Insanity and I

Everybody sees the world in a different way.  Insanity, by its very nature, is seen by everybody in a different way.  So what does my interest of this particular word show about my unique character?  Stay tuned for more.

I find myself not just interested with insanity, but the nature or the word.  Fifty years ago, a child with autism was insane.  Before that, somebody who had schizophrenia was demonically possessed.  Before that, that same person may have been a priest/priestess for some old polytheistic religion.  Now, take time out of the equation.  How do we observe or, dare I say, help somebody who is deemed insane?  Do we take the psychoanalytic approach? Do we take the cognitive approach?  Neurobiological? Humanistic?  Behaviorist?  Sociocultural?  With all of these differing views on insanity and its roots, how can one possibly hope to even remotely comprehend the word as a whole?

In this way, insanity is uncertainty.  One of my relatives, prior to his death, was a diagnosed schizophrenic.  However, he had developed the illness very late in life and there were strong doubt throughout my family as to whether or not he was simply “acting.”  Sometimes diseases are confused for mystical/spiritual contacts.  How can one be sure of what is happening in another’s head?  The truth is they cannot.  Not only can we not say we are certain of what insanity truly is, but we can never be certain of whether or not it exists.

You see, insanity operates like the skin on a chameleon.  It has no one defined color or appearance, but rather changes and distorts itself to match the environment (or in his case, the relative definition).  As a result, you have no particular way to look at the word.  This was probably what was hardest for me to do when I blogged about insanity.  Defining the word was nearly impossible.  In my first post, I attempted to give the reader an idea of how to look at insanity.  This was my most difficult task in the course of my blogging.  Trying to tell somebody what insanity is is quite the hard task when its definition is literally “The act of being insane.”  I had to show the reader that insanity is many things, determined by everything from environment to a lack/excess of certain chemicals in the brain.  Insanity, in some sense, is whatever you choose to see it as.

That is why I chose the word insanity.  It is like an unsolved mystery with limitless causes and solutions, infinitely many correct and infinitely many wrong.  I see the word as a challenge for being so hard to truly understand, and yet simple as it has so many ways to be understood, so long as the right person shows you the way.  I guess what the word insanity shows most about me is my desire to see and understand other perspectives.  While an Atheist, I love to research all religions, old and new, and see their tenants and stories.  I believe the same applies for my sanity.  While completely sane (hopefully), I find the subject so interesting because it is without a true, definite meaning.  I just like being able to know.

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EXTERMINATE

Above this text is a picture of Dalek Sec, a member of the notorious, antagonistic race of aliens known as the Dalek from the television series Doctor Who.  The Daleks are an intensely xenophobic race of cyborgs, and while only four members remain alive, they are bent on the genocide of every other race.  Dalek Sec (then Dalek leader), however, had a revolutionary idea on how their species could remain alive.  Sec noticed that humans managed to always survive throughout time, and suggested having their bodies fused with those of the Daleks.  The end result looked something like this –

This is a new Dalek Sec, having fused with a male human host.  As a result of his transformation, Sec discovered emotions and humanity, but at the cost of power and superior intellect.  Sec claimed that humanity was the key to survival in that it allowed for compatibility with other races and evolution as a whole, while Daleks themselves were rigid and unchanging.  Sec’s comrades eventually betrayed him since, being xenophobes, combining with “inferior” DNA was treason, and also because his morals and emotions made him insane.

So the question is, who was really insane?  Dalek Sec, for giving up clear genetic superiority and virtual invincibility (Daleks are impervious to nearly all weapons and are armed with a death ray and computer hacking device) for the sake of emotion and survival, or his comrades, for sacrificing all joy and purpose in life for sole, unquestioned superiority?  In the end, it comes down to a simple preference between power and humanity.

AP Insanity

As a taker of two AP exams in the past (and 3 more in the near future), such challenging tests are nothing new to me.  However, some tests have reached a new level of difficulty.  This level can only be described as ludicrous, absurd, ridiculous, hysterical and, most importantly, completely and utterly insane.

Now, one may at first think that I am overreacting.  Let that person read the following AP question:

At approximately what temperature will 40.0 grams of argon gas at 2.0 atmospheres occupy a volume of 22.4 liters?

