I believe that philosophy plays a key role in forming men´s psychologies, and in extreme cases, even in causing psychoses. I am convinced that the psychosis which I myself suffered from when I was a teenager, was brought about largely by the influence of certain irrational philosophic ideas which I was taught by my schoolteachers and by my parents. I believe that most psychologists and psychiatrists today do not have any inkling of the role of philosophy in forming men´s psychologies, and I believe that said fact is unfortunate. I believe that psychologists and psychiatrists would be better able to help their patients if they were made aware of the role of philosophic ideas in psychology. The two essays on this subject which I have written in English, and which are published here on my blog, are an attempt to enlighten the members of the mental health profession.
The first essay presents my current view on why and how I became schizophrenic. This essay is lengthy and contains a lot of details of my personal life. I believe that I should include those details, despite the fact that they make the essay long, since the biographical facts help to set the context for my analysis of how philosophical factors caused my illness.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MY SCHIZOPHRENIA
I was born in Stockholm, Sweden on April 10, 1954. My parents were both Swedish. My father was a bank clerk at the time, and my mother became a housewife when I was born.
In August of 1959 one of the three most fortunate events in my life occurred. My father got a job in the U.S.A., and our family moved to America (the second one of the two most fortunate events in my life was my discovery of Objectivism in 1979, at the age of 25 - and the third of my most fortunate events was my marriage to Cuc Thi Tran in 2009, at the age of 55). Thanks to this fortunate event I received the benefit of growing up in the freest and most rational society at the time. My father worked in an office in Manhattan, as a laison between Swedish industrial companies and various American companies that they dealt with. We lived in suburbs of New York City and he commuted.
I was extremely happy during my first years in America. As I now remember it, the public grade schools which I attended were probably mostly “Aristotelian” in nature. The teachers tried hard to connect the knowledge they were teaching with perceptual reality. Already in grade school I had a profound respect for logic, science and other aspects of reason - although I was not yet philosophically mature enough to develop the explicit concept of reason. I was a straight A student in grade school. Already in fourth grade I began to dream of becoming a scientist when I grew up.
As a result of my high grades in public school my parents decided, when I was in 7th grade, to send me to a private boarding school. They assumed that I would get a better education in such a school. Unfortunately, they sent me to a very “liberal” boarding school just outside of Boston. I began attending this private school, Milton Academy, in 8th grade.
The environment in that school was, I realize now, essentially “Kantian” - whereas previously my environment had been more “Aristotelian”. That is to say, the boarding school bombarded me with the ideas and the view of life which are consistent with Kantian philosophy - ideas such as, for example: subjectivism, skepticism, altruism, egalitarianism, socialism and so forth. The worst thing about Milton Academy was probably the fact that, especially the English course in the school, subjected me to the “modern” sense-of-life. The English course required me to read such novels as The Harvester in the Rye, The Plague, A Separate Peace and so forth. I absolutely hated, loathed and despised those books. For example, I was depressed by the idea that, if and when I got a girlfriend, it might turn out to be as sordid an affair as the one in The Harvester in the Rye. And I was depressed by the portrayal of some teen-age boys as being moral monsters in A Separate Peace.
Since I had an implicit respect for the school and the teachers, at least initially - and since I was not completely independent yet (intellectually, not only existentially) - I assumed that the books that I was required to read in English portrayed life as it really was. I did not have any inkling of the real purpose of the school´s requiring of me to read those books - that is to say, to sabotage my mind and to destroy my previously benevolent sense-of-life.
Soon after my arrival at the boarding school I began to become chronically depressed and bored. One factor that contributed to this was that I did not make any friends. Another was the fact that the school was a boy-only school - so I had no contact to speak of with girls. But I think that the most important factor causing my unhappiness was the irrational ideas and the negative sense-of-life which I was indoctrinated with at the school. My parents were teaching me the same basic ideas as well when I was at home - especially skepticism, altruism, duty ethics and intrinsic value.
