This appeared in Dissident Voice.
I’m not looking at schizophrenia for the moment as a sickness, but as a more or less inevitable development or consequence of a species that refines thought to such an extent that it becomes confused by its own images and beliefs and mistakes them for reality itself.
Conclusive certainty or dogma would be an obvious symptom of this crisis – a crisis which may have begun several thousand years ago and is only now approaching its ‘do or die’ moment: Learn this lesson or perish.
I think that some degree of schizophrenia is an inevitable consequence of hitting this confusion. And depending on how hard or soft that collision might be, the schizophrenia manifests more or less dramatically. But it’s a natural crisis; a collision with the limits of a particular mode of intelligence.
The confusion seems to be telling us that thought isn’t intelligent on its own. No matter how subtle the thought may be in one sense, in a functional sense, the thought is only a static construct, or a dead conclusion, which has put an end to learning.
Introduce yourself to any conclusive thought and the little bugger will turn out to be a rather pig-headed atom of mind. “No, the issue is closed,” it will always say, before walking away. I met one the other day that said, “Mankind is violent by nature! End of discussion!” And when learning is stopped like this, the conclusion becomes another self-fulfilling prophecy.
And it’s interesting to notice that any “human trait” we can name – arguing, selfishness, meanness – is the fulfillment of a self-fulfilling prophecy driven by beliefs or thoughts that we confuse with reality itself, with absolute fact.
So we end up becoming as pigheaded as the thought that is running us.
So this confusion translates into an unconscious belief or set of assumptions that are taken for granted to be factually real. I call this a hidden “philosophy” of Literalism (though it operates automatically, without any conscious realization (usually) on our part). (Picture the relationship between hidden philosophies and human behavior in this way maybe: An absent-minded person is traveling down a very complex system of highways. This person has no idea how the highways were constructed, or what they even look like from an overview perspective. But the person’s “behavior” (the car) is nevertheless proceeding along these complex, highly intellectual structures).
But this Literalism or tendency to conflate thought and thing is the essence of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is the symptom of this confusion: An inevitable confusion, an inevitable symptom.
Let’s look at crises as having two sides, like a coin. On one side, we’re confronting a disturbing death of an old way of operating. On the other side, we’re being challenged to make an evolutionary leap. Death and birth you might say.
What’s dying is a way of life that worked well up to a point, but increasingly over the past centuries has tended towards a hard and brittle absolutism, where positions are deeply staked, and where all challenges (including the challenges of reality itself) are denied or justified, even if it leads to one’s own self-destruction.
Thanks god it’s dying, BUT: This death is still very frightening to all of us, and particularly schizophrenically terrorizing to those who came out of childhood already terrorized by the idea that they’re “nobody” until they succeed in this positive, assertive, domineering, competitive direction. The fear of being nobody (of being without the conditional love that is all they probably ever encountered) is tremendously blinding.
And we’re facing crises where this kind of everyday competitive (unloving) mode of operating is no longer suitable.
In other words, the kind of learning that seeks a dead conclusion, or that seeks to accumulative knowledge – or what I call “positive” learning, because it’s always seeking the security of a positive certainty or dogma or status – can no longer be the primary mode of learning, because the problems we’re facing in so many areas of life are deeper than the material and practical problems that positive learning is “designed” to solve.
Dead conclusions won’t serve us in any kind of relational, social, or political activity – in fact, in any activity that requires language (which is basically everything). In this domain conclusions make us stupid.
But the other side of the coin is not yet clear. It seems to be provoking an awareness of the potential of a different way of learning – not strictly an accumulative, knowledge-gathering mode, which ends in conclusions, but a subtractive, eye-opening mode that leaves wider and more penetrating questions.
We’ve always had the capacity to learn negatively – to see falsehood, to notice that the emperor is naked, to be stripped of old certainties that blinded us, leaving us in a kind of alert uncertainty, like the genius on the basketball court who can see everything as it develops. Conclusions are utterly useless in a shifting context.
But this negative mode of learning, which is being primarily aware of how events err from expectations, has gotten increasingly suppressed as positive learning took over. The more we accumulate positive expertise, the less likely we are to question our own now elaborate and firm (but brittle and unchanging) ideas. We might correlate this shift from a mode of living that depended primarily on Not coming to conclusions (such as cultures close to earth, which depend on a deep and quickly adapting intelligence of their environment) to one that seeks conclusive certainty and confidence (which is status and authority) to the shift from right to left brain dominance; or the shift from a more metaphoric to a more analytical perspective.
We threw something out with the bathwater when we made this switch. But this isn’t unnatural. Life always makes mistakes. There is no perfect response to anything, because every situation is new and impossible to know in its entirety. Every adaptive act makes waves of some sort and these waves reveal the shortcomings of the action, so that one becomes like a surfer, I suppose, always finding an inconclusive balance, in this way remaining coherent and realistic without the need for any certainty. This is why negative learning needs to become primary again. Positive dominance tends to repress essential negative information. We need to see our mistakes or we’re going to die out soon.
This doesn’t mean going back to a “primitive” way of learning. It wasn’t “primitive” to begin with, and we CAN learn something new here: focusing so intently on the material, positive plain for all these centuries helped us develop skills in this direction. But now we need to return to the wisdom of a wider, more negatively aware mentality to use those skills in a less self-destructive manner. Prior to this hyper-rational period, we lived coherently with the earth, but only because we hadn’t yet taken thought to its extreme limits and gotten confused by it as we have now. Before, we were still susceptible to the illusions of thought. But this crisis is making us immune to their black magic, because it’s forcing us to look more deeply at the nature of thought.
And negative learning is how this crisis in thought, this schizophrenia, gets resolved. Because if a person keeps confusing thought and thing, we can’t keep feeding them more ideas, solutions, and stories in hopes of helping them. We’re only leading them deeper into the maze of dead-end certainties, into a babble of arguing dogmas, which can only end with extinction.
The only real solid ground or certainty in a world of hallucinations is negative, which is to say, error. Errors are the bread crumbs that lead us out of our blind convictions.
One last note: I wouldn’t call this schizophrenic crisis a “natural” development in the sense that it’s “always” inevitable. That THIS IS HOW THE WORLD OPERATES BY NATURE, in some conclusive sense. To me, our patterns of development, our stages of growth, aren’t fixed features, aren’t set in stone, but are more like the course of a river, which shifts as rocks (assumptions), or trees (belief systems), come and go. So at this point in our human imagination of the world, certain assumptive boulders have pushed our development towards a kind of excess rationality that ends up in a little backwater whirlpool of schizophrenia. But if we resolve this confusion, then human development would no longer encounter this problem in quite the same way. Human “nature” shifts; behavior, ideas, visions change. There is no vantage point that shows everything, so there’s always room to learn, and no form or nature ever settles.