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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The "Humean" Universe of One Psychotic

I remember quite clearly many of the features of the state of my consciousness during the year 1972, when I was 17 to 19 years old and was in the depths of a psychosis - which was diagnosed, specifically, as a case of schizophrenia by more than one psychiatrist. I also have an objective account of how I behaved, outwardly, which I have got from my sister. I will here present an hypothesis as to what is the basic cause of the phenomenon of psychosis. This hypothesis is based on those two pieces of evidence.

First a brief recapitulation of my medical history: In December of 1969, I was living in the USA - and I found myself in such a deep depression that I made an unsuccessful suicide attempt. I was hospitalized and diagnosed as a schizophrenic. In, I believe, February of 1970 I was still unhappy, and I made a second suicide attempt. I was hospitalized again. This time I was given electric current therapy. When I was released from the hospital, I was still unhappy and I seriously contemplated making still another suicide attempt. But my fear of death (which of course is not the same thing as a genuine will to live) combined with the passivity which the electric current therapy had induced in me, prevented me from carrying out that idea. In April of 1970, on my 16th birthday, I quit school. For I was completely unmotivated to put forth effort in order to learn.

In May of 1970, I moved back to Sweden and began working as an apprentice in a chemical laboratory at a Swedish iron ore mine. I lived as a boarder with the head of the chemical laboratory and his wife. There, for the next 1 ½ years, I happily occupied myself with learning and perfecting my ability to do quantitative analyses of iron ore samples by means of wet chemistry. But I could not work as an apprentice for more than 1 ½ years - and since I had no formal training in chemistry I was not permitted to become a regular employee at the laboratory. So in December 1971, I had to return to my parents on the suburb island of Stockholm called Lidingoe. There I soon became acutely psychotic - I was probably schizophrenic. I was, however, not hospitalized again until the summer of 1972 after months of suffering.

I will start by describing my outward behavior. My sister has told me that during the year 1972, when she, I and her friends rode the tram on Lidingoe together, her friends would sometimes ask her afterwards “What kind of drugs is your brother on?” What happened was that I was absorbed in the world of my inner thoughts when I rode the tram with my sister and her friends. I was so oriented towards my own inner world that I came across as having a very “wooden” way of moving and behaving, and I had a very “wooden” expression on my face. My sister´s friends assumed that the explanation for this peculiar behavior was that I was doing drugs - for this was in the early 1970s, when lots of teenagers in Sweden were in the habit of using narcotic drugs.

So, I was undeniably very focused on my inner world, instead of being focused on the external reality around me. Why was I so focused on my inner world - and cut off from reality? Why was I psychotic?

I have an hypothesis that the factor which directly triggered my psychosis was my loss, in early 1972, of my implicit confidence in a basic philosophical principle - the Axiom of Identity. I have one, to me very plausible, piece of evidence for the idea that I had in fact in early 1972 (it must have occurred either in January or February, but I cannot pinpoint the exact time at which it happened) lost my confidence in that philosophical axiom.

In January or February of 1972, I was living with my parents in their home on the Swedish suburb island in Stockholm called Lidingoe. I was working in a daytime job at a laboratory in the city. Early every morning I would take the tram and the subway to work in the company of my father. At almost the same instant that I left the house I would begin to worry and feel anxiety. I had a thought that kept recurring to me every single day. What if the house was not still standing there when I came back from work at the end of the day? What if the house somehow just disappeared into thin air while I was away from it, at work? After all, I thought to myself, “How could I know for sure that the house would still be there at the end of the day - just because it was there when I left in the morning?” Of course, this idea of mine - the one that the house I lived in might somehow just disappear into thin air, when I was not there watching it - filled me with a chronic anxiety, even a feeling of terror. Because of the fact that I could just picture myself starving or freezing to death out there on the sidewalk next to the place where the house formerly had been. I felt sick with worry almost all the time during the day that I was working in the laboratory in the city.

Now, how could I come to take seriously such a patently absurd idea as the one that entire houses can just vanish into thin air, for no particular reason?

Well, the answer to that question is contained in the answer which I used to give to a question which my parents kept asking me during 1972. My parents frequently asked me, since they were worried for my welfare “Henrik, why do you feel so much distress?” They could tell that I felt a lot of emotional distress at the time. I would always give the same answer to that question. I would say “Because I cannot understand how everything in the world hangs together.” The reason that I could not understand “how the world hanged together” (those were the very words I used to describe how I felt) was that my mind had lost the glue that kept everything interconnected in a healthy person´s mind – my implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity.

