psychology

Free will and dualism

immanuel-kant
I’ve been planning to write about free will for years but it’s never quite happened. I have, on more than one occasion, planned large scholarly articles….and then failed to write them. The form and content of those potential articles is probably lost forever, oh well. Free will is a huge subject, one of the most written about and argued about subjects in all of philosophy. That’s why every time I start planning to write about it the range of arguments I want to discuss quickly expands, the project becomes bloated, and I slink back to my day job as an evolutionary biologist. Well, maybe it’s because I’m currently between day jobs, but I figure if I don’t start by writing something short and sweet and posting it on my blog (which exists for this very purpose, after all) I might never write anything about it at all. I think that would be a shame (for me, at least), so here goes.

As one of the most popular and controversial subjects in philosophy, and one of those that people have the strongest intuitions about, it’s unsurprising a lot of arguments about free will are somewhat (dare I say it) incoherent. Actually, “incoherent” is a very common word utilised in these arguments themselves, typically directed by proponents of one view towards those of another. I’m going to continue this venerable tradition (mostly because it’s fun)  – there are plenty of incoherent arguments both for and against the existence of free will. If I keep writing about this subject, I might get around to reviewing many of them, but I’m going to start by putting some of my own cards on the table at the outset. I believe that Kant, who probably didn’t believe in free will in the metaphysical sense and who famously considered compatibilism (the claim that free will can exist in a deterministic universe) a “wretched subterfuge”, nonetheless refuted the majority of arguments against the existence of free will. This includes many modern arguments. When a philosopher who died in 1804 can be considered to have refuted arguments still being made in 2016, this is an example of what I like to call “proactive refutation”. How did he accomplish this? Simply by asserting that we “cannot act except under the idea of freedom”. For Kant, all actions (or inactions) result from choosing to act (or not to). This includes making the choice to believe that we have no free will – unless you have been somehow coerced (by another agent) into making this choice, you have made it freely.

There is, of course, a sizeable literature devoted to this claim of Kant’s, and there have been many attempts to refute it, but I think that most of them fail. This is going to be a short piece and I want to get to why I think denying the existence of free will is fundamentally dualistic, but before I do I better try to explain what (I think) Kant is on about. There are complicated arguments about coercion etc – e.g. when one is forced to do something is one free to do otherwise, and if not can one be said to be “acting” in the Kantian sense – but let’s leave those aside for now. I think the most important thing about what Kant is saying is that “freedom” and “autonomy of the will” are part of what Wilfrid Sellars calls “the manifest image”. This means that these concepts are part of the level of reality on which humans have evolved to act and on which (in one of Sellars’ examples) we perceive and interact with objects like tables rather than clouds of loosely interacting subatomic particles with a whole lot of empty space between them. Daniel Dennett has developed this line of argument in considerable detail, but the punch line is that arguments from physics (e.g. arguments about determinism) are irrelevant to discussions regarding the existence of free will. Now, most of the arguments from physics against the existence of free will are incoherent (told you!) anyway and wouldn’t demonstrate the non-existence of free will even if they were relevant, but they aren’t. They also aren’t really even arguments from physics, more like arguments from pseudophysics, but that line of argument can wait.

So, a striking majority of arguments against free will are refuted simply by a recognition of the fact that there are many “levels of description” when it comes to reality and that free will is relevant to (and exists on) only some of them. This simple argument takes care of a lot of modern arguments from neuroscience as well as those from physics, but I want to dwell on the former a little longer. To me it seems quite ironic that many people who deny the existence of free will on the basis of evidence from neuroscience accuse those who persist in believing in it of being closet dualists. For me quite the opposite is true  – not that those who deny free will based on neuroscience have a considered belief in dualism that they are hiding, but that their intuitions are guided by (vestigial) dualist notions.

