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Pirsig's Quotes on Insanity



Bantam Hardbound
First Edition

Extracted by Doug Renselle
Quote marks added to prose, not to dialogues.

I'm the top, I'm the bottom
This dream called sanity
Philosophical Insanity
Tiger glow
On Lila's Insanity
The Value of Insanity
Infant Cruci-fiction

pp. 250-1/410 of Lila I'm the top, I'm the bottom

"When he cracked open the door a howling rush of cold air poured through. He opened the crack wide enough to pass through, then stepped out onto the balcony and closed the door again.

"What a wild wind there was out here. Vertical wind. Crazy. The whole night skyline was blurring and clearing with squalls of rain. He could only see distant parts of the park from the way the lights stopped at its edges.

"Disconnected. All this seemed to be happening to somebody else. There was excitement of a kind; tension, confusion; but no real emotional involvement. He felt like some galvanometer that had been zapped and now the needle was jammed stuck, unable to register.

"Culture shock. He guessed that's what it was. This schizy feeling was culture shock. You enter another world where all the values are so different and switched around and upside—down you can't possibly adapt to them—and culture shock hits.

"He was really on top of the world now, he supposed ... at the opposite end of some kind of incredible social spectrum from where he had been twenty years ago, bouncing through South Chicago in that hard—sprung police truck on the way to the insane asylum.

"Was it any better now?

"He honestly didn't know. He remembered two things about that crazy ride: the first was that cop who grinned at him all the way, meaning "We're going to fix you good, boy"—as if the cop really enjoyed it. The second was the crazy understanding that he was in two worlds at the same time, and in one world he was at the rock bottom of the whole human heap and in the other world he was at the absolute top. How could you make any sense out of that? What could you do? The cop didn't matter, but what about this last?

"Now here it was all upside-down again. Now he was at some kind of top of that first world, but where was he in the second? At the bottom? He couldn't say. He had the feeling that if he sold the film rights big things were going to happen in that first world, but he was going to take a long slide to somewhere in the second. He'd expected that feeling might go away tonight, but it didn't.

"There was a "something wrong—something wrong—something wrong" feeling like a buzzer in the back of his mind. It wasn't just his imagination. It was real. It was a primary perception of negative quality. First you sense the high or low quality, then you find reasons for it, not the other way around. Here he was, sensing it." Back

pp. 317-20/410 Lila This dream called sanity

"Sleep didn't come. . . .

". . . That light he saw around her. It was trying to tell him something.

"It was saying, "wake up."

"But wake up to what?

"Wake up to your obligations, maybe.

What were they?

"Maybe not to be so static.

"It was a long time now since those years when Phædrus had been a mental patient. He'd become very static. He was more intelligible to the sane now because he'd moved closer to them. But he'd become a lot farther away from people like Lila.

"Now he saw her the same way others had seen him years ago. And now he was behaving exactly the way they did. They could be excused for not knowing better. They didn't know what it was like. But he didn't have that excuse.

"It's a legitimate point of view. It's the lifeboat problem. If you get too involved with too many people with too many problems they drag you under. You don't save them. They sink you.

"Of course she's unimportant. Of course she's a waste of time. She's causing an interruption of other more important purposes in life. No one admits it, but that's really the reason the insane get locked up. They're disgusting people you want to get rid of but can't. It's not just that they have absurd ideas that nobody else believes. What makes them "insane" is that they have these ideas and are a nuisance to somebody else.

"The only thing that's illegitimate is the cover-up, the pretense that you're trying to help them by getting rid of them. But really there was no way Lila was going to sink him. She was just a nuisance now, and he could handle that. Maybe that's what the light was trying to tell him. He had no choice but to try to help her, nuisance or not. Otherwise he would just injure himself. You can't just run off from other people without injuring yourself too.

"Well, he thought . . . she's either come to the best possible person or to the worst possible person. No way yet to know which.

"He rolled over and lay quietly.

"He knew he had heard that talk of hers before, that style, and now he remembered some of the people he had talked to in the insane asylum. When people are going insane they tend to get very ingenuous like that.

". . .What did he remember? It all seemed so long ago.

"Aunt Ellen. When he was seven.

"There was a noise in the downstairs in the dark. His parents thought it was a burglar, but it was Ellen. Her eyes were wide. Some man was chasing her, she said. He was trying to hypnotize her and do things to her.

"Later, at the asylum Phædrus remembered her pleading, "I'm all right. I'm all right! They're just keeping me here when I know I'm all right."

"Afterward his mother and her sisters had cried as they left. But they didn't see what he saw.

"He never forgot what he saw, that Ellen wasn't frightened of the insanity. She was frightened of them.

"That was the hardest thing to deal with during his own commitment. Not the insanity. That came naturally. The hardest thing to deal with was the righteousness of the sane.

"When you're in agreement with the sane they're a great comfort and protection, but when you disagree with them it's another matter. Then they're dangerous. Then they'll do anything. The sinister thing that struck the most fear in him was what they'd do in the name of kindness. The ones he cared about most and who cared about him most suddenly, all of them, turned against him the same way they had against Ellen. They kept saying, "There's no way we can reach you. If only we could make you understand."