This philosophical axiom states that everything is what it is, and is only what it is. The truth of this axiom is that which makes reality orderly and causal. So that men, the healthy ones, can understand how the various parts of reality interact with each other in a causal, orderly fashion. The Axiom of Identity is what makes reality intelligible. My hypothesis now is that when a person, for example a psychotic, loses his implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity, he may very well find that himself feeling that he is living in an “Humean” type of universe. ´

The philosopher David Hume rejected the Axiom of Identity since he rejected the idea that reality is filled with stable entities. And because he did not believe in the truth of the Axiom of Identity Hume thought that literally anything could and might happen in reality. Well, I felt that I was living in the kind of chaotic flux which David Hume conceived the universe as being during the years in which I was psychotic.

Ayn Rand thought that members of savage tribes felt that they lived in such a “Humean” universe, and that they as a result of that existed in a perpetual state of terror. The emotion of terror was allegedly omnipresent in anyone who lived without any confidence in the Axiom of Identity. Ayn Rand illustrated this point with the example of the savage who is afraid all the time that the spirits which allegedly rule reality might at any moment change his wife into a giant spider. My take is that savages live in a state of omnipresent inner terror, because they have never reached the point of having an implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity - as civilized men have. And psychotics, such as my former self - I suspect that they may live in a state of omnipresent inner terror because they have lost their implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity - which they used to have.

I think that it is obvious that my idea, the one that the entire house which I lived in might at any moment when I was not watching it, just somehow disappear into thin air for no reason - was just as much a manifestation of an absence of confidence in the Axiom of Identity, as the savage´s idea that his wife might at any instant somehow turn into a giant spider. And it would seem a strange coincidence if my thought, the one that the house might somehow just disappear, began occurring to me repeatedly at just the same time that I went psychotic unless there existed a causal connection.

What brought about my loss of confidence in the Axiom of Identity? After all, l had lived all my life in a civilized society - so I had taken the Axiom of Identity for granted for many, many years. I had never doubted this key axiom at all before the point in time that I went psychotic.

I can think of two, slightly different, possible causes.

One possible explanation of my loss of confidence in the Axiom of Identity could be that it was somehow a consequence of what psychologists and psychiatrists call a “traumatic experience”. I had been subjected to a traumatic experience about two years before I went psychotic, at the very beginning of 1972. Namely, I had been through a deep depression and two unsuccessful suicide attempts around the time of the first few months of 1970. Well, my suicide attempts and the stressful incarceration in a mental ward which followed each attempt (I felt that being physically confined in a hospital ward against my will, and being lectured by a psychiatrist repeatedly about what my own good consisted of, was a hellish experience) were certainly two traumatic experiences. But there are weaknesses with this explanation. These traumatic experiences occurred almost two whole years before my acute psychosis, in the beginning of 1972. Why would my loss of confidence in the Axiom of Identity occur with such a time lag?

On the other hand, I was diagnosed as schizophrenic already after, probably, my first suicide attempt. It is possible that said diagnosis was correct, (Although I doubt it, because my inner mental state at the time, as I remember it, was entirely different and better - it was less inward-looking and less un-concentrated - than my inner mental state was in the years 1972 and 1973, at which time I definitely was schizophrenic or at least psychotic.). So, maybe, I had been schizophrenic in the first months of 1970, had then recovered partially and fell into a relapse in early 1972 - a relapse brought about by the new stress of being placed in a “value vacuum” when I moved back to my parents (See below for what I mean by “value vacuum”.). But I do not see any clear reason why “psychological stress” per se would bring on the very specific phenomena of my losing my implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity. What would be the specific causal connection between an instance of acute psychological stress and the loss of a subject´s confidence in the Axiom of Identity? Of course, it stands to reason that severe psychological stress would have some serious negative effects in my consciousness - but why a loss of my implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity specifically?

I have an hypothesis which makes sense to me. This hypothesis contains a plausible, at least, explanation for why the stress which I was subjected to would result in a loss of confidence in the Axiom of Identity specifically. The following is my hypothesis:

When I moved back to my parents on Lidingoe, I immediately found myself existing in what I call a “value vacuum”. What I mean by that term is – a total, all-encompassing privation of values. I did not have one single significant personal value after I began living with my parents in January 1972. I no longer had any work which I enjoyed, for example. I had enjoyed the work which I had done at the chemical laboratory previously. I had looked forward to the workday before me at the chemical laboratory when I had got up every morning. But the work which I was assigned to do when I lived at Lidingoe (I had not chosen that job I was in - it had been chosen for me by my father, who was on the premise of parental paternalism. He had no conception of the importance of personal choice.) was excruciatingly boring for me. I hated getting up in the morning all the time that I was to go to that job. I wished that I could just remain in bed and continue to sleep.

