Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Square Circle: Consciousness, Mental Illness, and Local Understanding

In Dr. Sacks book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat“, in precisely the case of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, we see consciousness.

Or at least, insofar as I can perceive consciousness.

And this is precisely the problem. We cannot conceive consciousness for, if we did, it would be akin to conceiving a square circle.

There is a mathematical analogy here, and I beg my non-mathematician readers to allow me this as I do not know how to otherwise describe it without referring to persons, but as soon as I have done that I have forgotten the possibility of a square circle, indeed I may very well be, in some sense, actively supressing the square circle.

There exists, within the mathemato-cosm, an idea known as a “smooth manifold”. These are, essentially, surfaces on which we can create a calculus, in the same sense as we “create” a calculus in 3 dimensional space. Or, for those to whom calculus does not help understanding, imagine that we could generalize speed and acceleration and distance on this body.

“Locally”, in a mathematical sense, a 3 dimensional manifold looks like our common understanding of three dimensional space. We must be careful here in explanation because “Locally” and “Globally” are vastly different and often hard to understand.

Imagine that you were walking on a road and all of the sudden your understanding of speed and distance suddenly failed you, to such a degree that you could not even tell if you were moving. But once you reacclimated yourself to this spot, everything came back into view.

This is my current understanding of consciousness. Globally we are systems, locally we are individual persons. This would seem contradictory and backwards if interpreted incorrectly, so let me explain…

When I say locally here I do not mean one in a crowd or a persons feature. I mean the entire person. By global I mean, in effect, a surveillence under which personhood cannot be understood. Like the manifold it is not real 3 dimensional space, but rather only recognizable at local understanding. Similarly, from a personal view, that is a view that assumes ones own personhood, others are visible as persons. But insofar as we cannot understand our own personhood we cannot understand or comprehend personhood in the other either.

This allows for an interesting understanding of mental illness. If we saw “ourselves” as something that does not admit a legitimate understanding of “ourselves” mental illness would be self-understood to be an abberation in nature. That is we would perceive, rather than a distorted worldview, a distorted brain chemistry which affected this being that we cannot legitimately call “myself”.

The experience of mental illness is the experience of our understanding of self fighting for legitimacy as a being in a complete sense rather than an “Ikea Disaster” (if there really is such a thing as an “Ikea Success”).

Given this understanding the necessity of psychotherapy of some sort in addition to psychiatric care is readily apparent. Should we recover from the brain chemistry error, we must also recover from the self-conception error, an error developed in defense of personhood during a time of self-crisis.

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Misunderstanding Suicide

I recently heard about the verdict involving the student Dharun Ravi and the suicide of Tyler Clementi.

I will not here discuss the sentence of Dharun, this is outside the scope of my blog.

However suicide is not.

I don’t want people to cheapen suicide. And I feel that some people are by attempting to show a unitary cause-effect relationship between the invasion of privacy and his suicide.

I do not claim to know the mind of Tyler Clementi, and sadly his mind has left the communion of minds that is this world.

So I will speak from my own experience and make a suggestion.

I never attempted suicide in the strong sense, though it was constantly on my mind during the worst dredges of my severe depressed phase before being hospitalized.

My suicidal state was not a unitary cause-effect. It was the accumulation of world that I, like unto Atlas, carried upon my back. A singular world view of self-hatred and despair becoming massive and coming near the point of complete exhaustion.

And that point of complete exhaustion is suicide. The point at which I can no longer hold my world is suicide. Understand that at this point I believed that Hell was the end after death, that death was not really an escape. When the heat and stench of fire and brimstone engulf your being and yet this is preferred to the state of affairs, or when total annihilation of being is preferred we cannot be so naive as to proclaim a unitary cause-effect. Some people misunderstand it as “release”. It isn’t release. It’s extinction or worse. And yet living seems far beyond the “worse”…

To my compatriots in the depths of depression, press on, and receive the help of others if you can, you do not have to carry this alone. To my homosexual compatriots I say the same, and also say that you are not broken in your being, despite what some may say, that in fact your expression, understanding, and acceptance of your sexuality is indicative of the coherence of your being. You are you.

I wish the best for those who knew and weep for Mr. Clementi. In the great congress of minds we have lost a member, and this loss should be communally felt.

Be well,


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