"He saw that the sane always know they are good because their culture tells them so. Anyone who tells them otherwise is sick, paranoid, and needs further treatment. To avoid that accusation Phædrus had had to be very careful of what he said when he was in the hospital. He told the sane what they wanted to hear and kept his real thoughts to himself.

"He turned back again. This pillow was like a rock. She had all the good pillows up there. No way to get one now. . . . It didn't matter.

"That was what was wrong with making a film about his book. You can't film insanity.

"Maybe if, during the show, the whole theatre collapsed and the audience found themselves among the stars with just space all around and no support, wondering what a stupid thing this is, sitting here among the stars watching this film that has nothing to do with them and then suddenly realizing that this film is the only reality there is and that they had better get interested in it because what they see and what they are is the same thing and once it stops they will stop too....

"That's it. Everything! Gone!!

"Nothing left!!

"And then after a while this dream of some kind going on, and them in it.

"That's the way it was. He'd gotten so used to being in this dream called "sanity" he hardly ever thought about it any more. just once in a while, when something like this reminded him of it. Now he could see the light just rarely, once in a while, like tonight. But back then the light had been everything.

"It wasn't that any particular thing looked different. It was that the whole context of everything was completely different although it contained the same things.

"He remembered a metaphor that had occurred to him of a bug that had been crawling around in some smelly sock all his life and now someone or something had turned the sock inside out. The terrain he covered, the details of his life, were all the same, but now somehow everything seemed open and free and all the horrible confining smell of everything was gone.

"Another metaphor that had occurred to him was that he'd been on a tightrope all of his life. Now he'd fallen off and found that instead of crashing he was flying, a strange new talent he never knew he had.

"He remembered how he kept to himself the feeling of exhilaration, of old mysteries being solved and new mysteries being explored. He remembered how it seemed to him that he hadn't entered any cataleptic trance. He had fallen out of one. He was free of a static pattern of life he'd thought was unchangeable." Back

pp. 327-37/410 Lila Philosophical Insanity

"That includes the consideration of people like Lila. This whole business of insanity is an enormously important philosophical subject that has been ignored—mainly, he supposed, because of metaphysical limitations. In addition to the conventional branches of philosophy ethics, ontology and so on—the Metaphysics of Quality provides a foundation for a new one: the philosophy of insanity. As long as you're stuck with the old conventions, insanity is going to be a 'misunderstanding of the object by the subject.' The object is real, the subject is mistaken. The only problem is how to change the subject's mind back to a correct comprehension of objective reality.

"But with a Metaphysics of Quality the empirical experience is not an experience of 'objects.' It's an experience of value patterns produced by a number of sources, not just inorganic patterns. When an insane person—or a hypnotized person or a person from a primitive culture—advances some explanation of the universe that is completely at odds with current scientific reality, we do not have to believe he has jumped off the end of the empirical world. He is just a person who is valuing intellectual patterns that, because they are outside the range of our own culture, we perceive to have very low quality. Some biological or social or Dynamic force has altered his judgment of quality. It has caused him to filter out what we call normal cultural intellectual patterns just as ruthlessly as our culture filters out his.

"Obviously no culture wants its legal patterns violated, and when they are, an immune system takes over in ways that are analogous to a biological immune system. The deviant dangerous source of illegal cultural patterns is first identified, then isolated and finally destroyed as a cultural entity. That's what mental hospitals are partly for. And also heresy trials. They protect the culture from foreign ideas that if allowed to grow unchecked could destroy the culture itself.

Reviewer aside:

Consider how a Kuhnian 'normal scientific' paradigm is a cultural immune system. A given scientific community treats intellectual antisociotics just as it does all other threats. What Kuhn is telling us is that very often intellectual antisociotics are stuff of 'extraordinary science' and paradigm shifts. Kuhn agrees with Pirsig that what classicists and SOM call insanity very often is not insanity, rather extraordinary science attempting a n¤vel emergence. Doug - 12Feb2002.

End aside.

"That was what Phædrus had seen in the psychiatric wards, people trying to convert him back to 'objective reality. He never doubted that the psychiatrists were kind people. They had to be more than normally kind to stand that job. But he saw that they were representatives of the culture and they were always required to deal with insanity as cultural representatives, and he got awfully tired of their interminable role-playing. They were always playing the role of priests saving heretics. He couldn't say anything about it because that would sound paranoiac, a misunderstanding of their good intentions and evidence of how deep his affliction really was.

"Years later, after he was certified as 'sane,' he read 'objective' medical descriptions of what he had experienced, and he was shocked at how slanderous they were. They were like descriptions of a religious sect written by a different, hostile religious sect. The psychiatric treatment was not a search for truth but the promulgation of a dogma. Psychiatrists seemed to fear the taint of insanity much as inquisitors once feared succumbing to the devil. Psychiatrists were not allowed to practice psychiatry if they were insane. It was required that they literally did not know what they were talking about.

