Overcoming the fear of death.
Initiation involves the experience of changing consciousness or a mini-death.
The Eleusinian Mysteries depict the initiation ceremonies that mark the right of passage into Greek Society.
Mircea Eliade: Wrote his thesis in Rumania on Buddhism, moved to Paris then the US and later wrote on tribal shamanism and mythologies. Best known for the Encyclopaedia of Religion he chaired Religious Studies at Chicago University. Died 1986.
[Initiation’s] function as an entry into the culture.
It reveals a world open to the trans-human, a world that, in our philosophical terminology, we call transcendental.”
It makes [the initiand] open to spiritual values.”
•In psychology, cognitive dissonance is mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs. The brain strives for consistency. [Leon Festinger].
•Cognitive dissonance causes irrationality.
•Psychology experiments have also shown that initiations increase feelings of affiliation.
The Fox and the Grapes Aesop’s Fables. [Aesop classical Greek story teller.
Origins of Hermeticism.
Abu Mūsā Jābir ibn Hayyān
8th Century AD
Born in Iran of Syrian parents and the Umayyad Caliphate (Al-Ḫilāfat al-ʾumawiyya), This was the second of the four major Islamic calipates established after the death of Muhammad.
Umayyad Caliphate (Al-Ḫilāfat al-ʾumawiyya) Empire. 750 AD.
Sufism and the Whirling Dervishes.
While all Muslims believe that they are on the pathway to God and hope to become close to God in Paradise—after death and after the “Final Judgment”—Sufis also believe that it is possible to draw closer to God and to more fully embrace the divine presence in this life.
Dervish: Proto-Iranian cognate with the Vedic Sanskrit 1500–600 BCE.
• Water that’s poured inside will sink the boat
• While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
King Solomon preferred the title ‘Poor’:
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
Floats on the waves because it’s full of air,
When you’ve the air of dervishood inside
You’ll float above the world and there abide…
• Rumi writes in Book 1 of his Masnavi.
First Mother Goddesses.
Estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE [Upper Paleolithic] Venus of Willenforf.
Venus of Dolní Věstonice
29,000 BCE – 25,000 BCE Found Brno Czech Republic.
Mother-Goddess: The palace of Qusay Amra Al-Walid II (743–44).
Concubine School of vocal arts and dance.
Great Mosque Cordoba.
Berber heroes: Jabal Tariq:
(Gibr Al-Tariq) Gibraltar and Dihya.
Berber warrior led the Visigothic Hispania conquest 711 AD.
Origins of the Eleusinian Mysteries In Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad.
The Mycenaean Myth of the Trojan War.
The Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Greeks after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus king of Sparta (1600–1100 BC). Troy was located in the vicinity of the Dardanelles in what is now north-western Turkey. By modern times both the war and the city were widely believed to be mythological.
Greek version of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Persephone (sometimes described as Proserpine and as Cora or Kore), when gathering flowers, was abducted by Pluto, the god of Hades, and carried off by him to his abode in the Underworld with Zeus, the brother of Pluto and the father of Persephone having given his consent for the abduction.
When Persephone’s mother Demeter found out she was so angry she left the heavens and came down to Earth [Eleusis] and caused the fields to be barren. Since there were no gifts to sacrifice to the gods they got angry and demanded that Hermes command Zeus to tell Pluto to return Persephone to her mother.
Hermeticism: Hermes Trismegistus [Thrice Great].
• Persephone, having eaten the pips of the pomegranate was forced to return to Hades during the months of winter when the fields were dormant.
• Demeter renewed the fields in the summer months and all who witnessed the rebirth were warned against upsetting the gods.
Ancient Greece was a period that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity ( AD 600) and the Early Middle Ages. Classical Greece flourished during the 5th to 4th centuries BC . Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great the Hellenistic civilisation stretched from Central Asia to the Western end of the Mediterranean Sea.
The story of philosophy and geometry.
The story of philosophy has close links with ancient geometry, its axioms and theorems. The word geometry means “measurement” and it comes from the Ancient Greek and arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers; arithmetic, both of which are rooted in Egyptian, Babylonian and Indo-Grecian migratory civilisations. The earliest recorded beginnings of geometry can be traced to ancient communities of the Indus Valley [see map above] and ancient Babylonia from around 3000 BC. These people discovered the obtuse triangle about 1500 years before Pythagoras expounded his theorem; that is if he did expound Pythagoras theorem?
Egyptian Rope Stretchers and the beginning of Geometry.
Geometry spread in Egypt when rope stretchers were sent out to put back the boundary markers washed away by the Nile. Today we call it surveying. [Tompkins, Peter. Secrets of the Great Pyramid. NY: Harper, 1971. p. 22].
The introduction of the Egyptian triangle and the squaring of the circle.
