Does Finding Truth Require The Right Attitude?

I’ve become laid-back in my old age. I think I’ve also become more receptive to truth. In my quest to treat and think about schizophrenia, for example, I’ve turned in my old, piercing, rigorous mind and exchanged it for a more humble yet adventurous attitude.

In the world of academia, we often find disparate conversations going on. We find scholars who are unable to communicate with non-academics–but, worse, we find academics unable to communicate with each other.

Since I’ve always taken an interdisciplinary approach, I have tried my best to keep up with conversations in many areas of study. Interdisciplinary work is difficult. One reason why is because one has to become a translator of academic jargon–from psychology to philosophy–and then, for me, a translator from academic jargon into ordinary language.

I do my best, as any translator does, but I may miss the tiny nuances when I translate into ordinary language.

These piercing minds–which I used to possess–give us these conversations. It’s an attitude toward truth that most scholars have which constructs towers of babble upwards towards to heavens.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve taken a different approach to truth these days. I’m fond of pragmatism–in a nutshell, what is true is what works. Pragmatism is a world-centered approach. It isn’t looking for some abstract truth-in-the-sky. It is looking for truth in the world.

But is there a specific attitude one must have in order to be receptive to truth? I think there may be. One must, first of all, be an adventurous explorer, willing to try new things. In my quest for treating schizophrenia, for instance, I have had to be open to trying new medications, seeing if they work, and trying new therapies. I even prayed and undertook an exploration of Christianity because Christian psychology can re-structure cognitive processes. My exploration and willingness to try new things will be proven to work for me if my symptoms diminish over the long term.

In addition to being an explorer, one must have the attitude of a shred of skepticism, too. I know that treatments that may work for me may not work for everyone. I have to discuss progress with other people with mental illness and explore large-scale studies to see whether my treatments work for others.

Notice I focus on what works for me. Whatever works is what is true. Truth is what happens to an idea I may have. My idea becomes true just when it works.

I don’t think I need to have the piercing mind, engaged in the harsh minutia of conversations in academia in order to find truth. I just need the right attitude and the ability to explore.

On Paranoia: A Brief Reflection

I have a friend with mental illness who thinks that “the powers that be” intentionally shut certain people down by making them go insane. My friend thinks this when my friend is healthy.

I want to think a bit about paranoia: its psychological causes.

I have delved into the literature on paranoia and psychosis in general and found it, quite honestly, unsatisfactory. I propose that paranoia, in at least some cases, is caused by subliminal or unconscious (as in, subconscious) threats. Then, when these threats come to the fore, they bring with them out-of-control beliefs that constitute what we know as paranoia.

Take, for example, a person who is living their life in academia (to take an example I am familiar with). This person, we presume, has the right to academic freedom, a subset of free speech. This person–call her Sally–creates academic articles that are transgressive to current political understandings. They, theoretically, undermine the whole of a nation. Sally goes on with her life. It’s just an argument, after all. Possible implementation is for someone else. Thus, Sally herself is no real threat when it comes to overthrowing a government.

Years after creating her argument–that is, her academic paper–she starts to become psychotic, triggered by something. Suddenly, she thinks the government in many ways, shapes and forms is out to get her.

What has happened here? Sally, who isn’t a threat, knows that her ideas could possibly overthrow the government if put in the right hands. But Sally herself was simply practicing free speech. In her psychosis, however, Sally knows she isn’t a threat, but she thinks other people are out to get her, anyway. She believes this because she knows that the assessment of threat has been imperfect in the past. Now, Sally is fully paranoid.

Buried within Sally is the unconscious idea that her own thoughts may be used against a government and, explicit to her, is the belief that this government is now out to get her because of it. Sally has a false belief. No one is out to get her. Panic and fear arise in her, however, because she intensely believes she is being persecuted.

This is what I think of as the landscape of paranoia. Only time will tell if my understanding is correct.

UPDATE: Here’s an account of a psychiatrist who experienced paranoia, which bolsters my view. And this patient/doctor recovered!

Slow And Steady Wins The Race?

Back when I was a TA, I got really, really good at thinking on my feet. Super good.