"To this, Phædrus supposed, they could counter that you don't have to be infected with pneumonia in order to know how to cure it and you don't have to be infected with insanity to know how to cure it either. But the rebuttal to that goes to the core of the whole problem. Pneumonia is a biological pattern. It is scientifically verifiable. You can know about it by studying the pneumococcus bacillus under a microscope.

"Insanity on the other hand is an intellectual pattern. It may have biological causes but it has no physical or biological reality. No scientific instrument can be produced in court to show who is insane and who is sane. There's nothing about insanity that conforms to any scientific law of the universe. The scientific laws of the universe are invented by sanity. There's no way by which sanity, using the instruments of its own creation, can measure that which is outside of itself and its creations. Insanity isn't an 'object' of observation. It's an alteration of observation itself. There is no such thing as a 'disease' of patterns of intellect. There's only heresy. And that's what insanity really is. [Original Greek of 'heresy' is choice. Latin for 'fact' is 'sane.' Non fact therefore must be 'insane.' Fact, as practiced, is cultural opinion. Some call it "law." Doug.]

"Ask, 'If there were only one person in the world, is there any way he could be insane?' Insanity always exists in relation to others. [I.e., insanity is culturally relative. Doug.] It is a social and intellectual deviation, not a biological deviation. The only test for insanity in a court of law or anywhere else is conformity to a cultural status quo. That is why the psychiatric profession bears such a resemblance to the old priesthoods. Both use physical restraint and abuse as ways of enforcing the status quo.

"This being so, it follows that the assignment of medical doctors to treat insanity is a misuse of their training. Intellectual heresy is not really their business. Medical doctors are trained to look at things from an inorganic and biological perspective. That's why so many of their cures are biological: shock, drugs, lobotomies, and physical restraints.

"Like police, who live in two worlds, the biological and the social, psychiatrists also live in two worlds, the social and the intellectual. Like cops, they are in absolute control of the lower order and are expected to be absolutely subservient to the upper order. A psychiatrist who condemns intellectuality would be like a cop who condemns society. Not the right stuff. You have as much chance convincing a psychiatrist that the intellectual order he enforces is rotten as you have of convincing a cop that the social order he supports is rotten. If they ever believed you they'd have to quit their jobs.

"So Phædrus had seen that if you want to get out of an insane asylum the way to do it is not to try to persuade the psychiatrists that you may know more than they do about what is 'wrong' with you. That is hopeless. The way to get out is to persuade them that you fully understand that they know more than you do and that you are fully ready to accept their intellectual authority. That is how heretics keep from getting burned. They recant. You have to do a first-class acting job and not allow any little glances of resentment get in there. If you do they may catch you at it and you may be worse off than if you hadn't tried.

"If they ask you how you're feeling you can't say, 'Great!' That would be a symptom of delusion. But you can't say, 'Rotten!' either. They'll believe it and increase the tranquilizer dosage. You have to say, 'Well . . . I think I may be improving a little bit . . .' and do so with a little look of humility and pleading in your eyes. That brings the smiles.

"In time this strategy had brought Phædrus enough smiles to get out. It made him less honest and it made him more of a conformist to the current cultural status quo but that is what everyone really wanted. It got him out and back to his family and a job and a place in the world again and this new personality of a conforming, role-playing, ex-mental patient who knew how to do as he was told without protest became a sort of permanent stage personality that he never dropped.

"It wasn't a happy solution, to always role-play with people he had once been honest with. It made it impossible to ever really share anything with them. Now he was more isolated than he had been in the insane asylum but there was nothing he could do about it. In his first book he had cast this isolated role-player as the narrator, a fellow who is likable because he is so recognizably normal, but who has trouble coping with his own life because he has destroyed his ability to deal honestly with it. It was this isolation that indirectly broke up his family and led to this present life.

"Now, years later, his resentment against what had happened in the hospital had lessened, and he began to see that there is, of course, a need for psychiatrists just as there is for cops. Somebody has to deal with the degenerate forms of society and intellect. The thing to understand is that if you are going to reform society you don't start with cops. And if you are going to reform intellect you don't start with psychiatrists. If you don't like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do with either cops or psychiatrists is stay out of their way. You leave them till last.

"Who do you start with then? . . . Anthropologists?

"Actually that's not such a bad idea. Anthropologists, when they're not being self-consciously 'objective,' tend to be very interested in new things.

"The idea had first come to Phædrus in the mountains near Bozeman, Montana, where he first began reading anthropology. It was there he read Ruth Benedict's implication that the way to correct the brujo's problem in Zuni would have been to deport him to one of the Plains tribes where his temperamental drives would have blended in better. What about that? Send the insane to anthropologists rather than psychiatrists for a cure!

"Ruth Benedict maintained that psychiatry had been confused by its start from a fixed list of symptoms instead of from the case study of the insane, those whose characteristic reactions are denied validity in their society. Another anthropologist, D. T. Campbell, agreed, saying, 'Implicitly the laboratory psychologist still assumes that his college sophomores provide an adequate basis for a general psychology of man.' He said that for social psychology these tendencies have been very substantially curbed through confrontation with the anthropological literature.

