Pronoia (psychology)

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Pronoia is a neologism that is defined as the opposite state of mind to paranoia: having the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to help the person. It is also used to describe a philosophy that the world is set up to secretly benefit people.

In 2008 the writer and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow defined pronoia as "the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf".[1]


The concept may have first appeared in 1982, when the academic journal Social Problems published an article entitled "Pronoia" by Dr. Fred H. Goldner of Queens College describing a phenomenon opposite to paranoia and providing numerous examples of specific persons who displayed such characteristics.[2][3] It received a good deal of publicity at the time, including references in Psychology Today, The New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, etc.

It was subsequently picked up in England and written about as described below. Wired Magazine published an article in issue 2.05 (May 1994) titled "Zippie!". The cover of the magazine featured a psychedelic image of a smiling young man with wild hair, a funny hat, and crazy eyeglasses. Written by Jules Marshall, the article announced an organized cultural response to Thatcherism in the United Kingdom. The opening paragraphs of the article describe "a new and contagious cultural virus" and refer to pronoia as "the sneaking feeling one has that others are conspiring behind your back to help you". The article announces a cultural, musical, invasion of the United States to rival the British Invasion of 1964-1966, culminating with a "Woodstock Revival" to be staged at the Grand Canyon in August 1994. The spokesperson for the Zippies, Fraser Clark, dubs this movement the "Zippy Pronoia Tour".[4]

A New York Times article published August 7, 1994, titled "For Peace and Love, Try Raving Till Dawn" also described the Zippies and their efforts. It contained two references to pronoia.

Pronoia philosophy

Pronoia can be defined as the opposite of paranoia. A person suffering from paranoia suspects that persons or entities (e.g. governments/deities) conspire against them. A person experiencing pronoia feels that the world around them conspires to do them good.

The writer Philip K Dick referred to pronoia as an antidote to paranoia in his private work, Exegesis, in which it is mentioned in relation to his perceived protection by an entity he called, V.A.L.I.S., an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. Published posthumously in 2011, the word 'pronoia' first turns up in his Exegesis in January 1980.[5] Dick suggested his own pronoia was based on an 'intelligent analysis' of his mystical experiences, and was not, 'reflexive or mechanical' in its nature.[6]

Pronoia is also a prevalent theme in the 1988 novel The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In it, the protagonist, a young boy is told by an older man to pursue his dreams. He tells the boy, "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."[7] The book also deals with omens, signs that the universe wants the boy to follow a specific path, which will lead to his goal of fulfilling a dream.

In the 1997 movie Fierce Creatures, Jamie Lee Curtis's character describes Kevin Kline's character as excessively pronoid: "It means that despite all the available evidence, you actually think that people like you. Your perception of life is that it is one long benefit dinner in your honor, with everyone cheering you on and wanting you to win everything. You think you're the prince, Vince."

Pronoia philosophy has been proposed by the astrologer Rob Brezsny. Brezsny's book, Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, published in 2005, explores the philosophy of pronoia.[8]

Pronoia affliction

Dr. Fred H. Goldner, writing at Queens College in October 1982, published a paper in Social Problems (V.30, N.1:82-91), in which he used the term pronoia to describe a psychological affliction.[2] He characterized pronoia as a mirror image of paranoia, which leads the sufferer to unrealistically believe that persons or entities conspire against them.

Pronoia is the positive counterpart of paranoia. It is the delusion that others think well of one. Actions and the products of one's efforts are thought to be well received and praised by others. Mere acquaintances are thought to be close friends; politeness and the exchange of pleasantries are taken as expressions of deep attachment and the promise of future support. Pronoia appears rooted in the social complexity and cultural ambiguity of our lives: we have become increasingly dependent on the opinions of others based on uncertain criteria.

Long before the term was coined, J.D. Salinger referred to the concept in his 1955 novella, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. In it, the character Seymour Glass writes in his diary, “Oh, God, if I'm anything by a clinical name, I'm a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy."[9]

Other voices

The Outsourced Zippy and Pronoia Page claims that the Zippie/Pronoia phenomenon is simply a hoax and the Zippy Pronoia Tour was nothing more than a publicity stunt for Wired Magazine. It seems that pronoia, aside from being a system of provisions, took on a practical psychological and linguistic role during the mid-Twentieth century. At first various people, like John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead) and Jules Marshall (Mediamatic), tried to attribute pronoia to "an open conspiracy" involving Wired Magazine. Pronoia is not merely an ideology about land and property, but also the opposite of paranoia, "the belief that others are conspiring behind your back to help you", or "the idea that the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf".

Pronoia is referenced as the opposite of a noted line from Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you”, by actress Susan Sarandon in relation to the Cloud Atlas movie, as the "universe being for you".[10]

See also


  1. "Pronoia". Retrieved 2008-06-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  3. "pronoia, n.2". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) Additional note: "an earlier version of the paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems in Toronto, Canada, in August 1981"
  5. Dick, Philip K (2011). Exegesis. (p568, p931). Jackson, Pamela; Lethem, Jonathan, eds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-547-54925-5.
  6. Dick, Philip K (2011). Exegesis. (p610-611). Jackson, Pamela; Lethem, Jonathan, eds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-547-54925-5.
  7. Wikiquote:Paulo Coelho#The Alchemist .281988.29
  8. Brezsny, Rob (2005). Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia. Frog, Ltd. and Televisionary Publishing. ISBN 1-58394-123-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links