Especially my mother taught me skepticism. When I told her, I believe it was during the year before I first attended the boarding school, that I wanted to concentrate on studying science, mathematics and German (since I had heard that German was, after English, the leading language in science) - because I wanted to become a scientist when I grew up - she replied that I could not know what I should study, She asserted that I was too young to know what I wanted to do with my life. She told me that I should trust the authorities in the education establishment to know ("somehow") what was best for me to study.
I asked her “How can they know what is best for me to study?”. My mother replied (and these were her exact words, I remember them very clearly) with a tone of desperation in her voice “They just know!”. How did they know? Somehow!
So my mother was an abject second-hander (I realize now) who did not have the courage to think for herself. And she was urging me to be like her, to develop her type of epistemology and psycho-epistemology. She was trying hard to turn me into a second-hander! For she felt that second-handedness was the safe policy.
I remember another time that I argued with my mother about my wanting to concentrate on studying the subjects which would facilitate my becoming a scientist. At one point I insisted that I really wanted to study the subjects science, mathematics and German, rather than other subjects. She exclaimed (and these were her exact words) “You don´t know!”. So she was preaching skepticism to me - in the strongest possible language
Unfortunately, when my mother told me that I could not know anything about what I should study in school, I did not stand my ground. I thought that it was true that teenagers did not know as much about life as adults - so maybe there was some truth to what my mother was saying, I thought to myself. And so I agreed to go to Milton Academy, despite the fact that I would be forced to spend several years studying the five subjects English (essentially literature), French, Latin, science and mathematics. Of which subjects I had no interest whatsoever in the first three: English, French and Latin. And I would not be permitted to study German at all during my first two years at the school.
So I had at this point already begun to doubt the power and validity of my mind.
Since I began giving credence to the idea of skepticism, I eventually began to feel chronic anxiety. If I could not know anything about reality for certain, then I could not deal with reality. I could not know what to value, how to go about seeking any values, how to act – and so I became paralyzed by doubt.
At the same time that my partial acceptance of skepticism was making me feel chronic anxiety, my whole-hearted acceptance of the altruist ethics made me feel chronic guilt. When I was at the boarding school I took altruism seriously. And, in contradistinction to my schoolmates, I worked out in my mind what the logical implications of the altruist ethics were. That was why I could not just live with the altruist ethics with equanimity, as my non-thinking schoolmates did.
I remember that I felt contempt for all the people around me at the boarding school because I thought that they were such utter hypocrites. They preached the morality of altruism - but I could see that they were not practicing it consistently. I thought to myself that, in order to really live according to the altruist ethics, then as long as there was poverty in the world the more fortunate among humanity - such as all the wealthy Americans - should voluntarily live at the subsistence minimum level and give away about 90% or so of their income to the poor. After all, we did not really need all those luxuries that we were enjoying. And, according to altruism, those who had more than they needed had a moral duty to give to those who didn´t. I was, however, not a sufficiently logically fastidious thinker to realize that a truly consistent altruist would give away literally every value that he possessed and would then proceed to starve to death.
However, I did not myself give away 90% or so of everything that I had and live on the minimum subsistence level. So I was a hypocrite also according to my own thinking. I ate good food, I wore fine clothes, I got an expensive education and so forth. So I felt guilty all the time for not being strong enough to practice the code of ethics which I myself preached.
I believe it stands to reason that the chronic anxiety and guilt caused by the ideas of skepticism and altruism respectively, if felt intensively enough, would lead to a suicidal depression.
The ideas of duty ethics and intrinsic value also contributed to my suicidal depression.
When my parents raised me, they did not motivate their admonitions to me with rational arguments. They probably just did not know how to. So when they wanted me to do something, such as to do my homework, they would typically just tell me to “just do it”. And my mother taught me duty ethics explicitly in one respect. When she wanted me to work hard in school, she would say to me “You have a good mind, so use it!”. My mother regarded it as being essentially mere good luck that I did well in school. She thought that I had just been fortunate to have been born with a “good brain”. And she taught that idea to me as well. And, moreover, she taught me the idea that since I had been so fortunate so as to (according the her) just happened to have been born with an above-average intelligence - for that reason I somehow had a moral duty to “make something of myself” - to pay back my debt to the world, so to speak.
