In our world, people would sometimes listen to a religious authority/prophet/etc..., because they convincingly say "I have had this XYZ religious experience". You may call it naivete, or trust excess, or lack of skepticism/reason... but someone comes and says "I saw a burning bush", and 1000s of your tribespeople basically take you at your word, if you're charismatic enough. You come and say "I had a revelation", and 1000s of Anabaptists will overthrow their government and start a commune in Munster.

Now, my world I'm building is ALMOST like Earth, with one exception: due to some quirk of nature (biology, or flora, or chemicals), hallucinations are extremely common.

As in:

  • Everyone has experienced multiple hallucinations themselves

  • Everyone has a fairly sure knowledge that those ARE hallucinations when they experience them (mechanics don't matter), meaning that a normal average person will NOT experience a hallucination and mistake it for a supernatural experience or a religious revelation.

    • However, this is not 100% foolproof. Some rare people can experience hallucinations without knowing they are hallucinations.

    • People are already (and always were) evolved with this ability to know they are hallucinating. How doesn't matter.

  • As such, a natural inclination of any un-believer, when a believer comes to them with a tale of something supernatural, is to say "you probably just hallucinated that burning bush/revelation/seeing someone's wounds healed, and you're one of those NON-HAL-SENSER people".

    They know that hallucinations are extremely common, and that some people can't tell the difference - so "hallucination" would be their first go-to explanation for any tale of the weird, supernatural and out of ordinary.


Howe would religions develop on such a world, where everyone's predisposed to believe in hallucinations over supernatural by their own experience? Would it be a world that is nearly 100% atheistic? Or specific religion types (Buddhism/Taoism?) would dominate?

For the purposes of this question, it doesn't matter if a deity exists or not; but if a deity exists, their ability to do things is such that 100% of the effect they produced can be explained away as a hallucination.

NOTE: I would prefer answers based on real research into religions and psychology. But you don't have to be limited to that.

  • $\begingroup$ You might look into existing religions that use entheogens. Also, this Radiolab was rather interesting and related. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ I would think that there are things which are both not hallucintaions and sufficiently complex that early tribes would not be able to explain it (e.g. the sun rising, the moon's phases, why birds sing). Such things are explained in religions all the time, I see no reason why they wouldn't need to be explained again. $\endgroup$
    – Etheur
    Jul 13, 2015 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ How accurate are these people at spotting hallucinations, and how capable of self-defense are they while they are happening? This sounds like the kind of trait that would be evolutionarily selected against pretty strongly, does that matter? $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Jul 14, 2015 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik - majority are 100% accurate. Very small minority are not able to tell the difference (but are raised culturally to assume anything that seems like a hallucination, likely is). As far as evolution, plenty of traits that seem counter-fit have a reason. Like, you know, spending 1/3 of your life essentially dead to the world and unable to defend yourself (aka, sleeping) $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 14, 2015 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ If they can spot the difference between hallucination and not hallucination 100% of the time, it shouldn't be a problem. I was worried they might think that something dangerous is a hallucination when it isn't, that would introduce problems. But if that is out of the way, there shouldn't be a big issue. (It's really like dreaming, then) $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Jul 14, 2015 at 7:58

6 Answers 6


My first thought upon reading this question - dreaming. The easiest way to think of the world as you have described it is that daydreaming is very common.

Despite dreams being very common, this hasn't prevented them from being viewed as messages from the gods, etc. Taking a look at the Wikipedia article for dreams shows that many ancient cultures believed in a religious origin of dreams.

So in your world, I would expect something like this to occur:

A, running up to B: Hey, you have got to hear about the vision I just had!

B: You know, you were probably just hallucinating.

A: Well of course I was hallucinating. That's how I saw the vision God sent me!

In short, there's no real reason to assume that commonness and familiarity with hallucinations would make them any less liable to be interpreted religiously than dreams have been.


As such, a natural inclination of any un-believer, when a believer comes to them with a tale of something supernatural, is to say "you probably just hallucinated that burning bush/revelation/seeing someone's wounds healed, and you're one of those NON-HAL-SENSER people".

I think a pretty easy way to explain "miracles" being distinguishable from hallucinations lies in here:

If multiple people experience the same miracle, there's no way it could be a hallucination.

If one person says "This burning bush just told me that we shouldn't covet our neighbour's cow!", then of course people are going to think that they just hallucinated it. However, if ten people say they all saw the burning bush say just that, then they might start to formulate commandments relating to the nature and ownership of personal property.

