Aug 10, 2010

Philosophical Phun- Delusion:o)

Of all psychiatric concepts, it is probably delusions that have received the most extensive recent treatment from philosophers. Here the issues straddle philosophy of mind and philosophy of science. Some theorists have raised conceptual difficulties for accounts of delusions, others have sought to frame scientific hypotheses that can explain delusions in terms of information-processing deficits or other subpersonal problems.

Like many other psychological concepts, the concept of delusion has a fairly explicit and self-conscious scientific use and a variety of commonsense uses. There is considerable overlap between some psychiatric uses and some casual employments of “delusion”. But there are clearly everyday occasions when “delusion” merely refers to a belief that seems obviously false or unwarranted to the speaker. I might call you delusional when you announce that you expect to buy a four bedroom house in your neighbourhood for what you can afford to pay, without meaning that your reasoning is symptomatic of a psychotic illness; it is just wishful thinking.

But delusions in a technical sense are manifestations of psychosis. A delusion can be defined as ‘A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary ….’.

A purely philosophical approach to explaining delusions concentrates on the role the delusion plays in the subject's mental life, as understood in terms of some theories in philosophy of mind. Recent work in this area suggest that the role of the delusion in the subjective mental life of the deluded person that is critical.

You can look at the current political situation [or insert your situation here] and see how such an impassioned position has been established, complete with distortions of the past, half-truths, and partial disclosures to suit the perceived position - that whenever facts are introduced that directly refute the delusion are provided, they are outright discarded and often mocked, because to do otherwise would challenge the mental state of the delusionee.  


  1. Bookends nicely with your Beth's most recent post. In so many words, Sarah Palin is closer to being psychotic than she is President? Or is that what brings her closer to the office because psychosis and the office that involves being 'in charge' of so many people are not mutually exclusive?

  2. Cognitive dissonance will make you crazy; avoid at all costs!

    The well-constructed delusional world of the schizo-affective (DSMIV) can be just about unshakable. I've had patients who appear to function perfectly normally and whose brains seem to work properly--except that there is a fixed delusion, a single, usually paranoid, idea that, once accepted by the brain as truth, requires an entire world of logical infrastructure to be built around it to support it. You'd never know it was there, a sort of shadow world, unless you inquire about a certain behavioral quirk or stumble on a question that operates like a trap door into that world.

    Those with intelligence, awareness, and a long-time fixed delusion can be very, very good at covering it up. They have sensed that others view them oddly when they discuss their delusion, so they protect it from critical eyes. Psychoanalysis is useless here. Cognitive psychotherapy is likely to leave the therapist in a labyrinthine tangle. Meds and supportive therapy have so far proven most useful.


Tell Me What You Think, Don't Make me go Rogue on you :o)