So my mother taught me that I should do various things, merely because I had a duty to do them, not because they were a means to pursue my own happiness in my own life. (My mother was, incidentally, a very unhappy person herself. I believe that she regarded herself as a pathetic failure - and she hoped that I, her son, would make up for that failure by means of becoming a big success.) So as I grew older and older, I became less and less happy.
The idea of intrinsic value was, of course, closely related to the idea of duty ethics. When I argued with my mother about concentrating on studying science, she told me that the “authorities” in the educational establishment somehow knew best what was appropriate for me to study. So if they thought that I should concentrate on studying English, Latin and French then I should just do so. The implication was that some things - such as English, Latin and French - were just intrinsically “good”. And my personal choices consequently were irrelevant.
Since I realized that teenagers in fact usually do not know equally much about life as adults do, my mother´s argument - the one that the adult “authorities” knew better than me - seemed plausible. So, unfortunately, I went along with her urgings instead of standing my ground. I agreed to go along with her idea, that I should concentrate on studying English, Latin and French for "just a few years". And so I put the making of my own choices in the matter on hold. Her idea was that when I was older, I would "somehow" know better what I should do in school and with my life.
But as I spent several years studying subjects which bored me to death, I lost my spark and my desire to expend effort in order to become a scientist. By the time I reached 10th grade and at long last got the opportunity to start concentrating on studying science, mathematics and German I no longer felt motivated. I felt that I had already wasted some of the best years of my life. And I was depressed by that thought!
(A digression: Later in life I reflected on the experience above, and vowed that I would never again make the error of letting other people substitute their judgment for mine. This had the effect of making me a “contrarian” investor, when I later developed an interest in private investing. It also predisposed me to going against the crowd in politics and philosophy, when I saw with my own mind that the crowd was wrong.)
MY PROBLEMS COME TO A HEAD
Things came to a crisis in the fall of 10th Grade, when I was fifteen years old. In my math class we began studying something which, as far as I can recall, was akin to symbolic logic. The classes consisted of the teacher scribbling some symbols on the blackboard, and then asking us kids questions about what the logical implications of the combination of symbols were. For example: “If r is a function of p, and s is a function of r, then is s a function of p?”. The questions were something like that. And the teacher made no attempt whatsoever to explain what connection the symbols, and our manipulation of them, had to perceptual reality. It was pure “floating abstractions”.
I was lost! Completely. I did not have a clue what the teacher was talking about. And I blamed myself for that fact. I did not have any inkling of the fact that my reaction to the arbitrary manipulation of the arbitrary symbols was actually healthy! I thought that there must be something wrong with me! I thought that maybe I had not been concentrating enough in class, or that somehow I had not been trying hard enough - and that therefore it was my own fault that I did not understand what was going on. I thought that I should understand what was going on - since my classmates all seemed to be "getting it". And since my mother had indoctrinated me with duty ethics, I thought that I had committed a moral sin by not fulfilling my duty to fulfill my intellectual potential. So I began to develop still more acute feelings of guilt. And I also felt still more anxiety - since I felt literally “lost” and unable to understand what was going on.
So I became deeply depressed. Shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday in 10:th Grade, I ran away from the boarding school. I took a plane from Boston back to New York City and I returned to my parents´ home in a suburb in New Jersey. The day after I got home I felt so depressed by the mess I found myself in, and by my apparent failure in life, that I attempted to commit suicide by swallowing several jars of medicines which I found in my mother´s bedroom.
I was discovered in time by my mother, rushed to a hospital, and my stomach was pumped. So I survived. Then I was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward in New York City for several weeks. When I was released I began living in my parents´ home again, and began studying in the local public high school. I was still depressed however, and after a month or two I made still another suicide attempt. I have no memory of what happened during that suicide attempt because in the hospital afterwards I was given electric current therapy, which caused a blank spot in my memory.
