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Schizophrenia, self-consciousness, and the modern mind

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Abstract:

This paper uses certain of Michel Foucault's ideas concerning modern consciousness (from The Order of Things) to illuminate a central paradox of the schizophrenic condition: a strange oscillation, or even coexistence, between two opposite experiences of the self: between the loss or fragmentation of self and its apotheosis in moments of solipsistic grandeur. Many schizophrenic patients lose their sense of integrated and active intentionality; even their most intimate thoughts and inclinations may be experienced as emanating from, or under the control of, some external being or mysterious foreign soul (‘I feel it is not me who is thinking’; ‘I have been programmed’). Yet the same patients may also experience the self as preeminent, all-powerful or all-knowing (‘My thoughts can influence things’; ‘This event happens because I think it'). Here one may feel confronted with the very paradigm of irrationality: profound contradictions suggesting regression to primitive ‘primary-process’ thinking or utter collapse of the higher faculties of mind. I argue, however, that these dualities so basic to schizophrenia can best be understood very differently: as consequences of a kind of alienation and hyper-self-consciousness (‘hyper- reflexivity') that is closely analogous to what occurs in the post-Kantian era of Western intellectual history. The parallel dualities of modern thought have been most extensively discussed by Foucault, who describes paradoxes, tensions and other dilemmas central to what he calls the modern ‘episteme'; these result from what Foucault sees as the modern human being's introverted and ultimately self-deceiving preoccupation with, and overvaluing of, the phenomenon of his own consciousness. Parallels between these contradictions and those characteristic of several withdrawn schizophrenic individuals are described and analysed. The paper concludes with an Afterword in which some possible neurobiological underpinnings of these schizophrenic experiences are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Clinical Psychology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08903, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 1998

imp/jcs/1998/00000005/F0020005/878
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