The pyramids are believed to be to models of the earth and its relationship to the cosmos. Pyramids form part of an enormous star chart, whereby their shafts are aligned with certain stars. Further, pyramids are said to be part of a navigational system to help travellers in the desert to find their way. They also represented the tombs that would help the occupants find their way to the afterlife. Importantly, in Egyptian myth the square represented humans and the circle represented the sun. The squaring of the circle was aimed at blending both entities.
Meaning of the Square and circle.
‘A tower of strength that stood. Four square to all the winds that blow.’ TENNYSON.
The Papyrus of Ani is a manuscript with hieroglyphs and colour illustrations created 1250 BC and housed in the British Museum.
Interestingly, the world in ancient Egypt was perceived as a square or a cube. “When the world has become circular and spherical, the squareness is retained almost universally as a characteristic of the celestial earth. Holy temples faced east to the sunrise”. The sun sustained life even after death according to the Ancient Egyptians. Nowhere in antiquity are the dead facing the west or the setting sun, they remain in the sunlight for reincarnation. [Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, by W.R. Lethaby, 1892].
Buddhist and Christian Antecedents.
In the Egyptian burial chamber the guardians of the corners of the world stand at the four angles of the Egyptian sepulchral chamber . This idea was adopted by other religions.
British nursery rhyme.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on,
Two to foot, and two to head,
Four to carry me when I’m dead.’
The square and the circle thus formed an important basis for spiritual belief.
The Golden Ratio: Euclid and Sacred Geometry. [The Hellenistic Age 323-31BC.]
The number π [pi] is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Also called the Golden Ratio or Mean Ratio. A ratio is the quotient of two quantities. A proportion results when two ratios are set equal to each other .
Example of proportions:
1. The musical intervals
2. The Human Body
3. The Golden Ratio.
“Pi” lies at the heart of Sacred Geometry.
In numerical terms, the Golden Ratio was first popularised by Leonardo Bigollo Fibonacci, the founder of the Fibonacci sequence, a numerical series which simply follows the rule that the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers.. as follows:
•1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 etc…
Leonardo da Vinci illustrated both the mathematical proportions of the human body and the concept of squaring the circle with his famous drawing Vitruvian Man.
Mathematics and Euclid’s paradox [235-265 BC]: Squaring the Circle.
Squaring the circle is the challenge of constructing a square with the same ratio as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge. More precisely, it was aimed at proving the existence of such a square. [Euclid’s Elements].
Examples of the constant.
Pi appears regularly in the realms of nature and things that grow generally unfold in steps such as the Nautilus shell which grows larger on each spiral by pi.
The Flower of life and the Platonic Solids.
The Greeks believed that distinct repetitive patterns were behind the four primary elements, earth, air, fire and water the fifth was the life force itself. These shapes are now known to be related to the arrangement of protons and neutrons in the elements of the periodic table. In Thus Aristotle gave us the concept of a scientific method for examining phenomena. Kepler would later attempt to calculate the distance between planets using the harmonic ratios.
The galaxy in an expanding box.
The ration of the expanding galaxy parallels the expansion of the cube.
The sun at the centre of the galaxy.
Who was Pythagoras?
Pythagoras is familiar to us via the mathematical Pythagorean theorem he is said to have invented. However, there is much more to Pythagoras.
Evidence shows, that while Pythagoras was famous in his own day and even 150 years later in the time of Plato and Aristotle, it was not mathematics or science upon which his fame rested. Pythagoras was an exponent of the Orphic mysteries or Orphism, which had a very large following.
Pythagoras was concerned with the fate of the soul after death, he believed that the soul was immortal and went through a series of reincarnations often involving rebirth in the form of animals. The ultimate aim for Pythagoras was to defeat reincarnation, in much the same way as Buddhism advocates the pure spirit beyond form.
Pythagoras was also the founder of dietary restrictions, religious ritual and rigorous self-discipline all of which were required to fulfil the spiritual life. [plato.stanford.edu/entries/Pythagoras]
Pythagoras and the transmigrating souls.
It is likely that Pythagoras used the Greek word psychê to refer to the transmigrating soul as the word psychê in Greek means breath and it is the loss of breath that marks death. The psychê is explicitly said by Philolaus to be shared with animals. Herodotus uses psychê in a similar way to refer to the seat of emotions. Thus it seems likely that Pythagoras too thought of the transmigrating psychê in this way as a Metempsychosis.
Pythagoras was interested in all forms of transmigration and especially in music. He created the music-number scale which in turn could be translated into colour and vibrations.