I was diagnosed as schizophrenic. I suspect that said diagnosis was in error. I believe nowadays that I did not in fact develop schizophrenia until roughly two and a half years later. More on that below.
The psychiatrist who treated me after my second suicide attempt, tried to convince me that it was wrong per se to commit suicide. I did not agree with him and I entered into arguments with him. Unfortunately, I based my arguments for the principle that I had a right to decide for myself whether to commit suicide, on the premise of skepticism. I told the psychiatrist that I could not know for certain that there was a better life after death, but neither could he know for certain that there wasn´t a better life after death. So, I argued, his opinion in the matter was no better than mine. So therefore, I argued, I had a right to decide for myself whether or not to commit suicide. I was not aware that I was committing a fallacy by granting credence to an arbitrary hypothesis (the one that there might be a better life after death).
Actually, I do not think that I seriously believed that there might be a life after death at all. I was probably just rationalizing my suicide attempt. The real reason that I tried to commit suicide was probably that I was convinced that I faced the prospect of a life without happiness. And I did not consider a life without happiness to be worth living. I preferred a quick death to a long, drawn-out living death.
When the psychiatrist finally released me from the mental ward, I still had not given in and agreed with his view that it was wrong of me to try to commit suicide. During the conversation we had in my final meeting with him I stood my ground. The psychiatrist slammed the flat of his hand onto his desk and exclaimed in an angry voice “You are the most stubborn patient that I have ever had!”. I felt immensely proud of myself then! My attempt to commit suicide had been an act of independence. It had constituted my rejection, in action, of the duty ethics which my parents and my schoolteachers had been trying to inculcate in me. I refused to give in and endure an unhappy life out of a sense of duty.
Ever since the time that I was treated by that psychiatrist, I have felt a deep resentment and even hate, towards him for having preached the ideas of intrinsic value and duty ethics to me, and for having attempted to deny me the right to make my own decisions. I believe nowadays that it was an error on my part to attempt to commit suicide - but I stand by my view that I have a moral right to run my own life even at the price of making my own errors!
I spent many weeks in that psychiatric ward and then returned to public high school. I had however lost all my ambition in life. And so on my 16:th birthday, the legal minimum age to leave school in New Jersey, I dropped out of high school. I subsequently spent the following days doing nothing in particular - my only activity to speak of being to watch television.
After maybe a month my parents decided that it would be best for me to return to Sweden and to begin working. So a few weeks after I dropped out of school they sent me back to Sweden. I began living with an uncle and worked as a gardener. After a few months I got a job as an apprentice in a chemical laboratory at an iron ore mine in central Sweden and began living with the chief chemist at the lab and his wife, who were immigrants from West Germany. I was happy again for the first time in several years. I worked as an apprentice at the chemical laboratory for about one and a half years, doing quantitative analyses of iron ore. I enjoyed the work. But then I had to stop. I could not get a permanent job at the lab since I had no formal education in chemistry. And nor could I work there permanently as a mere apprentice.
So I had to go live with my parents in a suburb Stockholm (they had by now also moved back to Sweden). My father got a job for me as an apprentice at a laboratory at a university in Stockholm. But I was bored to death with that by me unchosen job.
I did not have any purpose, any significant values or any happiness. I had no friends, I had no recreational activities, I read no books, I did not even watch television much. My favorite activity was sleeping. It was as though I was a disciple of the philosopher Schopenhauer. When I was alone in my room I would often have private outbreaks of rage. I lived in a value vacuum. My sister, who is four years younger than me, has told me afterwards that at this time (i.e. the year 1972) her friends would ask her which drugs it was that I was on. When we took a ride on the trolley-car, I would have such a wooden expression on my face and I would move so stiffly, that her friends assumed that I was doing drugs. Looking back, I feel that I was living in a sort of living death at the time. I was like a zombie.
