This is not a delusion

Giovanni Stanghellini

in Disembodied Spirits and Deanimated Bodies

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780198520894
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754302 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

This is not a delusion

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The Tenth study radicalizes this argument and applies it to the understanding of delusional experiences. It questions the ordinary definition of ‘delusion’ as false belief and contains a critique of the background paradigm, of such a definition, i.e. of the computational mind. This study also sets forth separate definitions of schizophrenic and manic-depressive delusions based on the different realms of self-consciousness that are affected in these two disorders. Schizophrenic persons are deluded about facts, manic-depressives are deluded about the value to be attributed to such facts. Schizophrenic delusions (I argue) should not be analysed as if they were arising from the impairments of a disembodied symbol processor – the computational mind; they arise from disorders of pre-reflective, sensory self-consciousness, i.e. from a deep metamorphosis of the structure of embodied consciousness that involves the spatialization of consciousness itself. Consciousness can represent itself only through spatialization, e.g. when we say that we are ‘of two minds’ we mean that it is as if there are in our mind two parties arguing against each other. Spatial metaphors are the only means through which we can represent to ourselves our mental phenomena. We may call these ‘proto-hallucinatory’ experiences, and they are harmless if sensory pre-reflective self-consciousness is intact. But if sensory pre-reflexive self-consciousness is disturbed, then the ontological boundaries between signs (like the word ‘pipe’), images (like a painting portraying a pipe), and material objects (like a pipe so to say in flesh and bones) become blurred – as is represented for instance in Magritte's paintings. For instance, we all take it for granted that we see the landscape of the city through the window-pane of our sitting room, so that when we open or break the window the landscape will remain at its place out there. In Magritte's paintings The falling of the night, the nocturnal landscape falls down and into pieces when the window-pane is broken. The hypothesis I explore is that this overlap (or confusion) between images (representations) and things (reality), and between signs (the metaphor ‘The night is falling’) and their literal meaning is the very root of schizophrenic delusional experiences. Images (and signs) are facts to schizophrenic persons as real objects themselves. These domains are not clearly separated in persons – like schizophrenic persons – whose sensory self-consciousness is disordered. The reason for this confusion between ‘domains of reality’ is not (as classic psychopathology has argued) a cognitive disorder, but a disorder of sensory self-consciousness: an impairment of the direct perception of oneself while perceiving something, of ‘the common power accompanying all the senses, by which we perceive that we are seeing and hearing’, as Aristotle put it. The overlap between these otherwise distinct domains of reality can also be seen as the effect of a kind of epoché that suspends the subservience to life's drives. If the urgency of life is switched off, the ready-to-hand meanings of things in the world, i.e. their ‘handles’ (through which we manage them) will disappear too. If my drive-based involvement is switched off, my grasp of the world will fade away too. Things in the world will not directly and immediately relate to my body as existentially relative utensils. They become non-utilizable, and as such meaningless. When we say that in schizophrenic delusions there is a loss of ready-to-hand meanings to be attached to things in the world, the expression ‘ready-to-hand’ must be taken literally: it is since myself is disincarnated that I cannot grasp things in the world. Since things cannot be grasped, they appear as devoid of meaning. Disincarnation and the suspension of the urgency of life – I argue – are the two sides of the same coin.

Chapter.  9518 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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