Passages from my current project entitled Evolutionary Psychoanalysis:
This book is written for those who care for and about the mentally ill. That includes psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, and psychiatric nurses. I am particularly eager for those in training to read it, as your attitudes toward the mentally ill are in the process of being formed. Although written as a professional textbook, of course, the book is ultimately for the benefit of those who suffer from these illnesses and their families who love and support them. The following introduction contains: 1) the goal of the book, 2) the nature of the novel field of psychiatry that is explored, and 3) the role of the known science that pertains to this field.
Introduction (first two sections)
The goal of the book is not the treatment of the mental illnesses themselves, but to effectively address the insult of social stigma that has been added to the injury of these excruciating conditions from time immemorial. If you are my intended audience listed in the preface, you yourself should not be afflicted by these stigmatic attitudes, but you are surely well aware that the stigma of mental illnesses extends to those with any professional involvement with them. My fervent hope is to humanize mental illness by revealing that they suffer from a disorder of the very emotions that have rendered us human during the entire epic struggle of our evolution. Once the intimate connection between these illnesses and all that is human in us becomes clear, it will naturally follow that those who suffer from them should be revered for paying the price not just for our humanity, but for the miraculous mental capacities with which we have been so richly endowed.
The illnesses dealt with in this book are: two kinds of major depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (I have left out OCD for the sake of brevity.) We must face up to the reality that science has not yet provided a coherent understanding of any of these illnesses, and that this ignorance breeds the fear that is the major source of today’s stigmatic attitudes, just as it has always been in the past. So, although brain science is surely the only path to curing the scourge of these conditions, a scientific understanding of mental illness is still in its infancy.
The word, “crazy,” which exists in all major languages replete with smirk and finger circling about the ear, is the symbolic target of the book. Why isn’t “crazy” in the same category as slurs about race or sexual orientation? To some degree, as I will explain, it is due to the nature of schizophrenia, but mostly the righteous indignation within each of us cowers with our patients’ shame beneath a collective conspiracy of scorn born of ignorance and fear.
The term phenomenology as used in this book is simply the study of our inner experiences. All the great twentieth-century psychiatrists were phenomenologists in that their basic “data” were the descriptions by patients of their subjective experiences of these illnesses. Of course, the genius that spawned the phenomenological view that dominated psychiatry for most of the twentieth century was Sigmund Freud leading to psychoanalytic theory. Apart from being a treatment, psychoanalysis is a way of organizing the inner experience of both normal emotional function and mental illness in a way that is internally consistent. The term “psychoanalysis” has been appropriated to refer to a Freudian-based view, but I am generalizing it to refer to any phenomenological system, in this case a system organized by evolutionary principles.
The foundation of the Freudian psychoanalytic system is the self-evidence of Freud’s initial vision of the topographic division of the mind into the conscious (small) realm, and the unconscious (large) realm in which the central dynamic between id (sex and aggression) and superego (guilt and shame) occurs. The authority of this kind of theory is established democratically, from the bottom up by a critical mass of key individuals (that would be you with respect to this project) separately deciding whether the descriptions of how our emotions work resonate and ring true. Both Freudian psychoanalysis and the phenomenology developed in this project rely on information that is transmitted and verified by means of the highly derived human capacity for empathy.
Whereas Freudian psychoanalysis views childhood development as causing the mature id–superego dynamic, the phenomenology in this project views these developmental stages as the result of millions of years of evolution in accordance with the principles of natural selection (and others) as established by Charles Darwin. So this project in no way contradicts existing psychoanalytic theory, but it has a completely different focus.
For thirty-five years, I examined the inner experience of the major mental illnesses mentioned above through the lens of evolution. I came to the conclusion that each of these conditions is derived from a discreet segment of normal emotional function that has escaped from its usual regulated role into a sustained state of pathological hyperactivity, which then dominates and disables the totality of mental function. I will demonstrate in detail how a close examination of the experience of these illnesses, far from distorting, actually magnify and vividly reveal details of their normal antecedent emotions that are not apparent when they are absorbed into their usual integrated function. As each of these illnesses revealed different segments of emotional function, a causal sequential narrative of the deep evolution of our emotions-and-motivations emerged.
It is vitally important for the central purpose of this project to firmly grasp that it is the normal emotions-and-motivations revealed by these illnesses that have been evolved on account of their adaptive benefits and not the pathological hyperactivity into which they devolve in sickness. I shall explain how mental illness can be understood as an epiphenomenon (side effect) of the evolutionary innovation that caused our own species to evolve. As mentioned, mental illness is the price our species pays for the gift of our evolved genius.