I was in the process of developing a case of schizophrenia. In the summer of 1972 I was hospitalized for about three months in a mental hospital. In January 1973 I was hospitalized again, in the same hospital. It was not until 1974 that I was released again.
THE CAUSAL FACTORS OF MY SCHIZOPHRENIA
I believe that the direct cause of my schizophrenia was that I lost my implicit confidence in the axiom of identity. I believe this because of my distinct memory of the nature of the thoughts which I had at the time. I had thoughts along the pattern that literally anything could somehow happen in the universe which I lived in.
The most common thought which kept recurring to me was the one that the house which I lived in might somehow just disappear into thin air when I was out. Every single day, when I went to work in the morning, I would worry about whether the house would still be there when I returned in the late afternoon. I was plagued with the thought that when I came back from work in the afternoon, the house might for some mysterious reason just not be there - and so I would just freeze or starve to death all alone out on the sidewalk. After all, I felt, the mere fact that the house was there when I left it in the morning did not necessarily mean that it would still be there when I got back!
I did not feel afraid that the house would disappear when I was inside it. It was only when I was not “watching it”, so to speak, that it might disappear according to my feeling. Naturally, my lack of confidence in the axiom of identity caused me to feel a great deal of chronic anxiety. I felt as though I was living in a “Humean” kind of universe, where nothing was stable and nothing could be depended on (at the time I had never studied philosophy, so I had never heard of David Hume - but anyone who seriously believed in his philosophy in a really serious way would probably have felt the way I did at the time). I must have felt the same way that savages felt - savages who were afraid of such bizarre things as the eventuality that their wife might somehow turn into a giant spider while they were sleeping and bite them to death.
Another manifestation of my loss of confidence in the axiom of identity was a thought which I sometimes had when I was eating. I would think to myself “How can I be sure that I will not in the next moment accidentally stick my fork into my eye and blind myself? After all the distance between my mouth and my eye is only a couple of inches or so?”. I did not know how to answer that question. I evidently had lost the principle of causality - the corollary of identity.
So I felt "in my bones" that David Hume´s brand of metaphysics did in fact apply to the reality which I lived in. No wonder that I was plagued by a never-ending chronic anxiety!
My irrational thoughts probably had a lasting physical effect on my brain. My psychosis must have involved physical changes in my brain - because I did eventually respond to the medications which I was given from the summer of 1972 onwards.
The medicine which helped me the most was chlorpromazine, which is a classic drug for treating schizophrenia. I believe that it was said drug, combined with the lack of stress in the peaceful daily life in the mental hospital, which caused me to begin to recover from my schizophrenia in 1973. I actually rather enjoyed my stay in the mental hospital during 1973 - for I was free to indulge in my fantasies all day! I did not have to work, but could instead wander the corridors of the mental ward for hours at a time, lost in the unreal world of my strange thoughts.
My thoughts were very concrete-bound, perceptual-level fantasies - having to do with the physical production of such goods as coal, steel, oil, ships and so forth. I conjured up fictional societies in my mind which produced these goods - and I spent my time thinking about how these societies would develop, in a concrete-bound way, over time. It is difficult to describe those fantasies to anyone who has not had them. But I wasted awfully many hours creating and elaborating on those pointless daydreams.
So subjectivism was a central attribute of my schizophrenia - just as it is in schizophrenia in general, according to Dr. Peikoff in his essay on schizophrenia titled Madness and Modernism.
I believe that I have read or heard somewhere that schizophrenics have very concrete-bound and perceptual-level thoughts. That certainly was so in my case. I believe that one could describe my schizophrenia by saying that it had two essential characteristics. One was that I had lost my implicit confidence in the axiom of identity. The other was that I had been reduced back to the perceptual level.
Since I did not have confidence in identity, I could not hold abstractions, and so I was reduced back to the perceptual level. After all, abstract concepts depend on concretes having stable attributes. One cannot abstract from an entity´s attributes if it has no attributes which endure. The concretes must have identity for abstraction to be possible. In a Humean universe abstract concepts are impossible. So, I believe that there was a logical connection between my loss of confidence in the axiom of identity and my loss of the ability (or will) to abstract. When identity is absent, abstraction becomes impossible.
