tangyabominy: (like slow-spinning redemption)
[personal profile] tangyabominy
A thought:

How quick we are, when one conclusion of two seems less likely to us, more remote, more strange, to not only write it off but dumb everything that claims to be the less likely down to the level of the more likely; to assume that everything which manifests features of B is "just" A, to declare B defunct because A explains a limited subset of the things which fall under B and that's good enough for those who don't really know what B is. And how unlikely we ever, ever are to go in the opposite direction, and assume that maybe all B-like things are, in fact, facets of A, even if we've decided that B also exists.

To give a more concrete example, and to raise the topic that this post is actually about: I was reading comments on Slacktivist, and came across someone who mentioned their lover with mental issues, who had believed he was Jesus during one high period until he was taken to hospital and medicated, at which point he stopped believing he was Jesus. The following thread ensued:

"Irreverent guy that I am, I wonder what would have happened if someone had had a syringe full of Haldol to give to Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Jeanne D'arc, etc."

"Actually, I had a massive crisis of faith when my ex (we were still married at the time) had his meltdown. I really began questioning whether God was real or whether S/He was just a manifestation of a psychotic mind. I spent a lot of time wondering whether Jesus was in fact just a madman in need of a syringe of Haldol and a prescription for Zyprexa.

I can laugh about it now (this was 6 years ago) but back then it was extremely unfunny."


My response was this:

My sincere condolences over your crisis of faith, in the past though it may have been. Those aren't fun.

I actually see it the other way around, though. From the first mention of the guy who thought he was Jesus (until he'd had a syringe of Haldol), the thought was running through my head, "what if he was right?"

Mind you, I don't mean the Jesus, singular, one and only, incarnate with all his powers and abilities. I mean, I wonder if that which we call psychosis is actually the result of bumping up aganst the soul-shaking awareness that We Are All God, and not being able to bring that vast knowledge back to a human body without shattering and spouting nonsense and having trouble making sense because it's all so vast?

Not that we have any practical alternative, really, at this level of understanding, but to treat these people the medical way for everyone's safety... but I do wonder, would Jesus' feelings that he was Jesus have gone away on Haldol, and would we have been wrong to treat him that way?

How, in fact, would we tell the difference, between someone who was having genuine mystical experiences which could be drugged out of them, and someone who was experiencing aberrant neuron firings unconnected with any true divinity? People tend to think the acid test for mysticality is that it doesn't go away if you drug it, but why should this be? Do we know the slightest thing about mysticality that would prove that, or is it just what seems to make "common sense"? And how many things that make "common sense" to us, in fact, turn out to be complete fallacies?


To put it in the terms laid out at the beginning of this post: we're so very eager to believe that spirituality is "just" a delusion. We're so much less eager, even if we accept spirituality, to ever argue that mental illness is "just" spirituality-- even if we also acknowledge that it's not practical, given that we don't know either way, to give it the benefit of the doubt and not treat people as if it were a sickness. Perhaps because to bring up the very question of its being a genuine revelation that's untenable to society raises ethical issues about how we treat people with mental illness, ethical questions we can't solve without truly knowing.

But I think it's more that we have a habit of admitting the remote and the unlikely into our lives as little as possible. We trust in all the "safe" answers first and foremost-- which is a good way to go about life, ordinarily. But when that keeps us from ever even considering the "unsafe" ones when there's a mundane explanation-- however incomplete that explanation is, however little of the actual issue it takes into account-- we choke wonder.

If we can't even contemplate the possibility that these people could be seeing something real without scoffing, can't even ask ourselves the question-- when even a spiritual person, presented with a delusional man who thinks he's Jesus, begins to doubt the whole of spirituality yet never once questions the idea of delusion-- there is a problem with us. We have biased ourselves too far in one direction.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-23 02:19 pm (UTC)
davv: The bluegreen quadruped. (Default)
From: [personal profile] davv
That sounds like the pre-trans fallacy. Mistaking everything that's not grounded in physical reality for either transcendent spirituality or delusion is wrong. Too far a bias in one direction or too far a bias in the other; the physicalist view encourages one bias and then the reaction to it, reflexive spirituality if you will, encourages the opposite.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-28 05:18 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lhexa
*waves* Hello!

My experience matches your speculation, but the lesson I've drawn from it is not only that insanity and revelation are connected, but that revelation is outright dangerous. If a person is suddenly given the ability to reappraise their lives in a radical way, and even reshape themselves thus radically, the results have the potential to be catastrophic. I think that a more developed culture could surround spiritual/schizophrenic experiences with recommendations and anecdotes as comprehensive as those surrounding romance, allowing people to have similarly diverse approaches -- but instead, such experiences are entirely new to whomever they hit, and such people end up channeled into only a few narrow outcomes (evangelical religion is one, identifying with one of the handful of spiritual figures is another), largely robbing those experiences of the positive effect they could have while leaving their destructive effects intact. But I ramble.