And I had no recreational values at all. I had not a single friend - or even a single acquaintance. My sister, who was a social type of person, tried to introduce me to her friends at the local school she was attending. But I had nothing at all in common with them. They were just “hippy” types, of the kind which were all over the place in Sweden in those golden years of the New Left of the 1970s decade. I had no hobbies. I read no books. I rarely even looked at the newspapers. There was nothing which I wished to read. There were no movies I felt were worth seeing. I did not listen to much music. Although I did own a handful of LPs and my sister owned many more. I watched television every now and then, since I had nothing better to do - but what I viewed did not interest me. My life was a progression of one gray day after another. The feeling which was the leitmotif my soul was monotony. My father would keep complaining to me time and again  “Henrik, why are you so passive?” He was angry with me because he was frustrated by my massive lethargy. He was hoping desperately that I would pick myself up and do something with my life. But he did not know how he could make me do it. And I had no inner drive - so I never got off my butt and did anything on my own. I had no personal values at all. That is why I say that I existed in a “value vacuum” at the time.

This total privation of values had, I hypothesize, a very logical effect on my consciousness. Since I was not pursuing any values out there in reality which were significant to me, there was nothing in my life to keep my consciousness tied to external reality. After all, man is a volitional being, so he has to continually choose to focus his mind on things out there in external reality. And it is  a man´s values, the things in external reality which mean something personally to a man, which are the things which motivate him to focus on something or other out there in external reality. He focuses on certain aspects of external reality in order to gain and keep personal values.

But I no longer had any, to me, significant values. I just slept, ate, worked and went to the bathroom over and over and over again - day after day after day. That is a pretty fair description of the kind of life I was leading. So my mind did not continue to focus much on any aspects of external reality. For there was nothing causing it to do so. I began to live in the world of my own thoughts. I began to construct elaborate fantasy worlds - fantasy worlds which preoccupied me all day. I still functioned perfunctorily in external reality. I worked a little bit - but not with any effectiveness, I was just a mindless drone. I continued to eat, sleep, work like a drone and go to the bathroom. But that was it. Beyond the minimal amount of focusing on external reality which I carried out in order to function at all, I only focused on my inner world. My life became very “subjective” - and subjectivity is, I believe, a key feature of all psychoses.

I believe that this inward focus of mine can logically explain why I lost my implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity. What element of my inner world of thoughts could sustain my confidence in the Axiom of Identity? Well, all the time that a man is focusing on external reality he perceives stable entities there all of the time. Those things can “remind” him in a direct way that things are what they are - and that one thing never changes into a different thing, or just disappears into thin air, or comes into existence out of nothing - without a specific reason. So, sure, a wine-maker can take grapes and change the grape-juice gradually into wine - by specific steps and by no others. But there is no way that a man can change water into wine in an instant - by merely wishing such a thing to happen, as the Bible alleges that Jesus did.

But I was not focusing on external reality any longer. I was focusing inwards, on my consciousness. And what element in my consciousness could sustain my confidence in the Axiom of Identity? In the world of his own consciousness a man, any man and every man, can easily picture to himself water being changed into wine in an instant merely because he wishes it. Anything but anything can in fact happen in a man´s consciousness. For he can make anything happen. He can imagine entire houses disappearing into thin air for no reason, he can imagine wives being changed into spiders and he can even imagine a supernatural Deity creating the entire universe ex nihilo. So, as soon as I began focusing on my consciousness instead of focusing on external reality, I was playing with fire. I was bound to lose my implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity. There was nothing in the world of my consciousness “reminding” me of it. The inner world of my own consciousness was like a flux in which I was continuously cooking up gratuitous new fantasies to amuse me, so to speak. And it was natural that I should begin to assume that external reality might be the same kind of place as my consciousness. A chaotic flux where everything changed and nothing abided.

The reasoning presented above is, as I said, merely an hypothesis on what might be the basic cause of every psychosis. I seriously believe that it is possible that the basic nature of at least one type of psychosis is that the said type of psychotic is a man who has lost his implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity, and who therefore has the same kind of inner life which Ayn Rand thought primitive savages to have.