Dan Dennett has caricatured these arguments as “my brain made me do it” and lamented the naïve (in his view) attempts at philosophy perpetrated by certain scientists who have advocated this position. I don’t always agree with Dennett (I’m sure he’ll be devastated to hear this), but I do wish that those who consistently lampoon his positions (“Dan doesn’t believe in consciousness!”) would actually take the time to understand them first. Another way of caricaturing the argument from neuroscience is as “the self is an illusion, therefore free will doesn’t exist”. This is incoherent (am I over doing it yet?). Sure, the self isn’t what it might naïvely appear to be (which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, or that it is acausal, but I won’t get into that) but acknowledging that simple fact and then using it to justify doing away with free will is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

If you are a monist, you are committed to the idea that everything is, at some deep level, made of the same stuff. This stuff might be vibrations, subatomic particles, atoms, whatever you want. To me, that’s all physicalism. It’s not “materialism”, because matter is not fundamental, but no matter (ha!) how far “down” you go it’s still physicalism (vibrations in fields are physical). Anyway, unless you are absurdly reductionist, you agree that there are entities at some range of levels above your chosen fundamental level. If you have any respect for biology, you acknowledge that at some number of levels above the fundamental you find entities like proteins, cells, and ultimately organisms. Which level is the “causal level”? The position people take on free will often hinges on their answer to this question. A very influential position of the past (famously illustrated by Laplace’s Demon, an intuition pump so potent it is still guiding people’s thoughts today) is that, since the only really real stuff is atoms moving in a void, the atom is the important level for causal analysis. Many neuroscientists seem to think that the cell (specifically the neuron, or perhaps the neuronal network) is the relevant level. The problem isn’t the preferred answer though, it’s the question. It’s meaningless (incoherent?). There is no level of causal primacy. There is no prime mover. This is taking the worst of theological thinking and the worst of reductionist thinking and mashing them together to create a Frankenstein’s Monster of an intuition pump that refuses to die. Forget that question forever if you want to be able to think clearly about the evolution of the universe, including the organisms present within it, all the way “up” to the level of the consciousness that at least some of those organisms possess.

If you don’t believe in free will, you are not just committed to a hard form of epiphenomenalism (the incoherent notion that consciousness is entirely acausal), you are also a (vestigial) dualist. Why? Because you are suggesting that the “you” which is your “self” is causally disconnected from the “you” that is your neurons (and all the rest of your physiology). What would that mean? If you are a physical monist, you must believe that the experience you are having, your sentience, awareness, meta-consciousness and self, is realised due to activity in your brain. You also can’t be an idealist (in the Berkeleyan sense) – you must believe there is an actual reality out there that your brain evolved to allow you to interact with. So, you believe that signals are coming in via your sense organs and ultimately are “transduced” into your awareness. All this is happening in your brain. Consciousness is just an (integrated) form of awareness (actually it’s an affordance-seeking predictive engine of awareness, but anyway). The “self” is something you are (or can be) aware of. So, do signals come in, get integrated and go into your awareness, but then find the neuronal blind alley in which meta-consciousness hides? Can signals go in to this blind alley but not come out? Is the neuronal substrate of your consciousness somehow causally isolated from the rest of your brain? Hmmmm, sounds a lot like vestigial dualism to me  – it’s a recasting of the “problem of interaction” that has long been used as an argument against dualism (how does the soul/consciousness “stuff” interact with the physical stuff?).

Okay, I’m going to stop there. I know I haven’t addressed a lot of arguments that people use to try and refute free will (e.g. some of those glossed over above, as well as arguments from phenomenology and more), but this is enough for now. Ultimately, a lot of the arguing about free will is arguing about the definition of the term itself. There are plenty of people, who I have a great deal of respect for, who are basically compatibilists but who nonetheless claim that there is no such thing as “free will”. I prefer to concentrate on the common ground in such cases, in so far as the real goal of discussion and debate is inching slightly closer to whatever truth of the matter might be accessible. However, arguing semantics can sometimes be very productive too, as long as all parties involved in the debate understand the level on which the debate is taking place. I myself am essentially a fallibilist and this means that I’m not all that attached to any particular way of saying things because ultimately they are all wrong. I’m not a relativist though, which means that some ways of saying things are more right than others, so now that I’ve made a start in my writings about free will you can expect to hear more from me on this subject in the future.

