Is it Paranoia if they’re really out to get you?

Here’s a Hypothica-style topic submission I just received:

The saying “It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you” is quite well-known.

The Merriam-Webster tells us the definition of paranoia is:

Full Definition of paranoia

  1. 1 :  a psychosis characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations

  2. 2 :  a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others

The second definition mentions an excessive or irrational suspiciousness. It doesn’t say it has to be false.

Let’s pretend that in the city of Hypothica, Truman style, everone is acting except for one person. This person happens to be paranoid, and usually believes in all kinds of conspiracy theories. He is afraid, and very suspicious of everyone. Hypothica is some kind of science experiment about social tendencies, and the environment is perfectly controlled. The creators did not make any mistake that our Truman could notice, and they are watching him 24/7, so they know for a fact that he hasn’t encountered anything that could tip him off. He just happens to be very paranoid, and obviously, happens to be right, but for the wrong reasons.

Is it really Paranoia if they’re really out to get you?

  • Kingfisher12

    My understanding of the diagnosis is that yes, it’s still paranoia even if they really are out to get you. The criteria is that it leads to a pathological cognitive disorder.

    It’s similar to a phobia still being a disorder even if it is directed toward something that is an actual danger (like snakes or spiders). The paranoia doesn’t say anything about the reality of the threat, only the mental response to that threat.

    With paranoia the fear and mistrust (whether rational or not) begins to bleed into the thought processes of everything else. Your boss may really be trying to destroy your life, but he isn’t, for example, reading your thoughts. Paranoia often starts out as a rational concern, but it grows into something worse than the actual threat. Paranoia is generally considered a problem when the original threat is removed, but the fear was so intense that the mind creates a delusion just so it can continue to be afraid. This is why paranoia is often a symptom of PTSD.

    In other words, paranoia is the state of being frightened out of your wits.

  • Hmm, it seems to be a situation of two viewpoints: from the godlike view from outside the experiment, we can see that our paranoid singleton is (factually) justifiably paranoid, as yes, everyone is acting against him. But inside the experiment, which you said was a perfectly controlled experiment (like the perfect simulation of the Simulation Hypothesis discussion), he has no rational justification for being paranoid because he can’t find any rational evidence that the others are acting against him.

    That would still hold, even if there was more than one (say two) experimental subjects inside the experiment who knew each other and could discuss the situation with each other, bounce ideas around, they’d still find no evidence to justify their paranoia. We’re in “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” territory – but without being able to find the pods.

    So, inside the experiment, from our paranoid person’s viewpoint, all we can say is:

    I believe everyone else is against me.
    But I have no proof of that.
    I feel scared and anxious all the time.

    Unfortunately, those three statements in “normal” environments may lead to you being treated for psychological disorders such as paranoia, and medicated (or locked up in the bad old days). So we could hardly complain if the Hypothican actor-citizens treat us exactly as if we are paranoid.