This hypothesis of mine would explain why psychotics feel a chronic anxiety - which my layman´s knowledge of the subject tells me that they do.

And it ties in with the observation that psychotics are, according to my layman´s knowledge of the subject, radically introverted. They supposedly focus on the world of their consciousness rather than on external reality.

Another fact about psychotics which my hypothesis might logically explain, is the often observed fact that psychotics are very concrete-bound. My layman´s knowledge is (I have heard this from psychiatrists whom I have talked to) that psychotics tend to deal, cognitively, largely only with perceptual-level concretes. I know for a fact that I was like that during my psychosis. All of my elaborate fantasy worlds were concerned with concretes - such as the production of steel, cement, coal, petroleum and so forth. My fantasies were very “Marxist” in style - although I was not a Communist.

The idea which I present below is a speculation of mine that might logically explain the supposed concrete-boundedness of psychotics:

The Axiom of Identity is, I believe, a necessary precondition for the process of abstraction. In order to abstract, a man has to isolate specific attributes of concretes in thought, and “recombine” these attributes to form an abstract concept. He might, for example, focus on the attribute of some of men´s actions - that they involve the use of physical force - and combine that idea, the idea of “physical force”, with the idea of “initiation” and come up with the concept of “crime”. “Crime” being the initiation of force by one man against another. But what if a man has lost his implicit confidence in the Axiom of Identity? Then it is no longer real to him that existents even have stable, enduring attributes, attributes which characterize them. So what foundation does such a man have to build abstract concepts on? He cannot abstract the attributes from various concretes if it is not real to him that they even have such (stable, enduring) attributes. One day an entity might have one attribute and on another day it might have an entirely different attribute - so how is the man who has no confidence in the Axiom of Identity going to be able to make use of the attributes of concretes in order to form abstract concepts? He cannot get off the ground cognitively. He cannot rise out of the level of percepts.

The reasoning above makes sense to me, at least.

Now to sum up:

Just about everyone who himself is sane, knows that psychotics behave very “strangely” and in a very “different” way than sane men do. But most of them cannot really fathom why. Sure, they can “explain” a psychotic´s exotic behavior by saying – “He´s crazy!” But that is not much of an explanation.

The psychotic´s behavior is a mystery to most people - because they have no inkling of the fact that the psychotic (according to my hypothesis) has a metaphysics which is radically different from the one they have. If this hypothesis is true it means that the psychotic, figuratively speaking, lives in an entirely different kind of universe than the sane man does. If my hypothesis is valid, then the psychotic holds at least one of two basic metaphysical premises, which are radically different from those held by virtually all sane men. And these two radically different metaphysical premises would go a long way towards explaining the typical psychotic´s radically different behavior. These two metaphysical premises are: 

1) The Primacy of Consciousness


2) Indeterminism.

I think it is apparent that my lack of implicit confidence in the Law of Identity was essentially the same thing my having a positive belief in the metaphysical premise of Indeterminism. My fear that the house I lived in would suddenly just vanish into thin air demonstrated that I felt I was living in a chaotic, “Humean” type of a universe.

And the concrete examples of schizophrenics which Dr. Peikoff gives us in his essay "Madness and Modernism" strongly suggest that schizophrenics are a species of psychotics who are on the Primacy of Consciousness premise. (So maybe I myself was not in fact a schizophrenic, but merely a "plain vanilla" psychotic - given the fact that I was always clear on the distinction between my own consciousness and reality out there, and I never believed that my consciousness controlled reality out there.)

So the psychotic may live in or, rather, may feel that he lives in an entirely different kind of universe from the one which sane men feel that they live in. The psychotic may live, figuratively speaking, in the same kind of universe which savages presumably feel that they live in.

And the "universe of the psychotic" is also, significantly I think, the same kind of universe conjured up by such influential modern philosophers as David Hume and Immanuel Kant. The fact that Kantian philosophy has come to dominate the culture of the Western World during the last two centuries might explain the hypothesized radical increase in the frequency of schizophrenia in the Western World during the same period. And the fact that schizophrenia seems to have been, at least until very recently, almost unknown in cultures outside of the Western World might be due to the fact that these cultures have not been infected by Kantian philosophy. The influence of  Kantian philosophy might be an essential part of the cause of schizophrenia.

So - my final summing up: 

My hypothesis is simply that a psychosis is a manifestation of a royally screwed-up metaphysics. The phenomenon which is psychosis has everything to do with (sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit) philosophy!

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