P.S. That’s Kant at the top. He’s on my side, really he is.

Sensory Deprivation

This is a dark short story about the origins of consciousness during the development of the brain. It’s probably not suitable for children….

sensory-deprivation

We wanted to investigate consciousness. How it’s formed. How the sense of self develops in response to environmental stimuli. It was science. The purest kind. Blue sky. A quest for knowledge, pure and simple. Was our research unethical? Many seem to think so. I’ll let you be the judge.

The first thing you need to know is that these babies were not going to be born otherwise. Their parents didn’t want them. We had an arrangement with several major abortion clinics. We met with the mothers, explained our research. Offered them good money. We never pressured anyone. Is it unethical to put a newborn baby into a sensory deprivation tank? I don’t know….well, maybe I know now but I didn’t know then. Anyway, I still don’t know if it’s more unethical than preventing them from being born at all. I mean…any life is better than no life right? That’s what the beefeaters say; I’m a vegetarian. Anyway, that’s not why I’m here you know? No one really cares about those babies. It’s the clones…

What? Fair enough. I’ll explain.

People want to know where it comes from. Consciousness. The self. Does the brain create it, or just “download” it? Is it something that forms in response to complex environmental and social cues or is it “out there”, waiting for a brain that can support it? A lot of people believe that. Like it’s the soul, immortal. The Eternal Oneness, or whatever.

So how do you test that? Well, one way is to keep brains isolated as they develop and see what happens. Simple. The best kind of science. But not so simple really….you need treatment groups, controls. Need to test the effect of genetics, different environments. You need a lot of brains, a lot of treatment groups. So…we got a lot of babies. It wasn’t hard. Nobody wants kids any more. Too expensive. Too restricting. Too much responsibility. Not that they want to stop making them of course. You tell me who’s unethical….

Well, sure, maybe they just haven’t worked out how it happens. Wouldn’t surprise me. It’s not as if they teach biology in schools any more….

Yeah, you’re right, I wouldn’t want to bring a child into this world either. Not after we’ve screwed it up so much. Damn it’s hot…you’d think they’d have air-conditioning in these cells…

Yeah, right. So we got a lot of bubs. All sorts of racial combinations, different social backgrounds. We divided them into treatment groups….

Well, you can’t have just one brain in each treatment group. Don’t you know anything about statistics? You need multiples. Replicates. So yeah, that’s where the clones came in. That’s why I’m here talking to you in a room with no windows…I guess that’s appropriate somehow. Sensory deprivation. Only my room reeks of piss and shit. My own, thank God. I don’t know how you

It’s an expression.

“Playing God,” they said. Whatever, we gave those clones an opportunity. We gave all our babies a shot at life.

Yeah, so some of them got no sensory input. Seven years floating in total silence, absolute darkness. Pitch black. Some of them had a little light, a little sound. All the way up to ones with full-blown family lives. AI families of course – they all had to be in the same tanks. Controlled environments. But for some of them we simulated touch, human contact, the whole shebang. There was a whole range of sensory treatment groups from nothing all the way up. A smooth range of variables. 30 points on the treatment curve, 12 different genetic and socioeconomic combinations at each point, one natural kid and two clones for each combo. 1080 kids. It was beautiful. The greatest experiment ever conducted on the origins of consciousness in the developing brain….

The results? How the fuck should I know!? Seven years mate. Seven. Years. We were just opening the first tanks when the boys in blue kicked down the doors. Farkin’ heroes. I don’t even know what they’ve done with my children. My babies…

Destroyed? And I’m the one in prison…

Stress and “Metastress”

stress

What exactly is stress? Stress is the body’s response to external stimuli – “stressors”. When we are stressed, our heart begins to beat faster, our hair stands on end and we feel a gnawing in the pit of our stomachs. All this is part of a typical fight or flight response mediated by the stress hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine.

