Mental Illness

The Roots of Inhumanity: The Psychopathology of Certainty and Completeness

Thursday, June 29, 2023

The certain condemn anything that challenges their certainty including their own doubts and imaginations. But since certainty is an illusion, certainty cannot be preserved no matter how well that certainty is defended. That is the primary and irresolvable dilemma of the certain. Even if the certain are able to hunt down, discredit, convert, and even kill all nonbelievers, repress all internal conflict, certainty cannot be maintained. The insufficiency, incompleteness, and inconsistency inherent in any belief, compels that belief to search for meanings outside of itself and so change. This is the legacy of Kurt Goedel’s Theorems of Incompleteness and Inconsistency. There is no certainty. There is only the reality of never-ending change, because all things, ideas, theories, biological systems, inanimate matter, atomic particles, strings, and even physical universes are according to Goedel inherently incomplete and inconsistent. There is no beginning, no end; we have only endless discoveries.

The fear of never-ending change, impermanence, uncertainty, vulnerability, and incompleteness motivates all psychopathology and inhumanity. From birth, fear of the unknown, fear of hunger and pain, and fear of the uncontrollable comprise the original sin that separates us from the Garden of Eden, our oneness with the infinity of existence. Overwhelming fear arises from the immensity and unpredictability of the infinite. The primordial fear of the infinite compels us to attach ourselves to finite things, ideas, perceptions, and memories. We reject the infinite unknown and embrace the illusion of a controllable known. Parents, cultures, politicians, and teachers reinforce the fear of the infinite, of change, and of the unknown. In time we replace the boundlessness of existence with a simplistic, anthropocentric, and reductionistic notion of a knowable universe.

Although strong attachment to a knowable universe is an illusionary certainty, our lives, this planet, and universe are real. In order for anything to have an existence, according to The Kubacki-Blackmore Theorem of Boundary Conditions, it must have boundaries or limitations that give its existence form, structure, and continuity. Boundaries and limitations are not fixed but are probabilistic and contextual. Each instantiation of existence is embedded in an ocean of unlimited realities and possibilities that interact with it causing continuous change. The degree of probability for any action or thought is a function of a complex set of boundary conditions that limit each of us. They are our genetics, physiology, culture, and personal history. For example, because of our physiology, levitation is for all intents and purposes impossible.

Nonetheless, while the boundless possibilities of existence are accessed by us as probabilities, these possibilities are not just potentialities, but in fact exist independent of us. Radically stated, the Kubacki-Blackmore Theorem of Totality, proves mathematically that everything imaginable and unimaginable must exist. Although anything is possible, the probability of accessing any part of that everything is limited to varying degrees by our biological, psychological, and planetary limitations. We are always at one with the Totality of Existence, but our conscious and actual experience of that totality is infinitesimal.

Interesting perhaps, but what do these abstract theorems have to do with psychopathology? All forms of psychopathology are misguided attempts at constraining existence to a finite set of propositions and in denying the reality of an infinitely complex existence. We erroneously believe that if we robustly attach, identify ourselves with the finite, to a limited set of ideas or people, to a singular ideology, faith, or person, then we can stop time, stop change, stop any threat to our delusions of security. But paradoxically, that is exactly what makes us insecure, fearful, tormented, and at war with our selves, the environment, and others. By reducing our connections to existence to a finite set, we reduce our adaptability. The fewer your connections, ideas, coping strategies, creative insights, relationships, and possibilities, then the less adaptable and viable you are. The greater a person’s certainty, the less adaptable that person is.

Illusions of certainty do not increase adaptability; they insure the opposite–failure and destruction. The delusions of certainty are maintained, strengthened, and promulgated by our primordial fears and the negative feelings of hatred, depression, anxiety, grandiosity, and envy. These emotions and cognitions simplify, truncate, and decrease our perceptions, actions, ideas, and imaginations so that certainty can be achieved.

In politics and economics, the psychopathology of the certain is quite evident: The Iraq war, the denial of global warming, the indifference to environmental degradation, torture, genocide, religious persecution, etcetera, etc. The horrors of certainty are prolific.

In the psychopathology of certainty called depression, patients cling to a finite set of negative perceptions of themselves and others. I am stupid. I am a horrible person. I am guilty. The irrationality of any such thought is not in the negative thought itself but in the fixation to the exclusion of all other thoughts, feelings, experiences, memories, possibilities. It is these depressogenic certainties that generates so much resistance to change.
The negative certainty by the depressed, however, is really no different than the positive certainty of the narcissistic. Narcissists cling to the certainty of their superiority and centrality, while fearing any threats to the certainty of those illusions. The psychotic also employ delusions to maintain a fragile certainty in the face of existential chaos and fragmentation. Borderline personalities unable to integrate the good and bad, positive and negative cling desperately to idealized and devalued certainties of self and others. The fear of a spider in a simple phobia constitutes an irrational certainty about threats that have no reality. Those with social anxiety are certain that others will judge and reject them and so avoid relationships. In summary, every psychological disorder in the DSM-IV-R functions as a type of delusional certainty that is motivated by the terrible fear of losing that certainty. The strength and pervasiveness of each delusional certainty determines its severity.

All forms of effective psychotherapy try to expand the perceptions, relationships, and connections of patients. Through gentle, supportive, and confrontational methods, psychotherapists immerse their patients in the boundless realities of existence, thereby enabling them to reconnect with the vast potentialities that reside within and without. The inclusive emotions and cognitions that access those potentialities, such as curiosity, courage, love, assertiveness, and creativity, constitute the antidotes to fear and hate. Inclusive emotions and cognitions expand our meanings, relationships, and adaptability; exclusive emotions and cognitions contract them.

