An A Priori Assumption – Construction of Reality




An a priori assumption that is non-epistemological, one of the assertion that one knows nothing, does not preclude a circuitous path toward a non-epistemological conclusion that one knows nothing. Similar to an infant, whose task is to shape the world, to shape reality, without a basis of knowledge except for his sensory perceptions, one must meander a path of life toward increasing “knowledge”. This leads to the inevitable conclusion of death, a situation which an individual, at the end of his life, knows nothing about. Perhaps there exists a greater reality, a reality above and beyond realities, or an ultimate reality. However, this is an indeterminable assumption. Reality remains a construction, a theory, as it has throughout the ages, from Galileo’s insistence on the fact that he could see stars that were not visible to the human eye, these stars that were supposedly placed in the sky by a deity, to light the night sky for human beings.

Any culture’s construction of reality may be valid. Although there are better and worse theories, a cultural construction of reality emphasizes goals and values, and these goals and values are what make such a construction worthwhile to affirm or not to affirm. The goals and values of a theory of reality evolve as a cultural conception of that reality evolves. We know that science values prediction and control, as well as the externally visible as opposed to the internally experienced. It is the norm in our age to discount internal experience, and corresponding to this is a denouncement of religious experience or faith that is subjective. Faith, in a world that proceeds by means of scientific endeavor and its emphasis on externally verifiable experience, is mocked by some and discredited by a greater majority than is assumed by those who discredit it.

It was with these evolving thoughts that I came to discern that hallucinations may represent, as an internal aspect of self and mind that perhaps can not be predicted and controlled, a reality that science alone accounts for poorly, as science attempts to control it through externally administered medications. These do not do a great deal to quell hallucinations in the scheme of things. The intentional mind seems to operate by a circumstance rather like attempting to follow a path of thought while in the same sense creating it. The mind may be fractured by an attempt to control it by means of one’s own mental effort.

There are theories which may apply to or may speak to a psychotic person’s view of things — certainly Buddhism’s and Jung’s theory lead one to this assertion. The ideas of the collective unconscious and Buddhism’s ambiguous reference to “one mind” seem to do so. However, these are only perspectives on reality, theories that, essentially, do little to malign the validity of believing in the personal unconscious or the Christian God. The question is not of truth but of functionality of belief systems.

In some ways unfortunately, the values and worth of a belief system may be determined only after the fact of implications and extrapolations of that belief system are realized within a culture. To an extent, this process involves a dialectical pattern of the emergence of a thesis, a perspectival theory, followed by an antithesis, a contrary perspectival theory, concluding with the assimilation and playing out of a synthesis that supposedly represents some kind of progress. The values of a scientific perspective are heralded as producing a refined “truth”, the introduction of indisputable “fact”. This led to a antithetical attack on objectivity, the basis of science, which culminated in a synthetic announcement of a non-epistemological premise. The process of intellectual history and attempts to control evolving “truths” through intentionality in some ways mimics the dubious possibilities of the intentional mind seeking to control its own intellectual perspective.

Mentally ill psychotic individuals contort their minds and themselves through intentional efforts to change their minds and their thoughts. This is the crux of a psychotic person’s dilemma in trying not to be psychotic. The mentally ill try to restrain their own perspectives on reality, interfering with a natural course of thought that might lead to an acceptable perspective on reality, and, in doing this, they become embroiled and entrenched in their own views.

William James postulated the “will to believe”. If willing belief actually produced its intended results there would not be such dysfunction as psychotic phenomena. The best one can do to combat psychotic experience is to respect it as process-related rather than content-related phenomena. This is to say, allow oneself to experience it without attempting to make a judgment about it. Nevertheless, psychotic experience is and will remain dysfunctional. One can logically limit a creation of a believe system about one’s psychotic experience, but this will not interrupt the experience of psychotic symptoms, particularly as these are reflected by the experience of hallucinations.

Why is a psychotic’s belief system dysfunctional? Perhaps because psychotics jump to conclusions, called delusions, based upon experience that does and does not violate Newton’s law of parsimony. Psychotics have voices talking in their heads, self-mind sounds that they think simplistically are people or deities or creatures or Martians talking to them through thought-insertion and thought broadcasting, and so on. In terms of Newton’s law of parsimony, this may be a realistic conclusion, however, we may ask these questions: If I see light and light illuminates my room, is the reality of Einstein’s a theory regarding light any more clear and apparent to me? And are these theories regarding light more realistic than my own magical perception of light entering my room on a sunny day?

Psychotic people should be criticized less for their simplistic, albeit understandable conclusions. The fact that we can not and do not understand what hallucinations are, except in a biochemical way, in some ways parallels the fact that seeing the sun emitting light does not explain to us anything about particle and wave theories, or beyond. Perception is not knowledge. What we call knowledge is always an interpretation of perception. If such were not the case, then a newborn infant could be said to possess the purest form of knowledge, and perhaps an infant does so, but again, this is a theory, an interpretation of perceived reality.

Image via celeste balthazar / Shutterstock.

Ann Reitan, PsyD

Ann Reitan, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and well published essayist of fiction and creative nonfiction. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of Washington, Master of Arts in Psychology from Pepperdine University, and Doctorate of Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University. Her post-doctoral research at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, involved personality theory, idiodynamics and creativity in literature. She recently published Illuminating Schizophrenia: Insights into the Uncommon Mind.
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