We typically think of stress as something bad, but this is not necessarily the case as stress hormones are secreted in response to stimuli (stressors) that are extremely pleasurable as well as those that are painful or frightening. Indeed, as states of extreme excitement and states of extreme fear are physiologically almost indistinguishable, whether we interpret stress as good or bad maybe a largely psychological phenomenon.

Enter the concept of “metastress” – stress about stress. A study published in Health Psychology in 2012 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921/) suggests that the belief that stress is harming one’s health increases the risk of premature death relative to that posed by chronic stress alone. Indeed, those who reported high levels of stress but did not believe that stress impacted their health had an even lower chance of premature death than those who reported no significant stress.

There are plenty of studies linking stress with depression of the immune system and increased risk of diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and a number of other things none of us wish to suffer from. However, it may be that metastress is really to blame in all of these cases. This indicates that our psychological hangup regarding stress may be having a severe physiological impact on our body. This is an intriguing example of psychology influencing physiology; or is it physiology (stress) influencing psychology (metastress) and stimulating it to influence physiology? Physiology and psychology are remarkably hard to tease apart and the two seem to form an ouroboros in their influence on health.

So what’s the answer to this problem? Perhaps it is to accept that stress is a normal part of life and stop stressing about our stress.

Here’s a link to an article discussing the ways in which stress may in fact be beneficial to our health: http://ideas.ted.com/2014/07/16/7-ways-stress-does-your-mind-and-body-good/?utm_campaign=viralheat&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

Cogito ergo inconditus – this is not a political story. This is a story about the inevitability of being wrong. It is by me.

Ernst_the-entire-city

Cogito ergo inconditus – T.N.W. Jackson

Detective Tyndal gave final instructions to his colleague before sitting down opposite the ordinary man once more. They sat looking at each other across the bare metal table for a moment and Tyndal was irked by the man’s composure; his apparently unshakeable confidence that he had done the right thing. “What if you were mistaken in your judgement?” he asked.

“If I was mistaken, that will accord perfectly with my view that confusion is intrinsic to the human condition,” the man replied.

“I see, but will you regret your decision if it turns out that you were wrong?”

“No. It is pointless to regret a decision already made. If indeed I was mistaken, and I do not believe that I was, then I won’t waste my energy in futile autoflagellation. I’m human and therefore confused. Cogito ergo inconditus. If I accept my confusion as a natural and unavoidable consequence of my being human, what would be the use in getting upset about the inevitability of making wrong decisions?”

Tyndal grimaced – had this guy rehearsed his statement? He had enough on his plate without having to deal with smug philosophers. “Aha,” he grunted disinterestedly, pressing a button on his recording device. “OK on the record this time – why did you kill Mr James Whitney?”

“I killed him because I believed him to be a false prophet.”

“You say you ‘believed him to be’, does this mean you no longer believe that he is a false prophet?”

“I now believe the man to be dead, therefore I no longer believe him to be a false prophet. A dead man can not be a prophet, false or otherwise. I continue to believe that he was a false prophet.”

“Uh huh. Well what about Mohammed then? Or Buddha? They’re prophets aren’t they?” Tyndal didn’t really care to argue the point; he just didn’t like smug pricks.

“They, like Mr Whitney, are former prophets. They are, being dead, no longer entities of any kind. Their consciousness has been extinguished, their matter recycled. They have no independent existence outside the fantasies of their devotees.”

“Righto.” The detective rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. “Moving on, can you tell me in what way exactly Mr Whitney behaved, as you claim, as a ‘false prophet’?”

“Whitney was Grand Master of the PPC.”

“The PPC?”

“The Path to Pure Consciousness.”