Kay Redfield Jamison is an American clinical psychologist and writer who suffers bipolar disorder and as a Professor of Psychiatry at the John Hopkins University she has written extensively on her mental health experience. She ends her book An Unquiet Mind with the following notation:
I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces. There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist. It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and colour to one’s loves and friendships.[i]
Darold Treffert is a world expert on autism and savant syndrome who believes the main quality that holds Outsider artists together is love and support. Yet, it is something of an irony that so many who have been diagnosed with a mental difference and who have also contributed greatly to the culture and are responsible for some of the world greatest works of art still face the stigma and discrimination on associated with terms like, madness, insanity, idiocy or lunacy. This happens because there are two main fears afflicting the human psyche, death and madness and they seem to be conjoined in a delusion because neither are truly what they appear to be. The only real basis for any of these fears is a fantasy.
‘Mental Illness’ and Evolution.
There is a strong school of thought that mental illness, or madness has an evolutionary basis and it could actually be good for you. Evolutionary theory views modern human behaviours as fundamental traits of natural selection that stem from our ancestors. Of particular interest to evolutionary psychiatry is the modern prevalence of depression. Estimates of depression in Western nations are put in the range between 5% and 20%. This prevalence appears to be partly associated with genes, which suggests a possible adaptive trend might be already present in our genome put there by natural selection. One version of this idea is the adaptive rumination hypothesis [ARH] which posits that depression helps to solve difficult inter-subjective problems. Instead of being pathological, depression could be a useful tool that allows people to withdraw from the world when such a separation is needed. [ii]
The above idea does not go uncontested. Depression and anxiety are closely linked and we know that many people still die in a state of depression or from its long term consequences. Also, there is no way of truly describing the pain people suffer from depression.
Notwithstanding, terms like madness imply that human consciousness is always stationary or stable. Consciousness is never stable and even a slight mental instability can be either a devastating or an enriching experience. In fact the term mental illness is as misplaced as the term madness and what we should be calling these conditions is a “mental shift”.
In psychiatry schizotypy is a theory that sees personality characteristics ranging from normal dissociative, imaginative states to more extreme states related in the range of psychosis including schizophrenia. The Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler [1857-1939] did not believe in a clear separation between sanity and madness, rather that psychosis was an extreme expression of thoughts and behaviours that could be present to varying degrees throughout the population. Bleuler is believed to be responsible for the early use of the term “autism”  at the time he was describing the symptoms of schizophrenia. Bleuler is also known for having a neurological disorder called Synaesthesia whereby the main senses [touch, taste, smell, sight, become confused and overlap with each other. [iii]
Prior to Bleuler the first recorded reference was in fact that of French physician Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard [1775-1838]. He reported the case of a ‘wild boy’ named Victor, otherwise called ‘Wild Boy of Avalon.’ Victor displayed several signs of autism and in 1797 is thought to have lived his entire childhood alone in the woods near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance. Itard treated him with a behavioural program designed to help him form social attachments and to induce speech via imitation. Victor’s life was dramatized in François Truffaut’s 1970 film l’Enfant Sauvage. [iv]
Bleuler’s ideas were picked up by many psychologists such as Hans Eysenck and Gordon Claridge who sought to understand this extreme differences in unusual thought and behaviour patterns and devised a personality theory. Claridge named his concept schizotypy and by examining unusual experiences in the general population and the clustering of symptoms in diagnosed schizophrenia, Claridge’s work suggested that this personality trait was much more complex, and could break down into four factors.
Unusual experiences: The disposition to have unusual perceptual and other cognitive experiences, such as hallucinations, magical or superstitious belief and interpretation of events.
- Cognitive disorganization: A tendency for thoughts to become derailed, disorganised or tangential.
- Introverted anhedonia: A tendency to introverted, emotionally flat and asocial behaviour, associated with a deficiency in the ability to feel pleasure from social and physical stimulation.
