Manic Depressive Disorder
Manic Depression

Mania is not usually thought of by itself because it is almost always followed by depression, hence the names Manic Depression or the current Bipolar Disorder.  However, while the shutdown response is simultaneous with the underlying emotional hyperactivity in major depression, it is manifested serially in Bipolar Disorder.  So, the manic part of this condition is the active illness and the depressive part is a compensatory reaction.

Mania is the only major mental illness which represents the escape from regulation of a segment of normal emotional function that is goal-driven and euphoric.  Despite the euphoria, this illness can wreak a terrible toll, but here I write as a philosopher, not a doctor. As described, the anxiety and depressive disorders represent evolved modules of emotional function driven by aversion to the painful emotions of fear of separation and the fear of being socially trapped; these segments of anxiety and depression escape from their integration into the whole of emotional function and each spin out into their own separate pathology.

 There are two lines of evidence that Mania is an exclusively human disease, and therefore exists as a treasure trove about what is exclusively human about human nature.  First, there are definitely no animal models for mania – none.  Second, one of the cardinal symptoms of mania is hyperactivity in the cognitive capacity which has clearly only recently evolved and is a hallmark of Homo sapiens. I refer to the syntactical or structural component of language.  I must confess as a psychiatrist, an occasional patient with mania would mesmerize me with the gymnastics of their verbal virtuosity in the most complex cognitive feat displayed on the face of the planet.

 I came to the conclusion that, after 6 million years of selection at the level of the group for aversive emotions in order to repress selfish individual id impulses, Homo sapiens suddenly evolved a highly sexualized, goal driven intentionality at the level of the individual.  Hyper-sexuality is a consistent part of mania.  But this sexuality, placed in a functional biological context motivates sexual display, such as in the songs and feathers of male birds. Once one is aware of the connection, the grandiosity so characteristic of mania is clearly an exaggeration of the thoroughly human impulse to display oneself favorably to the opposite sex

 Evidence for the predominance of sexual display in humans abounds.  Human fossils are distinguished from their forebears by the “cuteness” of juvenile characteristics (neoteny.)  About 100,000 years old, the first cultural artifacts found in both the north and south of Africa and including the Levant, are pierced shells and red ocher clearly used for body ornamentation.  The most valuable commodity since the invention of money has always been gold, 78% of which is still used for jewelry.  I could go on and on.

 So, human nature is comprised of primate dominance instincts, suppressed by 6 million years of selection at the level of groups, and then our own species has installed an “advertising agency” in every individual, commonly called vanity. While Schizophrenia reveals how our groups communicate with us, Mania reveals how we dress it up and show it off to each other.  What a thoroughly odd creature we turn out to be!       



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6 Comments on “Emotional Fossils IV – Mania and the Genius of Vanity”

  1. John, I wonder how vanity relates to what we commonly call ego? In a good sense, the source of our transcedent drives to achieve and contribute, in a bad sense the self-centeredness, anger, and meanness that gives ego its bad name.

    1. Yes, Richard, my sense of vanity as a human motivation is ego. Generically, ego and self are ancient Greek terms. The self is that part of us that experiences perception – the “afferent” part of the loop which ends with the experience of emotion; ego is that part of us that responds to the self with motivation – the “efferent” part of the loop which acts on experience. I am claiming we exist in three “layers:” of self and ego: id – which is the primate impulse to dominate; hominid, which is the “Thou Shall Not” of right and wrong; and human which is the vanity of self display. We are in the process of integrating these three sets of selves and egos. But the sense of having a “big ego” or close to what Tolle calls ego I think is a combination of primate and human ego which leaves out 6 million years in which ego emanated from the spiritual world of justice, right and wrong with the intentionality of God, Who continues to expand His province, but not without great suffering.

  2. I hope we hurry up, as a species at least, and integrate those egos!

    Meantime, I like your integration of ego-as-morality as the middle part of the sandwich. It may be a healthy corrective to the widespread unspoken notion that ego is solely selfish and troublesome–with the irony that that judgment does not seem to overly temper egoic behavior and displays. I take it that the middle ego not only wants us to be good but IS good, fuels our good impulses? Would that be where the guilt or anxiety or depression comes from then, too? That is, we fall short commonly of inherent ideals if only due to the id at the one end and vanity at the other. So does the gentle middle extract its corrective?

  3. That’s right, the middle ego is not goal-driven, but aversively driven and both emanates from the spiritual sphere and seeks transcendence and the peacefulness of communion with the unitary soul in all of us. We are in a state of transition from small kinship groups to ever larger associations headed toward becoming a single organism with 50 billion bodies. We are in the process of becoming something else; we in a middle stage and all the vanity has its function in the larger process, but all this can’t make sense in a few sentences an needs many more blogs to develop. But you onto it big time. Thank so much for the interchange. -John

  4. I was surprised to see you say, “there are definitely no animal models for mania – none.”
    I read an Internet article within the last decade about a scientist’s observations of great apes in the African wild and his description of on one ape who was distinctly bipolar. When depressed — withdrawn and lethargic. When manic, he became the charismatic leader who activated the large non-aggressive group into murder missions of other apes in neighboring areas. Then, a down episode where he is withdrawn and reclusive, a great puzzle to his former followers, who acted as though hoping to go on the hunt again.

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