Tyndal groaned inwardly and looked at his watch – 8:30 in the morning, he hadn’t even had breakfast yet. “The Path To Pure Consciousness,” it sounded like some sort of secret society. Not only was this guy a smug prick and a murderer, he was obviously a crackpot conspiracy theorist too. “The man owned an organic grocery store. He worked as its manager.”

“Indeed, but that was only his livelihood. His passion was the PPC.”

“What exactly is the agenda of this PPC, and what was Whitney’s role?”

“The PPC operates according to the CFP that…”

“CFP?”

“Chosen Fundamental Principle. Everyone has CFPs. When exposed to novel information, one weighs it up in relation to one’s CFPs. If the information is in accord with those principles, it is accepted as gospel; if it contradicts them it is simply disregarded – it does not exist and therefore can not threaten one’s CFPs.”

“Don’t you think that’s slightly cynical?”

“No.”

“I see. So what,” Tyndal checked his notepad, “are the CFPs of the PPC?” Have to talk to these people in their lingo if you want the facts.

“The PPC believes that ‘They’ are out to get us…”

“I’m sorry,” said the detective, interrupting again, “you say ‘They’?”

“Yes, ‘They’. Who ‘They’ are is in fact of less importance than the simple fact that ‘They’ exist. ‘They’ could be the Government, The Jesuits, The Jews, The Communists, The Reptiloids etc. Their identity is not important. They exist and They are out to get us. According to the PPC the primary motivator of ‘Them’ is to keep ‘Us’ dull and docile so that ‘They’ can continue to hold dominion over us. The reasons they desire dominion are not clear – it seems that dominion is an end unto itself.”

“So how do they keep us dull and docile?”

“Are you certain, detective, that you are ‘Us’ and not ‘Them’?”

“Er…”

“According to the PPC, They have various means at their disposal – adding fluoride to our drinking water; forcing ‘Us’ to vaccinate our children with toxic cocktails; proliferating the use of GMO; high altitude spraying of chemicals; disseminating fallacious prophecies regarding the climate and the environment in order to justify restrictions of our freedom and increasing taxation; saturating of the air with radio waves and microwaves which may be used to read or control our minds; and various other arcane methods of subjugation.”

“And you say Whitney was involved with this organisation?”

“Not involved, he was Grand Master.

“Aha, and what exactly does the ‘Path to Pure Consciousness’ propose to do about all these attempts to deprive us of our freewill?”

“Members of the PPC follow a strict diet – you gathered of course that Whitney’s store stocks only organic produce and nothing of animal origin. They are, it goes without saying, vegans, believing that meat eating is unethical and has been indoctrinated by “Them” as a way of undermining our ethical integrity and corroding our intellect. Of course they do not consume GMO foods – they eat only ‘organic’ products. They drink only bottled water without added fluoride. They do not vaccinate their children. In addition to maintaining their own ‘pure’ lifestyle, they orchestrate a massive awareness campaign on and offline against all of the aforementioned ‘control measures’.”

“So they tell people not to eat meat, drink water with fluoride or vaccinate their children?”

“Precisely. They have been instrumental in having fluoride removed from the drinking water in several major council areas and have convinced tens of thousands of parents not to vaccinate their children. They have masterminded the destruction of experimental GMO crops and have spearheaded a campaign against what they refer to as the Great Conspiracy of Anthropogenic Global Warming.”

“So they’re crackpots.”

“Influential crackpots. Thanks to them the rate of dental disease in some communities in this country rivals that of communities in the developing world. We are seeing the return of preventable diseases such as measles and mumps; diseases that were all but eradicated thanks to vaccination programs. Their influence has extended beyond our shores too – in the developing world they have set back research into potentially life-saving GMO crops. There is blood on their hands. They are also making it easier for governments to cut back “green tape” put in place to safeguard our natural resources and to mitigate the impacts of climate change. I sometimes wonder if they’re not in the pocket of Big Industry themselves!” The man was clearly becoming excited; his face was ruddy and a sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead.

