If they can’t get you coming, they’ll get you going

I’ve been doing some reading about personality disorders, and I came across the contribution of one Harry Guntrip to definitions of the schizoid personality type.  There are nine alleged characteristics of this personality type which Guntrip pulled out of his arse described, one of which is withdrawnness:

While there are many schizoid individuals who will present with obvious withdrawnness (a clear and obvious timidity, reluctance, or avoidance of the external world and interpersonal relationships), this defines only a portion of such individuals. Many fundamentally schizoid people present with an engaging, interactive personality style. Such a person can appear to be available, interested, engaged, and involved in interacting with others; however, in reality, he or she is emotionally withdrawn and sequestered in a safe place in an internal world. […] withdrawnness or detachment from the outer world is […] sometimes overt and sometimes covert. When it is overt it matches the usual description of the schizoid personality. Just as often, it is a covert, hidden internal state of the patient.

Isn’t that just marvellous?  If you’re shy, timid, introverted, emotionally unavailable, withdrawn from the world and reluctant to engage with others then you have a schizoid personality.  On the other hand, if you’re the exact opposite – if you’re bold, outgoing, extroverted, emotionally available, engaged with the world and keen to interact with others – then you still have a schizoid personality.  This is because all your clearly-not-schizoid behaviour is just a front for your ‘covert, hidden internal state’, which you give no sign of.

This is patently, inescapably nonsense (I mean that quite literally – it is non-sense).  It’s a recipe for a psychologist to take any behaviour pattern whatsoever and cite it as evidence for a diagnostic decision s/he has made in advance, and  irrespective of the patient’s actual behaviour.  In no other branch of medicine would this deliberate falsification of diagnostic criteria be tolerated; a patient presenting with consistent hypotension (low blood pressure) would not be diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) anyway, just because the doctor had decided that this patient must have hypertension, and no amount of evidence was going to persuade them otherwise.  (Or, at least, a doctor who behaved in this way, and caused damage to the patient as a result, would face disciplinary proceedings.)

It’s this kind of non-sense that gives psychology and psychiatry such a bad name.  The empirical basis for personality disorders is weak in any case – many of the personality disorders overlap significantly, and the same patterns of behaviour also fit comfortably within the schemata for many full-blown psychiatric illnesses – but it becomes non-existent when the carefully precise criteria are abused in this way.

I have an uneasy relationship with psychiatric diagnosis at the best of times.  There are times when I’m powerfully attracted to the argument that diagnosis is largely irrelevant, and that treatment would be better focussed on identifying specific symptoms and working to resolve them.  I’m also well aware of the fact that the symptoms of hysteria were at one time commonly displayed by psychiatric patients, but almost never now, and that this suggests that the kinds of behaviour psychiatrists expect to find in their patients strongly influences the kinds of behaviour their patients are found to display.  At the same time, I’m not blind to the fact that there are particular patterns of behaviour and symptoms that recur with remarkable frequency, and that there is emerging evidence that some of these patterns may be associated with particular genetic patterns.  (Though there is also emerging evidence that these genetic patterns may be associated with mental ill-health in general, rather than specific manifestations of illness, and the evidence for either proposition remains wildly inconclusive.)

The whole area is messy, and complicated, and I think anyone who claims to know exactly what they are doing should be regarded with suspicion.  I do, on balance, think that there are particular clusters of symptoms that very often occur together, and I can see that diagnosis has a place, even if only as a descriptive shorthand for these clusters of symptoms.  I become much more uncertain when diagnoses seem to proliferate, and the diagnostic criteria overlap significantly, and descriptive precision seems almost impossible.  I can’t escape the thought that the many, many gradations of personality disorders are rather like mediaeval ideas about the hierarchy of angels – interesting to read about, fantastically (one might almost say obsessively…) detailed, but having no basis in anything that’s actually real.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Psychiatry, Psychology, Stuff I've read. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to If they can’t get you coming, they’ll get you going

  1. Katherine says:

    “I can’t escape the thought that the many, many gradations of personality disorders are rather like mediaeval ideas about the hierarchy of angels ”

    What a wonderful analogy!

    We’ve been reading Isaiah Berlin for my public policy seminar. He attacks the idea of ‘positive liberty’ because it smuggles in a conviction about the nature of the real, fully rational self that is supposed to lie within us and thereby gives authority to governments to enforce ‘right’ decisions on the people because these decisions are assumed to match the decisions any individual would make if the individual were fully rational and free to chose, even if these decisions go against the expressed wishes of the individual. Berlin criticizes it because it assumes that there is an internal, ‘often occult’ self that is persistent and somehow more real than the presenting self, just as Mr. Guntrip is able to find an underlying schizoid self.

    It’s a very problematic conception in either case, which as Berlin observes, invites paternalism. It seems to me that it is an unfortunately common trope in the practise of psychology in particular.

  2. Kapitano says:

    Isn’t that just marvellous?

    Yes, it sounds familiar. If you’re an introvert, you’re schizoid. If you’re an extrovert…you’re schizoid! And if you’re like all the real people out there, sometimes one, sometimes the other, often conflicted…you’re schizoid!

    Likewise, if you’re timid and socially awkward, you’ve got an autism spectrum disorder. But if you’re confrontational or know how to manipulate people…guess what spectrum disorder you have.

    My particular favourite, from a lot of people who were genuinely qualified in psychology in the 90s, a revived idea from a century earlier. If you’re sexually repressed, that’s evidence of childhood sexual abuse. And if you’re sexually outgoing or promiscious, you need therapy for your repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.

    Incidentally, the same two pieces of evidence were used at the same time by a slightly different kind of therapist…to diagnise Alien Abduction.

  3. Kate says:

    Also, I imagine were you to demand the analyst fix their criteria one way or the other, you’d be charged with ‘black and white thinking’ which, I believe is another symptom of some these so called personality disorders.
    ;)

  4. Astrid says:

    Even though I study psychology, I am skeptical towards behavioral science’s ability to categorize people into diagnostic boxes without being arbitrary. What is “normal” and what is pathological, is really a matter of drawing a random line somewhere, and it gets more complicated if different diagnostic boxes have to be distinguished.

  5. J. Wibble says:

    That’s the most fantastic cop-out argument I’ve ever read. Does that mean everyone potentially has a schizoid personality disord…wait, what am I saying – everyone does potentially have a personality disorder, if they were to see the right psychiatrist at the right time.

    Personality disorders smack of lazy psychiatry. Accurate psychiatric diagnosis is incredibly difficult as so many criteria for so many disorders overlap, and some criteria are so vague as to be almost worthless. So much is also dependent on the patient being able to articulate their thoughts and feelings, which ironically makes them far less likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric illness at all, based on the catch-22 that if you know you’re mad you can’t be mad. We can’t really win, can we?

  6. Jim Baxter says:

    The argument isn’t quite as stupid as it looks. Guntrip was a follower of WRD Fairbairn who argued that we are all schizoid – simply ‘split’ not schizotypal as the term is used in DSM IV. We are split between the desire to be nurtured and the desire to be independent. To the extent that we never resolve that conflict we remainm split and the starker the split the sooner it will show when we are under stress.

    It therefore makes a lot of sense. Read Joe Simpson’s book, ‘Touching the Void’, the he part where he has escaped the crevasse. Clear evidence of splitting. a mature voice anda baby voice in his head.

  7. Woundedgenius says:

    Excellent post!

    Sometimes seems the entire DSM is simply a post-rationalisation and arbitrary categorisation of that which many of us refer to as “being human”.

    Bravo!

  8. Pingback: Appearance and depression « Crazy-making

  9. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Katherine – I will be honest, i hadn’t thought about the relevance of Isiaih Berlin’s ideas. Clearly, this has nothing to do with the fact that, until i read your comment, i didn’t know who he was, and i certainly didn’t spend a confused few seconds thinking you were talking about Irving Berlin, the songwriter… ;o) I think there’s an undercurrent of paternalism in a lot of MH practice, not just psychology – in fact, sometimes it’s more of an over-current. It’s certainly highly noticeable that MH is one of the few areas where people are routine required to involuntarily surrender their right to express their own wishes and desires.

    Kapitano – The sexual repression thing is a perfect example of the problems this kind of ‘diagnosis’ can get into when it moves away from being simply descriptive. (Although, frankly, i’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea that either ‘sexual repression’ or ‘promiscuity’ might be considered a problem in the first place – some people just enjoy sex more or less than other people do, it doesn’t mean either is abnormal.) I wonder if, having discovered that far too many people were being identified as having suffered child sexual abuse, the 90s psychologists would, like Freud, have shifted their ground and decided that their patients were manufacturing false memories of abuse, even though it was only the therapist who thought the abuse had taken place.

    Kate – Oh, don’t get me started on ‘black & white’ thinking! That’s something i’m ‘guilty’ of, and, as you say, just because i happen to think that, for example, being able to define your criteria in advance is preferable to making it up as you go along.

    Astrid – i think you’re right about the arbitrary line. There is always, i think, going to be a certain amount of uncertainty in MH diagnoses. The problem begins, so far as i’m concerned, when certain types of psychologists – not all of them! – exploit the uncertainty as a way of pushing diagnosis to the point where it breaks down completely.

    J Wibble – well, i very strongly suspect i’ve been caught out by the catch 22 you describe. When i’ve been at my illest i haven’t been anywhere near MH services, and when i have been near them and attempt to describe what i experienced when i was ill, the fact that i am able to discusss it rationally and articulately is proof that it can’t actually have been all that serious. I also agree entirely about the lazy diagnosis, although i think there’s also an element of the fact that a diagnosis of a pd is convenient – it can be used to explain everything away, so that difficult cases become simple.

    Jim Baxter – If ‘we are all schizoid’ then it becomes meaningless to speak of a ‘schizoid’ personality as a definable thing – it’s just universal human nature. It certainly can’t be a description of a pathology, and so the idea that posessing a ‘schizoid’ personality is evidence of a ‘disorder’ that requires treatment collapses.

    I’m afraid i don’t agree when you say that it ‘makes a lot of sense.’ It really doesn’t. It’s a self-sustaining prophecy, and like all self-sustaining prophecies, it has nothing to say about anything outside itself.

    woundedgenius – i absolutely understand where you’re coming from!

  10. Jim Baxter says:

    ‘It’s a self-sustaining prophecy, and like all self-sustaining prophecies, it has nothing to say about anything outside itself.’

    No it isn’t.. Here’s why.

    Schizoid in the sense used by the Object Relations theorists has little to do with personality disordres as listed in manuals such as the DSM IV. The word makes sense to the extent that it applies to a degree of intergation or disintegration of the personaity. We all have a slight conflict between wishing to be nurtued and wishing to go our own way. That is what they mean when they say that we are all slightly schizoid. Split. It just means split . To the degree that we are split we may begin to experience emotional and adjustment problems. Someone showing sypmptoms of what DSM IV would call ‘BPD’ is someone deeply split. People given this diagnosis report that they fear intimacy (wish to be independent) and fear abandonment (wish to be cared for) in equal measure which causes them real difficulties. Once again, it is a question of degree of splitting. Battle-hardened soldiers facing likely death have been known to cry for mummy. Others will do so under less extreme pressure.

  11. bipolarbearboo says:

    I believe that in time psychiatry will be found to be be no more than a mad blip in the history of mankind.

  12. I say, let’s eat all the psychiatrists. Interesting post Aethelread. I found a bald summary showing the difference between current usage of ‘schizoid’ and ‘schizotypal’:

    Schizotypal Personality
    1.These patients often display peculiarities in thinking, behavior and communication
    2.Discomfort in social situations, and inappropriate behavior may occur.
    3.Magical thinking, belief in “extra sensory perception”, illusions and derealization are common.
    4.Familiarity does not decrease social anxiety since it is based on paranoid concerns and not self-consciousness.
    5.The patient may have a vivid fantasy life with imaginary relationships.
    6.Speech may be idiosyncratic such as unusual use of phrasing or terminology.

    Schizoid Personality :
    1.Neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family
    2.almost always chooses solitary activities
    3.has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person
    4.takes pleasure in few, if any, activities
    5.lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives
    6.appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others
    7.shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity

    But I still say, let’s eat the psychiatrists. We can grow vegetables on the buried remains for the vegetarians (see I think of everything).

    Take care, D

  13. Jim Baxter says:

    That bald summary is indeed a summary of what the terms mean according to DSM IV. As I’ve said, that is not the sense in which Guntrip or Fairbairn used the word. Confusing and all that but there you are.

    Eat the psychiatrists by all means, especially if you are an oral sadistic character, but don’t expect a medical line to get you off work when you’re ill once they’re all gone.

  14. I suppose that tells me :-) Must remember not to put my tongue in my cheek. Wait a minute, that’s not my tongue!

    On a serious note, I thought you pointed out how Guntrip used the term , back in the day most clearly and eloquently, Jim. My lists were not challenging your explanation, but contrasting that with how the terms are used today (and how many readers here may typically interpret them).

    Yours kindly, Oral Sadist.

  15. Jim Baxter says:

    Dear Abysmal,

    Thank you for that and for your clarification. Anything that can clear my booze-addled head is to be prized for its rarity.

    Yours benignly

    Ethylhead the Unsteady

  16. bipolarbearbook says:

    I think I have been misdiagnosed, I will raise this with my psychiatrist.
    The truth of the matter is that I don’t believe that history will look back on history and regard it as an unfortunate blip.

    History is written by the winners and present society seems to becoming increasingly polarised between the haves and the have nots. When it comes to taking benefits from the mentally ill will psychiatrists be defending their patients or looking out for their own interests.Psychiaitrists showed how useful they could be in the old Soviet Union and you could probably take over a country with a few ideas and a couple of like minded shrinks.
    One problem I have with psychiatrists is that they never seem to cure anyone, all they do is collect patients who spend their lives on one or more expensive medication.
    Each psychiatrist is part of an expensive who liase wth the patient and then do exactly what the psychiatrist tells them to do-Like the rest of the NHS did 50 years ago.

    The care I get as a mental heath patient is very different the that in the rest of the NHS. In the rest of the Nhs the problem I have is explained’ possible treatments and the reasons for taking the course they recommend and we discuss any concern I may have.- I am treated like a customer which of course I am. I have seen this a number of times.

    Psychiatrists seem to work differently. I have been told very little about my condition or how it will develop.
    At meetings I am asked but there in no feedback.
    If I’m manic they don’t notice.
    I am given pills to take with no info – if I take my dog to the vets I get better.
    If I have to stop a pill because of side effects I feel I am being critical of their professional abilities.

    Shouldn’t the personal side of the care be greater for mental illnesses not less?

  17. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the extra comments. I hope you will all understand if i don’t do my usual thing of replying to every comment individually – there doesn’t seem much point when, on a few occasions, you’ve been talking to each other rather than me! (Which i approve of, btw.) And thanks for keeping it pretty much flame-free, too – i appreciate it. :o)

    Jim Baxter – Thanks for coming back and giving more infomation. :o) When i say it’s a self-sustaining prophecy, what i mean is that the only evidence in support of the theory (“we all show signs of being ‘splt’ “) is produced by the theory itself (“most types of human behaviour are signs of a ‘split’ personality”). If one says that everything (or almost everything) is evidence in support of a particular theory, then of course the theory looks very well-supported – but only if one ignores the fact that there are many other possible interpretations of the same evidence. This isn’t only a problem i have with Guntrip, btw – i see the same kinds of flaws in a wide range of different theories, but i recognise, of course, that others will disagree. :o)

    abysmal musings – let’s eat all the psychiatrists

    I think the ones i saw would be a bit too chewy… ;o) Thanks for the summary of the differences schizotypal and schizoid. :o)

    bipolarbearboo/ bipolarbearbook – i’m assuming you’re the same person – sorry if that’s not true. :o) I certainly agree with a lot of your criticisms of the way MH patients are treated – i’ve encountered simillar attitudes myself. To be fair, i’ve also encountered kind and caring people, too. I certainly agree with you ought to be a greater emphasis on kindliness and compassion in MH services than there is, although i know the people who work there are often hideously over-stretched, and that’s bound to have an impact on patient care. Personally, i wouldn’t want to throw out the whole of psychiatry, but i can definitely see where your frustrations come from. :o)

  18. Jim Baxter says:

    ‘What i mean is that the only evidence in support of the theory (“we all show signs of being ’splt’ “) is produced by the theory itself ‘

    That would certainly render the theory useless if it were true. But it isn’t true.

    The theory predicts that the greater the conflict in emotions communicated to a child by a parent the greater will be the disturbances in the child’s attempt to construct an integrated ‘working model’ of his or her emotional world Bowlby’s Attachment Theory is not dissimil;ar, shall we say, to Object Relations theory.

    A child given guidelines for how to behave backed by unconditional love is more likely to have a stable set of ‘object relations; (relations with ‘significant others’ than a child who is controlled emotionally by a parent who uses withdrawal of love as a ‘teaching tool’. In the latter case the child needs the parent, of course, but also recognises the parent’s emotional unreliability so that they form, in effect, two incompatible working models of the same parent – accepting parent vs. rejecting parent. That’s spiltting of the ego. The more extreme, controlling, or unpredictable the emotions communicated by the parent the greater the split will be. Many people with BPD have been the subjects of sexual abuse or extreme emotional manipulation as children. So they have a need for a person, sas children do, as we all do, but also a terrible fear of betrayal of their trust. Split. The less extreme the contrast in the parents emotions and the more their love is, the less splitting you get. It’s a continuum, a dimension.

    If that aint predictive validity old son then I’m a Dutchman.

  19. Jim Baxter says:

    That was enough for one post, here’s the rest: Object Relations theory is not a theory of everything. It illustrates what can be the effects on emotional development and lifelong affect-regulation of certain parenting styles. Genetic predispositions must also be taken into account: some children are more emotionally sensitive than others and will react more to emotionally manipulative parenting than others. Extraversion is to a degree the result of a genetic predisposition,for example, as is neuroticism or emotional sensitivity.

    All I’m saying is that OR theory, contrary to the implications of Aethelread’s post, is testable, falsifiable, and has predictive validity and evidence to support it. It is not, contrary to Ae’s blunt assertion – ‘nonsense’.

  20. Jim Baxter says:

    Oh, and it offers an explanation for self-harming – acceptance of and internalisation of parental hostility – if you can’t beat them join them – mastery of victimisation. That might not be a correct explanation, but it too is testable.

  21. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Sorry, Jim, i’m obviously not managing to make myself clear. Let me try explaining to you in symbolic terms, rather than with reference to the particular theory – it may help you to understand what i mean more clearly.

    A theorist observes a behaviour (B). The theorist surmises that B is caused by a particular psychological state (P), and that this results from a particular experience (E). The theorist argues, therefore, that E produces P, and P produces B.

    When asked for evidence, though, the theorist doesn’t provide evidence of how E causes P, or P causes B, but instead points only to a correlation between B and E.

    The problem with this is that there are many equally plausible explanations for the correlation between B and E, and so the theorist has not proposed any evidence in support of their specific theory, but only for the generic claim, shared between many competing theories, that there is a correlation between E and B.

    Saying that people with BPD have experienced negative life events doesn’t mean that those life events have caused a psychological ‘splitting’, nor that the claimed ‘splitting’ causes the behaviour labelled as symptoms of BPD.

    To put it in symbolic terms, you haven’t put forward any evidence for a causative mechanism relating E to P or P to B, which is why i say you have produced no proof except for ‘evidence’ which is produced by the theory itself.

    Have i managed to make myself any clearer this time around? I hope so. :o)

    [Aside for everyone: comment moderation has been temporarily enabled for all contributors. The tone of this debate is beginning to shift, i think, and i want to be sure that it stays friendly, polite and courteous. I think it is likely to, but i am taking this step in order to be certain. Comments from those who disagree are still actively encouraged and welcomed – please just make sure that they remain friendly, polite and courteous. Thank you.]

  22. Jim Baxter says:

    Let’s accept for the sake of argument that the BPD diagnosis has some meaning – certain behaviour patterns such as extreme emotional volatility – fear of intimacy and fear of rejection, and some form of self-harming cetrainly co-occur.

    OR theory claims that very small children are sensitive to whether they are loved consistently for themselves or whether love is there sometimes and not at others. They are also pre-cognitive – they lack the means to describe their feelings and analyse them. If they exoeience inconsistent love, warmth and coldness or maybe just coldness then they can come to believe that there is something wrong with them. I am worthless, because to reject the parent as, essentially, a rotten parent at that early age when you are entirley dependent on them is frightening. It’s less frightening to internalise the parent’s attitude such that you have a stern disapproving voice in your head. But there is still a side to you that needs and feels it deserves love, So these two attitudes, models of the world, become established in your mind while you are still an infant. there is the me that wants love and there is the me that depsises myself for wanting love. They will also develop a place of safety in their minds where the world can#’t get them, another division of the self so that nothing that is done to them physcially or emotionally

    That’s the theory, OK? What’s important about it is that children don’t merely imitate their parents’ attitudes, those attitudes become part of them

  23. Jim Baxter says:

    Sorry – computer problems – or rather, my old fingers pressing the wrong buttons problems – that there is incomplete.

    Here is what may be a tidier version:

    OR theory claims that the primary purpose in early life is to establish a secure relationship with a caregiver. True independence can only develop from that. To the extent that a secure relationship is not established, divisions will develop within the personality such that certain feelings are split off from the conscious self That’s where the schizoid word applies. To the extent that children don’t feel loved for themselves and are made to feel that love depends on their being a ‘credit’ to their family, to behaving in certain ways, or allows them to believe that they are appendages, decorations, possessions, or downright inconveniences to their parents rather than whole people in their own right they will show splitting, other factors being equal. The more severe or controlling the parents arte the worse the splitting is likely to be. One result is that, because the parents are too powerful to reject when you are a pre-cognitive infant who doesn’t have the symbols you need to understand and explain, you will internalise the attitude of parents towards love. So you censure yourself for needing love, but you still need it. Two sides to your personality there. A split. Further, children who are severely emotionally deprived or maltreated will develop an area in their minds where the world cannot get at them. Another split. The important thing is that these splits effectively form separate structures in the personality which do not ‘talk to’ each other.
    OK? Those are the basics of the theory. What makes it different from, say learning theory, is that it is assumed that these infant-based structures last into adulthood and are almost impossible to change because they were established pre-cognitively, unconsciously. All the CBT in the world will be no damned good, therefore.
    Evidence? Talk to people with BPD. Many will report that their emotions are highly volatile – they can love someone one minute and hate the sight of them one minute later with no memory of the loving feeling while in the second state. The teo staes don’t ‘talk to each other’ How is that ‘evidence produced by the theory’? That is evidence provided by people.
    Some will report that while being victims of abuse they retreated to a place in their heads, separate, SPLIT, from their bodies where, whatever was happening to them in the physical world, they felt safe because nobody knew that’s where the real them really was. That fits the theory – a splitting, a compartmentalisation of the personality, but is not ‘produced by it’. It is volunteered by people describing their feelings.
    BPD people will report that they self-harm – some say they cut themselves because doing so is comforting. OR theory would predict that behvaior from a cold or manipulative parenting style – they are acting out their parents dislike of them and feel relief from anxiety in so doing. It would predict it – we’re not saying the theory is right just that evidence such as that is consistent with it. How is that ‘evidence produced by the theory’?
    There is also neuropsychological evidence which suggests that patterns of connectivity in the brain are impaired in emotianlly maltreated children – i.e. their emotions ‘don’t talk to each other (see Peter Fonagy’s book, Affect Regulation and Mentailsation’).

  24. Katherine says:

    Yes, precisely, the problem of induction as originally formulated by David Hume. This theory may be testable, but only on its own terms and thereby is circular in the same way that any inductive theory is circular. Some inductive theories are, however, more careful about their ancillary hypotheses and axioms than others and it would be hard going to show that the ancillary hypotheses of this theory are sufficiently reliable to support the final hypothesis Aethelread has written about. A scientific discipline such as physics has much more predictive validity because its ancillary hypotheses and its axioms have been more exhaustively tested and explored and left open to counter-example. Any particular part of psychology is significantly less tested if only due to its having not been around as a science for very long. I would assert that it is also less testable and extremely difficult even to negate in most circumstances but that is neither here nor there.
    What matters is that ALL sciences that have inductive content are open to the problem of induction but that some sciences have been better able to deal with this problem than others; psychology is one of those that has dealt with it less well because of the difficulty of formulating theories in a testable (i.e. negatable) way because it is a science that must by necessity deal with anecdote and open-ended events and systems rather than the simpler systems and events that form the basis of physics, as an example. Because psychology is a less testable science, and a science open to the problem of induction, it is proper to treat any of its theories with a far greater degree of suspicion than we would treat the law of gravity.
    I would argue additionally that it is not unreasonable to refer to some of it as nonsense, on the grounds that it does not make sense. I say this because this theory and many psychological theories take the form of modus ponens and are thus deductively valid but their inductive content shows them to be unsound.

    A modus ponens argument looks like this:
    1) If P then Q
    2) P
    3) Therefore Q

    The theory looks like this:
    1) If initial conditions P exist, then consequent problem Q will result.
    2) Initial conditions P exist
    3) Therefore consequent problem Q exists

    The difficulty is that quite often P exists in a psychological history (and P can be any antecedent experience or condition such as sexual abuse or genetic predisposition or lack of parental love or anything else) but Q does not. A conditional argument is only invalid when P is true and Q is false*. Therefore, when one has a theory wherein P can be shown in particular instances to be true when Q is false, then the conditional statement cannot be true, the argument is unsound and therefore nonsense.

    Apologies for the philosophy-speak, but Aethelread is quite within his logical rights to call this theory nonsense.

    *I wish I knew how to put in the truth table that shows this but I can’t figure out how to type that into a comments form. It is easily found through google, however: no one need take only my word for it.

  25. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the extra comments.

    Jim Baxter – Thank you for contributing again. You seem to still be missing the point, however.

    Your theory is plausible, but there are a great many other theories that are equally plausible. This is why, if you wish to persuade me of the validity of your theory, you need to provide evidence. The issue of your plausibility, like the issue of your eloquence, is not in question: your evidence is.

    Evidence? Talk to people with BPD.

    You will, i’m sure, be aware of the old axiom: anecdote is not evidence. Asking people what they feel or think about their personal experience can never produce evidence because it is subjective. Evidence, on the other hand, must be objective – that is, demonstrably true, not just believed to be true.

    If you want to prove your theory, this is what you must do. First, you must objectively demonstrate how childhood experiences of the type you describe produce ‘splitting’. Second, you must objectively demonstrate that ‘split personalities’ do in fact exist (remember: asking people ‘do you feel split?’ will not produce evidence, only anecdote). Finally, you must objectively demonstrate how ‘splitting’ produces the effects you say it does.

    Unless and until you have done these things, all you are doing is shooting the breeze.

    Above all, remember this, Jim: you are welcome to come back as many times as you like, but until you are able to prove your theory, i will continue to rebuff it.

    Katherine – thanks for the high-powered intellectual support. :o)

    I agree with everything you say about psychology. In fact, that’s why i’m always a little wary of according it the status of a science. I’ve always been more inclined to think of psychology as something a little more like sociology (a discipline about which i know little, btw). Both are entirely valid attempts to think logically and analytically about important phenomena, but neither is able to produce (thus far, anyway) falsifiable hypotheses, which is, i think, the hallmark of a true science.

    But, hey, what do i know – you’re the one studying Philosophy of Science, after all. :o)

  26. eroswings says:

    I have to admit this has been a really heavy debate, and everyone presented a very interesting point. I really had to think hard about some of the things that have been said.

    I think psychiatry/psychology/sociology are still fairly new fields of study. The other sciences have had a long time to work through their findings–find the truth and learn from their mistakes. Even with all their mathematical knowledge to build the pyramids or the Acropolis, or their skills in sailing the seas with only the stars and sun to plot their course, those ancient people believed that the world was flat and the earth was the center of the universe. I think that given time, psychiatric/psychology/sociology will make incredible advances.

    It’s hard to study human behavior, because it’s very complicated. Humans are diverse and cultural and ideological differences make it very difficult to figure out what’s normal and what’s not. And ideas are always changing. What’s normal for some people is not for others. Some people jump out of airplanes for thrills and others raise poisonous snakes and spiders as pets. Some people don’t meat.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s important to be skeptical and open minded when dealing with ideas. Does that creative cognitive dissonance? I don’t think so. What works for some people doesn’t necessarily work for others. But that’s okay. Diversity is a good thing. It allows us to explore new ideas and adapt better to a constantly changing environment.

  27. Pingback: This Week in Mentalists (105) « Mental Nurse

Comments are closed.