I’m currently reading Zoltan Torey’s book The Crucible of Consciousness: An Integrated Theory of Mind and Brain. It’s fascinating and I will put up a review some time soon.
In the model he proposes for the self aware mind (consciousness) he deals with problems the mind has to confront. Reflective awareness can lead to chronic anxiety, fretting and anticipation of danger. Human reflective awareness has given us unique and powerful abilities but they “are not altogether a blessing. Or at least blessing that have to be paid for very dearly indeed.”
Humans need “neurotic defences” to maintain mental equilibrium. One of these is the fashioning of belief systems – “psychoreligious constructions.” These make it difficult for our minds to represent objective reality. Rather they work to maintain our inner peace and sense of security. Our brain is strongly compromised as a data-processing instrument. We also have strong suppression mechanisms which help filter out “ego-threatening stimuli.”
The very abilities which have made us an intelligent species actually impair our reason. Rather than a rational species we are a rationalising one. This realisation is extremely important to the scientific endeavour – underling the importance of utilising evidence and testing our ideas against reality, rather than ideology.
The anxieties, obsessions and anticipation of danger can work together with the creation of erroneous belief systems and suppression mechanism to disrupt our mental health. I think we are now starting to realise that mental illness is much more common than we might like to admit. It’s more “normal.” And this model suggests why.
Futurity recently reported that people vastly underestimate and “underreport the amount of mental illness they’ve suffered when asked to recall their history years after the fact.” This came out of a “long-term tracking study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 32″ (see Depressed? Anxious? Aren’t we all?).
“If you start with a group of children and follow them their whole lives, sooner or later almost everybody will experience one of these disorders,” says Terrie Moffitt, the Knut Schmitt-Nielsen professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
Because self-reporting from memory is the basis for much that is known about the prevalence of mental disorders, anxiety, depression, and substance dependency may actually be twice as high as previously believed, according to new research.”
I guess we have come a long way as a society in thinking about mental illness. But we still have a way to go. If we can realise how mental illness arises naturally out of our unique possession of reflective awareness, of consciousness, perhaps we can be nmore acceptable of poeple who suffer from it. After all, none of us is immune. it’s very likely we will have bouts of such illness sometime in our lives.