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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