Archive for August, 2010

Many years ago my son actually bought me Lee Ann Womack’s CD with the song “I Hope You Dance.”  I remember really liking this song.  And just a couple of days ago a very good friend forward the lyrics of this  song to me.  For the first the the wording started to sink in more deeply.  Funny thing…when I stepped into my car and turned the ignition key there was Lee Ann Womack singing “I Hope You Dance.”  So the wording goes:

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance.

Never settle for the path of least resistance

Living might mean taking chances

But they’re worth taking

Loving’ might be a mistake

But it’s worth making

Don’t let some hell bent heart leave ou bitter

When you come close to selling out reconsider

Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance.”

As these words were still ringing in my ears presenting me with challenges on life, I heard, in a class presentation (the presentation that my colleague and I required as a part of the course work), speeches by doctoral students in the marriage and family and clinical psychology program on Kierkegaard.  Of course I had read his writings before many times although not close to being thorough (how could anyone be so thorough with such depth and breath of his writings).  But some how words of Lee Ann Womack in the context of Kierkegaard’s Christiasn existentialism come together to form a way of looking at one’s engagement in life that is both aesthetically appealling and philosophically pursuasive.  Within the metaphysical reality  of Hegelian philosophy where reason rules, Kierkegaard calls us to engage in life fully…to honor subjectivity…to live in the full dimensions of life, of its glory and its pain but never to step back to just reason that deleniates all subjectivity, feelings, and the world that is n ot so glorious.  It is here that I’ve come to a better understanding of Kierkegaard’s leap of faith.  Against Hegelian Absolute where reasoning through the dialectical process rules, Kierkegaard, in the words of Lee Ann Womack, extends an invitation “I hope you dance…I hope ou never fear those mountains in the distance.  Never settle for the path of least resistance. Living might mean taking chances…..”


Read Full Post »

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual is filled with pathologies.  Eating disorders.  Sleeping disorders.  Anxiety disorders.  Mood disorders.  The list runs on and on.  This is truly helpful in assessing and observing the phenomena of the intrapsychic functioning.  But an observation is an observation. It observes certain connections.  It observes certain causal relations.  It is a wonderful tool for people seeking to nurture souls.  But is it real?

I once asked my therapist what he thinks of the DSM IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual for psychological assessment). He replied, “A fiction, a necessary fiction.”  Chuang Tzu writes,

Now do you say that you are going to make Right your master and do away with Wrong, or make order your master and do away with Disorder?  If you do, then you have not understood the principle of heaven and earth or the nature of the ten thousand things.[i]

James Hillman explains, “So long as the statistics of normalizing developmental psychology determine the standards against which the extraordinary complexities of a life are judged, deviations become deviants.  Diagnosis coupled with statistics is the disease.”[ii] This is where, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we have become the Creators.  The story of the fall is pretty clear.  Sin originated from Adam’s awareness of the knowledge of good and evil.  This is perhaps the sin of our society as well.  We create fashion models and make heavy people feel bad. We create social behaviors and make some feel out of place.  We create dependency and call others codependent.  We create civilization and name others uncivilized.  We create truth and see others in untruth.  The more creation, the more division.  The more pathologies, the more disorders.  If slim isn’t right and fat isn’t wrong then a conflict does not exist.  If dependency does not necessary mean emotionally healthy and codependency, unhealthy, then tension is dissolved. The problem is, we do not like what we have and hence we create right and wrong.  Reflecting on webbed toes Chuang Tzu writes:

That which is ultimately correct does not lose the characteristics of its nature and destiny.  Therefore, joining is accomplished without a web, branching is accomplished without extraneousness, lengthening is accomplished without a surplus, shortening is accomplished without inadequacy.  Thus, although a duck’s legs are short, if we extend them it will come to grief; although a crane’s legs are long, if we cut them short, it will be tragic.  Therefore, if what by nature is long is not cut short, and if what by nature is short is not extended there will be no grief to dispense with.[iii]

French philosopher Michael Foucault would have agreed with Chuang Tzu that webbed toes becomes marginalized only in relation to the society that pathologizes it.  Pathology, as we understand it today, is rooted in individual psyche.  Madness expresses itself in behavioral aberration that ultimately lands a person in social isolation and alienation.  Alienation, perpetuates madness itself and the cycle continues.  Foucault sees this whole process differently.  It is the reversal of the process, argues Foucault, that leads to mental illness.  Commenting on this argument Herbert Dreyfus, professor of philosophy, writes:

