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On The Nature of Psychosis

A

AMessageInABottle

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This text is a communication to one of my psychiatric doctors which shares my insights on the nature of psychosis. I have a background in physics and I have been hospitalised in psychosis 5 times. Names have been changed. Thank you for reading.

Hi Dr. David,

This email is about the nature of psychosis based on observations I've made.

Psychosis seems to involve a breakdown of the usual constructs of mind which maintain our status as agents within organised society. This breakdown involves the breakdown of learned distinctions between mental objects. One can imagine a worldview or perspective as being constructed in conceptual space based on distinctions between things. Our interpretations of reality stand behind our perceptions; where in one state we might perceive a man mowing the lawn in another (altered) state we might perceive the archetypal Man Working even though the visual field is identical.

One of the most shared and fundamental distinctions (to humans) is the distinction between self and other. I argue the point, which perhaps seems ridiculous and clearly false at first, that the self-other distinction is illusory and much of the nature of psychotic delusions can be learned by interpreting psychosis in terms of the breakdown of the self-other distinction.

When we are infants we begin to learn that imagination is different to perception, our body is different to the rest of our environment, we do not share a body with our mother and so on. These distinctions do not represent fundamental truths but are important distinctions which allow us to act as humans in the world. There is no fundamental principle dictating the borders of ones own mind, the borders of ones sense of self and so on - defined borders are something that (appear to) apply to physical objects but they do not apply to our minds. Likewise borders between concepts do not exist; we draw imaginary borders between concepts, words and so on to form mental structures, and we apply those mental structures to one another in a mental environment to form ways of thinking about the world.

Now this is not to say that there is no element of reality whatsoever to these distinctions. There is clearly some degree of reality in the separation between the notions of a tree and a branch as well as an actual tree and branch. However what I am arguing is that this separation as it exists in the mind is always and fundamentally subjective, and the nature of psychosis lies in the breakdown of such subjective distinctions. Concepts begin to blend in a new way as the self-other distinction on which they rely to maintain their separation breaks down. This represents a fundamental breakdown of the mind and lowers one into a perspective whereby, in a particular sense, all things seem equal. Doctor David becomes The Doctor. There is no longer clear separation between identities, intended actions and unintended events and so on, and we begin to become conscious of things that do not normally fit within our worldview.

It is worth noting here that the phycotic viewpoint shares many similarities with the animistic viewpoint associated with non-modernised human cultures; within an animistic viewpoint less distinction exists between intended actions and unintended events and so on - the world becomes one system rather than separated internal and external systems. Therefore the worldview of modern humans is quite different to the worldview that we evolved with and so is the nature of modern psychosis. We now analytically interpret the world as being two separated systems; an external system based on cause and effect and an internal system based on unknown dynamics involving consciousness. I do not suggest that the animistic viewpoint is more accurate, rather that it is more conducive to perception of the integration of mind and environment (because it does not fundamentally require a subjective divide). The animistic viewpoint lacks understanding of the behaviour of the physical universe, leading to such misconceptions as "the mountain sent a landslide because it was angry". I suggest that there exists a third viewpoint which allows the animistic perception of consciousness being integrated with external reality and the modern perception that the universe progresses according to mathematically describable processes. I suggest that this third perspective represents a fundamental truth about reality and as such it's discovery and eventual wide acceptance is inevitable, but this discovery occurs on a personal level in each case. I suggest that this perspective represents our cultural notion of enlightenment.

As modern Western humans we might separate our reality as such; I have my personal internal world here, you have yours there somewhere, and both are different to the physical environment that we share. This perspective is not fundamentally true. It is impossible to objectively draw any distinctions whatsoever in the single system that we share. Our conscious experience is integrated not just with itself as if in some separate part of reality, not just with the brain as if the brain is separable from the rest of the universe, but rather with the context of reality as a whole. We can try to explain experience in terms of atoms or neurons or concepts but our interpretation of it does not determine it's fundamental nature. Conscious experience exist according to the context not of just one of these ways of explaining it but all of them, because the elements of any scale exist in the context of all elements at all scales. It is impossible to separate any particular scale of reality such as the atomic or neural and explain experience fully according to dynamics at that scale because all scales of reality are interdependent and inseparable from one another.