- Impulsive nonconformity: The disposition to unstable mood and behaviour particularly with regard to rules and social conventions. [v]
What Claridge describes of course are the many different behavioural traits of the Outsider artist. A study looking at 300,000 persons with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or uni-polar depression, and their relatives, found a distinct overrepresentation in the creative professions with the greatest overrepresentation for artistic occupations among people diagnosed with schizophrenia. [vi] Another study involving more than one million people, conducted by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute, reported a number of correlations between creative occupations and mental illnesses. Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, uni-polar depression, and substance abuse, and were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves. Dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder. The question raised then, is should we regard the arts as a form of natural prevention for these kinds of mental illnesses? [vi]
Mental difference can include a high propensity for alcohol and drug abuse. In the case of alcohol Western societies still do not see excessive use/abuse as a mental social problem. A book of literary biography called The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink, by Olivia Laing describes six famous drunken writers and comes to the conclusion that writers drink for the same reasons everyone else drinks: to offset anxieties The Karolinska Institute found that ‘creative’ people have more ‘cognitive disinhibition’ than most people; that is, that their brains are less adept at filtering out extraneous details. This is a trait shared by people with schizotypal differences. If the sufferer is of high intelligence, this mess of perceptions can lead to great insights and/or what is known as savant syndrome. [vii]
- Repetition compulsion includes re-enacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again. This might not be clear in the artistic creation, but it drives the process to manifest shapes and symbols that fill the perceived empty space. This kind of extended reality can also take the form of dreams, hallucinations and visions in which memories and feelings of what happened are repeated and distorted. Often patterns of repartition rely on distressing events that have taken place early in the person’s life. It can also happen after a crisis, an illness, a loss, a fear and/or anxiety. Art offers two avenues for the expression of traumatic experiences, acceptance or regression. From the observers point of view both are equally intriguing and both make good and bad art. Notwithstanding, several questions arise, who is to be the judge of artistic value? Further, who can truly know what is hidden in the deep unconscious; we can only hypothesize.[viii]
[ii] Is depression an adaptation? « Why Evolution Is True whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/05/…/is-depression-an-adaptati…
[iii]E. Bleuler, (1911). Dementia Praecox or the Group of Schizophrenias. Translated by J. Zinkin. New York: International Universities Press, Inc. (1950)
[iv] E. Bleuler, (1911). Dementia Praecox or the Group of Schizophrenias. Translated by J. Zinkin. New York: International Universities Press, Inc. (1950)
[vi] R.P. Claridge, G.,McCreery, C., Mason, O., Bentall, R.,Boyle, G., Slade, P., & Popplewell, D. (1996). The factor structure of ‘schizotypal’ traits: A large replication study. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 35, 103-115.
[vii] Bentall, R.P., Claridge, G. and Slade, P.D. (1989). The multi dimensional nature of schizotypal traits: a factor analytic study with normal subjects. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 28, 363-375.
[viii] Kyaga, S.; Lichtenstein, P.; Boman, M.; Hultman, C.; Långström, N.; Landén, M. (2011). “Creativity and mental disorder: Family study of 300 000 people with severe mental disorder”. The British Journal of Psychiatry 199 (5): 373–379. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.110.085316. PMID 21653945. And Roberts, Michelle. Creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19959565. 16 October 2012. And The Mad Artist’s Brain – Scientific American www.scientificamerican.com › Nov 22, 2010 See also. The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink, by Olivia Laing. Why artists are not actually mad but just artistic. Russell Smith, The Globe and Mail. Published Wednesday, Jul. 31 2013, 4:22 PM EDT Last updated Wednesday, Jul. 31 2013, 7:00 PM EDT www.theglobeandmail.com › Arts
 Philosophy means the Love of Wisdom.
In the West Philosophy has three major sub-categories that relate to human ideas.
 Epistemology which is concerned with the relationships between truth, belief, perceptions and how we justify things.
 Metaphysics which is concerned with being, time, reality, objects, causes, the mind body relationship, and cosmology.
 Aesthetics which is concerned with art, beauty, taste and creativity. [The term aesthetics is post-eighteenth century; all forms of aestheticism were previously relegated to the realms of the Divine].
 Why is philosophy important?
Philosophy provides abstract ways of thinking about the world, it raises existential and “qualitative” questions and provides deeper insights and debates. In particular it seeks solutions for unintended consequences.
 What is meant by abstract?
•Thoughts are subject to primary and secondary processes.
•The primary processes are abstract concepts that may or may not produce a conscious thought.
•Primary thoughts become secondary thoughts.
 Conscious thoughts are only the tip of the iceberg, they are not the whole story.
 Primary and secondary thoughts and concepts.
•Consciousness includes everything that we are aware of and that which can be argued rationally.
•Pre-consciousness represents ordinary memories which we often lose track of, but which can be retrieved and brought to consciousness .
•The unconscious mind contains all feelings and emotions, thoughts, desires, urges, and memories that reside beyond our conscious awareness.
 Slips of the Tongue [parapraxis].
Sigmund Freud believed that all human behaviour and personality derive from constant contests between the governing psychological forces that operate at three different levels of awareness. For example; a person might make a statement intending to convey one meaning, but the words are incoherent to the intention and mean something unintended. Freud also argued that this is not an accident. Rather, it is the unconscious material [primary abstract concepts] that are being revealed to the external world.
 Abstract concepts need abstract theories for effective analysis.
• “Experience” is derived through abstract concepts, therefore we need abstract theories to comprehend the concepts.
•Hence, philosophy has more in common with the arts than the sciences, albeit Modern Philosophy of the Mind has links to the cognitive sciences.
 Abstract concepts in Ancient Greek philosophy.
Everything in Ancient Greek philosophy has a Divine origin. Nothing is considered new or innovative.
 The Philosopher’s Maxims.