"The psychiatrist's approach would have analyzed the brujo's childhood to find causes for his behavior, shown why he became a window peeper, counseled him against window-peeping, and, if he continued, possibly 'confined him for his own good.' But the anthropologist on the other hand could study the person's complaints, find a culture where the complaints were solved and send him there. In the brujo's case anthropologists would have sent him up north to the Cheyenne. But if someone suffered from sexual inhibition by the Victorians, he could be sent to Margaret Mead's Samoa; or if he suffered from paranoia, sent to one of the Middle Eastern countries where suspicious attitudes are more normal.

"What anthropologists see over and over again is that insanity is culturally defined. It occurs in all cultures but each culture has different criteria for what constitutes it. Kluckhohn has referred to an old Sicilian, who spoke only a little English, who came to a San Francisco hospital to be treated for a minor physical ailment. The intern who examined him noted that he kept muttering that he was being witched by a certain woman, that this was the real reason for his suffering. The intern promptly sent him to the psychiatric ward where he was kept for several years. Yet in the Italian colony from which he came everybody of his age group believed in witchcraft. It was 'normal' in the sense of standard. If someone from the intern's own economic and educational group had complained of being persecuted by a witch, this would have been correctly interpreted as a sign of mental derangement.

"Many others reported cultural correlations of the symptoms of insanity. M. K. Opler found that Irish schizophrenic patients had preoccupations with sin and guilt related to sex. Not Italians. Italians were given to hypochondriachial complaints and body preoccupations. There was more open rejection of authority among Italians. Clifford Geertz stated that the Balinese definition of a madman is someone who, like an American, smiles when there is nothing to smile at. In one journal Phædrus found a description of different psychoses which were specialized according to culture: the Chippewa-Cree suffered from windigo, a form of cannibalism; in Japan there was imu, a cursing following snake-bite; among Polar Eskimos it is pibloktog, a tearing off of clothes and running across the ice; and in Indonesia was the famous amok, a brooding depression which succeeds to a dangerous explosion of violence.

"Anthropologists found that schizophrenia is strongest among those whose ties with the cultural traditions are weakest: drug users, intellectuals, immigrants, students in their first year at college, soldiers recently inducted.

"A study of Norwegian-born immigrants in Minnesota showed that over a period of four decades their rate of hospitalization for mental disorders was much higher than those for either non-immigrant Americans or Norwegians in Norway. Isaac Frost found that psychoses often develop among foreign domestic servants in Britain, usually within eighteen months of their arrival.

"These psychoses, which are an extreme form of culture shock, emerge among these people because the cultural definition of values which underlies their sanity has been changed. It was not an awareness of 'truth' that was sustaining their sanity, it was their sureness of their cultural directives. [See Boris Sidis' The Herd and The Subconscious.]

"Now, psychiatry can't really deal with all of this because it is pinioned to a subject-object truth system which declares that one particular intellectual pattern is real and all others are illusions. Psychiatry is forced to take this position in contradiction to history, which shows over and over again that one era's illusions become another era's truths, and in contradiction to geography, which shows that one area's truths are another area's illusions. But a philosophy of insanity generated by a Metaphysics of Quality states that all these conflicting intellectual truths are just [very quantum, islandic] value patterns. One can vary from a particular common historical and geographical truth pattern without being crazy.

"The anthropologists established a second point: not only does insanity vary from culture to culture, but sanity itself also varies from culture to culture [sanity is quantum hermeneutic; see I2APTSO2]. They found that the 'ability to see reality' is not only a difference between the sane and the insane, it is also a difference between different cultures of the sane. Each culture presumes its beliefs correspond to some sort of external reality, but a geography of religious beliefs shows that this external reality can be just about any damn thing. Even the facts that people observe to confirm the truth" are dependent on the culture they live in.

"Categories that are unessential to a given culture, Boas said, will, on the whole, not be found in its language. Categories that are culturally important will be found in detail. Ruth Benedict, who was Boas' student, stated,

"A child in a money-society will draw pictures of coins that are larger than a child in a primitive culture. Moreover the money-society children overestimate the size of a coin in proportion to the value of the coin. Poor children will overestimate more than rich ones.

"Eskimos see sixteen different forms of ice which are as different to them as trees and shrubs are different to us. Hindus, on the other hand, use the same term for both ice and snow. Creek and Natchez Indians do not distinguish yellow from green. Similarly, Choctaw, Tunica, the Keresian Pueblo Indians and many other people make no terminological distinction between blue and green. The Hopis have no word for time.

"Edward Sapir said,

"As Kluckhohn put it,

"That explained a lot of what Phædrus had heard on the psychiatric wards. What the patients showed wasn't any one common characteristic but an absence of one. What was absent was the kind of standard social role-playing that 'normal' people get into. Sane people don't realize what a bunch of role-players they are, but the insane see this role-playing and resent it.

"There was a famous experiment where a sane person went onto a ward disguised as insane. The staff never detected his act, but the other patients did. The patients saw he was acting. The hospital staff, who were playing standard social roles of their own, couldn't detect the difference.

