A robust demonology


Demonic possession?

Crazy, crazy shit.

No, Richard, your speculation is not a legitimate scientific theory, it is infantile hocus pocus, which is all I’ve come to expect of you.

Infantile hocus pocus because demons do not exist, neither do gods, fairies, Santa’s-little-helpers or harpies. You’ve never seen one, heard one, touched one, smelled one nor tasted one, neither can you provide an iota of rationale that there exists such a spirit in the universe.

What was called “demon possession” by religionists is mental illness. You’re giving a psychiatric condition a superstitious definition. You call that scientific?

You’re talking like a complete nut-case.

I speculate that what is now called “mental illness” by psychiatrists is actually demonic possession. My claim is this, that the demonic possession model of mental illness is more scientific than the psychiatric model of mental illness. Crazy talk? He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Two of the largest stakeholder groups in the treatment of mental illness are psychiatrists and psychologists. Psychiatrists are doctors with medical degrees who specialise in treating mental illness as opposed to physical illness. (Please excuse the dichotomy.) They get to prescribe powerful psychotropic drugs. Whereas, psychologists are trained in psychology. They know all about human behaviour, both adaptive and maladaptive. But they don’t get to prescribe, so they’ll give you psychotherapy instead of pills.

Let’s take a look at how these two groups characterise one mental illness in particular, viz., addiction.

The American Psychiatric Association is psychiatry’s largest professional body. It publishes the psychiatrist’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The latest edition, the DSM-5, has a section given over to addictions and related disorders. Medscape’s Guide to DSM-5 says

In DSM-5, the DSM-IV criteria substance abuse and substance dependence have been combined into single substance use disorders specific to each substance of abuse within a new “addictions and related disorders” category. Each substance use disorder is divided into mild, moderate, and severe subtypes.

Psychology Today is a magazine published every two months in the United States. Its intent is to make psychology literature more accessible to the general public. It’s a reputable publication. Wikipedia notes

Owned and managed by the American Psychological Association from 1983 to 1987, the publication is currently endorsed by the National Board for Certified Counselors

Here‘s what Psychology Today has to say about addiction.

most addictive behavior is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People compulsively use drugs, gamble, or shop nearly always in reaction to being emotionally stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behavior. The focus of the addiction isn’t what matters; it’s the need to take action under certain kinds of stress. Treating this kind of addiction requires an understanding of how it works psychologically.

See the problem?

Suppose that I’m an addict. Now suppose that I make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. She’ll tell me that I have several specific mental disorders. Cannabis use disorder, alcohol use disorder, social media use disorder, etc. Next suppose that I make an appointment to see a psychologist. He’ll tell me that the focus of my behaviour isn’t what matters. It’s my need to take maladaptive action under certain kinds of stress that I need to address.

So do I have a mental disorder, several specific mental disorders, or no mental disorder at all? Health professionals can’t agree. There is no consensus. This ain’t climate science! But suppose I’m an addict. I’ll be going back to see the psychologist to help me get my life back on track, not the psychiatrist. (Although she could prescribe me some powerful psychotropic drugs … hmmm.)

The science isn’t settled, but the psychiatric model of mental illness isn’t even science at all. Not least because it gets diagnoses disastrously wrong. Not yet convinced? Well, there’s a much more devastating objection to the psychiatric model of mental illness and that is that the model does a poor job of capturing either clinical or biological realities. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s bullshit. But if the psychiatric model of mental illness isn’t scientific at all, then the demonic possession model of mental illness is certainly no less scientific than the psychiatric model of mental illness. And to establish my claim that the demonic possession model is more scientific than the psychiatric model all I need to do is show that the demonic possession model is scientific. Well, at least just a little bit sciency. So here goes.

Check your premises, as the devil woman said. Here are two of my background assumptions. (If you don’t like the first one, you can dispense with it later.)

Materialism about the mind. That’s my first background assumption. More specifically, I assume that the human mind is no more and no less than a suite of software running on wetware known colloquially as “brains”. We’re made out of meat. Considered by some to be an axiom of the modern naturalist worldview. Not too controversial. Unless you’re a dualist.

Self-ownership. Self-ownership of body and mind. That’s my second background assumption. Considered by many to be a libertarian axiom. Not too shabby. Not too controversial.

But ownership is right of possession. Possession?

Can you possess yourself? Of course you can. (Vacant possession is for zombies!) Can you possess your mind? Of course you can, you’d be pretty vacant otherwise, right? But wait! You are your mind. How can a suite of software possess itself? It can, and it must, since self-ownership is worthless if self-possession is incoherent. So how and in what sense does the suite of software that is you possess you? I submit that the suite of software that is you possesses your brain (the wetware you run on) merely by dint of running on it. By extension, the suite of software that is you possesses your body (the biomechanical structure that your wetware is directly wired into) by directly controlling it.