Oh, and while I'm at it, some pertinent Thoreau: "These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them, according to his ability, by his words and life. Moreover, with wisdom we shall learn liberality. The solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into the silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, traveled the same road and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said to have invented worship among men. Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence of all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let 'our church' go by the board."

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-23 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lhexa
*nods* Thinking on it further, I think romance is an important analogy to spiritual experiences: both are utterly personal, and capable of completely reshaping a person's life, yet both are in the aggregate so powerful that society must come to terms with them in some fashion. Romance has received a decent (though flawed) treatment, whereas spirituality is either co-opted by politics (thus becoming religion) or confined as madness.

I have speculated why this suppression takes place. One idea is that civilization has become more scientific in recent centuries, and spirituality is fundamentally anti-scientific, but I think this is wrong. First, while science has transformed the material conditions of civilization, it has not (yet?) transformed the intellectual conditions, which is to say that people do not scrutinize their own ideas or base their beliefs on experience/experiment more than they once did. (I do think this can happen, over time, but it hasn't yet -- superstitions haven't disappeared, but they have picked up a scientific flavor, a deceptive touch of jargon.) Science has, I'll grant, rendered inert some of the ideas which might have once grounded spiritual experiences, though all that means is that new such ideas must be developed. Second, spirituality may be unscientific in that it privileges an inner phenomenon that cannot be confirmed (or reliably repeated) by others, but it is scientific in that it privileges experience as a source of belief, above outside sources. Whatever opposition exists between science and spirituality (and there does often exist one) is inessential to both. Third, the analogy with romance again comes to hand: scientific advances have left many people unable to rely on certain notions of romance (true love, destiny, the essential roles of man and woman, the sanctity of marriage), and knowledge of love is knowledge of something unverifiable and internal, yet (again) romance is not similarly degraded.

Another notion is that spirituality is too powerful, so that powerful interests have a vested interest in suppressing it. The transcending of boundaries can render much of politics moot, for instance; finding an inner source of happiness and strength can make one less of a consumer; and the liberation accompanying a spiritual experience can lead out to flout authority. I think this notion is closer to the truth, but it ascribes way too much cleverness to these forces, when in reality tribal politics, materialistic consumption (which is mainly consumption as an emotional salve), and even the subordination to authority are fairly brute things.

Right now I think the correct answer is: yes, spiritual experiences are powerful, and they really are dangerous. The analogy with romance breaks down because love, having died, can only destroy those who once loved each other, whereas a revelation takes place in the realm of ideas, to which all people have some degree of access. I've noticed that the trauma of a psychotic episode spreads well past the person to whom it happens, beyond even their friends and family, to the point where a person who has even a brushing contact with someone schizophrenic feels awe, horror, even panic, and finds the encounter unforgettable: the damage has spread. Even granting that a revelation always carries a grain of truth (which is probably true), what are the chances that the person to whom it happens does not become blind to previous truths in the service of this new one? Or that one's sense of ethics, developed over the course of a lifetime, can remain visible in the light of this new, liberating revelation?

I think of psychotic episodes as states of fluidity, or mutability, of both ideas and perception. Whether it is triggered by a realization strong enough to be revelation, or a case of syphilis progressed too far, or whatever else, inner structures that are normally unshakable, or changeable only with long effort, suddenly become easy to change. Who, discovering such a state for the first time, would make changes wisely? And who would, instead, make changes to their personality, and to those ideas they can reach, that are self-aggrandizing and greedy? For my part, it was a combination of luck, prior experience and outside support that allowed me to slowly undo the worst changes I made while in a state of such fluidity, and still the damage I did was enough that I call my period of most intense spiritual experience the period in which my prior identity died.

Anyway, to get back on topic: at one point, the societies in which revelations took place were smaller, and fewer ideas were within reach. Any damage potentially done to the society or ideas by a spiritual experience turned bad could be undone without having to isolate or control the person having such an experience. Neither condition is true any longer. Now someone schizophrenic can interact with a great many people in the course of his degeneration, and damage a much greater array of ideas. Society's current response is ruthless and destructive, but it does come in response to something that can be heedless and destructive. I can't defend present-day psychiatry, but I can't condemn it either. It probably does more good than bad.

Don't mind the long response -- if you don't want to reply, or reply in less detail, that's fine. My usual response to online discussions is to sit on them for long periods of time, until I feel ready to respond. Sometimes the result is quite long, but that usually occurs when I needed to articulate my thoughts on the matter further, which is a good thing. I thank you for the opportunity.

July 2011

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