"Insanity as an absence of common characteristics is also demonstrated by the Rorschach ink-blot test for schizophrenia. In this test, randomly formed ink splotches are shown to the patient and he is asked what he sees. If he says, 'I see a pretty lady with a flowering hat,' that is not a sign of schizophrenia. But if he says, 'All I see is an ink-blot,' he is showing signs of schizophrenia. The person who responds with the most elaborate lie gets the highest score for sanity. The person who tells the absolute truth does not. Sanity is not truth. Sanity is conformity to what is socially expected. Truth is sometimes in conformity, sometimes not.

"Phædrus had adopted the term 'static filter' for this phenomenon. He saw that this static filter operates at all levels. When, for example, someone praises your home town or family or ideas you believe that and remember it, but when someone condemns these institutions you get angry and condemn him and dismiss what he has said and forget it. Your static value system filters out the undesirable opinions and preserves the desirable ones.

"But it isn't just opinions that get filtered out. It's also data. When you buy a certain model of car you may be amazed at how the highways fill up with other people driving the same model. Because you now value this model more, you now see more of it.

"When Phædrus started to read yachting literature he ran across a description of the 'green flash' of the sun. What was that all about, he wondered. Why hadn't he seen it? He was sure he had never seen the green flash of the sun. Yet he must have seen it. But if he saw it, why didn't he see it?

"This static filter was the explanation. He didn't see the green flash because he'd never been told to see it. But then one day he read a book on yachting which said, in effect, to go see it. So he did. And he saw it. There was the sun, green as green can be, like a 'GO' light on a downtown traffic semaphore. Yet all his life he had never seen it. The culture hadn't told him to so he hadn't seen it. If he hadn't read that book on yachting he was quite certain he would never have seen it.

"A few months back a static filtering had occurred that could have been disastrous. It was in an Ohio port where he had come in out of a summer storm on Lake Erie. He had just barely been able to sail to windward off the rocks through the night until he reached a harbor about twenty miles down the coast from Cleveland.

"When he got there and was safely in the lee of the jetty he went below and grabbed a harbor chart and brought it up and held it, soaking wet, in the rain, using the boat's spreader lights to read by while he steered past concrete dividing walls, piers, harbor buoys and other markers until he found the yacht basin and tied up at a berth.

"He had slept exhausted for most of the next day, and when he woke up and went outside it was afternoon. He asked someone how far it was to Cleveland.

"'You're in Cleveland,' he was told.

"He couldn't believe it. The chart said he was in a harbor miles from Cleveland.

"Then he remembered the little 'discrepancies' he had seen on the chart when he came in. When a buoy had a 'wrong' number on it he presumed it had been changed since the chart was made. When a certain wall appeared that was not shown, he assumed it had been built recently or maybe he hadn't come to it yet and he wasn't quite where he thought he was. It never occurred to him to think he was in a whole different harbor!

"It was a parable for students of scientific objectivity. Wherever the chart disagreed with his observations he rejected the observation and followed the chart. Because of what his mind thought it knew, it had built up a static filter, an immune system, that was shutting out all information that did not fit. Seeing is not believing. Believing is seeing.

"If this were just an individual phenomenon it would not be so serious. But it is a huge cultural phenomenon too and it is very serious. We build up whole cultural intellectual patterns based on past 'facts' which are extremely selective. When a new fact comes in that does not fit the pattern we don't throw out the pattern. We throw out the fact. A contradictory fact has to keep hammering and hammering and hammering, sometimes for centuries, before maybe one or two people will see it. And then these one or two have to start hammering on others for a long time before they see it too.

"Just as the biological immune system will destroy a life-saving skin graft with the same vigor with which it fights pneumonia, so will a cultural immune system fight off a beneficial new kind of understanding like that of the brujo in Zuni with the same kind of vigor it uses to destroy crime. It can't distinguish between them.

"Phædrus recognized that there's nothing immoral in a culture not being ready to accept something Dynamic. Static latching is necessary to sustain the gains the culture has made in the past. The solution is not to condemn the culture as stupid but to look for those factors that will make the new information acceptable: the keys. He thought of this Metaphysics of Quality as a key." Back

pp. 339-40/410 of Lila Tiger glow

"During Phædrus' time of insanity when he had wandered freely outside the limits of cultural reality, this light had been a valued companion, pointing out things to him that he would otherwise have missed, appearing at an event his rational thought had indicated was unimportant, but which he would later discover had been more important than he had known. Other times it had occurred at events he could not figure out the importance of, but which had left him wondering.

"He saw it once on a small kitten. After that for a long time the kitten followed him wherever he went and he wondered if the kitten saw it too.

"He had seen it once around a tiger in a zoo. The tiger had suddenly looked at him with what seemed like surprise and had come over to the bars for a closer look. Then the illumination began to appear around the tiger's face. That was all. Afterward, that experience associated itself with William Blake's "Tiger! tiger! burning bright."