A. 1,200 K
B. 600 K
C. 550 K
D. 270 K
E. 140 K

Now, before any taker of Junior level chemistry mocks me for using the simple question as an example, keep in mind that all chemistry multiple choice are WITHOUT A CALCULATOR.  Now, most students know that to find the temperature of a gas, they would use the equation T=(PV)/(nR).  Now, the formula mass of argon is approximately 40, and since we have 40 grams, n=1.  The equation is now T=(PV)/R.  With all other variables put in, T=((2)(22.4))/.0821=44.8/.0821.  So, good luck doing that without a calculator.  If one rounds these numbers to 45 and .1 respectively, however, their answer will still come out to 450.  While closest to C, this leaves a huge margin of error.  Not only does this test expect too much from the student, but it leaves doubt in any answer containing the words “Approximately, About, Closest To,” or “Near.”

The only reasonable explanation is that the good folks at College Board are complete lunatics.  Who else would require a student to know specific uses of every single compound known to man (in addition to all other aspects of chemistry), charge $30.00 to have SAT scores rush-shipped ELECTRONICALLY (and still have it show up late), and all at the same time still think itself the world leader on college affairs?

We must stop this madness.  Fellow Highschooligans, we must take up in arms against this insane, rogue organization.  Like a precursor to Skynet, College Board is ruthless and will stop at nothing until full world domination is reached.  Join me in the fight against insanity.

Misdiagnosis?

Learning disabilities seem to be on a rise today.  Everything from complex disorders such as autism to simple illnesses such as ADD.  So, why have the diseases become so much more common?

Some people blame our environment, saying things like plastics and hormones result in mental illness even after conception and before birth.  These people have a very common disorder known as “idiocy.”

The truth is, these diseases are not more common at all.  As medical science developed we simply became better at recognizing diseases in individuals.  People who simply seemed to be eccentric or, for lack of a better word, slow were now seen for having real diseases that needed real treatment.  However, it seems today we have gotten a little too good at recognizing mental illness.

They say one of every hundred children has autism, and that great minds like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Spielberg have Asperger’s (a milder class of autism).  Now, these individuals are consider to be “high functioning,” or having no real symptoms of autism side from being asocial.  These people are not diseased, they are simply asocial.  A vast amount of children are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD at the slightest sight of anything somewhat resembling a symptom.  While these two diseases are real, not everybody, far from everybody, diagnosed is an actual patient.  Usually, they are hyper or just plain stupid.

The sad truth is that it is easier to tell a parent their kid has a disorder and provide them with a figurative placebo than simply explain “Your child is what we professionals call… stupid.”  These diseases are real and a serious problem, but we need to recognize the patients from the… others.  It’s not a matter of what one is more like, it is a matter of the presence of illness.

To be, or Not to be… Inasane

From what I have read so far from the Shakespearean play Hamlet, I seem to find the character of Hamlet the most controversial thing about the entire play.  Is he seeking retribution, justice, or revenge?  Is he good, bad, or nihilistic?  Is he SANE?

Hamlet indeed does show many signs of insanity.  He constantly walks about reading books, not paying any mind to his surrounding or to the objections of others.  He often rambles (seemingly) meaningless jabber to his family in colleagues.  He is prone to angry fits around others.  But is Hamlet really insane, or are things truly not as they seem?

Based on how I see the character, not all is as it seems.  Hamlet is far from without intelligence.  He has been attending a prestigious school up until present time, he often muses about the complex nature of humanity and the world around it in a philosophical manner, and even his seemingly insane rants are “pregnant” with seeds of truth, usually pertinent to the situation at hand.

In truth, it would seem as though Hamlet is merely acting insane to help distract from his current task: to kill Claudius for the sake of his father, who (based on how Shakespeare had written it), seems to be in need of redemption to escape Purgatory.  For the sake of justice, as well as the well being of his father’s soul, Hamlet must not be hasty in the committing of his horrid deed.

Insanity is often used as a guise in one of two ways:  to plea innocent by insanity if caught, or, more likely in Hamlet’s case, to make others think he is incapable of any well thought plans, such as homicide.  Either way, Hamlet has found a way to, so it would seem, escape with murder (seemingly).

Insanity (?)

In my previous posts, I’ve gone into depths of certain things that relate to insanity, as well as the word itself.  What does this do for you, however, in terms of telling you what insanity, what the essence of this word is?  There are so many literal and figurative meanings behind it, from disease to acts to personality to insults.  To truth to insanity is, in fact, that there is no truth to insanity.  Would you call somebody who sacrificed a human being, who built stone behemoths to protect the dead, or who worshiped animal Gods?  In the future, will they call those who called fish eggs a delicacy and used oil as a fuel insane?  Who is to truly say?