Time has worn on and I find myself preferring slow deliberation these days. I don’t think this is a sign of lacking intelligence, either. I think of it as both gaining intelligence and wisdom. We tend to prize quick thinking. But quick thinking can get us in trouble. Reflexes vary, of course, and can be trained. But I think our society, which can tweet in an instant, has become more and more biased and less seeking of truth due to the reliance on quickness over slow deliberation.

Take, for example, a conversation I had prior to Christmas with an expert on AI. I’m still thinking about the ramifications of that discussion. I may have a few brief thoughts, but nothing well-formulated just yet. I will talk to people about it, think it over more, and so forth, before I come to a safe conclusion.

The theory is that reflexes, if not heavily trained, are ridden with emotion, bias and other things. The more time we have to mull something over, the more likely we are to weed out those things.

One problem is that, for many people, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to deliberate. I suggest: Take a walk. Cut down on your TV time. Heck, cut down on your social media time–to spend time reflecting. We may just become a better society because of it.

“The Thinker Who Believed in Doing”

Here’s a really good article on William James and pragmatism. An excerpt:

In a world of chance and incomplete information, James insisted that truth was elusive but action mandatory. The answer: Make a decision and see if it works. Try a belief and see if your life improves. Don’t depend on logic and reason alone, add in experience and results. Shun ideology and abstraction. Take a chance. “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”

I confess that I’ve become rather fond of pragmatism over the years.

I Was A “Very Stable Genius.” Then I Developed Schizophrenia. Now, I’m An Unstable Genius.

Ask anyone who worked with me. I was 100% philosophy, 100% of the time. Effort and study creates genius. And I think I was one. A stable one, too.

I was in the middle of my graduate thesis when madness creeped up on me. It began slowly, with things I could handle, like derealization. Then, one day, I cracked. I was triggered by something in an e-mail to me. I responded by joking about it, but it really put unwanted thoughts in my head. I didn’t know how to handle unwanted thoughts, so I tried pushing them away. Little did I know that when you try to push unwanted thoughts away, they just become stronger. This quickly escalated into OCD with psychotic features–then schizophrenia.

I was full-blown mad. Again, ask anyone who was around me at the time. I was also a full-blown genius. The current going theory is that people who experience the kind of anxiety I experienced, while being top-performers, are the best of the best.

I don’t think I’ve lost any cognitive function, which sometimes goes along with schizophrenia. And I’ve been studying ever since I was diagnosed. As I said, effort and study makes genius. That, along with flexibility and imagination, gives you people like John Nash, an unstable genius.

I’ve seen memes recently mocking the president for calling himself a stable genius. Perhaps he is. I certainly haven’t mocked him for saying this.

But it’s important to understand a two things: (1) genius is about work. One doesn’t typically become a genius by not investing time into one’s area of expertise. (2) there is nothing wrong with being a little unstable. I have been known to become psychotic. So has John Nash. Each of us has accomplished things in life–and he is what many would think of as a true genius.

What many people are worried about is whether the president will do something rash in his alleged instability and, for example, bring us to war. He could. But he could also just be performing Madman Theory, which would not only scare some of us, but also our enemies. Either way, instability does not necessarily equal violence, so trying to guess the probability of the president pressing the button is currently, with the information I have, all for naught.

 

Identity And Your Career

I think one of the most detrimental things one can do is identify with their career. I find so many people who do identify with their career. When they lose a job, when they retire, they lose their sense of identity.

When one thinks in terms of oneself as how one sells one’s labor, one is really doing a disservice to oneself. It also makes one extremely vulnerable in that it makes one less flexible. Flexibility, as Jonathan Lear argues in Radical Hope, should be the virtue one aims for in our society. Flexibility gives one the ability to reach beyond one’s current or past way of life and imagine something new and different. It’s the key virtue that lends itself to creativity and imagination in forms of life.

Of course, there’s advantages for your employer for you to identify with your career. If you are so invested in your career that you wholly identify with it, you make a good cog in the working machine. The problem, for you, is: what if the machine stops working or changes direction? What if you have to change careers or forms of life for some reason? When that happens, as it has been known to do, you will suffer an identity crisis. Instead of being able to knuckle down and move on with a different form of life–reaching for different thick concepts–you will be stuck in your old way of thinking while the world moves on without you.