"The eyes had blazed with what seemed to be inner light." Back

pp. 355-57/410 of Lila On Lila's Insanity

"There are three ways she can go, he thought. First, she can go into permanent delusions, cling to this doll and whatever else she's inventing, and eventually he'd have to get rid of her. It would be tricky, but it could be done. Just call a doctor at some town they came to and have him look at her and figure out what to do from there. Phædrus didn't like it, but he could do it if he had to.

"The trouble is there's a self-stoking thing where the craziness makes people reject you more and more, which makes you crazier, and that's what he would be getting involved in. Not very moral. If it went that way she'd probably spend the rest of her life in an insane asylum, like some caged animal.

"Her second alternative, he thought, would be to cave in to whatever it was she was fighting, and learn to "adjust." She'd probably go into some kind of cultural dependency, with recurring trips to a psychiatrist or some kind of "social counselor" for "therapy," accept the cultural "reality" that her rebellion was no good, and live with it. In this way she'd continue to lead a "normal" life, continuing her problem, whatever it was, within conventional cultural limits.

"The trouble was, he didn't really like that solution much better than the first.

"The question isn't "What makes people insane?" It's "What makes people sane?" People have been asking for centuries how to deal with the insane and he didn't see that they'd gotten anywhere. The way to really deal with insanity, he thought, is to turn the tables and talk about truth instead. Insanity's a medical subject that everyone agrees is bad. Truth's a metaphysical subject that everyone disagrees about. There are lots of different definitions of truth and some of them could throw a whole lot more light on what was happening to Lila than a subject—object metaphysics does.

"If objects are the ultimate reality then there's only one true intellectual construction of things: that which corresponds to the objective world. But if truth is defined as a high—quality set of intellectual value patterns, then insanity can be defined as just a low—quality set of intellectual value patterns, and you get a whole different picture of it.

"When the culture asks, "Why doesn't this person see things the way we do?" you can answer that he doesn't see them because he doesn't value them. He's gone into illegal value patterns because the illegal patterns resolve value conflicts that the culture's unable to handle. The causes of insanity may be all kinds of things, from chemical imbalances to social conflicts. But insanity has solved these conflicts with illegal patterns which appear to be of higher quality.

"Lila seems to be in some kind of trance-like state up there but what does that mean? In a subject—object world, trance and hypnosis are big-time platypi. That's why there's this prejudice that while hypnosis and trance can't be denied, there's something "wrong" about them. They're best nudged as close as possible to the empirical trash heap called "the occult" and left to that anti-empirical crowd that indulges in astrology, Tarot cards, the I-Ching and the like. If seeing is believing then hypnosis and trance should be impossible. But since they do exist, what you have is an empirically observable case of empiricism being overthrown.

"The irony is that there are times when the culture actually fosters trance and hypnosis to further its purposes. The theater's a form of hypnosis. So are movies and TV. When you enter a movie theater you know that all you're going to see is 24 shadows per second flashed on a screen to give an illusion of moving people and objects. Yet despite this knowledge you laugh when the 24 shadows per second tell jokes and cry when the shadows show actors faking death. You know they are an illusion yet you enter the illusion and become a part of it and while the illusion is taking place you are not aware that it is an illusion. This is hypnosis. It is trance. It's also a form of temporary insanity. But it's also a powerful force for cultural reinforcement and for this reason the culture promotes movies and censors them for its own benefit.

"Phædrus thought that in the case of permanent insanity the exits to the theater have been blocked, usually because of the knowledge that the show outside is so much worse. The insane person is running a private unapproved film which he happens to like better than the current cultural one. If you want him to run the film everyone else is seeing, the solution would be to find ways to prove to him that it would be valuable to do so, Phædrus thought. Otherwise why should he get "better"? He already is better. It's the patterns that constitute "betterness" that are at issue. From an internal point of view insanity isn't the problem. Insanity is the solution.

"What it would take that's more valuable to Lila, Phædrus wasn't sure." Back

pp. 359-61/410 of Lila The Value of Insanity

"When you see Lila that way it's possible to interpret her current situation as much more significant than psychology would suggest. If she seems to be running from something, that could be the static patterns of her own life she's running from. But a Metaphysics of Quality adds the possibility that she's running toward something too. It allows a hypothesis that if this running is stopped, if any static patterns claim her—if either her own insane patterns claim her or the static cultural patterns she is shutting out and running from claim her—then she loses.

"What he thought was, that in addition to the usual solutions to insanity—stay locked up or learn to conform—there was a third one, to reject all movies, private and cultural, and head for Dynamic Quality itself, which is no movie at all.

"If you compare the levels of static patterns that compose a human being to the ecology of a forest, and if you see the different patterns sometimes in competition with each other, sometimes in symbiotic support of each other, but always in a kind of tension that will shift one way or the other, depending on evolving circumstances, then you can also see that evolution doesn't take place only within societies, it takes place within individuals too. It's possible to see Lila as something much greater than a customary sociological or anthropological description would have her be. Lila then becomes a complex ecology of patterns moving toward Dynamic Quality. Lila individually, herself, is in an evolutionary battle against the static patterns of her own life.

