Dave's Progress. Chapter 42: Do I Dream of Schizophrenic Sheep?

I have been talking a lot in recent blogs about representations of mental ill health which I find either misleading or downright pernicious. But, it seems, I have finally found an artist who portrays mental illness in a realistic and factually correct manner. His name was Philip K. Dick (he died in 1982) and is famous, perhaps most of all, for writing "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", the novel which later became the great Ridley Scott film, "Blade Runner". Indeed, Dick was a prolific writer of science fiction who, if my memory serves correctly, used to take truck-loads of amphetamines to prolong his often maniacal bursts of writing. He suffered a breakdown in March 1974, or as he rather liked to call it, "a moment of revelation", and his writing post this experience is largely to do with it and his attempt to make sense of what had happened to him. It is, therefore, perhaps, that Dick's own experience of mental ill health feeds into the more accurate picture of mental illness he portrays.
"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is no exception to this. Analysing the philosophical question, "what makes us human?" through a story about androids that appear so human they have to be tested to prove that they are indeed android, Dick often deals with metaphysical questions in his work. I think he was once described as a Borges of the SF world. The link with mental ill health comes in the form of the way in which the androids can be identified. When submitted to a series of questions their responses are measured (by the so-called Voigt-Kampff test). If the subject is android they will show a certain lack of empathy in their responses, a dulling or dampening down of emotion which is abnormal in most human subjects. But, Dick points out, some humans even may fail the test, particularly those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, as they also experience this form of emotional flatness, or as a psychiatrist or Dick might put it, "a flattening of affect". Even one of the androids herself, Pris, describes herself as a schizophrenic who experiences group hallucinations and this curious "flattening of affect". Dick even seems to know about the real meaning of psychosis, describing it as the experience of delusions and hallucinations. Nowhere is there mention of violence, complete loss of function or split personality, Dick then coming over as one of the very few people who give a realistic and factually correct representation of schizophrenic illness.
Having said all this, it is perhaps still not entirely flattering to think of those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia as comparable with "artificial" humans, or as being somehow emotionally "different" to the rest of humanity. If I describe some of my own experience of the illness, perhaps I can put this in to context.
I have previously written about this so-called "flattening of affect" in my blog "Me and My Anhedonia", in which I described my peculiar, sometime inability to "feel". Indeed, such experiences are largely described as "negative" symptoms of the illness and I can remember after my initial breakdown, and the various traumas which caused it, being very aware that I was not "feeling" what I was going through. It was rather that I had shut down emotionally altogether and in one counselling session where I was told that I "must feel" what I was going through, I could only reply incredulously that I didn't "feel anything at all". To my mind, though, schizophrenic illness, while displaying all the symptoms of an absence of feeling, is really all about emotions and experiences, which at the time of trauma, we cannot somehow resolve, and so get expressed in other ways, i.e the descent in to psychotic illness. It would seem to me that trauma works its way out eventually and a great deal of emotion, grief and loss is spent along the way.
Also, it is known that schizophrenic illness does involve a certain amount of "splitting". This does not, in any way, refer to a splitting of personality, but rather a splitting, a division in the mind, where the processes of thought and feeling become distinct from one another. In an apparently "normal" person these processes are connected, whereas in those who experience schizophrenic illness, they become separated. Hence, we can experience what one psychiatrist said to me were "emotional problems".
But, this is still coming over as if those who experience schizophrenia are some sort of different type of humanity, and the last thing I would want to do is turn this in to some kind of "us" and "them" situation. Indeed, even in Dick's book, there is much sympathy for the renegade androids whom the main character Deckard has to "retire" or kill, and this is made even more clear in the film with Roy Batty's final speech, with the now famous lines, "I've seen things you wouldn't believe...but all these things will be lost, like tears in rain". In the book , even Deckard, the at times merciless killer (or is he really a murderer, as his wife suggests) comes to the conclusion that "the electric things have their lives too, paltry as those lives are".
So, are those who suffer from schizophrenia the same, or are we somehow just that little bit different to the rest of humanity? And if androids dream of electric sheep, as some sign of their nascent humanity, do I dream of schizophrenic ones?
That's all for now from your normal, average delusional and paranoid man.


dcrelief said…
Dear David,

What an interesting read!
I remember seeing 'Blade Runner' many years back; indeed it's somewhat of a cult classic, here, now.
This is a post I'll have to mull over; kick around in the upstairs attic (my mind) to see I really feel, what I really feel, what I really...
AS the old "Star Trek" character, "Mr. Spock" once answered "Captain Kirk":
"It's life, Jim, but not as we know it."
So maybe it's just that simple. Or maybe our dreams are trying to tell us 'something'. Excellent.
Yours in peace, Dixie
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thankyou for your comment. Glad to know that you are still finding my posts stimulating. If that is you realy feel, what you really feel, what you really...
Hopefully I'm well enough mow to say that I really feel thankful for your input!
Yours With Very Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Apologies for not responding sooner.
Another fascinating and informative blog. Your postings are indeed 'stimulating'. They most certainly provide 'food for thought'.
What makes us human? Well that brings about a complicated thought in my mind. In so far as you being 'different', David, I suppose that is all about perceptions, yours and the perception of those who would label your diagnosis.
An excellent read. I must ponder this posting for future reference.
All the very best, Gary
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment.
As for being "different", Id like to think that, now, I'm just an average joe. I have experienced some of the symptoms of what I describe in my blog, but I don't think they're necessarily permanent.I hope that my diagnosis, then, even though I talk a lot about it in my blog, would never interfere with what you or others perceive me to be.
Yours with Very Best Wishes Gary, and all my Best to the "wee people",

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