The Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathy VIII: Embracing Shame and Guilt—Unraveling the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness
What Does It All Mean?
Thomas Nagel ponders the question of whether we can really know anything beyond our own impressions and experiences. In What Does It All Mean, Nagel talks about Verificationism, which is a major thesis in a school of philosophy known as logical positivism. Central to this thesis is the belief that we speak in a meaningful way only about those aspects of reality that can be verified through use of broadly accepted empirical procedures (typically scientific processes). Any statement about reality that can’t be verified might evoke some reaction—but it is ultimately devoid of any meaning. One’s impressions are meaningless without the possibility of a correct, verifiable view of how things really are. According to Verificationism, where there is no possibility of verification, then an arbitrary construction of reality will reign supreme (as it does in such areas as the arts and mythology). If a physical world outside one’s mind cannot absolutely be confirmed, then what might seem to be an illusion is actually a perception of the reality we have constructed. Verificationism requires that reality be established by what we can observe and how we interpret and frame what we have observed.
We can apply this philosophical perspective to a chronic disease or mental illness. We suggest that much of our way of observing and commenting on disease and mental illness is not subject to verification. If this is the case, then the way in which we observe and apply meaning regarding disease and mental illness is subject to change. We can readily reinterpret, reframe and essentially reconstruct the reality of this disease or illness. As we have already noted, there is considerably more myth and construction than verifiable reality in the world of witch trials and mental illness. Stigmas are assigned and shame is evoked without much of a relationship to reality.
Given this status, we are given the opportunity to do our own reconstruction—and our own “remythologizing”. We can re-observe or “correct” our view of any disorder to make it into something that is meaningful or even positive. We can assert our own construction of that which we observe about any disease and how it manifests it our lives. It is ultimately up to us to create Hope and banish Despair. At the end of the day, we can control our perception of our mind and body, and essentially give it whatever meaning we want. Nothing has any meaning but the meaning we apply along with our personal perception of it. This is a somewhat comforting view to take when facing any type of illness.