Many words are relative: normalcy, intelligence, strength, etc.  This is especially true for a word such as insanity.  Insanity is a word defined by the society that is currently using it, and as that society progresses and changes, so does the word insanity.  Today, for example, insanity is no longer an acceptable medical diagnosis, due simply to its relative nature.  Any disease of the mind is now called a mental illness (shocking) because it does not make one “insane,” it simply impairs mental functions.

hen using the term insanity, one must always be careful.  Maybe they are insane, maybe you are insane, maybe I’m insane.

“The good thing about weirdness is there is always somebody weirder than you.  You’re all saying, ‘At least I’m not as weird as this guy!’  And I’m saying, ‘At least I’m not as weird as the people in the loony bin!’  And the people in the loony bin are saying ‘At least I’m an orange!'” – Jim Gaffigan

Shine on, you Crazy Diamond

Syd Barrett

In an earlier post, I had compared the use of the drug LSD to symptoms of the mental illness schizophrenia, and how the two can relate.  The connection between this disease and illicit substance is best illustrated through the life of former Pink Floyd member and founder, Syd Barrett (1946-2006).

Interestingly enough, the unique sound of the band Pink Floyd is often attributed to Barrett and his drug obsessed lifestyle, but too often do people forget that he only had a short stay with the band, lasting fewer than ten years.

Rock and roll never seems to mix well with drugs, and all too often do bands get split apart because of addiction.  In Barrett’s case, however, the problem was not any sort of addiction (while a drug, there is no addictive quality to acid itself, though some people rely on the hallucinations produced to a point that they mimic an addict).  As the band progressed, Barrett began to act eccentric, skipping rehearsals and constantly showing up late to concerts, as though he was unaware of the band’s existence.  One night, the members of Pink Floyd simply chose to go on without Syd, replacing him with their newest member David Gilmour.  Barrett hardly seemed to notice.

Barrett’s musical career was far from over, however.  He had many solo albums, each seeming more trippy and otherworldly than the last.  Eventually, it became evident Barrett was suffering from a mental breakdown when he was hospitalized.  It was not too long after when he was a diagnosed schizophrenic.  The cause was proven to be the result of his drug abusive past, and the effects were irreversible.

Barrett’s last public appearance was in the Abbey Road music studio during the recording of Pink Floyd’s album Wish You Were Here.  Barrett had gained a great deal of weight, shaved off all hair on his face (head, facial hair, eyebrows) and spoke in incoherent ramblings.  The band members, shocked at what they saw, produced three recordings in memory of their old friend: Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pt. 1 & 2, and the song that would later provide the name for the album.

A great mind is truly a terrible thing to waste.

Six Insane Approaches to Insanity

Six Insane Approaches to Insanity

There are six main approaches to Psychology and, with insanity having it’s roots in mental disorders, six different approaches to understanding the term.

First is the Neurobiological approach. This approach is solely based on medical observation and would see insanity as simply a mental disorder. Their approach is to determine the specific medical cause and then prescribe any medications deemed necessary.

Next we have Psychoanalysis. Here it is believed that any mental problems can be traced to repressed memories or painful occurrences locked in the unconscious, causing severe distress on one’s mind. Therapy and introspection or the cure to insanity here.

Third is Humanism. They believe everyone is secretly good and everything is just honky-dory. So who cares if you’re insane? I’m sure things will work out fine!

Fourth is the Cognitive approach, where all thought is a series of deductive processes used to solve everyday problems. Insanity, according to them, is most likely the result of faulty cognitive abilities or an extreme approach to problem solving. Best distract the insane with a Rubix Cube.

Fifth is Behaviorism. Here, all human thoughts, emotions, and processes are a result of what we learn, making us a product of our environment. Therefore, traumatic experiences, bad parents, or a history of violence will lead to insanity. Brainwashing always does the trick here.

Finally we have Sociocultural, where behavior is the result of societal expectations and regulations. So if you’re insane, chances are everybody else is too.

Adventure Time!

One upon a time, a chemist was working late at night in his lab.  As it got late, the chemist began to feel sick and so he decided to have his lab assistant help him to get home, but all the chemist had for transportation was a bicycle.  He decided he was well enough to make his journey home, but could not have been more wrong.

Aside from some sweat and a migraine, the chemist felt quite fine.  Soon, however, he began to grow quite sensitive to light.  After a few minutes, the light went away, and a whole new set of images filled the chemist’s vision.  At first, building and people began to warp and distort to strange shapes and sizes.  The chemist got off of his bike and took the images in whilst hurrying home.  “Oh, my…” he thought, “Could I be going insane?”

