On bullshit, psychics and prayer

So, loaded question here and one I’ve always resisted asking on this blog: where do you stand on religion, alternative medicine and other such spiky subjects?

I wrote this on my other blog (which I forgot existed, whoops) and am reposting it here. It explains my stance on such matters.

I’d marry James Randi, if he weren’t such a funny colour. He’s had the skin of a cadaver since he was born. ¬†The reason he grew that beard was to discourage people poking him on the chin to see if he moved.

He’s also gay, three times older than me and about a thousand times more clever than me.

Here he is in an exquisite takedown of Uri Geller and Peter Popoff:

And in a lovely lecture:

I’m a skeptic. I’m an atheist. I often tone down my opinions on such things in polite company, just as I try not to rant about atheism into the face of theists. I especially toned it down on my other blog, leaving nary but one huge rant and a few subtle links in the sidebar to give me away. ¬†It was mostly to avoid showdowns with people who had mental health problems who felt they were helped by such things. ¬†I have no right, and no interest, in doing anything to despoil that. ¬†Even if every other day I received emails- ranging from well meaning to what the fuck- exhorting me to turn to god to be healed, or have I tried this homeopathic remedy? ¬†It’s water, but, y’know. ¬†Or the seminal: DIET AND EXERCISE! FRESH FRUIT! EAT IT! EAT NOTHING BUT! I couldn’t be arsed in the end.

For the record, I think psychics, dowsers, fortune tellers, faith healers, aura readers and their ilk are all either deluded or charlatans. Continue reading

I had this dream in which I was repeatedly slapping someone called Christina in the face- what does it all mean?

(Christina has responded- see comments for what she says)

I’m, ahem, mildly critical of New Age-y pseudoscience. ¬†It depresses me that “experts” like Gillian McKeith find their way onto our TV screens and peddle their non-science to the masses. ¬†And today something came to my attention that I found hilarious. ¬†But first…

It might have slipped your attention but I write a blog about living with severe mental illness and as your humble narrator, I’ve received hundreds of well intentioned e-mails offering me “the cure” (and often, for a price). ¬†They’ve ranged from the sensible but misguided like DIET and EXERCISE, the vaguely credible scientific sounding Neurolinguistic Programming and to the downright trying to stifle a guffaw bollocks, such as ¬†exposing myself to “midday sun” (but not early morning sun, apparently, this is bad, though it was never explained why. ¬†Maybe the planets would realign, or, just maybe I’d spontaneously combust. ¬†And what do they mean by “exposing myself”? ¬†Do they want me to get my arse out? ¬†I know I’m pale, don’t rub it in.). ¬†I’ve also been asked to try out various homeopathic remedies at a “reduced cost”. ¬†Well, don’t I feel special.

New Age pseudoscience is basically nothing tied up in vaguely scientific terminology. ¬†Homoepathic remedies, for example, are concerned with treating “like with like” and are sold in bottles that look like they came on prescription.

The remedies undergo “Serial dilution”:

Serial dilution is one of the core foundational practices of¬†homeopathy, with “succussion“, or shaking, occurring between each dilution. In homeopathy, serial dilutions (called potentisation) are often taken so far that by the time the last dilution is completed, no molecules of the original substance are likely to remain.

…meaning that by the time they’re sold, they are water. But it retains the, er, “memory” of the original substance.

However, some alternative medicines (so called because they’re not proven, had they been, and if they become so, they’ll just be medicine) and New Age remedies are slightly more credible than others. ¬†And there are some that make you want to punch the monitor.

Take “expert” Christina Sponias who thinks that we can CURE! mental illness by the “scientific method” of analysing our dreams. ¬†She says she is continuing Carl Jung’s work (and indeed says she is better than him) but seems only to have condensed his extremely wide reaching and complex theories and philosphies into fodder. ¬†She has a free e-book called: Battling Depression and Craziness. ¬† All of which certainly make for interesting reading, and I truly mean that.

She’s a font of knowledge, I mean, here’s what she has to say about schizophrenia (which Mental Nurse has already touched on):

Schizophrenia is the total invasion of the content of the wild conscience of the human being, into the conscious field. This means that the person is dominated by another personality: their primitive self, which is violent, immoral and cruel like a wild animal.

The unconscious mind shows them in their dreams all their mistakes, and they understand that they are responsible for their misfortune. This comprehension eliminates their hate for their enemies.

A schizophrenic patient is totally insensitive, and this is why he is very cruel and violent, without feeling the pain he is provoking to the others. He is totally disconnected with the external reality.

This is the result of the domination of his wild personality and the only possible psychotherapy for him is the elimination of the anti-conscience that dominates this brain and psyche completely. It has to be transformed into human, so that the person may find peace and mental health.

This is a very arduous process after the destruction of the human side of the human conscience. This is why we must prevent craziness and never let any human being become schizophrenic.

Schizophrenia is the worse existent mental illness…

However, the scientific method of dream interpretation can help schizophrenic patients eliminate the monster that dominates them, and acquire a human personality, even though they cannot recuperate their destroyed human conscience.

EH WHAT.