Detective Tyndal was slightly amused at the fervour of the man sitting opposite him – fanatics were all the same as far as he concerned, he didn’t much care what side of the coin they favoured. “So you took it upon yourself to put a stop to all this by killing their leader?”

“They had to be stopped. Whitney wasn’t just a leader; he was the figurehead of their entire movement. These people are essentially sheep, they need someone to follow – do away with the leader and the organisation will dissolve.”

“Did you try reasoning with him?”

“There is no reasoning with these people! Their CFPs are invulnerable, impervious to all the logic and evidence in the world. It had to be done. I did it for the good of humanity, for the good of the planet itself! I did it to protect Us from Them.”

“I see. Excuse me one moment please.” The detective got up and left the room. The man composed himself and sat back in the uncomfortable plastic chair, luxuriating once more in the knowledge that he had done the right thing. He was certain a colleague had come to tell the detective that they’d found the body just as he’d described it. Of course he would be charged with murder and would spend an extended period of time behind bars but at least he knew he had made a difference. The world was a better place for his actions and how many people could honestly say that? He imagined that his cell would be similar to the interview room in which he currently sat. The walls were unpainted cement, with no windows, and the floor was bare save for the small metal table and two plastic chairs. In one corner, near the ceiling, the eye of a small video camera regarded him impassively and the LED light indicating that he was being filmed glowed a warm and pleasing red. In his cell, he thought, he would have a bed and a toilet and no doubt he could decorate the walls with prints of his favourite works of art. He would hang a large print of Picasso’s Guernica on one wall and decorate another with smaller prints of his favourite Dali, Chagall and Ernst paintings. Definitely Ernst. Perhaps some of those creepy nocturnal landscapes that he painted. Landscapes would be nice actually – they’d make the room seem bigger. Maybe some Impressionist works too. Ah yes, prison wouldn’t be so bad. He smiled at the camera. They’d have a library too; think of all the reading he could catch up on! The door opened, interrupting his reverie, and the detective re-entered the room. He sat down opposite the man and placed a manila folder on the table.

“Did you find the body?” The man asked cheerily, still feeling flushed with pleasure from his fantasy of incarceration.

“We’ll get to that. Tell me again, please, how you killed Mr Whitney.”

“Ah yes. Well, I had been observing him for some time and had go to know his routines. He was a creature of habit you see. As for myself I feel that excessive adherence to routine is evidence of a weak mind and is easily exploited by one’s enemies. I have read many texts on the Art Of The Ninja and familiarisation with the target’s routine is a key stage in planning a clean kill.”

“Is that so?” Tyndal raised his eyebrows accommodatingly.

“Quite so. Each morning before opening the store Whitney would pick up fresh stock from the market place on Bunberry Lane and then stack the shelves in the front of the store and do a small stocktake to ensure adequate supplies of all products were available for the day’s business of purveying his wares to unwashed anarchists.” He gave Tyndal a knowing wink, but the detective did not smile. “During this stocktake he would spend some time in the storeroom behind the main shop, away from any prying eyes that might look through the window before he opened his doors to the public. He himself was not concerned about prying eyes of course, but for my purposes their absence was critical.”

“Of course.”

“I knew that this was where I must strike. So this morning I simply let myself in to the store when he was out the back, crept up on him from behind and slipped a garrotte around his throat. I pulled the noose tight and tied the end of the cord around a pipe that runs along the ceiling of the room. I watched him hang there kicking and gurgling until he ceased moving and I was sure he had expired. As I fully intended to confess I did not attempt to conceal the body or hide the evidence of my crime but marched straight here to the police station and placed myself in your custody. Did you not find the body as I described it?”