The Ancient philosopher spoke in Maxims [a kind of poetry] For example the stone mason Socrates, wrote the Hermaic maxim “Know Thyself” at the opening of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
 The Gymnasium.
•The gymnasium [gymnos means naked]. Athletes competed nude supposedly to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and as tribute to the gods, in particular the Olympian God Hermes. [Pausanias [geographer] Guide to Greece, 4.32.1].
•Hermes is a God who can travel freely between the mortal world and the Divine.
•Hermes gathers together the souls.
 Myths are philosophical metaphors.
•In Hindu mythology Hermes is represented by Sarama who is also referred to as the bitch of the gods, or Deva-shuni. She first appears in the Rig Veda in which she helps the god-king Indra to recover divine cows stolen by the demon Panis .
 Goddess of Nature.
•The Mahabharata makes brief reference to Sarama. One scripture describes Sarama as the mother of all wild animals who was Artemis in Greek mythology and Diana in Roman myths.
 Ancient Greek philosophy was predicated on closing the gap between the human and the Divine.
Philosophy aimed at closing the gap between reality and the Divine and was expressed in mythological creatures called hybrids.
 The known and the unknowable in the symbolic hybrid.
The two headed monster and Medusa.
 Human – animal wholeness in the hybrid creature.
Minotaur and Phoenix.
 Mythological Wholeness in Janus.
According to Plato’s “Symposium” Greek Mythology tells how humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.
 Unity of souls in homosexuality.
Same-sex unions were a common feature in Ancient Greek and Roman societies as well as in Ancient Mesopotamia and regions of China such as the Fujian province and at certain times in European history. They continued until the birth of Christianity. The Christian emperors Constantius II prohibited same sex marriage and ordered that those who were so married were to be executed.
 Examples of same sex marriage in Ancient Greece.
Emperor Nero married at least two males and the 4th Century Christian Martyrs Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus were united in ritual.
 As Above so Below.
Plato for example believed there was nothing original about the world or life everything was copied from nature. Hence, there was no word for “creativity”. There was one exception poetry, which was linked with strange behaviour [madness] and a direct connection to primary causes or principles.
 The story of nature was also the story of the conscious and the unconscious.
Persephone was the goddess queen abducted by the god Haides. After eating the seeds of the pomegranate she travelled to and from the underworld in winter.
 The greatest influences on Western society have come from the Ancient Greek philosophers.
Pythagoras: Socrates: Plato: Aristotle
Astronomy Democracy Structure Science
The Foster Manna Gum Shop and Lounge.
Wednesdays: Starting October 8th 12.30-2pm.
[Bring your lunch and/or refreshments available.]
Philosophy dominates every aspect of our lives, but we rarely think about it! Come and share your ideas about life in a friendly and informal group conversation.
Gain some insights on what makes us sensitive, complacent, inquisitive, creative and human.
Health, happiness, love, beauty, relationships, sex, consumption, environment, anger, violence, hope, peace, what makes us successful and how we can create a better world. What does philosophy have to teach us?
Test your perceptions: Find out what influences your decisions. Learn about being mindful.
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Outsider Art has its roots in occupational art therapy, but traditionally art therapies forfeit artistic merit in favour of a cure to a designated physical and/or mental ailment. Today, art therapy has been separated from its occupational roots into a specialist field in its own right and given a myriad of names from expression therapy to free association and more. To this end, the United States and British studies suggest art therapy presents effectiveness for helping to alleviate ‘physical and psychological conditions including asthma, dementia, coping with cancer, terminal illness, depression, schizophrenia, stress, anxiety, emotional eating and Autism Spectrum Disorders, but the scientific evidence of the success rate is scant.[i]
A survey on the effectiveness of art therapy carried out by the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia [PACFA] suggests there is little evidence available to support the acclaimed effectiveness of art therapy. The study which included examination of a variety of art forms looked at twelve articles for evaluating the effectiveness of art therapy, only five of which met the survey criteria. One of these was a systematic review, and the others, randomized controlled trials conducted in Europe, the UK and the USA. There were no studies carried out in Australia. Further, art therapies are traditionally based on psychoanalytic or psychodynamic principles which can account for any improvement. Indeed, most arts therapists utilize varied evidence based theoretical frameworks in their work. These traditions include depth analytic, humanistic, behavioural, systemic, and integrative approaches[ii] so it is almost impossible to detect which components in the therapy processes are the most reliable. Many art therapists will attest to the reality that the effectiveness of art therapy is based on what clients believe to be the benefits. Moreover, even if art therapy acts as a placebo it must have some merit, not just in the production process, but also in the social gathering, networking and communication. Progress depends largely on the individual.
