Macroscopic View of Madness: Insanity in the Heart of Sanity?

Is it obtainable for a person to be mad and is still aware that he or she is mad? This question, while it hits one of our core assumptions as to madness, is deliberately worded as it is so that we face a conundrum born of our way of thinking making us ask this question as we have asked.


Self-portrait by Thoithoi O’Cottage

Our core assumption about madness is that “mad people” are different from us because they do not think or are not capable of thinking like us; i.e., to be self-conscious. Let us not be distracted from the issue by “self-conscious,” because the issue with our core assumption is about “difference,” the health of which is determined by the “standard.” Yes, for better or worse, we need standards for us to live in organized ways, no matter how we organize these “ways,” though the standard should not be so fixed to stifle any forces of change (which can never be justly judged beyong wild conjecturing before they have actually transpired into real artifacts). The need for standards seems to be more important in some areas than others; for example, standards of health readings (say, the range of healthy values in a complete blood count test) and health-care procedures (say, the best way known of treating a disease) are more critical than dressing standards of hospitals and the institutions of the police and the army. Our health is more of a primary concern to us than other non-physical (or moral) values (such as the question of wearing sindur or mangalsutra among married women in most of India) because the condition of health directly and immediately affects us (the body) first and our other concerns (which are secondary) are at the mercy of our health. In this sense, some standards are more fundamental than others to the extent of the relatively less basic ones being negotiably compromised for better adjustment in the more primary areas.

The conundrum born of our way of thinking leading us to asking our question at the beginning is that our assumption that madness is a matter of kind but not degree and consequently that if somebody is mad he/she is mad in absolute terms has made it impossible for us to pursue the investigation which would have been initiated by the question correctly worded. The assumption stated as a problem in the preceding paragraph is actually a product of this more fundamental assumption giving birth to the conundrum we encounter now. This conundrum shows signs of us considered mentally healthy ignoring who we consider mad as a generalized mass of madness, thereby creating a binary of we/they, with there being nothing common in between. An immediate discontinuity between black and white.

Our general understanding of madness is of the kind of a uniform solid with no internal variation. If X is mad, and if Y is mad, then our view is X = Y to the extent of their distinct individual characteristics and other readily visible differences becoming irrelevant resulting in their personhood ceasing to be. This death or murder of personhood reduces them to the status of things like molecules in a drop of water or drops of water in the river where you see just the flowing continuity of uniform liquid water, not incalculably many drops or molecules of water.

This macroscopic view of madness leads us to a dangerously flawed (wrong and unjust) sweeping generalization about mad people–if X mad and if he/she cannot be self-conscious, then any other X’s cannot be self-conscious. This leads us to the conclusion that if anybody is mad, it is impossible for them to be aware that they are mad.

Is madness actually a matter of kind, not degree? If this is the case, does one immediately jumps into madness (becoming mad all of a sudden) when one becomes mad, and jumps immediately BACK OUT OF madness into sanity (becoming NORMAL) all of a sudden, and there being no continuity between the two “major” distinct states in such a way that this person was X while he was normal first, and then he jumped into being Y (stoping being X) and then jumped out (BACK) into X or (Z, a third person?).

I will dwell on this issue in my another article.


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