"That's why the absence of suffering last night seemed so ominous and her change to what looked like suffering today gave Phædrus a feeling she was getting better. If you eliminate suffering from this world you eliminate life. There's no evolution. Those species that don't suffer don't survive. Suffering is the negative face of the Quality that drives the whole process. All these battles between patterns of evolution go on within suffering individuals like Lila.

"And Lila's battle is everybody's battle, you know? Sometimes the insane and the contrarians and the ones who are the closest to suicide are the most valuable people society has. They may be precursors of social change. They've taken the burdens of the culture onto themselves, and in their struggle to solve their own problems they're solving problems for the culture as well.

"So the third possibility that Phædrus was hoping for was that by some miracle of understanding Lila could avoid all the patterns, her own and the culture's, see the Dynamic Quality she's working toward and then come back and handle all this mess without being destroyed by it. The question is whether she's going to work through whatever it is that makes the defense necessary or whether she is going to work around it. If she works through it she'll come out at a Dynamic solution. If she works around it she'll just head back to the old karmic cycles of pain and temporary relief." Back

pp. 371-5/410 of Lila Infant Cruci-fiction

"Lila was talking. That was an accomplishment. It showed he was on the right track.

"She wasn't making much sense yet with all that talk about the island and Rigel, but that would come in time. The thing was not to force it, not to set up a confrontation. It was an intriguing idea to send someone like Lila to Samoa for a cure but it wouldn't work. What's wrong with insanity is that she's outside any culture. She's a culture of one. She has her own reality which no other culture is able to see. That's what had to be reconciled. It could be that if he just didn't give her any problems for the next few days her culture of one might just clear the whole thing up by itself.

"He wasn't going to send her to any hospital. He knew that now. At a hospital they'd just start shooting her full of drugs and tell her to adjust. What they wouldn't see is that she is adjusting. That's what the insanity is. She's adjusting to something. The insanity is the adjustment. Insanity isn't necessarily a step in the wrong direction, it can be an intermediate step in a right direction. It wasn't necessarily a disease. It could be part of a cure.

"He was no expert on the subject but it seemed to him that the problem of "curing" an insane person is like the problem of "curing" a Moslem or "curing" a communist or "curing" a Republican or Democrat. You're not going to make much progress by telling them how wrong they are. If you can convince a mullah that everything will be of higher value if he changes his beliefs to those of Christianity, then a change is not only possible but likely. But if you can't, forget it. And if you can convince Lila that it's more valuable to consider her "baby" to be a doll than it is to consider her doll to be a baby, then her condition of "insanity" will be alleviated. But not before.

"That doll thing was a solution to something, some child thing, but he didn't know what it was. The important thing was to support her delusions and then slowly wean her away from them rather than fight them.

"The catch here, which almost any philosopher would spot, is the word, "delusion." It's always the other person who's "deluded." Or ourselves in the past. Ourselves in the present are never "deluded." Delusions can be held by whole groups of people, as long as we're not a part of that group. If we're a member then the delusion becomes a "minority opinion."

"An insane delusion can't be held by a group at all. A person isn't considered insane if there are a number of people who believe the same way. Insanity isn't supposed to be a communicable disease. If one other person starts to believe him, or maybe two or three, then it's a religion.

"Thus, when sane grown men in Italy and Spain carry statues of Christ through the streets, that's not an insane delusion. That's a meaningful religious activity because there are so many of them. But if Lila carries a rubber statue of a child with her wherever she goes, that's an insane delusion because there's only one of her.

"If you ask a Catholic priest if the wafer he holds at mass is really the flesh of Jesus Christ, he will say yes. If you ask, "Do you mean symbolically?" he will answer, "No, I mean actually." Similarly if you ask Lila whether the doll she holds is a dead baby she will say yes. If you ask, "Do you mean symbolically?" she would also answer, "No, I mean actually."

"It is considered correct to say that until you understand that the wafer is really the body of Christ you will not understand the Mass. With equal force it is possible to say that until you understand that this doll is really a baby you will never understand Lila. She's a culture of one. She's a religion of one. The main difference is that the Christian, since the time of Constantine, has been supported by huge social patterns of authority. Lila isn't. Lila's religion of one doesn't have a chance.

"That isn't a completely fair comparison, though. If the major religions of the world consisted of nothing but statues and wafers and other such paraphernalia they would have disappeared long ago in the face of scientific knowledge and cultural change, Phædrus thought. What keeps them going is something else.

"It sounds quite blasphemous to put religion and insanity on an equal footing for comparison, but his point was not to undercut religion, only to illuminate insanity. He thought the intellectual separation of the topic of "sanity" from the topic of "religion" has weakened our understanding of both.

"The current subject-object point of view of religion, conventionally muted so as not to stir up the fanatics, is that religious mysticism and insanity are the same. Religious mysticism is intellectual garbage. It's a vestige of the old superstitious Dark Ages when nobody knew anything and the whole world was sinking deeper and deeper into filth and disease and poverty and ignorance. It is one of those delusions that isn't called insane only because there are so many people involved.

"Until quite recently Oriental religions and Oriental cultures have been similarly grouped as "backward," suffering from disease and poverty and ignorance because they were sunk into a demented mysticism. If it were not for the phenomenon of Japan suddenly leaving the subject-object cultures looking a little backward, the cultural immune system surrounding this view would be impregnable.

