They argue that traditional mental health approaches, focused on eradicating symptoms, fail to promote a meaningful, empowering relationship between patients and their hallucinations. What if the TI voices exist for the same reason? Maybe my father, and the thousands of people who have bonded over their self-perceived status as targeted individuals, are a kind of indirect warning system experiencing a kind of collective dream—canaries in the digital coal mine.
We dismiss them as out of touch with reality. Yet we have all become the objects of monitoring and manipulation eroding the core of what makes us human: our free will. I remember the first time I told my father I wanted to write about him for what became my memoir , Crux. Papi choked on his beer, pounded his fist against his chest and shook his head, eyes watering.
Maybe if someday you become famous and respected, you can do it. I paused, trying to think of the best response. My father was human, just like me, dying to live among the gods. Humans are story-making machines. We are the only animal capable of such rich conceptualization, taking the raw material of reality and turning it into something more.
Our minds connect objective entities, enfolding them in categories within categories: a man and a woman can be a mother and a father, who may be a couple, who are parents, who may be property owners and Americans. It was not exactly wisdom—sapiens—that gave us dominion, but creative storytelling. We are Homo fabulator. Unlike the Neanderthals and other early humans who could work together in groups of at most individuals, we learned to cooperate in groups of thousands, tens of thousands, millions—simply by telling stories to forge shared dreams.
But now, this gift is in danger. As the speed and efficiency of computer processing increases at predictable rates, our ability to author our own destinies is being consumed by a conjured figment of our imagination: the internet.
We created the internet as a vast landscape where information could be free. That was a delusion, of course, or at least a misapprehension. Algorithms collect our data and crunch that into maps of our minds, which companies use to manipulate our decisions. Power concentrates where the data are. This surrender is triggering a breakdown in our ability to distinguish fact from fiction. Instead of moving through the world as autonomous actors with original thoughts and inquiries, we become objects of what is dictated to us via the digital realm, including fake news.
Digital feedback loops allow advertisers to predict our fears and cravings and to influence our purchases and preoccupations. The information economy thrives on the currency of our data—our selves. It is unseating us as masters of our own destinies and distorting the fabric of reality as we know it.
Sound familiar? Many who hear the TI stories of surveillance and manipulation dismiss them as mere delusion. But we have created machines that track our every move, that beam thoughts into our heads.
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Were the targeted individuals America's prophets all along? My father told me about the CIA agents who allegedly followed him at the turn of the millennium. He describes an instance where the stalking became so unbearable that he drove to a Mexican jail and begged the officers to put him behind bars, where he thought he would be safe from the CIA. Do you have drugs? After she went through a difficult breakup, she noticed persecutors posing as couples, kissing and hugging in front of her to torment her.
An early sign of schizophrenia is apophenia, the tendency to perceive connections among unrelated external phenomena. It's the product of our innate storytelling impulse, unmoored from healthy inhibitions. Ironically, the brains of people with schizophrenia are afflicted by disconnectivity —the loss of connections between cortical structures. They can shine a light on a problem we have yet to fully process.
More than 50 years ago, Carl Jung argued that the dreaming phase of sleep—now known as REM, for the rapid eye movement that characterizes it—serves our mental health by maintaining an equilibrium between the conscious and unconscious parts of our minds. Just as our brains must integrate the conscious and unconscious, our collective imagination must reconcile the drab perceived reality of clicking on Amazon links with the darker facts of a digital system that is taking control of our lives.
I suspect that TIs experience this control consciously, and rather literally to boot: Strangers are sending voices into their heads. Strangers are harassing them. We can dismiss the targeted individual whose persecutors allegedly tormented her about a breakup. There's no mystery that Facebook knows our gender, ages, hometowns, birthdays, friends, likes, political leanings, and internet browsing habits. Facebook can tell, by analyzing our likes and comments, whether we are going through a breakup or a divorce. It can make predictions about our health. It can algorithmically intuit our fantasies and fears and use that information to target us with messaging so personalized it feels like persecution.
Consider this example from my own life: After the Los Angeles Times published allegations of sexual misconduct by a gynecologist at the university I attended, Facebook started bombarding me with pictures of his face in the form of ads, from plaintiff lawyers offering free consultations and injury checks. I'd had an uncomfortable experience with this gynecologist and had been considering sharing my story with journalists after reading the first article.
But seeing his face on my news feed every time I opened Facebook felt invasive, almost nightmarish. The specificity of the ads, their omnipresence and relation to a very personal incident in my life felt like an assault on my process of deliberation—on the integrity of my free will. In the Bible, men who perceive voices and visions nobody else can see or hear are prophets. They are in communication with God. Moses foresaw plagues of flies, boils, locusts, and the deaths of firstborn sons, convincing the Pharaoh to free the Israelites.
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The voices of one hemisphere were perceived by the other as external to the self—thoughts were the voices of gods. They acquired free will. The HBO series Westworld depicts a world in which robots gain agency through a similar process. Not a pyramid, but a maze. Every choice could bring you closer to the center or send you spiraling to the edges, to madness.
Do you understand now, Dolores, what the center represents? My father fought the alleged mind-control experiments as if his humanity were at stake, collecting evidence, researching remedies, traveling far from home. Perhaps we can learn something from his resistance. The prophet Abraham, according to the biblical tale, hears the voice of God telling him to sacrifice his only son. Without a second thought, Abraham takes his boy to Moriah and ties him to an altar.
This is the promise made by the digital realm: that if we surrender our minds to it, if we prize it above the people we love, we will be rewarded with a kind of immortality.
