Mind Myths

[Robert Spillane, “Mind Myths: The author responds,” The Skeptic, 2007, 27, 2, 55. PDF.]

The sceptical David Hume observed that reason is a slave of the passions. Empirical support for this proposition can be found in the cathartic letters which appeared in “Forum” (27:1: 50-55) in response to my article “The Mind and Mental Illness: A Tale of Two Myths” (26:4:46-50). Catharsis may be good psychotherapy (and it may not), but it cannot invalidate a logically valid argument. Since I was trying to put before the Skeptics a logical argument, I shall pass over in embarrassed silence the personal insults, tortuous arguments, guilt by association (no Virginia, I am not a Scientologist), and the surprisingly (for Skeptics) snide comments about philosophy and logic. If a state of affairs is logically impossible, then it is empirically and technically impossible. So empirical or technical ‘evidence’ for mental illness begs the question. My case, therefore, stands or falls on the following logical argument:

  1. Illness affects the body.
  2. The ‘mind’ is not a bodily organ.
  3. Therefore, the ‘mind’ cannot be(come) ill,
  4. So mental illness is a myth.
  5. If ‘mind’ is brain (process),
  6. And mental illness is brain illness,
  7. Then mental illness is body illness,
  8. And mental illness is still a myth.
Posted in mental illness is a myth, Szasz | Tagged , | 9 Responses

The Mind and Mental Illness

[Robert Spillane, “The Mind and Mental Illness: a Tale of Two Myths,” The Skeptic, 2006, 26, 4, 46-50. PDF. This paper forms the basis of a talk given by Prof Spillane to a NSW Skeptics Dinner Meeting during 2006.]

My aim in this paper is to ask if there is such a thing as a mind, and to argue that there is not. If there is no such thing as a mind, then there can be no illnesses of the mind, and so no mental illness. If there is no mental illness, there is no mental health either.

The view that the mind and mental illness are myths is neither new nor rare. The case against the mind and mental illness has been argued by behaviourists, nominalists, positivists and existentialists. Despite these critiques, the ideas of the mind and mental illness continue to have a strong hold on the public imagination. Mental health professionals and government publications even criticise sectors of the community for their confusion about the ‘facts’ of mental illness. My argument is that there are no facts about mental illness except that it is a myth, based on the myth of the mind, or ‘the ghost in the machine’. Read More »

Posted in ADHD, mental illness is a myth, Szasz | Tagged , , | 3 Responses

Spillane TV interview on ADHD myth

[August 4 2009 interview on Australia’s Channel Nine morning program Today.]

Posted in ADHD, depression, mental illness is a myth, video | Tagged , , , | 7 Responses

Definitely Drucker

[Robert Spillane, “Definitely Drucker,” AFR Boss Magazine, March 2008, pp. 32 – 36. PDF.]

Long after Peter Drucker’s death, the debate over what management should really be about still rages.

Twenty senior managers spend five days at a management training centre. They are there, at great expense, to “bond” by acquiring spiritual intelligence from their executive coach. The litmus test of their success will be fire-walking. At the end of a week of “energy transference” and “spiritual awareness”, each manager is invited to walk across hot coals and thus test the laws of physics. They all meekly follow the leader, suffer serious burns, and 10 of them have to be removed to hospital.

At another training centre, managers have “lunatic” written on their foreheads. Amazed witnesses try to make sense of grown men howling at the moon. They conclude that the managers are seriously overpaid and possibly mad.

Yet another training centre specialises in assessing managers’ personalities. One brave soul resists because he correctly argues that research studies spanning 50 years have shown that personality is unrelated to managerial performance. He is labelled a “difficult personality” who needs psychotherapy. A colleague submits to the personality test – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – and is ordered to wear the results on his shirt for five days. He objects but complies. One week later he considers legal action against those who subjected him to psychological indignities.

What have these three cases to do with management or the training of managers? If the doyen of management authors, Peter Drucker (1909-2005), were still with us, he would regard them as dangerous distractions – distractions because the ultimate test of management is performance at work, dangerous because they involve managers in psychological power games built on new age fantasies, bad psychology and covert agendas. Read More »

Posted in Drucker, management is not a science, personality and performance | Tagged , , | 3 Responses

Szasz’s The Meaning of Mind

[Robert Spillane, Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management, vol. 3, no. 2 (July 1997), pp. 53-55. PDF.]
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SZASZ, THOMAS (1996)
The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality and Neuroscience
Westport, Connecticut: Praeger
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Given the alarming rate of increase in stress claims (reported by Comcare and others) and given Australians’ propensity to engage in litigation following the RSI era, there are good reasons for managers to be kept informed of developments in the fields of clinical psychology and psychiatry. However, these fields are dominated by diverse and contradictory views about the logical status of the mind and of mind (mental) illness. A new book by Thomas Szasz is therefore timely and important for the discipline of management.
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In 1961 Thomas Szasz published The Myth of Mental Illness, which contained a disarmingly simple thesis. Since illness can affect only the body, and since the mind is not a bodily organ, there can be no mental illness. So mental illness is a metaphor: minds can be ‘sick’ only in the sense that economies can be ‘sick’. It follows that ‘mental illness’ is not something a person has, but is something (s)he does or says. Szasz used hysteria as an example of how a metaphor was literalised, how lying became illness. The same transformation occurred, he argues, with schizophrenia, the sacred symbol of psychiatry, and the title of his 1976 book.
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In his 24th book, Szasz’s target is those neuroscientists — or neuromythologists — who believe that the mind is the brain. Szasz argues that only as a verb does the word ‘mind’ name something — attending or heeding. Modern neuroscience, he argues, is a misdirected effort to explain ‘mind’ in terms of brain functions, and psychiatry is a misdirected effort to explain mental illness as brain disease. A consequence of these efforts is the undermining of the notions of moral agency and personal responsibility. The view that the mind is the brain is not an empirical finding — indeed how could it be? — but a rhetorical ruse concealing humanity’s struggle to control individuals by controlling their language.
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The central thesis — influenced by George Herbert Mead — is that the ‘mind’ is mediated through language which enables us to engage in self-conversation. The ‘mind’ is identified with the dialogue within. Chapter 1 analyses the relationship between ‘mind’ and language and the phenomenon of ‘hearing voices’. For Szasz abnormal rumination (say auditory hallucinations) is self-conversation. ‘So-called hallucinations, hypochondriacal preoccupations, obsessional thoughts, and so forth are all instances of self-conversations’ (p 15). Critics will object that such self-conversations are beyond the control of the individual. Not so, says Szasz, who believes it is an error to frame these phenomena in terms of the individual’s alleged inability to control his thoughts. Thinking, talking to others and talking to oneself are voluntary acts. Self-conversation is normal and hearing voices a universal phenomenon. Read More »
Posted in mental illness is a myth, Szasz | Tagged , | 2 Responses


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