"The Metaphysics of Quality identifies religious mysticism with Dynamic Quality. It says the subject-object people are almost right when they identify religious mysticism with insanity. The two are almost the same. Both lunatics and mystics have freed themselves from the conventional static intellectual patterns of their culture. The only difference is that the lunatic has shifted over to a private static pattern of his own, whereas the mystic has abandoned all static patterns in favor of pure Dynamic Quality.

"The Metaphysics of Quality says that as long as the psychiatric approach is encased within a subject-object metaphysical understanding it will always seek a patterned solution to insanity, never a mystic one. For exactly the same reasons that Choctaw Indians don't distinguish blue from green and Hindi speaking people don't distinguish ice from snow, modern psychology cannot distinguish between a patterned reality and an unpatterned reality and thus cannot distinguish lunatics from mystics. They seem to be the same.

"When Socrates says in one of his dialogues, "Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness provided the madness is given us by divine gift," the psychiatric profession doesn't know what in the world he is talking about. Or when traces of this identification are found in the expression "touched in the head" meaning touched by God, the roots of this expression are ignored as ignorant and superstitious.

"It's another case of the Cleveland Harbor Effect, where you don't see what you don't look for, because when one looks through the record of our culture for connections between insane understanding and religious understanding one soon finds them everywhere. Even the idea of insanity as "possession by the Devil" can be explained by the Metaphysics of Quality as a lower biological pattern, "the Devil," trying to overcome a higher pattern of conformity to cultural belief.

"The Metaphysics of Quality suggests that in addition to the customary solutions to insanity—conform to cultural patterns or stay locked up—there is another one. This solution is to dissolve all static patterns, both sane and insane, and find the base of reality, Dynamic Quality, that is independent of all of them. The Metaphysics of Quality says that it is immoral for sane people to force cultural conformity by suppressing the Dynamic drives that produce insanity. Such suppression is a lower form of evolution trying to devour a higher one. Static social and intellectual patterns are only an intermediate level of evolution. They are good servants of the process of life but if allowed to turn into masters they destroy it.

"Once this theoretical structure is available, it offers solutions to some mysteries in the present treatment of the insane. For example, doctors know that shock treatment "works," but are fond of saying that no one knows why.

"The Metaphysics of Quality offers an explanation. The value of shock treatment is not that it returns a lunatic to normal cultural patterns. It certainly does not do that. Its value is that it destroys all patterns, both cultural and private, and leaves the patient temporarily in a Dynamic state. All the shock does is duplicate the effects of hitting the patient over the head with a baseball bat. It simply knocks him senseless. In fact it was to imitate the effect of hitting someone over the head with a baseball bat without the risk of skull injury that Ugo Cerletti developed shock treatment in the first place.

"But what goes unrecognized in a subject-object theoretical structure is the fact that this senseless unpatterned state is a valuable state of existence. Once the patient is in this state the psychiatrists of course don't know what to do with it, and so the patient often slips back into lunacy and has to be knocked senseless again and again. But sometimes the patient, in a moment of Zen wisdom, sees the superficiality of both his own contrary patterns and the cultural patterns, sees that the one gets him electrically clubbed day after day and the other sets him free from the institution, and thereupon makes a wise mystic decision to get the hell out of there by whatever avenue is available.

"Another mystery in the treatment of the insane explained by a value-centered metaphysics is the value of peace and quiet and isolation. For centuries that has been the primary treatment of the insane. Leave them alone. Ironically the one thing the mental hospitals and doctors do best is the one thing they never take credit for. Maybe they're afraid some crusading journalist or other reformer will come along and say, "Look at all those poor crazies in there with nothing to do. Inhuman treatment," so they don't play that part of it up. They know it works, but there's no way of justifying that because the whole cultural set they have to operate in says that doing nothing is the same as doing something wrong.

"The Metaphysics of Quality says that what sometimes accidentally occurs in an insane asylum but occurs deliberately in a mystic retreat is a natural human process called dhydna in Sanskrit. In our culture dhydna is ambiguously called "meditation." Just as mystics traditionally seek monasteries and ashrams and hermitages as retreats into isolation and silence, so are the insane treated by isolation in places of relative calm and austerity and silence. Sometimes, as a result of this monastic retreat into silence and isolation the patient arrives at a state Karl Menninger has described as "better than cured." He is actually in better condition than he was before the insanity started. Phædrus guessed that in many of these "accidental" cases, the patient had learned by himself not to cling to any static patterns of ideas—cultural, private or any other.

"In the insane asylum this dhydna is underrated and often undermined because there is no metaphysical basis for understanding it scientifically." Back

Return to February, 1999 Quantonic Question and Answer

(11Feb2002 rev.- Link Clifford Geertz to our review of his Available Light.)
(12Feb2002 rev - Reformat title and headers. Add Kuhnian aside to Philosophical Insanity.)
(13Feb2002 rev - Add top of page frame-breaker.)
(10Dec2003 rev - Typos.)