I’m going to hand that out to my schizophrenic and schizoaffective WILD ANIMAL friends.

Firstly, she starts out on the basic, common ignorance that schizophrenia is a “split personality” (or, this could be metaphorical, but I very much doubt she has a basic grasp on it anyway). ¬†Most people I’ve ever met have thought this, and here it is, being peddled by an “expert” who claims to be a psychotherapist! ¬†Schizophrenia means “split mind”, but that’s not “split personality”.

Secondly, has this woman even met someone with schizophrenia?  How dare she make value judgments on their being such as: cruel, violent, insensitive.  These are judgments, they are not symptoms.

This crap just promotes the staggering ignorant assumption that people with schizophrenia are dangerous. ¬†About 1% of all violent crime is committed by someone with schizophrenia- and that’s just incidental, like you’d say 40% of crimes were committed by people with a car. ¬†Many people with schizophrenia, like other mental illnesses, are suicidal, not homicidal, and not violent. ¬†And the “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia trouble people as much, or more than, the psychotic symptoms (of which are not confined to schizophrenia).

And schizophrenia isn’t the worst mental illness. ¬†There is no worst mental illness. ¬†All of them affect people differently. ¬†I hate this cloak and dagger business of schizophrenia being the “cancer” of mental illness. ¬†That it’s hopeless. ¬†It’s not, it’s just a frigging mental illness like manic depression is. People with mental illness are just sodding PEOPLE. And mental illness is an illness like others, at least that’s my “from reading and goddamn a lot of experience” opinion. ¬†And as for the use of craziness, that’s one for our personal relationships and us crazies to use, not for quacks to use in regards to people with mental illness.

If you were feeling left out, she has some theories on bipolar disorder, too:

If you suffer from bipolar disorder this means that you are frequently dominated by the wild side of your brain and psyche, which pretends to belong to your human conscience, but is in fact a violent animal, without human feelings, that tries to mislead you.

Really?  Which are you talking about, mania or depression?

What does it mean to be dominated by the wild side of your conscience? The anti-conscience (wild side of your conscience) is a true demon and it invades the human side of your conscience through absurd ideas, feelings and sensations. If you pay attention to them, the demon becomes stronger and you gradually start losing the notion of what you are doing. You forget your moral principles, nothing has any meaning for you, you accept immorality… you gradually forget who you are.

Ah, mania then. What exactly is immorality?  Are we making value judgements again, missus?

When you are bipolar this means that the anti-conscience frequently invades the human side of your conscience, constantly sending you absurd ideas, feelings and sensations, or even a strange intuition.

However, this domination doesn’t last too long, and when you recuperate your human conscience, you cannot understand how you could have behaved the way you did.

Right, stop nodding at the back like I know some of you are.  This is sub par metaphorical wanking, not scientific theory.

How do I fix myself?  Oh please dear god, tell me how!

You need the protection of the unconscious mind that sends you wise messages in dreams with guidance, which works like psychotherapy.

Eh? What?

Your bipolar disorder will disappear completely as you will learn how to develop your intelligence and personality, transforming the wild content into human.

Wild content? ¬†Look, my dreams consist of zombies, and, for some reason recently, the new Elbow album which I haven’t even heard. ¬†What does it all mean?

Anyway!  After her profound misunderstanding of mental illness and the brain in general, we get to her methods:

Accurate dream interpretation using the proven scientific method provides a cure for depression, craziness and suicidal tendencies. The successful interpretation of each dream begins with reading the dream and understanding something about the dreamer’s life.

Let’s look at that again.

proven scientific method

Where?  Show me the data!

We must pay attention to the dream messages and learn the scientific method of dream interpretation so that we can overcome the primitive behavior of the wild anti-conscience and continue to evolve as humans. If we give in to our primitive instincts, our behavior devolves until we behave like wild animals, with cold indifference to human suffering, and prone to depression, and despair. (edit from Seaneen: in my experience: and this is anecdotal, too, people with experience of mental illness are more compassionate than your average).

Dream interpretation using the scientific method is based on translating the meaning of your dreams and dream symbols into words over a period of time. Dreams follow a logical sequence and provide information and advice gradually, so it is necessary to follow the messages over a period of time if you want to learn all the lessons they contain.

WHAT.

Remember what I said about New Age stuff? ¬†That it’s nothing wrapped up in vaguely scientific terms? ¬†Yeah.

This isn’t about the subsconsious or symbolism in dreams. ¬†I think our dreams are very interesting. ¬†What annoys me is that it’s all about a cure and the cure involves- well, nothing to do with the actual mechanics of the mind. ¬†She also specifies that when you submit a dream:

1. Your biography is very important. Write down the most important things about you and your life.

So, say you leave the detail out of your biography that you have schizophrenia. ¬†Do you think she’s going to give you “the cure”? ¬†All the details you provide can easily be slotted around anything you say about your dream to seem meaningful, when really it isn’t.¬† It’s cold reading.¬† Or in this case, hot reading.

Her interpretations are irresponsible too.  She starts with:

When we interpret a dream we don’t have to explain to the dreamer why we took these conclusions.

So that basically means, like it or lump it, I am right because your dreams told me so.