“No, there was no body in the back room. Indeed there was nobody, dead or alive, in the store at all. There were several customers, recently showered customers, waiting out the front for the doors to open. These customers told my colleague that it was most unusual for the store to remain closed at this hour. Inside, the lights were off. There was, apparently, some evidence of a struggle in the back room, some boxes were upset and bottles of fluoride free water had spilled across the floor. But: no body. You’re quite sure he was dead?”

“Quite sure. I checked his pulse. The man was no more!”

“There’s no chance that you were mistaken?”

“Detective there is always a chance that one is mistaken, but no, in this case, I am as certain as certain can be.”

“Quite so.” The detective was enjoying the interviewee’s increasing discomfort. “Would you take a look at this photo for me?” He opened the manila folder and withdrew an A4 sheet of paper with the face of an ordinary man printed on it. “Can you identify the man in this picture?”

“Certainly. That is a picture of Mr James Whitney, former owner/manager of Organic Produce For Life and former Grand Master of the PPC, now deceased.”

“Thank you. Excuse me for a moment please.” The detective got up and left the room and once more the man found himself alone with his thoughts. He wondered what could possibly have happened to Whitney’s body. Perhaps some meddling member of the PPC had come by and cut him down, taken his cadaver away to anoint and preserve in some sort of occult vegan ceremony. No matter, the man was dead; the state and whereabouts of his body were of no more consequence than the state and whereabouts of a sack of potatoes. Less consequence, in fact – a human body was nothing but a lump of useless meat whereas a sack of potatoes could feed a family for a week. Ho hum. Where had the detective gone? Nice man. It was high time for this matter to be resolved, however, so that he could get off to prison and get stuck into some serious reading. Perhaps they’ll have that new translation of Dante in the prison library. The door opened and the detective walked in carrying a small mirror with a plain black frame.

“Please have a look at this mirror sir.” The man obliged and saw his own, now slightly nonplussed, countenance looking back at him.

“Can you identify the man you see?”

“Can I identify myself? Are we playing games now detective? I’m not a dog; I’m quite capable of identifying my own reflection,” he snapped, beginning to get rankled.

“I see. Please have another look at this picture, which you have identified as a picture of Mr James Whitney, the man you say is the former Grand Master of the PPC.” The detective placed the printed photograph alongside the mirror.

“Yes, that’s Whitney, what’s your point?”

“Please look at the mirror once again sir.”

“What are you playing at…” glancing back and forth between the mirror and the photograph the man suddenly felt rather odd.

“I…..but……is this your idea of a joke detective?”

“Not at all, I assure you that I don’t have a sense of humour. Please tell me what you see, Mr Whitney.”

“I’m not Whitney you damned fool!” The man stood up suddenly, knocking his chair over. His face was distorted and his breathing had suddenly become ragged, “I….I….I…..I…..” He stammered.

“Yes Mr Whitney: you.” The man gave a strangled sob and fell to the ground, curling into the foetal position and whimpering. Tyndal smirked and made a thumbs up signal towards the camera. The door opened and a woman in a white coat entered.

“Mr Whitney, I’m a psychiatrist, my name is Dr Pendleton,” she said in a soothing voice. “I’d like to have a little chat with you, if that’s alright.”

Dr Pendleton’s diary, January 16th 2015.

Patient 0246, a Mr Whitney, suffers from acute personality disorder. Having devoted his life to the exposure of certain conspiracies he suffered a major psychotic break when confronted with certain irrefutable evidence that the very “truths” he stood for were in fact falsehoods. Why this particular piece of evidence was so damning when his “Chosen Fundamental Principles” (the patient’s term) had weathered the storm of so much similarly robust evidence in the past is unknown. Very likely the final piece of evidence was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Disturbingly, this is already the fourth such case I have seen this year and many other mental health professionals have reported patients with similar pathologies. It may be that, as we enter The Age of Dunning-Kruger, cases such as that of the unfortunate Mr Whitney will become increasingly common.

(The painting at the top of the page is Max Ernst’s The Entire City)