In Foucault’s account, social contradictions cause alienation, alienation causes defenses, defenses cause brain malfunction, and brain malfunction causes abnormal behavior.  In short: “It is not because one is ill that one is alienated, but in sofar as one is alienated that one is ill.”[iv]

To Foucault, social categories and norms create conflicts and conflicts, in turn, result in changes in brain chemistry causing various symptoms.  Social alienation is based on an assumption of truth and its deviation.  According to Foucault, the 19th century has brought along the concept of bio-power that aims at the betterment of human life.  Betterment is possible when one can grasp the true meaning of self through knowledge.  There is a self that one ought to be and through acquisition of knowledge and scientific methodologies, one can show the community what this ideal self ought to be.  In an attempt to move humanity toward its betterment, power seeks to classify, quantify, hierarchize, appraise, and label.[v] With classification, evaluation, and label, we can now realize where people are and how to correct that.  Now there is the mad and the not-so-mad.  There is a neurotic and a psychotic.  There are subtypes of psychosis with numerical identification.  In his introduction to Mental Illness and Psychology Foucault points out, “The analyses of our psychologists and sociologists, which turn the patient into a deviant and which seek the origin of the morbid in the abnormal, are, therefore, above all a projection of cultural themes.”[vi]

Hence there is a self that one ought to be and webbed toes do not belong in this category.  Webbed toes have to be unwebbed to belong.  But without the classification or quantification for the webbed or non-webbed, there is no alienation and therefore, no pain.  The problem according to Foucault is that we’ve allowed politics to defined and determined mental health and thus classified people accordingly.


[i] Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 102.  [ii] James Hilllman, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling (New York: Warner Books, 1997), 30.  [iii] Victor Mair, trans., Wandering On the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 76. [iv] Hubert Dreyfus, “Foreward to the California Edition,” Michael Foucault: Mental Illness and Psychology (California: University of California Press, 1976), xxvi. [v] Michael Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), 142-44. [vi] Michael Foucault, Mental Illness and Psychology, 63.

Read Full Post »

Whom shall we get to decide what is right?  Shall we get someone who agrees with you to decide?   But if he already agrees with you, how can he decide fairly?  Shall we get someone who agrees with me?  But if he already agrees with me, how can he decide?  Shall we get someone who disagrees with both of us?  But he already disagrees with both of us, how can he decide?…Obviously, then, neither you nor I nor anyone else can know the answer.  Shall we wait for still another person?[i] Chuang Tzu

“Whom shall we get to decide?”  This is a very good question.  When my son was little an elderly Chinese lady came to visit.  She looked at him with a smile and said, “You are so ugly.  Ugly…ugly…ugly!”  How could it be right for someone to call others ugly?  Under normal circumstances none of us would appreciate such a comment.  But I remembered listening to her remark with a sense of pride.  In her world, there are demons that like good looking children.  But these demons are so codependent that they depend on human opinions.  The trick is to trick the demons.  So when this elderly Chinese lady said “ugly” I knew better.  She actually meant, “You are so cute!”  How can calling people “ugly” be right?  Who is to decide?

It was 8:30 in the evening at King’s College, a regular weekly meeting of philosophers and students of philosophy.  The date was October 25, 1946, a day not to be forgotten.

This was the only time these three great philosophers—Russell, Wittgenstein, and Popper—were together.  Yet, to this day, no one can agree precisely about what took place.  What is clear is that there were vehement exchanges between Popper and Wittgenstein over the fundamental nature of philosophy—whether there were indeed philosophical problems (Popper) or merely puzzles (Wittgenstein).[ii]

Many interpretations of this event expressed, many versions written.  There were allegations and arguments over what took place.  The ten-minute exchange between two great philosophers was about what can be known and what cannot be known.  The irony, every one saw what they saw and took with them what they thought was taking place.  What really took place?  What was real?  Who is to decide?

Reality is tricky.  A Buddhist monk once said to me, “A dream is a temporal reality.  Reality is a very very long dream.”  Perhaps this is the reason when Buddha was asked if he was the enlightened One, he just replied, “I am awake.”  The awaken Buddha was silent when asked about the Ultimate Reality.  Lao Tzu would have agreed.  The real cannot be named.  But our society is extremely proficient in the art of naming reality.  This chapter explores the impact naming of reality has on the human psyche from Chuang Tzu’s perspective.  If Chuang Tzu had read the Velveteen Rabbit he would have agreed with the Skin Horse, “Once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who do not understand.”[iii]

So we learn from Kant that the real world we are in (noumenon) is not the real world we live (phenomenon).  We all think it is real but it is as real as we think it is.  My wife came home one evening and told me an incident at the psychiatric ward she was visiting.  A schizophrenic patient rushed to the psychiatrist in despair crying “Doctor, doctor…I see people.”  The doctor turned and pointed toward my wife and her colleagues, “You mean, these people?”