James Rhodes is a highly sought after concert pianist who has publically discussed his views on the links between, melancholy, madness and art as well as the role played by art therapies. In an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph Rhodes writes ‘If creativity can lead to madness, is art therapy really such a good idea?’ Rhodes explores his own experience of madness and he articulates his dissatisfaction with art therapies. He admits his ‘only qualifications to write about therapy and mental illness’ are a rudimentary knowledge of psychology and ‘around 9 months of in-patient care in various locked wards in 2006/7…’ Nonetheless, Rhodes states,
‘as an ex-inmate and artist … there is no question in my mind that in conjunction with other therapies, art or music can be a tremendous tool in dealing with various forms of mental illness from depression to Asperger’s.’ However, he also wonders if ‘throwing oneself into creativity in order to help defeat the demons is a solution or a hindrance.’ [iii]
Rhodes goes on to say:
‘During a stint in a psychiatric unit a few years ago I attended a few art therapy ‘classes’ that, no matter how well-intentioned, made me feel hideously uncomfortable and hopelessly untalented [ using crayons, please draw a picture of your happy place where you feel safest ]. Since leaving hospital I have thrown myself into a creative career and spent many hours a day rigorously practicing the piano in pursuit of that career. Whilst there is of course a huge distinction between a career as an artist and art as just a hobby, I’m still very much in two minds as to whether music or art is a good therapy or if it is in fact a potentially dangerous downward spiral into madness’.[iv]
Rhodes notes that engaging in the artistic process involves two of the most dangerous factors for the mentally fragile – ‘solitude and criticism.’ Rhodes tells how when working in a normal city job he was emotionally troubled, but nowhere near as troubled as he become on entering the arts,
‘there is rarely a feeling of accomplishment, hardly ever a performance one is pleased with, a constant and unending pursuit of the unattainable. Medication is outstanding [I’m forever indebted to Pfizer], but for me today, meds and music don’t mix – the invariable haziness, dulling of the senses and diffusion of feelings goes against everything the creative process demands.[v]
The links between mental illness and art have been visible throughout history. In the 4th century B.C., the connection between ‘Divine’ spirit and altered states of consciousness was clear so too was the distinction between those who were allowed to publically channel their inner voices and those who were not. In other words there were profound ‘differences’ between the church proclamations of the Divine and those of the heretic or ordinary citizen. For the latter the risk of Divine talk could lead to incarceration or being burnt at the stake. Today, much of the ritual that took place to justify religious belief would be considered mentally precarious if not down right ‘insane’.
As Plato wrote in the dialogue of Phaedrus:
‘Madness, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings… Madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human.’ [vi]
It is no wonder then that many who suffer from altered consciousness and delusions announce themselves as ‘God’ or ‘Divine’ or believe themselves to be someone famous or infamous. God equates with the most primal of human experiences and is expressed in numerous antiquities as a mirror image of all living plants and creatures.
I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.
In graduate school, I discovered that all it took to be labeled as having “issues with authority” was to not kiss up to a director of clinical training whose personality was a combination of Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, and Howard Cosell. When I was told by some faculty that I had “issues with authority,” I had mixed feelings about being so labeled. On the one hand, I found it quite amusing, because among the working-class kids whom I had grown up with, I was considered relatively compliant with authorities. After all, I had done my homework, studied, and received good grades. However, while my new “issues with authority” label made me grin because I was now being seen as a “bad boy,” it also very much concerned me about just what kind of a profession that I had entered. Specifically, if somebody such as myself was being labeled with “issues with authority,” what were they calling the kids I grew up with who paid attention to many things that they cared about but didn’t care enough about school to comply there? Well, the answer soon became clear.
Mental Illness Diagnoses for Anti-Authoritarians
A 2009 Psychiatric Times article titled “ADHD & ODD: Confronting the Challenges of Disruptive Behavior” reports that “disruptive disorders,” which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and opposition defiant disorder (ODD), are the most common mental health problem of children and teenagers. ADHD is defined by poor attention and distractibility, poor self-control and impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ODD is defined as a “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior without the more serious violations of the basic rights of others that are seen in conduct disorder”; and ODD symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”
Psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading authorities on ADHD, says that those afflicted with ADHD have deficits in what he calls “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of established authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. ODD young people, according to mainstream mental health authorities, also have these so-called deficits in rule-governed behavior, and so it is extremely common for young people to have a “duel diagnosis” of AHDH and ODD.
Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”?