I believe that I understand what the motivation was which led me to spend all my time immersing myself in my own thoughts.
When I moved to the suburb of Stockholm in 1972, I entered into a “value vacuum”. I did not pursue any values to speak of. And I believe that said fact entailed that I lost the one thing which, in a sense, is the tie between every person´s inner mind and outer reality. That thing is the pursuit of values. After all, it is the need to obtain values out there in reality which motivates normal people to put forth the effort to think about things in "reality out there". When I entered into a value vacuum and ceased to pursue values in external reality my mind was severed from external reality. My mind then lost its tie to said reality.
But I still felt a psychological need to think about something, since I was habituated to having an active mind. I was not comfortable with mental inactivity. So my mind began to just “spin its wheels”, by thinking about imaginary worlds which I invented out of whole cloth. The imaginary pursuit of values in those worlds constituted a psycho-epistemological or psychological surrogate for the real pursuit of values in the real world.
Now here is the specific process by which I was rendered a psychotic:
Due to the fact that I "lived" in the inner world of my own thoughts - i.e. due to the fact that I spent my days immersed in my own consciousness instead of concerning myself with reality out there - I lost the factor which maintained my confidence in the axiom of identity.
That factor was the perception that entities endure over time. All normal men see all the time that entities endure, that they are stable. Houses do not in fact dissappear into thin air for no reason at all. Wives do not in fact turn into giant spiders for no reason at all. Cats in fact do not give birth to baby elephants. When a man opens his eyes again after having closed them for a moment the room does in fact contain the very same items of furniture as it did before he closed them.
Men´s confidence in the axiom of identity is maintained by the simple fact that they actually see all the time that entities do not morph into others, or dissappear into thin air, or come into existence out of empty space, for no reason at all. Men who focus on "reality out there" are reminded all the time of the stableness of entities by what they actually perceive in "reality out there".
But men who attempt to practice the morality of altruism in a serious way will eschew personal values. They will find themselves living in a value vacuum. This may prompt them to flee into their own consciousnesses in order to experience the pursuit of fictional values as a surrogate for the pursuit of values in reality. Since they begin to live in the inner world of their own consciousnesses they are no longer reminded of the validity of the axiom of identity.
For, in the world of their own consciousnesses entities can morph into something entirely different for no reason at all, or dissappear into thin air for no reason at all, or come into existence out of empty space for no reason at all - if only the ruling consciousness wishes it. In the realm of consciousness the axiom of identity does not apply, so to speak. So, men who turn inwards and live in the world of their own consciousness will likely wind up feeling in their bones that they live in a Humean universe - i.e. a universe which is chaotic and unintelligible, a universe in which everything flows and nothing abides - i.e. a terrifying universe. The stress and the feeling of terror which comes from feeling that they live in such a universe breaks down their minds - it renders them psychotic.
Also, Ayn Rand stated that the three fundamental metaphysical axioms - existence, consciousness and identity - are what ties a conceptual consciousness to perceptual reality. Well, in that case - if a person loses his implicit confidence in the truth of one or more of those axioms - that must in logic cause the conceptual level of his consciousness to become cut off from reality. Which is the same thing as going insane.
A psychosis is a manifestation of a screwed-up metaphysics. That is my hypothesis concerning the cause of psychosis. And a screwed-up metaphysics can, in extreme cases, result from the influence of bad, i.e. fallacious philosophical ideas. That is the hypothesis which I present to the world in the book which I am working on, "Bad Philosophy as a Cause of Psychosis".
Philosophy matters in the forming of individual men´s psychologies!
In order to provide more evidence for the assertion made in the immediately preceding paragraph, I will demonstrate that a good philosophy can promote mental health by means of writing in detail about how Objectivism helped me to recover from my psychosis in the next essay, “Objectivism and My Recovery From Schizophrenia”.