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Saturday, June 16, 2012

An open letter to the Unbelievers

It has come to my attention that there are those people in this world to whom mental illnesses are a sham, a cop out, a convenient excuse to escape reality, to absolve oneself of responsibility. This letter is a response to that notion.

Reality is subjective. Ask two people to relate  the events after an accident and they will often have very different tales to tell. Give a group of people blue cheese and some will say it is delicious while others will gag. To some, a barking dog is happy to see them; to others, it is a reason for terror. What we perceive, the output from our mind's computer, every firing synapse and its resulting signal, is unique to our mind.

So how do we have any common experience at all? How is it that we can communicate with one another and understand the meaning, come to the same sum at the end of the column of figures? It is through learned patterns, recognition of arbitrary language given to us by our family, friends and community, that our minds can accept a consensus of perception. It is in this way that we accept that thunder doesn't mean the gods are angry or that it is unnecessary to sacrifice a goat when the volcano erupts, while just a few hundred years ago these things were commonplace and generally accepted as part of the human lexicon of knowledge.

But sometimes there is a ghost in the system. Sometimes the machine gives a sum that nobody else can understand. The internal logic of some people's computer is different (different, not "wrong"). In the rhetorical tradition of logic, the Mind Projection Fallacy states that just because we perceive a given phenomenon does not, in fact, mean that it exists. Conversely, how can we then state emphatically that a given phenomenon does not exist? How can we presume to tell anyone that their interpretation of reality is false, or that our own is correct?  [It is important to note that this argument was developed to explain a concept that followed an internal logic which was in direct contrast to the accepted understanding of the fabric of reality. See information related to The Copenhagen Interpretation - Bohr/Heisenberg for more information. It is a fascinating concept. I recommend  H. Margeneau, The Nature of Physical Reality, McGraw-Hill 1950 for a mind-opening primer.]

Because of the subjective nature of our minds, judging any person's understanding of the data their mind collects as wrong or flawed is patently ridiculous. Yes, it often requires a sharp mind to fully understand the intricacies of mental illness; however, that does not give license to dismiss it as psychobabble or "an excuse".

Moreover, ignoring it does not provide any assistance to those who suffer from its often cruel grasp, be they a "diagnosed" person, or the people who love that person. The propensity for people to say "just snap out of it" is a childish and, frankly, stupid practice, designed to absolve those who use that phrase from having to deal with a problem they do not understand.

Unfortunately, too few people are actually willing to lace up the shoes of mental illness and walk a mile in the footprints of those who have trod before them. I implore everyone to try for understanding and empathy, rather than pretend that it doesn't exist.

G. Boccia, June 16, 2012