For example, in PTSD, patients often experience a virulent set of negative memories, cognitions, and feelings that function as an unbending certainty. That unbending certainty compels all other past memories and incoming experiences to adhere without deviation to its finite and constricted meanings of pain, helplessness, rage, and suffering. The symptoms of hypervigilance and paranoia, for instance, selectively attend to all that is potentially hostile in the world to the exclusion of all other possible meanings. All other meanings and connections to the world, self, and others are ignored or denied. The PTSD patient, consequently, feels that the world is unfriendly and dangerous.

The re-traumatization these patients experience—the reliving of their traumas and terrible consequences—strengthens and maintains their trauma-based certainties. Effective psychotherapy challenges these certainties by establishing new meaningful connections to terrible events, even if they are entirely in the patient’s imagination and fantasies, such as stopping the event and creating different endings. The patient does not lose the original coding of the memories; instead, those memories and dynamics lose their centrality and prominence as forms of fixed identity. PTSD memories become just like other memories in an ocean of other memories and meaningful connections and relationships. It’s not sadness, anxiety, and loss that are problematic but over-identification with sadness, anxiety, and loss so they become a certainty. It is not suffering we fear the most; we fear the unknown and change much more.

How do we combat the psychopathology of certainty? Here are some methods of reasoning that might be useful.

This method is focused on how we judge whether one interpretation is better than another and is most frequently used in politics, law, ethics, and literature. With the method of hermeneutics, we get more than a message in a bottle. We get to drink the bottle. We become inebriated, bloated with ideas, perspectives, insights, feelings, and visions—not neutered or skewered by this ideology, that dogma, this perspective, or that assumption.
Hermeneutics compels us to think critically, outside of the box. Each interpretation is critically viewed for anomalies and contrary evidence so that new interpretations can be formulated. These new interpretations are then critically viewed and so on in a never- ending spiral of expanding ideas. When acted upon, these interpretations become never-ending spirals of transformation.

Phenomenology is actually a straightforward method that involves radical receptivity to the activity under study by teaching us how to listen and to put aside our prejudices and biases so we can be open. For example, when a friend truly listens to another friend and tries to understand the unique world of that friend by putting aside his judgments and biases, phenomenology or authenticity takes place.

The determination of authenticity, however, is fraught with relativistic heresies. It may be that my authenticity is your lie; her lie is his authenticity. Not everyone can be authentic; yet, everyone assumes they are authentic. The jargon of authenticity is circular and tautological.
Authenticity and inauthenticity are inextricably intertwined. They appear together like Yin and Yang, Jekyll and Hyde, X and not X. In disclosing both—the authentic and the inauthentic—we come nearer to authentic authenticity. They are sides of the same coin. Openness to both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, reflects our complex, contradictory, unfathomable, and nonlinear selves. In short, don’t tell me how you really feel but both how you really feel and really don’t feel. To be authentic is to be self-critical. In critical action, we eviscerate the underbelly of our inauthenticity and in that underbelly discover the jewels of our authenticity. Our authenticity is always momentary and transient; authenticity is never complete or certain. Therefore, by revealing my inauthenticity, my authenticity has integrity.

In the method of inclusivity, truth is not singular as in reductionism but pluralistic. Answers are determined not by excluding phenomena but including more and more phenomena, i.e., more data, information, and experiences. For example, the physics of Newton are not thrown out because of the more valid physics of Einstein. Instead, both are included so that more phenomena of the physical world can be explained and acted upon. The parable of the blind person determining what an elephant is on the basis of what he touches, e.g., like a snake for the trunk, like a tree for the leg, is an inherent problem in reductionism. In contrast, the method of inclusivity suggests that the truth is the entire elephant, not some part of it. In explaining human thinking, an inclusive method would argue that both biological and mentalistic explanations of thinking are needed to understand thinking in contrast to a reductionistic approach that would argue for either one or the other explanation. In inclusivity, understanding is multifaceted.

Inclusivity is a main characteristic in my personal life. Although I cannot say what has motivated me the most (a reductionist question), I believe my life is most enriched when I give expression to as many facets of my being as possible. I am not just a psychologist; Leonard Nimoy is not just Spock; Saddam Hussein in not just a dictator; George Bush is not just a fundamentalist Republican; a maple tree is not just syrup; Mount Kilimanjaro is not just a rock (ask Ernest Hemmingway). At some time in our lives we have all been a lover, artist, healer, jester, etc. A lifetime is a life of inclusion.

This method is another one that people roll their eyes at when hearing. Dialectics is similar to inclusivity in that its focus is not on a singular truth or answer but in a truth that is relational, pluralistic, contextual, and always changing. In its simplest form, anything, let’s say X, always involves a relationship with Not-X, that is, everything that lies outside of X. For example, the experience of love (X) cannot be understood without understanding everything that is not love (Not-X). Not-X includes the antithesis or opposite of X, such as hate. In addition to its function of negation, dialectics is transformative. The relationship between what we know (X) and what we do not know (Not X) changes as we understand or experience their interaction.

Sometimes I feel as if my life were a dialectical nightmare. When I am at the height of strength, I am stricken with weaknesses. Whenever I am at my lowest, power returns to me in unexpected ways. The more extreme I am, the more extreme the reaction I receive. All my attempts to be in the middle seem short lived and futile.

The root of inhumanity is in the certainty of our assumed humanity and the denial of our intrinsic inhumanity. The root of humanity is in embracing our incompleteness and insufficiencies.