Albert Einstein, as a youth, would have likely received an ADHD diagnosis, and maybe an ODD one as well. Albert didn’t pay attention to his teachers, failed his college entrance examinations twice, and had difficulty holding jobs. However, Einstein biographer Ronald Clark (Einstein: The Life and Times) asserts that Albert’s problems did not stem from attention deficits but rather from his hatred of authoritarian, Prussian discipline in his schools. Einstein said, “The teachers in the elementary school appeared to me like sergeants and in the Gymnasium the teachers were like lieutenants.” At age 13, Einstein read Kant’s difficult Critique of Pure Reason—because Albert was interested in it. Clark also tells us Einstein refused to prepare himself for his college admissions as a rebellion against his father’s “unbearable” path of a “practical profession.” After he did enter college, one professor told Einstein, “You have one fault; one can’t tell you anything.” The very characteristics of Einstein that upset authorities so much were exactly the ones that allowed him to excel.
By today’s standards, Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would have certainly been diagnosed with one or more disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Alinsky also recalls a time when he was ten or eleven and his rabbi was tutoring him in Hebrew:
One particular day I read three pages in a row without any errors in pronunciation, and suddenly a penny fell onto the Bible . . . Then the next day the rabbi turned up and he told me to start reading. And I wouldn’t; I just sat there in silence, refusing to read. He asked me why I was so quiet, and I said, “This time it’s a nickel or nothing.” He threw back his arm and slammed me across the room.
Many people with severe anxiety and/or depression are also anti-authoritarians. Often a major pain of their lives that fuels their anxiety and/or depression is fear that their contempt for illegitimate authorities will cause them to be financially and socially marginalized; but they fear that compliance with such illegitimate authorities will cause them existential death.
I have also spent a great deal of time with people who had at one time in their lives had thoughts and behavior that were so bizarre that they were extremely frightening for their families and even themselves; they were diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses, but have fully recovered and have been, for many years, leading productive lives. Among this population, I have not met one person whom I would not consider a major anti-authoritarian. Once recovered, they have learned to channel their anti-authoritarianism into more constructive political ends, including reforming mental health treatment.
Many anti-authoritarians who earlier in their lives were diagnosed with mental illness tell me that once they were labeled with a psychiatric diagnosis, they got caught in a dilemma. Authoritarians, by definition, demand unquestioning obedience, and so any resistance to their diagnosis and treatment created enormous anxiety for authoritarian mental health professionals; and professionals, feeling out of control, labeled them “noncompliant with treatment,” increased the severity of their diagnosis, and jacked up their medications. This was enraging for these anti-authoritarians, sometimes so much so that they reacted in ways that made them appear even more frightening to their families.
There are anti-authoritarians who use psychiatric drugs to help them function, but they often reject psychiatric authorities’ explanations for why they have difficulty functioning. So, for example, they may take Adderall (an amphetamine prescribed for ADHD), but they know that their attentional problem is not a result of a biochemical brain imbalance but rather caused by a boring job. And similarly, many anti-authoritarians in highly stressful environments will occasionally take prescribed benzodiazepines such as Xanax even though they believe it would be safer to occasionally use marijuana but can’t because of drug testing on their job
It has been my experience that many anti-authoritarians labeled with psychiatric diagnoses usually don’t reject all authorities, simply those they’ve assessed to be illegitimate ones, which just happens to be a great deal of society’s authorities.
Maintaining the Societal Status Quo
Americans have been increasingly socialized to equate inattention, anger, anxiety, and immobilizing despair with a medical condition, and to seek medical treatment rather than political remedies. What better way to maintain the status quo than to view inattention, anger, anxiety, and depression as biochemical problems of those who are mentally ill rather than normal reactions to an increasingly authoritarian society.
The reality is that depression is highly associated with societal and financial pains. One is much more likely to be depressed if one is unemployed, underemployed, on public assistance, or in debt (for documentation, see “400% Rise in Anti-Depressant Pill Use”). And ADHD labeled kids do pay attention when they are getting paid, or when an activity is novel, interests them, or is chosen by them (documented in my book Commonsense Rebellion).
In an earlier dark age, authoritarian monarchies partnered with authoritarian religious institutions. When the world exited from this dark age and entered the Enlightenment, there was a burst of energy. Much of this revitalization had to do with risking skepticism about authoritarian and corrupt institutions and regaining confidence in one’s own mind. We are now in another dark age, only the institutions have changed. Americans desperately need anti-authoritarians to question, challenge, and resist new illegitimate authorities and regain confidence in their own common sense.
In every generation there will be authoritarians and anti-authoritarians. While it is unusual in American history for anti-authoritarians to take the kind of effective action that inspires others to successfully revolt, every once in a while a Tom Paine, Crazy Horse, or Malcolm X come along. So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”
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Bruce Levine is a well known psychologist who has noted how hundreds of people with “oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses“, are generally diagnosed as essentially anti-authoritarians, also how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.
According to Levine, “Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously”. Further, Levine notes that “Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority” Levine is probably quite accurate in his observations. He also tells us, “when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not” (Levine 2012).The question is are anti-authoritarians pathological.?
