Thursday, July 1, 2010

As ridiculous a concept as anosognosia

In 1851, Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright, a Louisiana surgeon and psychologist, filed a report in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal on diseases prevalent among the South's black population. Among the various maladies Dr. Cartwright described was ''drapetomania'' or ''the disease causing slaves to run away.''

Though a serious mental illness, drapetomania, wrote Dr. Cartwright, was happily quite treatable: ''The cause, in the most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable. With the advantages of proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented.''

A particularly absurd chapter in the annals of racist 19th-century science? Without question, but for Alvin Poussaint, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Cartwright's hopelessly unscientific diagnosis is of more than just historical interest. It is a vivid illustration of how definitions of normal and abnormal behavior are shaped by the values of the society that makes them. ''The culture influences what you consider pathology,'' says Dr. Poussaint. ''Cartwright saw slavery as normative. So when slaves deviated from the norm, he called them mentally ill. The business of deciding what's normal and what's psychopathology gets influenced by culture and politics. It's not hard science.''

Dr. E. Fuller Torrey has popularized the use of the word "anosognosia" to describe someone who is unable to understand that he is mentally ill. Seriously, please try to pronounce this word while keeping a straight face. Dr. Torrey is also one of the most vocal advocates of outpatient commitment for those judged unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision, i.e. the mentally ill, although come to think of it, slaves, too, fit this description. While we all dislike seeing visibly disturbed individuals roaming the streets, let's also keep in mind that society felt the same way about slavery, incarcerating its victims under the guise of helping those who are judged unable to act in their own best interests. Anyone can see there is a problem (either with someone presenting as mentally disturbed or as a runaway slave), but what is at the base of that problem? Do we label everything we can't or won't accept as mental illness? Seems like we do. It makes Dr. Thomas Szasz's belief that mental illness is a social construct very credible.

From the New York Times: Bigotry as Mental Illness or Just Another Norm


  1. The understanding at such times though
    totally flawed was a desire /the roots
    of modern day therapist / psychiatrist.

    It better one fail in understanding as
    fail in making no effort to understand.

    Humanity is but a slave to mind (mind)
    in being the early stage of the brains development. Thus with leaving of mind
    we have activation of developing brain.

    The example with mind one has ideas as
    beilifs of the variations of religions.

    In main most believing there's /spirit
    a soul/ a part that does not die can't
    die, thus a common held belief it only
    the body laying dead / returns to dust.
    Such understanding was not rooted from
    christianity or islamic teachings, but
    from spiritual development / that long
    before christianity as islamic teaching
    seen blinking on the human radar screen.

    Spiritual development having taken place
    when the word (creation)then giving life,
    after unintended deviation back to story.

    Where with ones brain heaven being not
    fictional but being very real that one
    understands as experiences while alive.

    Humanity at present time / growing more
    strongly toward use of brain. A problem
    being in letting go of mind, as letting
    go of the old concepts of the fictional
    heaven, that many still be content with.

    Yet, let go we must. To Preven th human progress be folly, as one try command a
    incoming tide to halt it twill not halt.

    In truth the main of mental illnessess
    but symptoms of the ongoing developing
    brain ...are they truly illnessess??..

    If one goes for a run then AFTERWARDS
    feels pain in ones muscles this not a
    illness but be expected from exercise.

    It the same with use of the brain, as
    more so, it a muscle humanity has but
    used little / unto its true potential
    it having ability in passing an great
    wealth of knowledge "enlightenment"..

    The purpose of creation be it sustain
    the human form / the purpose of human
    form / via heart / brain / an ongoing
    growth of understanding as experience
    of the spiritual unto the ultimite of
    the human journey,human enlightenment.

    Such a journey through many lifetimes
    yet development gained in an lifetime
    be never lost,each individual holds a
    spiritual account taken life to life.

    Thus one must take account people vary
    at stages of the spiritual development
    thus what makes sense unto one may not
    make sense to the other. Many find the material world being no problem, as an ficional heaven for them be no problem.

    Yet, many in numbers but finding their thirst/hunger for spiritual development
    an ever growing need (as an vampire for
    the blood of a virgin)(use of the brain
    does not mean the loss of ones sense of
    humour / or suddenly sex gets unpopular.

    It but mean there being an far greater understanding of many many things,that
    in having past/as become in the future.

    There are many teachers as there many
    stage of development, which people be.

    In main one teacher of the spiritual..
    is (prem rawat).. whom speaks at depth
    of spiritual understanding /experience.

    PC search type (prem rawat foundation)
    on site videos of ( prem rawat) speak.

    One also finding videos of (prem rawat)
    speak on (youtube)though the videos on
    (prem rawat foundation)site, be longer.

  2. From anon at 6:28:

    Yet, let go we must. To Preven th human progress be folly, as one try command a
    incoming tide to halt it twill not halt.

    Oh, great. Thinking like this (let go we must) puts a fire in people's belly so that they can go out and convert others to this belief. And if they don't convert, these people can be held out as sinful/criminal/mentally ill or whatever choice sobriquet the True Believers want to use.

    This isn't progress, sweetie. It's just the same old crap in brand new drag.

    The only progress I see for humanity is leaving this planet as a smoldering ash, glazed over in radioactive glass. The survivors, if any, won't be sitting around debating the arcana of soul/mind/brain/body/spirit. They'll be too busy worrying about what's for dinner.

    Signed, your friendly neighborhood misanthrope

  3. Hmm, Tony, may I suggest that your apocalyptic vision isn't very holistic, to put it delicately. Also, I don't see Anonymous as promoting conversion to a religious belief. Are you confusing maintream religions with Eastern mysticism? The churches I attend don't urge me to let go. If anything, they urge me to hang on through faith. I don't have a problem with any of those approaches, but I do think the letting go philosophy is the best healer.

  4. Tony / that was funny and appreacited it
    actually brought tears to my eyes /t'was
    written in mirth yet emblazoned in such
    depth of passion it had me spin through
    the centuries / in pinpointing such past
    lifes where our paths in having crossed.

    The akashic records being good for such
    holding the past the present the future
    though knowing an future not always for
    the best / where one not wishing to get
    out of bed, knowing what the day brings.

    Rossa / dont mind Tony in centuries he
    has'nt changed one tiny jot /arrogante
    ignorant / self centered / self loving
    many carry pictures of family /friends
    where Tony carries pictures of himself.

    Though despite his faults (which many)
    he still having a good / heart of gold.

    Tony / as you look at the world seeing
    only that which is bad / I look on the
    world in seeing good/ to build on that.

    You have not changed nor will I change,
    as for Rossa, she is not a sheep to be
    fleeced/ but being well developed soul.

  5. The comments highlight man's innate desire for meaning and purpose in his life. This only exists because human beings have the capacity to disengage from the here and now and to contemplate employing rational (or irrational) logic.

    The belief system that these thoughts are filtered through constrain man's ability to view that what is being contemplated objectively. Add to that our ongoing propensity to judge (i.e. "Tony only sees what is bad. I look on the world seeing good") and we can begin to understand how these influences affect our functional existence, individually, and societally.

    Perhaps a factor in the lower prevalence of "mental illnesses" in third world countries may not have as much to do with administering fewer drugs but may have a relationship with being fully occupied worrying about what's for dinner. There certainly appears to be a relationship between how sophisticated and cultured a society is and the number of individuals being diagnosed with "mental illnesses".


I am no longer approving comments. All I ask is that you be respectful of others and refrain from using profanity.