Sunday, December 10, 2006

BA Boycott and Cognitive Disonnance

I've just recently been banned from posting at the BA Boycott forum

A little background first: This site was set up by one Marcus Stafford from Dillington, near Dereham in Norfolk in response to British Airways asking an employee to keep her cross on a chain hidden when at work.

The news story is available here for further details, but I just wanted to muse a while on the actions of this Marcus guy.

One of his arguments is that muslims are allowed to wear the hijab so xians should be allowed to wear a cross. This is clearly wrong for the following reasons:

I posted three quranic verses which amount to religious mandate for women to wear the hijab / cover up completely in public. I asked Marcus to provide the corresponding passages in the buybull which impart similar mandate for xians to wear crosses. He did / could not.

Instead, he deleted at least three of my posts (including the latest one with evidence against his argument) and banned me from the site.

Whilst outwardly petty, he has actually responded to subsequent e-mails and this is what reminded me of two well-known psychological phenomena - cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.

Having been presented with evidence which amounts to a truth which is incompatible with someones world view, the resulting dissonance is a psychological feeling of discomfort. One of the two pieces of information need to go / be modified to fall in line with the persons schema of the world.

Here's where confirmation bias can also come into play. People who hold strong beliefs and / or delsions tend to only seek out the evidence which already confirms their view point in their own eyes. They will seek to change, modify or disregard any evidence which amounts to proof that their view is wrong / in need of modification itself.

Religious people continually display such cognitive biases to "confirm" their faith often in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Interestingly so do those suffering with delusional disorders since a delusion by its very definition is "A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a symptom of mental illness."

Now while the notion of belief in "god/s" being false is a logical non-starter since a negative by definition cannot be "proved" the second half of the definition rings true.

Interestingly Marcus stated in an e-mail that he does not attend church, however, I suspect he is as devout as the next deluded xian however as evidenced by his characteristically religious psychology.

Personally I think as a nation we should take a leaf out of other progressive countries' stances and ban all religious symbols and garb outright and religious practices if they must be done should be confined to a persons home by law. After all there is simply no reason what so ever to bring anything religious to work.

Once we start doing this we can move away from all the PC bollocks and reduce the number of petty-minded deluded bigots like Marcus.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Can / Should Psychiatry Save Us From Religion?

As previously stated I advocate the concept of schizotypy over a categorical definition of psychosis though categorical definitions are necessary in order that mentally unwell people might access the best possible care and medication for their mental health needs.

However, the categorical approach to psychoticism can lead to misdiagnosis in the psychiatric patient population – particularly those with overt religious proclivities.

Here is why:
There are many interesting similarities between religiosity and psychosis which can lead to misdiagnosis and often the clinician’s ignorance of social and cultural values of the patient lead to misunderstanding of how the patient presents themselves.

For example:
•Belief in “god” – There is no proof of any “god/s” and logic dictates that you cannot prove a negative therefore the only logical assumption is that there is no god and that this is clearly a belief not based on any factual evidence or physical reference i.e. a delusion.
•Prayer – delusion of grandeur (the ability to bring about physical changes by thought alone)
•Listening to “god” – this can be considered as auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and is a cardinal symptom of schizophrenia, though arguably not always e.g. Romme & Escher)

A little background:
The experience of psychosis generally features delusions and hallucinations:
A delusion is defined by the DSM-IV as:
“A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture.”

An hallucination is defined as:
“A sensory perception experienced in the absence of an external stimulus, as distinct from an illusion, which is a misperception of an external stimulus. Hallucinations may occur in any sensory modality - visual, auditory, olfaction (smell), gustatory (taste), tactile (physical sensation), or mixed.”

Now there are of course problems with these definitions. For example:
Should the fact that a patient claims to talk to and listen to “god” be cause for concern or is it benign since such behaviour is accepted by that patients’ culture or sub-culture?
After all there is no evidence for any “gods:” indeed many “gods” have come and gone from various human cultures in the past as various rulers of different societies throughout history have influenced the beliefs of their subjects.

Similarly is the person who claims to see the mother of jesus in a slice of toast or jesus himself in the wood pattern of a cupboard door be cause for concern?

It is arguable that from a medical perspective, no, these people are not actually “ill” but is this really reasonable behaviour? After all I used to see shapes of animals in the clouds as a child and with a little imagination I still can today but it doesn't mean there are actually huge white fluffy rabbits flying in the sky.

