critic and cultural philosopher. At the beginning of the 20th century, he founded a spiritual movement, Anthroposophy, as an esoteric philosophy growing out of idealist philosophy and with links to Theosophy.
At about nine years Steiner experienced seeing the spirit of an aunt who had died in a far-off town asking him to help her; neither he nor his family knew of the woman’s death at this time. At 21, on the train between his home village and Vienna, Steiner met a herb gatherer, Felix Kogutzki, who spoke about the spiritual world “as one who had his own experience therein…”. :39–40 Kogutzki conveyed to Steiner a knowledge of nature that was non-academic and spiritual; soon thereafter Steiner began to read Goethe’s works on natural science. According to Steiner, he also introduced Steiner to a person that Steiner only identified as a “Master”, and who had a great influence on Steiner’s subsequent development, in particular directing him to study Fichte’s philosophy.
From 1899 until his death in 1925, Steiner articulated an ongoing stream of experiences that he claimed were of the spiritual world – experiences he said had touched him from an early age on. Steiner aimed to apply his training in mathematics, science, and philosophy to produce rigorous, verifiable presentations of those experiences.
Socrates (469 BC – 399 BC) was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary Aristophanes.
Socrates’ reliance on what the Greeks called his “daemonic sign”, an averting (ἀποτρεπτικός) inner voice that Socrates heard only when he was about to make a mistake. It was this sign that prevented Socrates from entering into politics.
In the Phaedrus, we are told Socrates considered this to be a form of “divine madness”, the sort of insanity that is a gift from the gods and gives us poetry, mysticism, love, and even philosophy itself. Alternately, the sign is often taken to be what we would call “intuition”; however, Socrates’ characterization of the phenomenon as “daemonic” suggests that its origin is divine, mysterious, and independent of his own thoughts.
An Islamic Scholar, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, argues that Socrates experienced what can be called a prophetic revelation. He writes in his book, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth, that “Socrates seems to have a very personalized and intense relationship with the Supreme Being. His very personality is built on the pattern of the messengers of God. More about Socrates here
Emanuel Swedenborg (January 29, 1688 – March 29, 1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian and Christian mystic. He termed himself a “Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ” in True Christian Religion, one of the works he published himself. Swedenborg had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist.
In 1741, at the age of fifty-three, he entered into a spiritual phase in which he eventually began to experience dreams and visions beginning on Easter weekend April 6, 1744. This culminated in a spiritual awakening, whereupon he claimed he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly doctrine to reform Christianity. He claimed that the Lord had opened his spiritual eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons and other spirits.
For the remaining 28 years of his life, he wrote and published 18 theological works, of which the best known was Heaven and Hell (1758), and several unpublished theological works. Some followers of Swedenborg believe that, of his theological works, only those which Swedenborg published himself are fully divinely inspired.
In Life on Other Planets, Swedenborg stated that he conversed with spirits from Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus, and the Moon.
A Dictionary of Hallucinations by Jan Dirk Blom (2010)