“As he got closer and closer, the distorted shaped changed to bright and vibrant colors and patterns, filling his eyes with a disturbing beauty that did not go away even when his eyes closed.  Never did these pictures stay the same, for what the chemist saw was like a swirling kaleidoscope.  “This is not normal…” the chemist whispered to himself repeatedly, “This is not good.  I am surely loosing my mind!”

Things only got worse for the chemist, for now he was beginning to believe himself more and more.  As he somehow managed to reach his home, the chemist saw his neighbor outside of her door.  What he saw was a grotesque and sadistic witch, making an attempt on his very life.  Any feelings that the chemist once felt were now replaced with pure anxiety and fear, and any doubt that the chemist was insane had left his mind.  He ran into his home and called for help, and so his wife sent for the police.

The police examined the chemist, who still seemed to be in a world of his own.  They noted that he seemed perfectly fine, save his dilated pupils.  They would check up on him later to see if his behavior would cede.  As they made their way out, the chemist had a thought.

“My experiment, that chemical!”  the chemist remembered.  “Had it poisoned me?  Was this all in my head?”  Suddenly, as this thought came to mind, the chemist began to slip back into reality, feeling relieved and content.

The chemist’s name was Albert Hoffman.  He was a Swiss scientist famous for the discovery of lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly referred to as LSD, which he tested on himself, causing the experience told above.  Behaviors associated with taking the drug are either complete relaxation and lethargy or uncontrolled and frantic bursts, mimicking many psychoactive behaviors.  If you could relate to this story in any way, you need to see a professional, make sure no one touches your drinks, or stop listening to Timothy Leary.

Sethe Be Crazy

As I have mentioned numerous times in my previous posts, insanity can be caused by a variety of factors, but they can always be classified into one of two groups: genetic or environmental factors.  Sethe, the main protagonist from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, is an excellent example of the impact environment can have on one’s sanity.

Normal, comfortable, stable, and happy are but a few words that would do absolutely nothing to describe Sethe’s life (words such as slavery, rape, broken home and ghost-of-my-murdered-baby-haunting-my-house would do much more justice).  The life of a slave, especially a female one, is an experience unmatched in torment and misery.  The physical and mental scarring Sethe had faced left its mark on her, and as a result caused her to make irrational decisions when she was faced with problems involving her past.  Sometimes, such behaviors were minor.  While a long-lost friend of hers, Sethe had a hard time being around Paul D. (at times), as he reminded her of a past life.  Here, nobody was harmed, Sethe was just trying to forget the past and avoid her inner pain (completely normal).  However, the damage done to Sethe’s mind ran much deeper than her awkward social graces around Paul D.

Remember that baby haunting Sethe’s house?  Well, spoiler alert, she killed it, in addition to nearly beating her two sons to death, and making her way to Denver.  Now, (maternal) filicide can usually be traced to some sort of mental disturbance.  The key factor here is that we know about what had happened to Sethe in her past.  She was a slave, and saw an old “friend” of hers attempting to halt her escape her, and her children’s, escape.  In Sethe’s mind, slavery was worse than anything, even death.  At the same time, the basic function of all species is to reproduce, and so to kill her own children would be to go against a basic human impulse, making the decision irrational.  This decision was based off of the impact left on her by her environment, and how the majority of people (even slaves at the time) would not have made such a brash decision.

While one decision in life is hardly enough to classify somebody as insane, it does show what that person is capable of, and where their so called “spark of insanity” lies.  In Sethe’s case, it was all in her past.  While the event itself is a horrible one, showing the grief she must have suffered in addition to bringing the life of a child to an end, what is interesting to note is how is goes against basic human impulses, leaving a small chance that her problems may lie (though not likely) within her genes.  Seldom does anyone, slave or free man of the time, have such an awful experience that they can turn away from humanity.

No Joke

A disease that I have commonly referred to when blogging is schizophrenia, and indeed, when most people think of insanity, the symptoms of this awful disease come to mind.  What makes this disease most interesting, though, is the several factors that can attribute to its onset.

Generally, diseases have one distinct cause (a faulty gene, a virus/bacteria, substance abuse, etc.).  Schizophrenia, however, can be caused by many factors, including depression, social disorders, and the precursors mentioned above.  The disease itself is a terrible experience, one that can leave the victim nearly incapable of cognitive processes.

Generally, schizophrenia takes time to reach full effect in a patient.  It will begin with hallucinations (and/or hearing voices), along with disorganized and rambling thoughts/speech.  At the point of diagnosis, the patient has usually become completely antisocial, isolating themselves.  In rare conditions, the subject will begin to bend into bizarre (and sometime painful) postures, a symptom commonly associated with possession.