Categorizing anti-Authoritarians as pathological may not be something that we perceive as appropriate in a democratic society. Nonetheless, the idea is not new. Indeed, the social and health sciences were devised with a view to maintaining constraints over the populous or what Freud (1929) referred to as the primal horde. There is no doubt that advances in mainstream society requires some adherence to society’s rules and this is especially true of the professions. Uncommitted citizens or those with a bad record do not get to be admitted to the legal professions, nor are they likely to become doctors or psychologists. This is because the professions are the compliance police designed to maintain the social order, at least until they have achieved their MDs or PhDs after which they might be cut a little slack; but not too much. This scenario is particularly true of psychologists and psychiatrists. As Levine suggests, “The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians…” whereby “degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance” (Levine 2012).
Compliance begins in school, but only recently has opposition to the socially prescribed rules been a diagnosable condition, albeit there has always been a divide that separates the professional from the potential rebel. This is not to say there are no professional rebels, but their rebellion (or lack of it) comes at a cost. On the one hand the rebel is faced with being ostracized, on the other the non-rebel often lives a life of false values working and holding beliefs that are not truly his or her own.
Moreover, most professions who adhere to the prescribed compliance dictates are victims of what the French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu (1980) called symbolic power. That is to say the assumed power of the professional is not real self-empowerment it is merely an order of compliance. Bourdieu approaches power within the context of a comprehensive ‘theory of society’ whereby he understands power as a culturally symbolic construct, that is to say, a constantly enforced behaviour manifest through the dynamics of agency and structure. Bourdieu argues that this interplay takes place in the unconscious by way of a “Habitus”. In other words the symbolic power becomes a self-perpetuating system created through social interaction rather than through individualism. Also the attempts to create changes to this system are difficult and time consuming. The problem lies in the fact that Habitus is not guided by free will, but by the internalized forces that have become embedded into the system whereby its drives maintain its consistency in every aspect of daily life. Bourdieu identified two major components in this symbolic schema. The first is capital, which plays a central role in power relations leading to the distinction between classes; the labouring class and those who control the means of production upon which the labourer depends. Bourdieu tells us that the shift from material capital to social and cultural capital is what aids the invisibility of abuses carried out in the name of capital accumulation and hence, the inequity within the system.
The second concept contains two components, “legitimacy” and “fields”. Symbolic power is carried through fields such as the social, legal religious and educational institutions, which serve to promulgate the symbolic power system and its “misrecognition” or what Marx called false consciousness. What is worth remembering in Bourdieu’s theory is, as he reveals, the sociological scientific method has been part of the system of constraints. Bourdieu suggests that the sociological scientific method can therefore be a part of the system that dispenses with the power relations.
Pierre Bourdieu 1980 “The Logic of Practice”, NY Stanford University Press.
Sigmund Freud 1929/1985 “Civilization and Its Discontents”. Harmondsworth, Penguin Classics.
Outsider artists are subversives who do not share the lifestyle or the sentiments of the bourgeoisie class. Outsider artists contest the social order or they withdraw. The outsider artist views the mainstream as a life-world shrouded in a false consciousness and transfixed in a predictable and facile mediocrity. The outsider artist is an outsider because s/he is a seeker of truth. The outsider artist is un-accepting of the bland routine and rebels in earnest.
In line with recent research in the cognitive sciences a new proposition concerning the importance of making art has arisen. Neurological evidence now suggests that the urge to create art is an innate factor wired into the brain as a defence mechanism against anxieties. To this end, it might be considered that Outsider Art is a radical expression of this innate trait that offers distinct improvement to troubled lives.
It is not unusual to hear artists say the live for their art, or they don’t know how they would manage without their ability to paint and draw, or to make sculptures and the rest. We admire the dedicated artist, but rarely do we think about art as a means of stabilising the brain’s serotonin and noradrenalin or how creativity raises the endorphins to makes people feel better about themselves and life in general. Ever since we discovered that art raises the endorphins we can better understand how art becomes an addiction and sometimes turns into obsessive compulsive behaviour. Outsider Art in particular is indicative of the obsessive compulsive traits; but this should not be viewed as a bad thing. There are all kinds of obsessions the good and the bad. Life itself can be an obsession and should be if one wants to prolong it.
Today, art is taking on new meanings making it more purposeful and inclusive. The new scientific discoveries make art production almost mandatory for health and well being, which in turn undermines the notion of what constitutes good and bad art and closes the gap between art as therapy and art as aesthetic appreciation. No longer can we measure art on the basis of fashion or the perceptions of good taste. We know that our brain activities operate on first [Palaeolithic] and secondary [rational] principles, the abstract and the real; are both necessary to bring an image or idea to consciousness. This is old knowledge made new and relevant for our times. Art is meaningful and it provides a sound pathway for lives lived to the fullest potential.