Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Unhappy and wrong :-)

A blog entry without a new video this time, in order to avoid getting ahead of myself.  More than one video a day means spam to a lot of people and it's bad enough as it is.  Nonetheless, there will be a rather old vid on here in a bit.

Just to clear up something else, this is not about me being unhappy, as i'm not.  Whether i'm right or wrong is another issue.  Anyway, Slartibartfast once said "I'd far rather be happy than right, any day".  I find this statement interesting because of what it illustrates about human nature and behaviour, except that it's more likely to be the other way round.  A whole load of people, possibly the majority, would seem to prefer a sense of certainty to happiness.

I'm sure we all have mental health problems and have friends with them because that's the nature of mental health, or perhaps the nature of the medical paradigm as applied to the human mind.  Even so, we shouldn't trivialise the problems which arise when people are frankly mentally ill in such a way that they believe major vendettas are being conducted against them personally by the government (when others disagree about that) or they find their situations so hard to deal with that they throw themselves off bridges, to give two examples.

Mental health is a huge and controversial subject of course, and i am going to have to avoid saying as much as i might want to in order not to go on and on to an even greater extent than i usually do.  As a result, much of what i'm about to say is likely to look simplistic, and i apologise for that in advance.  One thing which does strike me as a unifying feature of most mental illness is the presence of an idea on which the person is unusually strongly focussed, without reference to its truth-value.  That is, it can be correct but is intrusive or one feels a compulsion to pay attention to it which others tend to see as excessive.  However, i don't want to talk about that now.

There are many examples of false beliefs and belief systems which restrict people's ability to be happy, and of course many true beliefs and belief systems which do the same.  When the set of beliefs is false, however, one sometimes has the impression that the person holding them is so attached to them that they would in fact prefer to continue believing them than become happy, even if they are intellectually pretty convinced they're wrong.  My interpretation of this is that people prefer the sense of conviction that they have that the world, or their world, is a particular way to a world or life which seems more positive but is based on shakier foundations - they tend to screen out the sense of inherent uncertainty with which we could all be living if we could escape from our own world views.  It also seems that they sometimes identify quite strongly with their beliefs, and also that they have proceeded down a long tunnel of beliefs which reinforce each other until they want to hang onto them just to feel they haven't wasted their time or spent a long time being wrong.  The beliefs become entrenched and their removal becomes quite threatening.

That's one aspect.  Another is that the nouns can be wrong but the verbs right, i.e. the literal truth of what someone believes can be false but there is a deeper and in a sense more meaningful level on which it's true.  The mistake, if it is one, is to mistake the metaphor for reality.  For instance, one might feel that one's partner is trying to take over the world and is secretly in control of all governments.  That's a belief which would be incorrect for most or all people (I would say "all" because of my view of the nature of power).  However, it may also express that person's impression that their partner is dominating them unduly, and that may in fact sometimes be so.  Therefore, on many occasions the question of whether something is literally true or not, by which i mean whether i agree with that perception or not, is completely beside the point and a complete blind alley.  That doesn't mean one should agree with the person - confirming such a belief would often mean, for instance, that they have received external corroboration for a very frightening possibility and that won't do them any good - but it would at the same time often be inappropriate only to engage with what they're saying in terms of a medical model because that amounts to a failure to listen or take that person seriously.

This is not even always about mental health.  Belief systems which are entirely false and unsupported by evidence in literal terms, which all of us probably have, can still be true in an important non-literal sense, and it's not always productive to get fixated on the idea of whether they're literally true.  That in itself would be an example of the kind of exactly the kind of excessive focus which characterises mental illness itself.

OK, so today's video is old.  It dates from the time before i attempted to keep this channel's videos short and sweet, it's on a cruddy camera (for video - it's a nice stills camera) and there are probably a load of other problems with it, but i humbly crave your attention.  Here it is: