THE QUESTION OF SANITY
- A transcript from The Hour of Judgment radio series -
Copyright (c) 1995 Kevin Solway & David Quinn
- Peter Cotton - Clinical Psychologist
- Graham Priest - Professor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland
David: Hello, and welcome to The Hour of Judgment. We bill this as the thinking man's radio program. It is a program in which we do all we can to promote reason in the world, and to encourage people to strive for absolute perfection. And, I'm glad to say, according to figures released in Time Magazine last week, The Hour of Judgment is currently regarded as the most popular program among sages. I'm David Quinn, and with me is Kevin Solway, and tonight we are going to look at the issue of psychological health. In other words, what is sanity? How do we judge a sane man? I would argue that only the rational person - that is, the one who is completely free of all illusions and false thoughts and, indeed, emotions - only such a person can be regarded as truly sane. But to help us explore these issues we have with us Peter Cotton, who is a Clinical Psychologist, and Graham Priest, who is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland. Welcome, the both of you.
Graham: Thank you.
Peter: Good evening.
David: Welcome, Kevin.
Kevin: Welcome to you.
David: Alright, we might start off with you, Peter. You're a practicing clinical psychologist, and I assume the role is to make people with psychological problems more healthy. I wonder, what is your definition of psychological health?
Peter: It's a good question because most mainstream clinical psychology, I think you'd find, is dominated by the view that the absence of symptoms equals health. But if pressed to give a positive definition of health, most clinicians I think would have difficulty. Traditionally from Freud onwards psychotherapy and psychological systems have tended to view the world through the lens of psychopathology, so they've typically had fairly negative definitions. The most positive definition you would find in Freud is something to the effect that to be fully psychoanalyzed enables you to more effectively love and to work. Subsequent psychotherapists talk about things like maturity in relationships and adaptability and flexibility in dealing with the world. So it's only when you get to some of the humanistic streams in psychology, such as Maslow, that you get that sort of experiential or, more in a philosophical sense, a romantic, humanistic notion of positive health as self actualizaation.
David: But how do you judge, yourself . . . how do you judge who is a sane person? I mean, I, personally, regard virtually everybody in this world as being insane - and I mean in a clinical sense. Because they believe in things, and base their lives on things, that don't really exist. So they're very much like the old archetypal mad person in the asylum, who believes he's Napoleon or Jesus Christ. This person is actually believing in something which has no reality. So I would argue that most people are like this. For example, they believe in a self. They base their lives on a self. Now I would argue that a self has no real existence. So people who base their lives on a self are literally insane.
Graham: Yes, but surely it's not just believing what's not true which makes you insane. Rather, it's believing things without good reason. For example, you may have come here by car tonight, and you believe your car is parked outside now. Now, someone may have nicked it five minutes ago for all you know. The fact that you believe your car is parked outside doesn't make you insane or irrational. It just means you have a well-grounded belief that happens to be false. That wouldn't make you insane, right?
David: But if you take the definition of insanity as believing something which doesn't actually exist . . .
Graham: But you can have very good reasons for believing that something, which doesn't exist, does exist. I mean, there have been good theories in the past which postulated all kinds of entities, and for which there is very good evidence, which may turn out to be false in the end. But the people who believed them believed them for very good reasons - and they were hardly insane.
David: Alright, let's take the concept of "things". You were saying that scientists have changed their theories about actual things. But the very notion of "things" existing . . . to my mind, "things" have no real existence.
Graham: What do you mean?
David: Well, because things have causes. When the causes change the things disappear, so they're like a dream. They're like a reflection. If you have a reflection in a mirror, and you take away the sunlight, or the reflective properties of the mirror, the reflected objects in the mirror disappear. So in this sense they are illusory. So I would argue that all things are like this.
Graham: That's a rather swift jump. I mean, the fact that something in the mirror is illusory doesn't mean that this tea-cup is, for example.
David: I was just giving an illustration. But the point still stands that because everything is dependent on causes, and when these causes change the things disappear, we can say they're illusory.
David: Because they have no ultimate existence.
Graham: But for the time that they exist, they exist. They're not eternal perhaps . . .
Kevin: Yes, but they exist differently to the way people generally perceive them. When people perceive their own existence and the existence of other things, people perceive them as being independently, absolutely existent. They don't perceive the connectedness of themselves and all things, the infinite connectedness with the rest of the environment. So they are actually deluding themselves.
Graham: That may be so, but that's rather different from saying it doesn't exist.
Kevin: Things don't exist in the way that people generally use the term, so it's quite valid to say things don't exist.
Peter: Well, then so what? I mean, what you're talking about is what Husserl called the "natural attitude", which you need to get about in the everyday world. Then so what?
Kevin: Well, you don't need to be deluded to get about in the everyday world - though it helps [laughter]. For example, we can perceive things, and see their appearance . . . we can look at an appearance in a mirror, and we can know that there is an appearance in the mirror, but we don't have to believe that the appearance in the mirror is actually a concrete, real, independent existence. Similarly, we can look around the world about us, and we can process the appearances, the things that we're seeing, but we don't have to go that extra step and say that all of the things we're seeing are independently, absolutely real. We don't have to get upset about them, and become emotional, and violent, or fall in love with them, and have this whole emotional life over these things which are really no different to reflections in a mirror.
Graham: But why are they no different to reflections in a mirror?
Kevin: Because just as a reflection in a mirror is totally caused - it has its whole existence outside of itself in a way - in the same way all things in the Universe have their existence, or get their existence, from outside of themselves. They're a bit like a fountain. A fountain has a form that appears to us, and yet its existence is so infinitely fragile that one flick of the switch to stop the water pump and the fountain disappears.
Graham: But to say that everything has its cause . . . it doesn't follow from this that everything is in the same ontological category. And it doesn't follow that the image in a mirror is the same kind of reality as this tea-cup. I mean, you know the image isn't there - you can go behind the mirror and look at it, and it's not there - but turn the tea-cup around and you can see the other side. There's a difference of kind.
David: Not when we're talking about what is ultimate.
Graham: What do you mean by ultimate?
David: Well, I mean it in this sense: something which is ultimately real would have to exist totally separately from everything else. It would have to exist in its own right. That, to me, would be real existence.
Graham: So this is God as traditionally conceived, and nothing else?
David: Whatever. It's just a definition. So when I look at everything in the world, nothing is like this. So nothing has this real existence, according to my definition.
Graham: If that's what you mean, sure.
David: Okay, so in this sense, to believe that anything has real existence, by this definition, would be an error on my part, wouldn't it? And to base my life on what I conceive to be ultimately unreal . . .
Graham: Yes, but if you think this tea-cup has absolute existence in that sense you'd have to be crazy, right? But it doesn't stop you functioning, drinking tea from it, etcetera.
Kevin: But also, to get emotional over a tea-cup, or over a person . . . because essentially there's no real difference between the tea-cup and a person - they're both things in the world.
Peter: But there's a few steps in the middle there. You're making a bit of a leap. If we're going to talk phenomenology for a moment, the perception of the tea-cup is not given in your perception. That's constituted by an act of consciousness, with the conscious construction being a derivative product. So are you suggesting that reason, or rationality, is the primary, absolute reality? Is that where we're heading?
Kevin: Well, it depends on what we value. And, of course, we can define reality to be anything we like. For example, if you were a creation scientist you would define reality as the world coming into existence six thousand years ago, and Noah's ark and so on - this is reality, as they would define it. But personally, I would define reality as what is rationally true, absolutely true, as what we arrive at through the use of reason - the perfect use of reason. So reality, of course, is only how we define it to be. And using reason we find there's no real difference, in essence, between a human being and a tea-cup - or any other object for that matter - because they're both parts of the world and they both have causes. So we're mechanical in a sense - in the sense that we're part of cause and effect. So just as it would be insane to get emotional over a tea-cup - which has no free-will, which has no choice over what it does, it's just what it is - in the same sense it would be insane to be emotional over a person, who also has no free-will, who is totally a victim, if you want to say this, of the laws of Nature and of cause and effect. Everything that a person does is caused by Nature.
Peter: There's a lot of big steps in there . . .
Kevin: Well, hopefully, during the hour we'll discuss some of these steps.
Peter: We've moved a long way from insanity already!
David: No, no, we haven't at all. It all hinges on these things, because if nothing has real existence then people who believe in a real existence are insane.
Graham: No, no, no, that doesn't follow.
David: If it's true, I'm saying, if it's true--
Graham: To be insane is not simply to have false beliefs. There are many sane people who have false beliefs.
Kevin: But to have false beliefs where all the evidence is to the contrary--
Graham: That's different.
Kevin: Well, all the evidence which is around us in our everyday lives tells us that the things which we think are real are in fact not real.
Graham: Well, you just defined reality a moment ago. When Peter asked you, you said, "I define reality to be what is true". Now is it true that there is a tea-cup sitting in front of us?
Kevin: Well, from a scientific point of view, we can never know for sure whether there is a tea-cup in front of us. It appears that there is, but it could be a projection of some sort. So from a scientific point of view, we don't know for sure.
Graham: I'm not talking about knowledge. Is it true there's a tea-cup in front of us? Give me your best guess.
Kevin: Well, logically it's true.
Graham: Okay, so it is real, by your definition?
David: Well, the appearance is real.
Kevin: But how we interpret and how we process this appearance is what constitutes the difference between a wise person and an insane person.
Graham: Okay, but I was just asking, from what you've just said, do you think there are things which are real?
Kevin: A wise person sees what is real, and insane person sees what is not real.
Graham: Maybe, maybe not. We've moved again from the question of what's actually there to how you know what's there. And something could be there and you might have good reasons for believing it's not there, and vice versa.
Kevin: But there are no good reasons, for example, for a person being emotional over something. Can either of you think of an example where a person would have good reasons to be emotional over anything at all?
Graham: [to Peter] This is yours!
Peter: What do you mean by emotion? Do you mean irrational feelings or something?
Kevin: You know what an emotion is - a feeling of love or a feeling of anger . . . any kind of emotion at all, actually.
Graham: Sure, it can be highly efficacious.
David: What does that mean?
Graham: It means that if you're hyped-up about something you may well achieve what you want to do.
Peter: Indeed, from a psychological point of view, the adaptive role of emotion is like a condensed motivation-action tendency which achieves results. It has a real evolutionary role. Emotion has its own purpose and meaning.
Graham: Indeed, is it not true that one sign of psychopathy - I mean, of real insanity - is lack of emotion.
Peter: Indeed, that's what psychopathy is - a lack of feeling or empathy for other people. It's the core of psychopathy.
Kevin: I would agree with you to the extent that if I wanted to destroy the whole world then some emotions would definitely aid me in my quest.
Peter: Or if you wanted to run a race. Or if you wanted to give a passionate speech which people respond to and which inspires people. I mean, there's all sorts of culturally important--
Kevin: So whether emotions are valuable in fact depends on what our goal is. So if we do want to win a race, or destroy the world, or win the heart of some lassie, then emotions definitely play their part. But if we want wisdom . . . if we want to arrive at Ultimate Reality, then what are the good reasons for being emotional? What good are they if we want to actually live in reality?
Graham: Well, if your passion is to arrive at the nature of Ultimate Reality, then you have a passion for arriving at the nature of Ultimate Reality.
Kevin: Okay, so that brings us to the question of whether emotions actually are true, and whether there's any rational basis to being emotional - other than the will of the person. If the things which we're being emotional about - even if it's our own life, or if we're not achieving everything that we want to achieve - then obviously we have some conception of what our own self is, and we're being emotional about that conception. Now if that conception is false, then it would follow that the emotion, also, is false.
Graham: And what's a false emotion?
Kevin: One which has arisen out of irrational thought. And the irrational thought in this case would be the concept of the self. For example, if a person did not conceive of an independent self then it would be absolutely impossible for him to be emotional, or to arouse any sort of emotional feeling in him - there would just be a sort of pure, reflective reasoning. That's all that would occur to a perfectly rational person. Have you thought about this before, you as a philosopher?
Graham: If there's no such thing as a self then it's difficult to see how your rational people could do anything, including think.
Kevin: Well, of course, there's always the appearance of a self, obviously--
Graham: And so the appearance of thought . . .
Kevin: There's the appearance of everything, yes.
Peter: What's the reflexiveness that holds together the thoughts?
Peter: What's consciousness?
Kevin: Well, consciousness is essentially the same as anything else in the world. It's something which appears to us.
Peter: Ah, well, from a phenomenological point of view, that's not true because consciousness is really the mode in which things appear to us. And what Husserl did was to first say that: okay, well, if you want to get down to what is rock- bottom, you have to bracket the natural attitude, which is the everyday sense of things, and then you start to get to how things are perceived - the operations of subjectivity that constitute things. And then the other is about the idealizations of science, and showing how any scientific production, any rational production, presupposes the operation of consciousness that produces it. Therefore subjectivity is always prior to any idealization of science and any rational product. And so what you come down to at rock-bottom is what Husserl starts to talk about in terms of a "passive synthesis", which is sort of a pre-subjective anonimity, or in Heidegger it's called the Ereignis, or the locus of the clearing, or in Merlean-Ponty it's called originary temporalizing. And it's this differentiation which is the locus, and this is necessarily prior to rationality.
Kevin: Yes, but this is basically consciousness you're talking about now?
David: Duality, isn't it?
Peter: Well, it's the beginning of duality - originary temporalizing - that's if you're a European phenomenologist.
Kevin: But still, whatever we can give a name - no matter whether it's consciousness or whatever--
Peter: Well, that presupposes a relation to an object, which is always derivative. And if you go further with Husserl and some of the more contemporary phenomenologists, they talk about what is more primary - which is life, or originary temporalizing. And the knowledge of life isn't the relation to an object. That's not its essence. It doesn't have a relation to an object. So its more primary than thought. It's a different sort of "thing", if you like.
Kevin: This is consciousness you're speaking about now, although you haven't used that word?
Kevin: But nonetheless, the fact that we give it a word "consciousness", it still appears to us in some way.
Peter: No, consciousness is the act of things appearing.
Peter: A tea-cup is already constituted by an ensemble of operations that allow it to appear in the way that it is.
Kevin: I'm not saying consciousness is a physical thing in any sense. I'm saying it's an abstract thing. It's an object of the mind, and we use it for practical purposes.
Peter: Well, I'm a little bit of an idealist too, but I don't necessarily agree with your sort of enlightenment type march of pure reason as the primary goal of existence.
Kevin: Well, that's a good subject to talk about. Do you think there's problems with people marching down this road of pure reason?
Peter: Well, let me give you a mundane example. In psychology and schools of psychotherapy, the parallel here is with an approach called R.E.T - Rational Emotive Therapy. And the idea of Rational Emotive Therapy is basically to convince people who are anxious or depressed that their depression or anxiety stems from their irrational beliefs about the world. And the American person who developed R.E.T, a fellow called Albert Ellis, engages people in rational discussion. He calls his therapy "Socratic dialogue", where basically he tries to argue with them and brow-beat them about how irrational their beliefs are and how they need to have more rational beliefs about the world, and then everything will be rosy and they'll be happy.
Kevin: And he doesn't have many results I presume?
Peter: Well, it's sort of fizzled out a bit as a way of helping people because it's fairly limited. Because there seems to be a bit more to life than--
Kevin: Well, a person has to put value on reason for a start, before they can listen to rational debate, surely?
Peter: Well, that too.
Kevin: Yes, all right. This putting value on reason though . . . If I had to define what health was, I would say that it's putting value on reason. This is something which very few people do these days. Of course, everybody puts value on reason to some small degree in order to get through their daily lives. When a person has to pay some money at the checkout at the supermarket they have to use reason. But to actually do philosophy . . . to actually philosophize about the existence of things, or about what the self is . . . You know, people live a whole life of sixty or seventy years, or however long they live, and in many cases they have never actually thought about what their own self is! Despite the fact that they've had to live with it for their whole lifetime, they've never thought about what the self is! Now I would define it as healthy to actually think about what the self is, and yet in psychology this doesn't happen. I've studied some courses in psychology at University and there is no talk about what the self is and understanding the self. There's plenty of talk of understanding the psychology of the self, but this is different.
Peter: Yes, well, this is really a sociological issue because most contemporary psychology . . . it's a sort of sociology of knowledge issue because contemporary psychology identifies itself these days as a science. Many Australian psychology programs have moved into science faculties, or medical faculties, because that's where more funding, more grants, more status are. And you only have to go to lots of the recent sociological literature, or French thinkers like Foucault who talk about this sort of dimension, to see the way in which these knowledge forms are established. So there's good reason why psychology doesn't talk about the self. In my old program which I went through at Melbourne University, we had the late great F. Knopflemarker who ran a program on "The Self", but after he died they appointed a statistician to replace him. So we lost any sort of philosophical strand within the program.
Kevin: Well, what about philosophy? Is there any real, serious investigation into the self in academic philosophy?
Graham: Oh sure, yes. I mean, the reason why psychologists don't like it is that it's too hard.
Graham: You can't put it in a bottle and measure it. Whereas philosophers really love that kind of thing. In some ways, philosophy is just the subjects which are too hard for anyone else to worry about.
Kevin: One of my favourite subjects is Characterology. I don't know, Peter, if you've ever studied a fellow called Otto Weininger?
Kevin: Well, he was someone who actually hated psychology. He said that psychology should be about character - that is, it should be about how a person actually lives, and the values of a person. And he said that the psychology of his day - and this is going back a hundred years ago - had merely become about sensations and had become an empirical science. This was a hundred years ago! So things haven't changed one iota in a hundred years. But he said that character was the most important thing if we want to achieve health. And he divided the human consciousness, or the human mind, or the human desires, into the masculine and the feminine, because he saw two different basic psychologies in life: the feminine psychology - mainly in women - and male psychology, mainly in men. Yet when I studied psychology at University there was no talk of male psychology and female psychology, which I thought was very odd, seeing as, to my observation, there is a very large difference between male and female psychology. Have either of you any ideas about this contentious issue? Have you noticed any difference in how men and women do philosophy, for example, Graham?
Graham: [ long pause in which he struggles to speak and then laughs ]
Kevin: You came to the studio tonight with a female philosopher whose main interest was sexual fantasies, for example. Are there many male philosophers with those interests?
Graham: Sexual fantasies? Oh yes! Yes, I think it's very difficult to generalize about the different ways that people do philosophy. I think, drawing from my very limited experience of how people do philosophy, it wouldn't be right to say that there is a gender difference.
Kevin: And what about yourself, Peter, in your observations with your patients?
Peter: Well, in terms of psychology, the issue is addressed in terms of gender differences, and it's a fairly contentious issue as to what gender differences there are in things like the study of mathematics - there are all sorts of difficulties about how it's studied and whether the way that it's studied influences the results and so on. So it's like studying race. There are all sorts of problematic issues in the way that you define the terms on which you build your investigation before you even get to the empirical side. But in terms of patients . . . well, culturally and statistically, it is the case that women are more likely to present for assistance to mental health professionals than males, and that's largely a cultural phenomenon. Males are less likely to acknowledge personal difficulties, less likely to want to go and talk to a professional about them.
Kevin: And why do you say it's largely a cultural phenomena? Have tests been done on this with different cultures?
Peter: Well, that's a good question . . .
Kevin: It could be genetic, couldn't it?
Peter: It's possible. But then there's a whole other set of questions there too. And much of the research supporting the biochemical and genetic basis of a lot of mental illness has many problems with it. A lot of it is structured in a way because it is funded by pharmaceutical companies and so on.
Kevin: What do you think about the idea that traditionally men are supposed to be rational, and women are supposed to be emotional? And when men have problems, supposedly, they tend to internalize those problems. They don't want to share those problems with other people. Some people say that men suppress their emotions. Have you observed this, and do you think it's healthy or unhealthy?
Peter: Well, it's generally unhealthy to repress emotions because repression of emotion, even in a crass empirical way, can be linked to acceleration of some forms of cancer, if done over a long long time - increased blood pressure and so on. But that's at a fairly crass empirical level. What you're talking about is a much larger issue.
Kevin: I'm thinking of this: the fashion these days is to say that men are responsible for all the evil in the world, and that men have got no idea how to live their lives, because they repress their emotions and so on, and women have all the wisdom in this regard. But I actually think its healthy not to share your feelings and emotions with other people. If you have some kind of a problem, then I think the healthy thing to do is to work the thing out yourself - even if it's at the cost of your health, physical and mental.
Graham: So what makes it healthy?
Kevin: Don't forget that I base everything on this idea of truth and reason and individuality. These are the things I value above everything else. So if it helps a person to arrive at a point which is a lot closer to Truth - by working out their own problems and by developing an inner strength, rather than being dependent on other people and outside things - well, then this is healthy. Because even though the person may die younger, they will become a better character. Don't forget that character is very important to me. So even though a person suffers a lot more in their life, if they develop character . . .
Peter: So are you harking back to the sort of Aristotelian idea of Virtue ethics, where development of character is what it's all about?
Kevin: Well, I think character is the only thing worth having. I mean, I'd hate to live a whole life and just be a clone, a copy, a plastic person, like so many people are today. There are no characters today - or very, very few. There are no geniuses. I think the production of geniuses is the sign of a healthy society, and the production of plastic people, like we have today in our American style culture, is a sign of incredible insanity.
Peter: Well again, there's a whole cluster of things in there. I'm not sure, specifically, what you can relate to the production of genius--
Kevin: Well, one thing that would help genius would be the internalizing of all thoughts.
Graham: I think that is most unlikely. I think that if you were alone on a desert island with your emotions and your books you'd produce absolutely nothing. I mean, people are social animals. They need social interactions of all kinds to produce anything. You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for at least two other people, and presumably lots of others.
Kevin: Yes, but you're talking about creation--
Graham: No, I'm talking about what you are.
Kevin: Yes, but my idea of a genius is not necessarily someone who creates. For example, I don't regard artists and poets and so on as geniuses. I would regard a genius as someone who has a fundamental understanding of the whole Universe - the whole of Nature. So through understanding the basis of the whole of the Universe a genius understands everything in it.
Graham: Well, there are not many are there.
David: Which is why Kevin was talking about plastic people and lack of character. So this internalizing process develops the independent character and thinking processes which leads to this understanding of Ultimate Reality.
Kevin: And women don't have it. This is not a part of female psychology.
Graham: That's a rather vast claim. But leaving that aside, some of the greatest minds in history have claimed that they were very dependent on other people. For example, Newton, one of the greatest intellects, said that if he was able to see further than other people it was because he had stood on the shoulders of giants.
David: Well, I don't regard Newton as much chop . . . compared to someone like the Buddha.
Graham: The Buddha too was drawing on a strong tradition in Hindu philosophy. He wasn't coming out of nowhere.
Kevin: Well, in a sense nothing that we do is a matter of free-will. Everything that we do is caused by Nature. So even a genius is caused by Nature.
Peter: Well, there's a few big steps in there too. We could spend an hour talking about what you mean by free-will, what you mean by determinism, and what you mean by causality. You've just condensed a couple of hundred years of debate in the Western philosophical tradition about those terms into one sentence. We need to unpack them a little bit more, perhaps, to see if we're talking about the same things.
David: Yes, you tend to be chopping and changing there a bit, Kevin. I think we should concentrate a bit more on this idea of dependency. So someone like the Buddha, my ideal image of the Buddha, a perfectly wise man or woman, someone with a perfect understanding of reality - this person is non-attached in an emotional sense. So, sure, he needs other people to get his food--
Graham: And his ideas.
David: Well, yes, to a degree. But he has also reached total independence in another sense, in that his understanding is grounded in reality, and so he's no longer taken-in by other people's ideas. At least, he's processed them and has related them to his understanding of reality.
Peter: But he doesn't get there by reasoning; he gets there by meditating, doesn't he? Just keeping still and being part of the world - just being.
David: No, that's a popular myth. He actually got there by meditating on reasoning. He actually reasoned to the very end about the nature of existence, and all that sort of stuff, the nature of self. So it's actually an intellectual process that he has meditated upon, and via this he's achieved his enlightenment. Such a person has no attachment, no emotional attachment, to any other person, for example. A Buddha wouldn't be married. He wouldn't--
Kevin: Well, a good example would be that a Buddha would not be easily hypnotized. Now when we compare men and women the data shows very clearly that women are far far more easily hypnotized than men--
Peter: I don't agree, actually. That's actually not true.
Kevin: And even with suggestibility tests, it has been shown that women are far more suggestible.
Peter: No, no, this is a very dangerous argument. The data on hypnotizability . . . it's shaped like a bell curve. There's about ten percent of the population who are low hypnotizables; most are medium; and five to ten are very high. But gender distribution is a different thing, and I don't think there is any major difference in gender distribution.
Kevin: I think you must have seen different figures to me. Well, what about suggestibility? This is getting away now from hypnotizability. The figures I've seen show that women are an order of magnitude more suggestible than men are.
Peter: I don't believe that, either. I don't think that's true, either.
Kevin: Have you actually looked into this closely?
David: Well, surely, it would relate to the traditional idea of woman as being passive and submissive.
Peter: So we're not talking about empirical beings here - actual women and actual men - we're talking about ideal types?
David: Yes, ideal types, but they still have relationships to actual beings, though. So women, generally, are closer to the submissive side of the scale, if you like, and men are closer to the domineering side - that is how I'll characterize it for this argument, anyway. So if that's the case, if women are generally more submissive, then they would be more suggestible, because they are submitting to an authority.
Graham: That's a very big "if", though.
Peter: That's a very big "if"! . . . It's a very interesting argument . . . a very dangerous argument too!
David: Well, I'm only repeating what women say themselves.
Peter: Not the women I hang around with. [laughter]
David: The major feminists, for example - the spokespeople for certain women, anyway - the academics. Twenty or thirty years ago, Germaine Greer and others were of the view that women had been conditioned to--
Peter: Socially constructed.
Graham: That is to say, there are stereotypes.
David: But women are encouraged not to be geniuses, not to be total inventors. So all of our history has been basically created by men--
Graham: Well, the stuff which men have written about, that's true. But there's a lot of history which doesn't get written about by male historians.
Kevin: Like knitting, for example.
David: Like inventing the chocolate chip cookie.
Graham: No, a lot of our culture is female based.
David: Yes, but we're talking about the basic inventions of science, for example--
Kevin: Or philosophy.
Graham: There are many famous female philosophers.
Kevin: Famous but nobody has ever heard of them!
Graham: That's because most of history is written by men.
Kevin: Funny about that. Is there something else you wanted to say, David?
Kevin: Okay, well, I think we should move on from this subject of men and women, although I think it's fairly obvious that women are far more passive and suggestible than men are. I mean, you only have to look at them! Look at the way they dress! You know, the flimsy see- through, silken clothes they wear . . . it's a reflection of what's going on inside their minds.
Graham: Does that mean that the fact that you're wearing opaque clothes mean that your thought is opaque?
Kevin: It is opaque. It's opaque to you, obviously!
Graham: Now this is a rather swift association of ideas.
Kevin: Men like to internalize things. Men value privacy.
Peter: For all those female listeners out there, here's the address of the studio. Come in right now!
Kevin: You'd be surprised what we've got away with on this program. It goes completely over most people's heads. I mean, you only have to look at the way women dress - they're advertising what is going on in inside their brains. See- through clothes, see- through minds.
Peter: How much of that is socially constructed? I mean, there is a big, big, big, big leap in every step of your argument.
David: It's irrelevant what the cause is at this stage. We're just trying to establish what the reality is - the situation at this moment.
Graham: I think what Peter was saying was that he doesn't believe a bar of this, and the reasons that were being given for this weren't very persuasive. And I must confess I agree with him.
Kevin: Well, all we can go on is what we see in the world. And I think all social commentators all through history - and I know they've all been men . . . well, they haven't all been men, actually - there have been some masculine types of women who've also tried their hand at it - and they've all, unanimously, seen women as being passive.
Graham: Nonsense. John Stuart Mill, for example, did not.
Kevin: Well, I don't know the details of John Stuart Mill, but maybe he was a feminine type of man, I don't know.
Graham: No, he had a very happy married life to a very good philosopher, Harriet Taylor.
Kevin: You've just proved my point! I think masculine types of men don't get married. They value their independence and their freedom. They value their freedom and their genius to such a great degree, that they would never, ever compromise their minds by getting into an emotional relationship with a member of the opposite sex.
Peter: Why this incredible value on autonomy over sociality? What about the value of community and the interpersonal world, in terms of living the good life and--
Kevin: Yes, well this is getting back down to what we really value. Now I live in a very community type of place up at Maleny, where they value community above all. Truth actually comes very low on the scale, if at all. So I'm a bit of an odd- bod up there because I don't value community whatsoever, but I do value Truth - it's the only thing which I value. We're coming back now to what we mean by health. I would say that valuing community may have been of use at some time in the past, during the evolution of our species. Ignorance and emotions, and all of these things, had their place in our survival - in wiping out all the opposition, for example: there is a large gap between us and the other apes. Presumably there were intermediary forms, and presumably we played a large part in wiping them out. Our emotions and our community life would have played an important role in destroying the competition. But I think we've reached a stage now where our community is so large that we're actually destroying the whole planet. It's time we started transferring our values from community and from happiness, from community happiness, and love, and children, and family life, and all these nice warm wishy-washy things, and started getting real, and started to put value on reason and independence - and masculinity
Graham: Just because . . . oh!
Graham: Just because various multi-nationals are screwing-up the environment, it doesn't follow that communities should be devalued.
Kevin: It's mothers who are screwing up the environment by having children, isn't it?
Graham: Noooo . . .
Kevin: Overpopulation is the major--
Graham: It's what people do, and it's the causes of what they do . . . but I don't want to get distracted from the main issue, which was this claim that you should down-value communities. Because you can't live without a community. This is community radio, for example. Apart from everything else, obviously you value community otherwise you wouldn't be doing this. And you couldn't possibly exist if it wasn't for community.
David: We should make a distinction between a community as a collection of individuals living together for practical purposes, and this emotional overlay that people put on. Now I'd say that this emotional overlay - this emotional bonding between people - causes an awful lot of harm. It causes the violence and the wars and the suffering. It causes a hell of a lot of suffering.
Graham: And the absence of it causes psychopathy too. I mean, as Aristotle said a long time ago, anything carried to an extreme is going to be bad. The best thing is the Golden Mean.
David: So you would consider the Buddha to be a total psychopath, I suppose?
Kevin: What do you think about Buddhism, Graham . . . as a philosopher . . . as a logical philosopher?
Graham: It's a very noble religion - much more noble than many of the Western religions.
David: Okay, but the Buddha valued non-attachment, and the renouncing of love, and all the sort of stuff which we've been just talking about.
Peter: But compassion has a big role in Buddhism.
David: Yes, but the Buddha means "compassion" in a very different way to what is commonly meant by compassion. What is commonly meant by compassion is this emotional love which causes all the violence and the wars. But the Buddha's version of compassion is based on wisdom. It is based on encouraging people to give up their attachments.
Kevin: It's a kind of understanding. The compassion of an enlightened person is basically no more than understanding. So understanding other people, for example - that is what compassion is, and nothing more. Whereas in our everyday human life - or animal life I should call it; what I see around me is animal life - what people call "compassion" is no more than animal type of emotions. It's very unhealthy.
Graham: There's a very famous philosophical argument to the effect that you would never do anything unless you had emotions. You can have all the beliefs you like, but unless you have some desires, some emotions, you don't do anything.
Kevin: Well, I'll give you an example. A tree doesn't have emotions, presumably, and yet it does things.
Kevin: No what?
Graham: Causes operate on it. It just moves. It doesn't act.
Kevin: Yes, but do we act? Do we have a free-will? Let's look at this question. You're suggesting that we are different from a tree in the sense that we have some kind of extra . . .
Graham: No, I suggest that we act, unlike a tree.
Kevin: And what is involved in this?
Graham: The action is a result of your desires and your beliefs.
Kevin: And all of these are caused?
Kevin: All of our actions and our choices?
Graham: Sure, but I mean your actions are caused by your beliefs and your desires in the way that the behaviour of a plant is not, because a plant doesn't have beliefs and desires. Now, to get back to the point I was making, you can have as many beliefs as you like but unless you have desires as well you have no ground for doing anything. You have to have desires, otherwise you just don't act.
Kevin: Not necessarily so.
Graham: Tell me beliefs on which you would act without any desires.
Kevin: Well, we're talking about emotional desires now. I'd better say what I mean by a desire. A normal desire which people have is an emotional desire. Some personal thing is resting on it, and that's why they desire something. They desire to be loved, they desire to be wanted and admired and so on. But a wise kind of desire would be a purely reasoned one. It would have no emotion attached to it whatsoever. For example, I've reached the idea that I don't want to live an emotional life whatsoever. Any kind of emotional temptation has no weight with me. So I think to myself, "Why should I bother living?", for example. "Why should I desire to have my next meal?" And then I think, "Well, why not? If I decide not to have my next meal, then that's also making some sort of a choice.
Graham: Then why choose one rather than the other?
Kevin: Well, because I get hungry! So I'm acting like a tree.
Graham: But you have the ability not to do this. If you go and eat, it's because you choose to.
Kevin: But it's not an emotional choice.
Graham: Well, it's a desire that you have, to feed yourself.
Kevin: Yes, but it's not an emotional desire.
Graham: Well, I bet that if I wrapped you up in prison for about three weeks it would become pretty emotional!
Kevin: Yes, but the wiser I am, the less emotional I would become. So if I was perfectly wise I wouldn't become emotional at all, because I would just accept--
Graham: Why is it wise not to be emotional?
Kevin: Because emotions are the cause of all the violence and ignorance in the world.
Graham: So are belief systems. Why not just say that you shouldn't have any beliefs.
Kevin: True beliefs are good.
Graham: Well, then true emotions are good too.
Kevin: And what's the example of a true emotion?
Graham: One that's rational.
Kevin: And what's the example of a rational emotion? I've never seen one.
Graham: Okay, for example, if you're very kind to me, give me a cup of coffee, invite me along to the studio, say nice things, and I get VERY ANGRY! - that's irrational. If you stamp on my foot and punch me in the face and I get angry - that's rational.
Kevin: No. If I punch you in the face, for example, then there are reasons why I punch you in the face.
Kevin: I may not have personally decided to punch you in the face. I may be a puppet, and some puppeteer has made me punch you in the face. And yet you would become angry. And presumably you would be angry with me, or with the whole world, or with yourself - your anger would be directed towards something, and this is irrational because--
Graham: This is not irrational. If you give me all those facts and I'm still angry, then it's irrational.
Kevin: But you have all those facts without me having to give them to you. You have them already.
Graham: Well, no. That's a very big claim. And we come back to this question about free-will and you being a puppet. Now I don't believe for a moment you're a puppet of any kind of forces.
Kevin: I'm a puppet of Nature, though, aren't I? I mean, Nature makes me do everything that I do.
Graham: Yes, but being a puppet is different.
Kevin: How? I mean, if I have no free-will . . . . Now our listeners couldn't see that, but Graham has just grabbed my arm and is moving it up and down, illustrating why I am a puppet! He's just proved my point!
Graham: No, no, my point is exactly that when you move your arm, it's quite different from someone pulling the strings.
Kevin: No, it's not.
Graham: The fact that the cause comes from inside makes a difference?
Kevin: But the cause that comes from inside ultimately comes from outside.
Peter: So you're a behaviorist?
David: There's no origination to the cause. The cause may seem like it's inside, but--
Graham: So what?
Kevin: So we're all puppets.
Graham: No, it doesn't follow. There's a difference between the causes that come from within, and the causes that are imposed on you.
David: Well, we can make a distinction in that way for practical purposes, but we're talking ultimately here. So if, ultimately, there is no origination of this causal process which leads to me talking and moving my arms, and if the causes go back out of me, then, ultimately, I'm empty of everything, aren't I?
Peter: So you're a radical behaviorist, then? All of the contents inside your being/mind can be exhaustively accounted for, specified in a calculus if we have a sophisticated enough program?
David: No, no, no. Not like that. I can't predict anything that happens.
Peter: But in principle you could--?
David: Not in principle either.
Peter: In retrospect, though . . .
Kevin: You'd need a computer that's as powerful as the entire universe.
Peter: In the debate about artificial intelligence, what about the question of meaning? What is meaning?
Kevin: Well, we've been talking about meaning. I would regard ourselves as artificial intelligences. And meaning is something we've been having a lot of difficulty with here. We've been talking about values and what is healthy. So we've been talking about meaning, and whether it's possible for us, as artificial intelligences, to actually have meaning. I think that's what we've actually been talking about.
Peter: I'm a bit thrown by the use of the term "artificial intelligence", because it's usually--
David: We are robots. Or dummies.
Kevin: Or puppets.
David: Yes, there's no ultimate difference between artificial intelligences and ourselves, in that we're following causal processes.
Peter: But that's precisely what a whole two decades of philosophy has demonstrated! It has demonstrated why artificial intelligence is in principle limited in terms of being able to think.
David: Well, we don't know this. It's just speculation, isn't it. The computer industry is in its infancy.
Peter: Well, contemporary thinkers like Hubert Dreyfuss have claimed to have demonstrated, in principle, that it is impossible for a computer to think.
David: I'm a computer and I think! It depends what we mean by these things.
Peter: It certainly does.
David: My thoughts originate out of a mechanical process.
Graham: Or biochemical.
David: Yes, but it's mechanical in the sense that there's a causal process happening. One thing causes another, blah, blah, blah - so it's mechanical. You know, I'm made of parts.
David: Right, so in theory we could make artificial neurons, and artificial chemicals, which simulate everything, and create these artificial machines who believe they're human.
Graham: If we got a biochemical doppelganger of you, he would be human.
David: Yes, that's right. There'd be no difference. For all we know, we could be artificially constructed, and we just believe we're human. The point is that we're still part of the causal process, and this causal process goes back forever . . .
Kevin: And so nothing originates inside our minds.
Kevin: And that's why I said we're puppets - in the sense that my actions don't originate in my mind. It may appear that way, and we may speak in that way for practical purposes. But in actual fact, when you trace the origination of my actions they go out to Nature, and to the totality.
Graham: They're still yours.
Kevin: We say they're mine.
Graham: They are yours. I mean, that's what you is.
Kevin: No, it's not true, because you, in some respects, are actually causing my behaviour.
Kevin: So my actions are in fact your actions, because you're causing them.
David: In fact, we make up what the self is. At bottom, we make it up - we think it up. And we might choose to draw the boundary around our body which encapsulates our self; other cultures might say that the self is the whole tribe; others might say that the self is inside the brain.
Peter: Well, in contemporary Western society . . . I agree with you that there is a sense in which the sense of a unified self as a distinct entity from the world may be illusory, but it's, as someone said, a necessary fiction - because without it . . . that's the definition of psychosis.
David: But it's still a fiction, though. Yes, it might be necessary, but still it is ultimately not real, because it cannot be separated from anything else. There's no boundary between the "self" and "other".
Peter: But saying that it can't be separated doesn't mean that it's not real. That's another step.
David: Well, it is in my case. I mean, the self is just equivalent to a thought. It's like an imagining. It has no more reality than the word "Wednesday", for example. The word "Wednesday" has a use - you can say it comes after Tuesday, but it's not real. We've made it up, just for practical purposes.
Graham: Wednesdays are very real! I mean, the word "Wednesday" is a made-up word, but the day Wednesday is very real.
David: Well, not really, because the actual "day" is illusory. It can't be separated from the two nights.
Graham: Well, I hope not, it's pay day! It's vague, that's true, but reality is often vague.
David: Right, so I'd say that everything is fake.
Kevin: Even the vagueness itself is vague.
Kevin: The vagueness is so vague it disappears. It's so vague it's illusory.
Graham: No, what's vague is not necessarily illusory.
Kevin: It's illusory if people believe it's an actual, real existence.
Graham: A vague thing can be a real existence. You've just pointed out that your boundaries are rather vague.
Kevin: Yes, but even the vagueness of the boundaries are vague--
Graham: Yes, it's a well-known problem.
Kevin: --and on and on and on. And if you can't find what this vagueness is that we're talking about, if you can't find any kind of a boundary whatsoever, then you're quite justified in saying that it doesn't exist.
David: Well, I wouldn't say that these boundaries are vague. I mean, we just make that up as well. There's no such thing as these boundaries in the slightest degree. They're not vague or sharply defined - unless we create them to be so. We create the boundaries, and they're either vague or sharply defined depending on how we conceive of them. So what I'm saying is that there are no boundaries at all - that is, we are infinite. So to base your life on what is finite, to base it on the self, is insane . . . or at least extremely foolish.
Kevin: Well, we're running a bit short of time. This is a discussion we could do for another sixty hours. Is there anything either of you would like to say before we close up?
Peter: . . . Huh . . . I'm sitting here stunned . . .
Graham: I'd like to go out with the question of sanity in the light of what I've been hearing for the last hour.
David: Do you think we should book ourselves into your clinic there, Peter?
Peter: Yes, three years on the couch!
David: Well, next week Kevin and I will be talking to Paul Davies. That's right, Professor Paul Davies, author of The Mind of God and God and the New Physics and so forth. So make sure to tune-in then. And thanks Peter Cotton, Clinical Psychologist, and Graham Priest, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland, and we'll see you next time. Bye.