I go from one point to the other but I forget my purse somewhere in the way and I cannot find it. While I was looking for my purse, I meet an old friend, who had also lost something, but I don’t remember what it was.
We go together to a place like a jungle, and many snakes appear from everywhere. I think we won’t be able to escape. At this point, I wake up.
Biography: I‚Äôm a girl 18 ‚Äď 20 years old and I feel insecure many times. I have a boyfriend, but I‚Äôm not so happy. He is always with is friends or always busy doing something. I feel alone.

Dream Interpretation:

You are in danger because another guy may induce you to betray your boyfriend, and steal you from him. Another part of your personality is too inconsequent, besides your human conscience. This means that you don’t understand the danger you are in.
It is obvious that if you are not happy with your relationship, at certain point someone else will appear in your life, to fill the emptiness.
Be careful and define your position: if you are not happy, don’t insist on this relationship, otherwise you’ll have to face many other unexpected problems, that will cost you too much, even though in the end you’ll learn a lot with everything, becoming more mature.
Be intelligent and separate this guy who doesn’t really love you. Stay alone until you’ll find someone you’ll really love and who will really love you. There is no meaning on living with someone who doesn’t care for you and become a sinner because you’ll betray him in the end…

This is just Agony Aunting from the biography. ¬†Nothing to do with dreams. ¬†There is no “scientific method”.

But hey, it’s apparently really successful.

Everyone finds health, happiness and wisdom following this method, without exceptions.

Unless:

Only if you don’t care for your dreams will you not see any positive results.

Oh.

So if it doesn’t work, that’s your fault.

And what exactly is your “anti-conscience”? ¬†It sounds like a euphemism for your evil twin.

Here’s me and my “human conscience” today, with Little Ted. ¬†As you can see, we’re deeply in love.

I look like an idiot but Little Ted is HOT.

..and then…

OH NO!  LOOK WHAT MY ANTI-CONSCIENCE MADE ME DO TO LITTLE TED!

Why do I care about this random guff on the internet and this random person who charges for her services?

Well, quite apart from her absolutely infuriating misunderstanding and phenomonal prejudice of and against mental illness, it’s that people like this are becoming the new “Experts”. ¬†She’s an extreme case of groundless quackery but just check out the world around you in which science is losing its credibility and we have endless programmes such as shite like, “The Baby Mind Reader”, holistic non-doctor McKeith in her white coat, lifestyle programmes that tell us that for well being we should align our furniture in a certain way and reiki available on the NHS when there’s a year waiting list for therapy (and therapy should be bloody mandatory for anyone with a severe mental illness, or at least should always be offered). ¬†Science is not perfect but it exists to disprove and prove. ¬†And its reputation is receding.

In terms of mental wellness, i.e just keeping yourself ticking over happily, or mild forms of some disorders, I say, do what you like.  Things like good diet, being active, socialising, hobbies, meditation and so on are all good.

As complimentary therapy, I don’t care and think live and let live (and I know that in itself, the more personalised approach that non-medical treatment has is enormously helpful to some people) but never say that your methods will cure someone of something when you have no concept of how someone even experiences it.

Mental illness is one of the worst of things to be afflicted by. It is isolating. ¬†It is misunderstood. ¬†And instead of moving into the direction of, “Hey, well, that might suck”, New Age crap like this (and it is an extreme case of it) pushes the theory of, “It’s your fault. ¬†It’s you as a person that is bad and that’s why you’re like this and we can cure you. ¬†If you pay me”. ¬†Proposing a cure for anything without scientific basis is irresponsible.

In terms of mental illness and medical treatment, well, there’s the battleground. ¬†Some drugs are apparently no better than placebo (see reactive depression and antidepressants). Some drugs should not be prescribed at all. Some work.¬†Psychotic illnesses react well to antipsychotics. ¬†They “work” in the sense that they help kill psychosis- the sociological aspect of that is something I’m not getting into.

But medical treatment for mental illness can be painful because of the hardcore aspect of the drugs. ¬†In short: the side effects suck and something pissing about with your mind and motivation can be distressing as hell, take that from me.¬†And mental illness is of the mind- no, the brain, which is an organ, too. ¬†But unquantifiable. ¬†So we can be sold anything and in desperation we can try anything, because there is no stick or thermometer to tell us if we’re better or not. ¬†And we can be told that what is going on with us isn’t real in the first place (although to me, “real” just means “really affecting you, therefore if you want help with it, you should be offered it without judgment).

I think that this rise of Pseudoscience is dangerous and damaging. ¬†It relies on anecdotal evidence and is a growing, prosperous industry and that in itself is giving it unwarranted credibility. ¬†In some cases it exploits people’s desperation. ¬†And I don’t think that psychiatry or even science has all the answers but it is an arena that questions rather than anecdotally accepts. ¬†I’d rather push forward in that direction of research into things that are working or work better than most than go backwards into the direction of New Age pseudoscience that says it should work because… well, it should. ¬†Stick it up your chakras.

(Incidentally, Christina responded with exactly what I would have expected: you cannot see the truth, so you are wrong and I am right.  Read more here.).

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