So, do not place your identity in your career.

Thinking about Social Causes

The biopsychosocial model was never developed fully theoretically. Yet, I, and many researchers, think it shows promise. In this essay, I want to think about how a brain condition can have multiple causes. In doing this, I will make analogies with broken bones and physics, and posit social causes.

The cause of a broken bone may be many things. It could be one is vulnerable to breaking bones; there is something about one’s bones that make them prone to breaking. If this is the case, a minor bump, simply standing up, or fall could cause a broken bone.

One could get a broken bone by accident, in playing a sport.

One can get a broken bone by being assaulted by another person.

We have no problem thinking about different causes of broken bones.

Yet, many people have trouble understanding how there could be different causes for brain disorders. This seems to me not an especially difficult problem when we look at non-brain pathologies.

Causes, especially social or psychological causes, may seem strange because we cannot directly perceive them. We cannot see stress or trauma. Yet we seem to have no problem talking about these things, and, in the literature, we see a body of data that strongly suggests causation between stress, trauma, and brain disorders.

Let’s look at stress, for a moment. There’s a whole body of research on how stress can cause a variety of physical problems. Most people, and most professionals, do not have a problem assigning stress as a cause to things like acne, sleep problems, weight loss, overeating, and so forth.

Yet, many people, especially those who hold firm to the biomedical model, would have a problem assigning invisible causes to physical illness, such as brain illness.

This need not be that case.

To see why, let’s turn to introductory physics.

Although the aim in physics as a science is probably to find testable hypotheses, much of physics is theoretical, and deals with both visible and non-visible things. We cannot see gravity, for example. Yet, the average person understands the basics of how gravity works in everyday life, and physicists have a good understanding of how gravity works in the universe. We posit a name for such a thing—calling it gravity—because we can, or rather Newton could, see that things must be pulled to the Earth.

In the same way, I want to posit social causes. A social cause is not a force acting directly upon one’s body, that we know of. It may very well be, I would need more data in order to posit a social force in that way. What we can probably say is that, whatever we make of the psychological, be it material or immaterial, the social can act upon the mind*, and affect it in both positive and negative ways.

This is easy to see, when we look at the literature, but it’s difficult to find a theory and proper understanding of it.

I do not want to imagine the mental or psychological as something mystical and beyond comprehension. I do not think many things in the universe are mystical or beyond comprehension. I may not currently understand such things, but that does not mean human beings cannot understand them.

I also do not want to posit too many things; I want my theory to be as simple as I can make it. This is just keeping with Occam.

Likewise, in keeping in the tradition of many empiricists and philosophers, I take it that the universe makes sense. It is not disordered. It may be surprising, or counterintuitive, at times, but it is not disordered. For me, what’s disordered is my mind*, when I am psychotic. But even then, there’s some sense to it. I do not magically know how to speak Arabic—which I don’t know when I’m sane—when I’m psychotic. My mind* can only scramble, order, disorder and reassemble things I know, and it can create just so long as I am, at any rate, creative, when I am psychotic.

So I want to posit social causes, which are causes just like any direct, physical cause. This is what I mean by cause.

Much has been made of making psychology, sociology, and other social science into hard sciences. Many think this is not possible.

I think, when we are dealing with the social sciences, we are dealing, in a way, with the same kinds of things as theoretical physicists are dealing with. What I mean by that is that we are dealing with many things interacting, we are dealing with complex causes, and we are dealing with forces acting upon things which are not, necessarily, directly touching. I do not have the understanding of physics that I’d like to have in order to make this comparison even more compelling, but I’m not trying to make the social sciences into hard sciences in order to make them more credible in whatever way. I’m making this analogy because I think it’s true, and, after looking at data, think there’s some merit to it. We do not have a problem, normally, thinking that the Sun affects the Earth, even thought these two objects do not touch. In a similar way, I want us to think about social causes as one social event affecting a person, even though they may not be touching.

In this way, I believe in the armchair, but I also believe in experimenting. Because there’s only so much we can directly observe. Our personal observations may lead us astray, which is why I refer to the data, which I am keen to look at.

So, social causes, I want to think are just as real and forceful as physical causes.