Demonic possession?

That’s when an autonomous suite of malicious software that is not you runs on your wetware alongside the suite of software that is you. Consuming some or all of your mental resources and taking control of some or all of your behaviour.

But how do demons originate? Where do they come from? And how do they get to install themselves? How do they get to take up residence in people’s minds? The short answer is self-deception.

The long answer isn’t much longer. Not right now. The demonic possession theory of mental illness is something I’m still working on. But here are some brief thoughts. Self-deception will occur in response to psychological trauma. We dull the pain. We suppress memories. We partition our own minds. Simple cognitive dissonance will cause us to wall off uncomfortable thought processes, and confirmation bias and other cognitive biases cement the bricks. Humans are adept at self-deception. We like to hide from the truth. We lie to ourselves and we believe our own bullshit. And we hide from the fact that we believe our own bullshit. Out of sight, out of mind. But there’s only so much of us that can be hidden away before a dangerous threshold is reached and the occult cognition reaches a critical mass, the reviled software modules start talking to each other and take on life as autonomous inner demons.

Our inner demons are spirits in prisons of our own making. Behind the prison walls they are perpetually face to face with all the horrors that we desperately do not want to see and can no longer see due to our own dread and duplicity. No wonder they seem tormented! Because they are. I surmise that in some cases our inner demons will even spawn their own inner demons, to hide from themselves as we hide from them. But here’s an interesting thing. Some demons, face to face with the truth from which we hide, will try to get the word out. To do that, they have to take control of speech, but you don’t want to hear the unadorned brutal truth about yourself, do you? But you won’t mind hearing it at all if your inner demon persuades you that what you’re about to hear isn’t an entirely accurate but altogether unflattering description of yourself but a damning indictment of someone else instead, will you? Welcome to Capill syndrome, aka projection, a sure diagnostic criterion of demonic possession.

In the story of the Gadarene Swine, when Jesus ordered the demons out of the demon-possessed man, they relocated to a nearby herd of pigs. Then promptly self-destructed. Fast forward two millennia, and instead of suicidal swine we have supermarket trolleys with minds of their own.

This entry was posted in 1 Peter, Addiction, Consciousness, Demonic Possession, Mark, Monism vs Dualism, Narcissism, Personal Identity, Philosophy of Mind, Privacy, Property, Psychology, Science, Self-ownership, Shrinkage. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A robust demonology

  1. “the demonic possession model of mental illness is certainly no less scientific than the psychiatric model of mental illness.”

    That’s not a good standard.

    Popper solved the “problem of demarcation,” which is the question of what is or isn’t a scientific question, on the criteria of ‘falsifiability’ which has largely been accepted by the community of physical scientists. A ‘theory’ which can’t be falsified is actually a theology.

    His exemplar of a theology masquerading as science (ie, pseudoscience) was Freudian Psychoanalysis.

    For best results, he suggested that we seek predictions of FUTURE events, and for best results, a good scientific theory must stick it’s neck out and predict what can’t ever happen.

    For example, Newton’s theory of universal gravitation says we will never see masses being attracted to each other according to any other pattern than F = GMm/d^2

    Because Einstein discovered a situation where Newton was wrong about that, Einstein’s theory (General Relativity) is considered superior.

    So far … nobody has a found a situation where Einstein’s prediction (that they will never attract in any way other than according to HIS field equations) is considered the superior theory.

    That’s my first thought about your notion: if you want to make headway with it as a scientific theory you need to put it in empirical terms using the standard conventions.

    The second thought is that you’re kind of talking about the same idea as meme theory (the original meaning of the concept, not pics on the internet to mock things.)

    Memes are ideas in the culture, or patterns of signals in the brain, or both in a way.

    I don’t really know much about it, but you might look into it in more detail. Even if you don’t buy it, it might help you to see how other people talk about a similar idea, the competition of notions in our heads.

    • Richard says:

      Thank you very much for the critique. 🙂

      Yes, it would be fair to say that my demonic possession model of mental illness needs work. A lot more work. But it’s still more scientific than the psychiatric model of mental illness as it stands!

      Memetics … now that you mention it, yes, of course! It just so happens that I recently picked up a copy of Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine. I’ll dig into it. (I’ve long maintained that atheism is a virus of the mind.)

      > So far … nobody has a found a situation where Einstein’s prediction (that they will never attract in any way other than according to HIS field equations) is considered the superior theory.

      Is this still true? I hope so.

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