In Silicon Valley, it is considered a certain future: We will soon be able to upload our minds to the internet and live forever in digital Edens. But the idea fails to consider that such an eternity would come at the cost of our free will.
Would we still be human then? The townspeople relied on her for plant remedies and prophetic wisdom. People traveled from far away to see La Adivina , the Diviner. The author's paternal great-great-grandmother was a healer in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. She was known as La Adivina —the Diviner. I contemplate the parallels between La Adivina and my father and the differences in the stories our societies weaved: One heard the voices of the dead and was thought to have a gift, while another suffered hallucinations and was considered ill.
To what extent had those stories influenced their outcomes? In the backyard of a house in northern Mexico, where my father moved after living with his mother in San Diego, Papi built a garden of medicinal crops like comfrey and ashitaba. His cupboards were filled with powders and potions. He claimed the CIA rarely sent voices into his head anymore, but had started sending a mysterious illness into his body to keep him exhausted and subservient. He was trying to cure himself; traditional doctors were failing to detect his illness.
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My father says he cured himself of his illness. I visited my father and asked him about the voices he used to hear. He described them: male and female CIA agents, commenting on his actions, insulting him, taunting him. The voices stopped if he wrapped himself up in aluminum foil. It was exposed by a New York Times article in My father said the CIA chose to experiment on him because as a crack addict, because nobody would believe him if he spoke up.
Also, he thinks the agents sought to eradicate his addiction. He did stop smoking crack. Unconvinced, I filed Freedom of Information Act requests for any records about my father to the CIA, the FBI, and more, including a signed certification of identity from my father with authorization to release the information to me. While most agencies said they had no such records, the CIA said it could neither confirm nor deny their existence, citing a national security exemption. I appealed. Same response.
For people prone to conspiracy theories, this may serve as proof that the CIA does have records on my father. Their commands echo invasive ads. How often have hidden players on the web influenced our behavior by shouting or whispering in our ears? Russian interference in the election is yet another example of the far-reaching power of AI-based messaging, affecting not only our consumer choices but also the integrity of our democracy. The ad-based digital economy notoriously promotes echo chambers, which boost prejudices and paranoias. Misapprehension spreads like a virus.
What we fail to recognize when we dismiss targeted individuals is that the web is having the same impact on us. The plague of alternative facts spreads through the arteries of social media like a drug. Our susceptibility to fake news is related to confirmation bias and the illusion of explanatory depth , the belief that we understand things better than we do. What we need, what a healthy society needs, is the habit of inquisitiveness that comes from a humble recognition of ignorance. Curiosity is driven by a kind of hunger. When we are alone with our own thoughts, when we spend time with questions, we come upon original ideas.
The ubiquitous stimulation of modern society leaves us with a false sense of satiety and no space for uncertainty. Our storytelling capacity emerges from the wellspring of silence. Perhaps the targeted individuals are pointing to the noise we have stopped hearing.
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One way to destroy an echo chamber is to search for the voices in the walls—the way my father did. In the age of reason, they were cast aside as aberrant and institutionalized en masse. The 20th-century Christian philosopher G. Chesterton argued for a more moderate approach.
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And it is his head that splits. Chesterton wrote that sanity lies in accepting the limits of our minds. While some knowledge comes from separating reality into pieces we can comprehend, some comes from connecting things, allowing them to gain added meaning and mystery. Sometimes the truth lies in a metaphor or a rhyme. What exactly can we learn from the stories of TIs?
First, there is symbolism in the villain some selected: the Central Intelligence Agency. Their fixation on the CIA may highlight the pernicious effect of covert data collection. The name of the agency is the clue. In his second book Homo Deus , Harari argues that Homo sapiens will soon see the emergence of a new species as a result of centralized intelligence gathering: god-man.
Revolutions in computer science and biology, and specifically neuroscience, will allow us to master and replicate the sapiens code. A tiny elite could end up controlling our bodies and minds. Harari argues that dictatorships and democracies can be seen as two different forms of data processing: centralized and distributive. In the world wars of the 20th century, democracy emerged victorious because distributive data processing was the most efficient tool for mobilization.
The digital economy is changing the game, giving the upper hand to centralized data processing. Harari believes that our clicks and likes are paving a path toward dictatorship. If we wish to reverse course, we must decentralize the digital economy and regulate the ownership of data, taking it out of the hands of a few tech companies that now control it. It will be difficult. Unlike property, data is intangible and hard to delineate. But our species is made to accomplish miracles of reorganization. All it takes is a new story. Perhaps this is a starting point: The targeted individuals are living the nightmare of what could happen.
We must awaken. As a child in northern Mexico, my father often had a hard time sleeping. He lay hiding under the blankets, heartbeat like a freight train on old tracks as his stepfather roared at his mother. He made all things and controls all things. Of course you can! You do it every day when you pray—most of the time without even thinking about it. How is that possible? But we do so every time we pray, through the Spirit of the Son.
This is how John Calvin puts it:. Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ? What must that feel like for them? Perhaps they do so tentatively at first. But think, too, what it means for the parents. Children never have to fear being sacked.
God is the best of parents. And we never have to fear being sacked. It was actually the cry a child shouted when in need. Tyler wants me to throw him over my shoulder and swing him round. Josie wants to tell me everything in her head all at once in her lisping voice. They all enjoy having me around. Whenever any of them falls over or gets knocked, my parental instinct kicks in and I rush to help. They run past me looking for Mum or Dad. Quite the opposite. In the Roman world only male children could inherit. Everyone is included. But more than that, we inherit God himself.
In all the uncertainties of this life we can depend on him. He will lead us home, and our home is his glory.