“Don’t worry, they are real people.”

What is real to one, may not be to the other.  The spirit world of ancestors is real to many Chinese but not to most Caucasians.   There is only one God to Muslims but there are millions to Hindus.  There are angels.  There are no angels.  There are miracles.  There is no miracle.  Good begets good.  Deceitfulness reaps rewards.  Which reality?  Who is to decide?

Kant tells us that there is an organizing principle in each of us.  This organizing principle, which exists a priori, makes possible for our connection with the external world, the phenomenal world.  David Hume takes it a step further.  There is no external causal relation nor continuation.  Everything is the creation of the mind.  Human beings are just a bundle of perception, hence the expression, “no matter, never mind.”  When we sit and observe a mountain, according to Hume, we only see because of our sense perception.  When we close our eyes, the mountain no longer exists for us.  When we look again, it is there.  Every time there is a mountain, there is sense perception.  The continuation of existence is only our rational interpretation.  We question Hume’s common sense.  But the question remains especially through modern psychiatry.  Aren’t we wired to see, hear, sense, and feel a certain way?  We learn the darkness of melancholia in relation to neurotransmitters.  And why do some people hear what is not spoken, see what is not there?  Carol North recounts her struggle with psychosis:

Without even a knock on the door, the nurse burst into my hospital room.  She held out a Dixie cup containing a little green pill and a little white pill.

“Military pellets?” I asked.

“No, this is Haldol.  Dr. Hamingway wants you to take it.”

I swallowed the pills.  The nurse, satisfied with the completion of her mission, turned on her heel and exited.

Next, a man in a long white coat and a tie burst in.

“Is there no privacy?” Hal protested.

“No!” said another voice.  “It’s the day of the eagle.”

“Hi, I’m Dr. Dolby,” said the man in the white coat.  “Can we talk for a little while?

Not filtering out my irrelevant ideas, I asked him, “Are you wearing white because this is the Day of the Eagle?”

He looked at me strangely, then repeated, “No, I’m Dr. Dolby,” in a louder-than-normal voice, as if I were hard-of-hearing.  Positioning his yellow legal ablet squarely on his clipboard, he said, “Can you name the last five presidents?”

It sounded like some kind of trick question to me.  Too bad he didn’t realize I had the power to diffuse my molecules and slip right through the brick wall to the outside.  He could never keep me here.  In the meantime, I decided to answer his question: “Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Hal…”[iv]

“Who is Hal?”  Or to be more accurate, “Who the hell is Hal?”  His voice is real to Carol as the other that talks about the day of the eagle and that of Dr. Dolby.  Did Dr. Dolby realize that she could diffuse her molecules and slip right through the brick wall?  Perhaps not because they both were wired differently.

We learn through studying brain anatomy that temporal lobes are related to memory, language and learning.  “Clinically,” says Robert Hedaya, “euphoria, auditory hallucinations, and delusions are usually associated with impaired function of the dominant temporal lobes.”[v] We also learn that vision and visual memory are associated with occipital lobes.[vi] Referring to the role of the temporal cortex Harold Kaplan, Benjamin Sadock, and Jack Grebb write, “Common symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy include olfactory and gustatory hallucinations, déjà vu, derealization, depersonalization, and repetitive motor acts.”[vii] Regarding the parietal cortex, “a patient with a right-sided lesion may deny that the left arm exists and may even fail to put clothes on the left side of the body.”[viii] But does the left arm exist?  If we are wired differently, will we see differently or hear differently?  If so, what has this wiring, this mental circuit, to do with reality?  What is reality?  Who is to decide?


[i] Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, 43-4. [ii] David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 2. [iii] M. Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit and How Toys Become Real (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanich, 1983), 14-16. [iv] Carol S. North, Welcome, Silence: My Triumph over Schizophrenia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 249-50. [v] Robert J. Hedaya, Understanding Biological Psychiatry (New York: Norton, 1996), 4.[vi] Hedaya, Understanding Biological Psychiatry, 4. [vii] Harold Kaplan, Benjamin Sadock, and Jack Grebb, Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1994), 101. [viii] Kaplan, Sadock, Grebb, Kaplan and Saddock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, 101.

Read Full Post »