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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Can Delusions Be True?

YouTube skeptic Nykytyne2 discusses the definition of the word "delusion", and some nuances of its meaning.

I like the clarity of his thought process and I find two aspects of his analysis especially interesting.

1. The Importance of Social/Cultural Context on Mental Disorders

Mental illness is often considered to be a problem within an individual himself or herself, but here it is clear from the DSM-IV that social/cultural norms is a major component of the definition of delusion.

Actually, if you think about it further, social norms and expectations are a big part in the definition of any disease!

Imagine a group of people who spend most of their lives in dark caves, searching for food and communicating via sound and touch. Loss of sight due to eye injury would be a minor inconvenience, not a serious pathology.

Conversely, imagine another group of people who for some historical or religious reasons find freckles to be absolutely vile and diabolical. They would shield children from sunlight to avoid the formation of freckles and advocate aggressive treatment once the freckles develop. Scarring caused by freckle removal is more culturally acceptable than the freckles themselves. In such a case, the term "freckles" would be defined as a serious skin condition, a type of disease.

2. The Importance of End Result in Social Perception

I find it fascinating that delusions can be about things that might eventually be shown to be true, like the micro-organism example mentioned in the video. So to Nykytyne2, the thought process is more important than the result when trying to determine if a belief is a delusion.

Still, an army friend once told me, "Money talks. Bullshit walks." For many people, the end result is of paramount importance, whereas the means is not so important or relevant.

But how can you get a "result" without a process?

This differing appraisal of a goal-directed process is very personality-dependent thing; there are people who are impressed by wealth and power and instantly confer respect based on these results, while there are others who cannot confer respect no matter the wealth and power, unless the process used to achieve the results are impressive.

For example -

a. Someone might say: "Hats off to Larry. He caught my heart. He has 12 billion Dollars and is the Head of a big company."

And the other might say: "Hellooo... he is an investment BANKER! He'll tell you lies, and then it's your turn to CRY CRY CRY-Y."

Alternatively -

b. Someone: "She's not an actor, she's not a star. She doesn't even have her own car. Therefore she is a loser, QED."

Other: "Not only that, she also tried unsuccessfully to be a pole dancer. That's why I'm hoping so much she'll stay. And that she'll love me anyway."


Wait, that doesn't sound right.

I wanted to write some sort of MacGyver story for Example b, but I heard singing in my head and wrote that down instead.

Was that an auditory illusion?

*gobbles a handful of pills*


angry doc said...

At the end, it's all about me... boomz!

Lim Leng Hiong said...

It's all about you... and a magically expanding bottle of vicodin.

So did you actually get a walking stick with flames on it?

angry doc said...

No, but I did pick up a substance-dependence habit...