Sunday, February 06, 2005

Natural Born Liars

I have finally managed to find some time to start in on one of my Christmas presents, Why We Lie by David Smith. While I haven't gotten very far into it, I did find one early passage interesting (page 27).

Deprssives, they [mental health professionals] claim, believe false ideas about themselves and others. They are self-deceived and out of touch with reality. Irrational, self-deceptive thinking is alleged to be a factor distinguishing depressed people from "normal" ones, but this psychiatric homily turns out to be badly mistaken. Scientifc research leads to the opposite conculsion that depressives seem to have a better grasp of reality than the "normal" psychiatrists tha treat them.

Further on the author continues;

Allor and Abramson found that the depressed individuals assessed both situations [credit for personal roles in a game] far more realistically . The rather startling conclusion is that depressives may suffer from a defecit in self-deception.... If mental health depends upon a liberal dose of self-deception then perhaps, as the philosopher David Nyberg wryly remarks, "Self knowledge isn't all that it's cracked up to be."

If this is true, I wonder how many people could survive if they were to constantly view events around them accurately? Now obviously the way "accurate" is being used in the quotes probably only accepts immediate judgments, discounting long term possibilities. I think perhaps this might be a big difference between depressives and non-depressives. Nonetheless, how many people would be able to struggle through life without many of the dreams, hopes and illusions we create for ourselves?

I certainly think some can. Tenacious individuals like this may be rare, but like one of my favorite movies, Touching The Void illustrates, some people are less inclined to give up than others. Indeed I wonder if part of this trait isn't a key element to this life.

To many, the apparent lack of divine intervention in catastrophes is hard to fathom. The capabilities humans have for causing suffering to each other is huge. Many people reconcile these events by assuming the existence of a greater good. Others may assume a more hands off role for god where these events are just natural consequences of our existence (for instance removing pain sensors from our body would make life a less painful experience, but it may make a lot of other things, like survival, more difficult, if not impossible). In terms of David Smith's ideas, I wonder what the consequences are of a depressed, and hence (from the afore mentioned perspective) more accurate view of god are?

Are many people strong enough to make it through life with the apathy and loss of hope that seem to accompany the accurate view of reality associated with this take on depression? Would an increase in accuracy offset associated losses in drive, motivation and other factors? In general, would we even be able to live with a less fantastical view of god?

Now many people would say that knowledge of god and depression just aren't compatible. I would tend to agree, however, I would add that I don't think the stereotypical view of depression is being discussed here. I think what is at hand is whether or not idealized beliefs, and the accompanying loss of accuracy they usually hold, are always worth the help they give us to function?

Personally, I think many of the problems associated with "realistic" views are situational. Problems occur because of discrepancies with past perspectives, irrational desires for things to change, and knowledge that others seem to function quite well with a rosier, if less accurate take on things. Most people tend to be content when they go with the flow of the crowd. Indeed I think we underestimate the role that culture plays on what we are able to accept and enjoy. Thus my view that many of our conceptions of god are perhaps based more on what we would like to believe that what may actually be real.


Anonymous said...

Posted by J. Stapley (I didn't want to get a Blooger ID)

While I think that we need to be careful how we use terms like depressive (this can mean a lot of different clinical and non-clinical disorders), I think that you’re right that natural human tendency trends toward the narcissistic. It seems to me that I read an article awhile back that measured perceived happiness and correlated it not to success (academic and business) but the degree to which someone was a “positive thinker”.

Concurrently, I have to believe that there is something to the concept of hope (faith, hope & charity). And while I believe that it is divorced from our natural narcissism, I do think that it relates to our world view.

chris g said...

The blogger comments can be a pain. I like Ebeneezer Orthodoxy’s hack, but it messes up my safari browser. Like you, I tend to think terms like depressive are rather loaded, especially since they have very particular scientific meanings when compared to their broad common usage. Like you said, it is interesting to think about the degree that hope plays in religion. Obviously it is tied to a great many things. To me, it seems like it is often used as a synonym for motivation. I wonder if this is what leads to so much conflagration? People assume that exaggerated concepts do no harm as long as they get people to do more than they otherwise would do. So I wonder if many people would assume that it is better to be more (religiously) active with a false view of god than less (religiously) active with an accurate view? Now this makes many forms of fundamentalism rather ironic, at least in my mind. Those who zealously push forward rigid ideas of god may be doing so not because of the correctness of those ideas, but because they foster more religious activity. Basically it is easier to get going on something if you don’t need to always worry if you are on the right path.

Now I don’t think there would be many fundamentalist’s who would say that this is what they are doing. Instead I think it is an underlying consequence of other things. If you go too far in one direction you always give something up. In this case, I think such ardent focus on belief for belief’s sake means that something else must be given up to replace it. In this case I wonder if accuracy isn’t what is lost. In much the same way, I think the same things happen to us in a day to day basis.