These words exist in your environment and yet they create conscious interaction in your mind. Another way to interpret this is that mind and environment are part of the same integrated system, their dynamics being interdependent rather than independent, and the separation that we apply to them is illusory. It is perhaps convenient to evolution or modern culture to think of the world in terms of separate agents making willed decisions independently in their own mental environment, but such is not the case. The correct interpretation of reality involves correctly interpreting the place that mind has within it.

Mind is context dependent in the sense that anything observed in mind depends on the context within which it is observed. One might watch a sunset and be subconsciously reminded of a specific childhood memory. The manifestation of the memory in mind is neither caused by neurons nor the sunset; any such distinction is nothing more than a way of thinking about it. Rather that specific incident of observing that specific memory is induced by nothing less than the context of reality as a whole. How is it possible then to consider the mind as an entity which is separable from the context within which it exists? I state that it is not; mind is fully integrated into reality in a way that makes it inseperable (after all, how else would one explain that mind influences the universe if it is not integrated within the same system?). It is in psychosis that this integration, which we are not normally aware of but exists regardless, comes into awareness and is directly perceived. We become aware of the fact that every aspect of our mental experience is influenced by every aspect of our percieved environment. We are not normally aware of the subconscious influence induced by a TV program that we are watching. Perceiving this interaction seems like magic because the television program was produced within the same context as our subconscious mind and this produces a strange interaction that we are incapable of interpreting correctly, and this normally leads to psychotic delusion (the lady on the TV is talking to me). When our usual conceptual distinctions break down we begin to feel the way that our minds really are inseparable from the environment and each other, and this subjectively feels extra-physical in nature. The integration of reality includes both mind and universe but as humans we cannot yet reconcile a physical perspective of reality with the seemingly extra-physical dynamic that represents it's fundamental (and incomprehensible) nature. It is then either a case of thinking that one understands reality or accepting the clearly incomprehensible acts of magic that it produces when one is open to seeing it more directly.

People in psychosis tend to look at statements about themselves as "believing that which is not the reality" with frustration because such an accusation is philosophically absurd in a way that is clearly obvious to the psychotic individual. A psychotic individual is often in a state of not knowing, a state which more accurately represents our true ignorance. The state of knowing which is accepted by society, the state of separating oneself from ones environment and others, is a human delusion particularly prominent in the modern world which cuts off our ability to perceive and feel the integration of mind beyond our subjectively constructed sense of self and body. There is a certain sense in which the self is transpersonal, and this sense relates to the idea that there is no such thing as the defined self or defined separations between the conceptual self and other. There exists exactly one reality which includes both mind and the universe in the same system and it's nature transcends the distinctions that we apply to it.

My primary goal in life is to continue my journey towards conceptual, emotional enlightenment by understanding myself and my place in reality, and utilizing my insights within the framework of an economically and environmentally sustainable community.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you found this interesting. If you did, please share with me your thoughts about it. I have a lot more to share; the issue is translating it into communication, and input from others helps me in this aim.

Kind regards,

AMessageInABottle
 
Kerome

Kerome

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Hi AMessageInABottle, I did find some of it interesting though a bit hard to read. I'm not sure whether the nature of psychosis can ultimately be quantified or even examined very closely, it seems to be the brain throwing off a variety of shackles and allowing you to make new conceptual connections which are accepted as current beliefs with little recourse to logical examination. For example the classic "I seem to be Jesus today".

I've been following a podcast called Coffee & Psychosis and a number of people tell their stories about how they've experienced psychosis and their thinking about it. It shows that people's experiences are quite variable - one person becomes convinced he is Jesus while manic and is going to be taken up to heaven in the spaceship of God, and another starts seeing and talking to ghosts. It's a very interesting field with both different sensual experiences and different fields of interpretation around that experience, and different beliefs about the self based on that.

In the long run, in my recovery I've found the study of Buddhism to be very helpful. They have quite a deep science of the mind which can help you understand the mind and the emotions, although they don't really have much of a concept of mental illness.

It's a good thing to keep a record of what you write about your experiences, to revisit it later.
 
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