You might also want to include elements that can't be imagined through a hallucination. People have mentioned material proof, such as tablets, but something more impressive could suit your gods depending on their personality, like lightning striking a mountain and leaving a commandment / insignia in the side of the mountain.

Another possibility would be that the divine intervention would leave a mark on the "prophet", like an intricate scar or birthmark, or even some sort of glowing halo could fit well.

This whole affair reminds me of a smashing Terry Pratchett quote, concerning Death's adoptive grandaughter:

She could see things that were really there*.

*Which is much harder than seeing things that aren’t there. Everyone does that.


You haven't described the level of technology. I'll assume (for no particular reason) that 'tribespeople' indicates the technology is not advanced.

If the person returns from a mountain with tablets of stone that God gave to them, it presumably couldn't have come from a hallucination. People might think that the prophet had had the tablets faked by a craftsperson but, if the returnee was charismatic enough, they would be believed.

So any happening that resulted in the appearance of solid objects would not be mistaken for a hallucination.

You could object that they also suffered from mass hallucinations and they all imagined the tablets, but if that was the case no-one would ever have any clue what was going on. It would be like living in a mental institution. The fabric of society would break down.

Either that or the whole of existence could be one big hallucination (a possibility) in which case it would probably have its own laws of physics and so be predictable. Much like our own world in fact.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes. I meant from beginning of tribes. $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 10, 2015 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ "mass hallucinations" - that wouldn't happen - remember, MOST people can tell the difference between a hallucination and reality. $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 11, 2015 at 1:42

I would say with modern technology and modern man would have to find a way to broadcast the commandments at once on every screen in the world while all humans were in the same state of awareness.

  • $\begingroup$ Lsd or DMT would be ideal. Ive used both personally and experienced the language of sight when all i could hear were reverbrations. You could throat chant to calm the creatures around you and communicate in that form such as a cat purrs. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2019 at 9:43

There wouldn't be a significant difference between their world and ours

You give the example of the burning bush, and ignore the bit where Moses relates his prophecy and nobody believes him until he starts performing public miracles in front of everyone. You'll find the same kind of story in many religions. People don't just believe someone off the street because they claim they had a revelation from God. Otherwise every street-corner madman would have a religion of their own.

Religions that believe in prophecies or revelations never believe that every vision is real. They believe that most dreams are false (sometimes they believe that they are created by evil spirits) and some dreams are true. A world with more hallucinations will be no different.

Religious leaders become leaders because they have charismatic personalities or genuine leadership qualities. They don't need to claim divine revelation for people to start following them, although it helps bolster their position once they already have a following.


The simplest answer is also the most basic one- mass revelation.

This is the basic concept behind Judaism, and if you're creating a religion based upon a "real deity" (As real as it can be in a fictional setting) and not just a charlatan, that's the easiest way.

One source for this idea is Deuteronomy 4:32-36 which describes the mass revelation to an entire nation:

32 you have but to inquire about bygone ages that came before you, ever since God created man on earth, from one end of heaven to the other: has anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known?
33 Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived?
34 Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another by prodigious acts, by signs and portents, by war, by a mighty and an outstretched arm and awesome power, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
35 It has been clearly demonstrated to you that the LORD alone is God; there is none beside Him.
36 From the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; on earth He let you see His great fire; and from amidst that fire you heard His words.

Why is this so valuable? If I tell you about my experience, you have no way of knowing if it's true. Once you have a likely alternatve explanation (i.e. hallucinations are common) you have no reason to believe it's true.

But if you and I both experience the same experience, it's harder to say we both hallucinated. Especially if we both were aware that the other person was simultaneously experiencing the same thing.

The more people who claim to share a common experience, the more credibility is given to those people.

A second, related reason is as follows: if the idea is that your "deity" wants to convey a religion to a group of people (especially if it will require them to change their lifestyle) than it makes sense for the deity to tell them directly.

The classic way of explaining this second point is as follows:

Imagine a king who has 3 sons, and he can't decide who should succeed him.

While he's trying to figure it out, he dies.

The Kingdom braces for a potential civil war as the brothers vie for the throne.

One morning Prince X calls for Princes Y and Z and tells them "our problem is over! We now know who is going to succeed our father. last night he came to me in a dream and told me that I'm to be the new king! Isn't that great?"

Of course the brothers won't believe him. If the king had a message to convey to the princes, and he had the power to come in a dream and tell one, he would have come in a dream to the others as well.

So this second point is very important. If you want people to take these visions seriously, and not just write them off as hallucinations, make it a mass revelation. The greater the number of people involved, the more credibility they will have.


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