Which is why I submit that people who do such seemingly innocuous things as praying are not necessarily ill, but are nevertheless found on the same spectrum as those psychotic patients with magical thinking or those who claim to commune with “god” are not very far away from those schizophrenic patients who are at the mercy of command hallucinations.

I’m not saying that religious people are “crazy” (what ever that it is) what I am saying is that just as moderate religious people provide the fuel and ideological protection of religious extremists, so too does the tolerance by society of so-called magical thinking. Those seemingly innocuous beliefs which feature on the lower end of the schizotypy scale are not so qualitatively different to those more florid symptoms seen in e.g. schizophrenia.

There is no proof of any “gods” at all so logically I am forced to conclude that any religious content of a patient’s presentation is merely a product of social conditioning. Also that they are potentially at risk of moving along the scale and developing more severe symptoms if they become more unwell.

I think it is time that psychiatry woke up to the fact that science has been stripping away the myths of religion for years now and it is time that the discipline recognises this by including a more dimensional concept of schizotypy into it’s definitions of mental disorder. This may necessitate a paradigm shift away from the traditional categorical definitions, but there is scope for modification of current classifications systems- particularly in the modern “multi-cultural” climate where cultural ignorance can lead to diagnostic confusion.

In short, I believe trans-cultural psychiatry is a good thing, and it should continue to develop as a field, but religiosity should begin to be pathologised on a dimensional scale. Who knows, perhaps psychiatry may even be the long-overdue arbiter required in the hate-filled arena of religion where families are torn apart and nations are bombed to shreds because of “religious beliefs.” By nullifying religions from a clinical point of view we may be able to show the inherent ridiculousness of some of the far-fetched claims of the modern religions and then we can all begin to accept each other on a human level without appealing to some fictional higher power to advocate the killing of another human being.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Atheism, Psychosis & Spirituality

Ok, I think it’s time to properly lay my cards on the table.
I was wound up and cranky before – probably not the best way to start off a blog I know, but having just finished a major piece of work for my masters in mental health studies and I was tired.

Anyway, my main interests here are atheism, psychosis and spirituality.

I’m a student of mental health and as such the above areas intrigue me.

With regard to the above, I subscribe to the dimensional concept of schizotypy rather than a categorical definition of psychosis to explain how many religious people are not actually ill, but their spiritual experiences share a great deal phenomenologically, with those of individuals whom psychiatry labels as psychotic.

In short I am an atheist for reasons of rationalism, empiricism and logic and, to paraphrase Dawkins, I submit that well are all atheists of some kind or another: Some of us just one god further.

Anyone interested in the area of schizotypy and spirituality I’d love to hear from you likewise religious people and those who have come into contact with mental health services.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge. Now that my MSc is behind me, I will hopefully be building up to a PhD in this area.

I’d be very interested to hear from all sides on this matter, your contributions would be greatly appreciated.

Are Atheists Bad?

The joker over at this blog seems to think s/he has hit upon the only source of atheists on the net and consequently picked on a handful of people in a vain attempt to try and validate the title of his blog.

What a fascist.

For instance he comments on Cal's half-baked theory of "Christ-Psychosis" as bunk (which it largely is) but has not followed any of the discussions flowing from this "theory," namely my attempts to develop Cal's idea to bring it more in line with the concept of schizotypy in modern psychiatry.

"atheistsarebad" is a short-sighted xian bigot and unless s/he/it bothers to try and crawl out of their shell to actually engage in some meaningful discussion either here, at TRA forums or on the awesome Chooblog this is the last post I shall waste on him/her.

Such ignorance deserves only a limited amount of time devoted by others to try and teach them something. Is s/he/it up to intellectual task?

I doubt it, but we'll soon find out.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Securing my name

Primarily this first post is to secure this blog name so that anonymous people over at Chooblog are denied the childishness of impersonation of others.

It's late and I've just finished a 16,000 dissertation for my MSc course in mental health studies. It's the final thing left to do after two years of studying, exams, reports, case studies and essays.
I'm so glad it's over.

Bed awaits, but hopefully now I shall have some time to devote to my main areas of interest - religion and psychosis.

There's so much linking these I don't know where to start.

I'm sure I will soon...