There was one trait that separated schizophrenia with other disorders, however, and that is a supposed lack of self control.  Schizophrenia patients will often believe that their thoughts are being created by an external force, usually the voices or images they are sensing.  These ideas of “people in your head” are a common stereotypical symptom of a vague diagnosis of insanity.  Due to its severity and mind-altering nature, schizophrenia has become sort of a “poster child” for the insane.

Many people have experienced this disease.  Famed mathematician John Nash had delusions of government agents attempting to take his life.  While a genius, his disorder is believed to be of a genetic origin.  Another example is the now deceased musician Syd Barrett (founder of Pink Floyd), who had onset delusions from constant LSD abuse, leading to his eventual descent into schizophrenia.  Insanity can be many things, but for some reason, this one pops into our heads first. 

Insanity? How Hysterically Absurd!

If you read my last post, then you know how hard it is to put a specific definition on the word “insanity.”  If you did not read my last post, then I cannot help but wonder why you skipped to my second.  That’s like watching The Godfather Pt. II before the first one.  It may seem like a timesaver, but then all of a sudden you are left wondering “Who is the Vito Corleone fellow, and what does he have to do with the story?”  But I digress…

Insanity is an interesting word to say the least.  If one were to narrow down the possible uses of it, they would find two big ones. 

The original and primary use of the word is as a medical diagnosis.  In this sense, the word is a general term for psychotic or social conditions of the mind.  “Insane” would, in essence be a broad term, such as “Mental Disorder” or “Physical Condition.”  Synonyms for specific uses of this type of insanity would be neurosis, phobia, psychosis, dementia, etc.

Now more than ever, insanity has become the subject of many a hyperbole.  When someone does something even remotely different, people have a tendency to call them “insane.”  For example –

“You think the Chicago (insert Chicago sports franchise) will win the (insert name of sports tournament)?  You are insane!”

Here synonyms for insanity would include absurdity, craziness, delusion and, in most cases, sheer stupidity.  If you need me to tell you what the antonym of INsanity is, then stop reading right now.  However, since it is required…

IN- is a prefix indicating the opposite or lack of something.  Sanity, meaning “sane” or with common sense and without delusion, would mean the opposite with IN- attached, forming our favorite word, insanity.  Antonyms include wellness, balance, and, of course, sanity.

Insanity

If one were to open up a dictionary, it can be safely assumed that under “insanity” you will find “the state of being insane.”  Unfortunately, dictionaries only define root words because their respective writers are lazy bums.  Some, for your sake, let us start off with the definition of “insane.”  To be insane is to be considered “mad, extravagant, outrageous, or insane (yes, they used the word in the definition).”  So, to sum things up, the definition of insanity is “the state of being mad, extravagant, outrageous, or insane.”  If you looked up the definition for any of these words, I am equally sure that the word insane would be used in their as well.  Oddly enough, this cannot be blamed solely on the laziness of dictionary authors.

This word first came into use around 1580, being derived from the term insane, first coming into use in 1550.  These words were derived from the Latin phrases “Insanitatem” and “Insanus,” respectively.  Apparently, when people started acting, well, insane,m everybody thought “What the Hell do we call the nut jobs?” to which someone of slightly higher intelligence retorted “Apparently the Romans had a word for it, let us change the last few letters and use said phrase!”  This, of course, brings us back to the issue of insanity’s apparent (and yes, I have used this word three times in two sentences) lack of a definition.

Insanity – as well as sanity, for that matter – by it’s very nature is almost impossible to give a solid definition to.  There was once a definition, commonly quoted as insanity as “repeating the same act over and over again whilst expecting different results.”  For example, if somebody were to clasp there hands and ask a magic sky being to solve all of their problems everyday, even though they never saw results, they would be completely insane, as well as an idiot.  This definition, however, did not account for any outside factors that can make someone who constantly repeats an act completely sane.  In older times, insanity commonly referred to those who, by birth or through environment, lost all common sense.  Examples would be in Othello, where the titular character can be said to have gone insane after murdering his wife for reasons based purely on speculation.

Today, however, insanity has become more of a general terms for suffering a mental condition along the lines of schizophrenia, the multiple identity complex, or attending the Church of Scientology.  An example of this definition would be more like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, who has no regret or pity in committing deeds such as battery or rape for pure sportsmanship.  He would be insane because he has always lacked key features of human emotion and cognitive thought.  While not in a dictionary, this definition is definitely what most will assume you mean when speaking of “insanity.”