Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?

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Question9

During the Twentieth Century psychiatry divided human personalities up into Ids, egos, super-ego’s and psyches. This was where psychosis supposedly occurred. These abnormal entities sometimes harbored naughty thoughts and kept them secret from the conscious self – thus destroying sanity. But if a psychiatric patient lay on a couch and talked, and a licensed therapist listened, the subconscious might be tricked into revealing itself. Once enticed out into the open by a therapist, the subconscious supposedly lost its destructive power, and the patient became normal. Understanding of psyches would be beyond the capabilities of most of us, and depending upon the expertise of the therapist manipulating them, the treatment could be very expensive. I felt fortunate to be less ruled by my subconscious than most people. On the other hand, a measure of neurosis, or at least some conflict, is probably essential for understanding art and poetry, talents of which I confess a dismal lack. Whenever I see lines arranged on a page like poetry, I sense immediately that I won't understand them, and I rarely do. Poetry is rife with symbolism, and symbolic meanings sometimes elude me. I recently heard of a book, The Asperger Dictionary of Everyday Expressions. Apparently Asperger people, (said to be a mild form of autism) have trouble understanding metaphors. I can usually figure out their meanings, but I often fail to appreciate their beauty. I can’t resist wondering why poets don‘t just say what they mean instead of concealing it in all that symbolism. But while an inability to appreciate esoteric verse should be no cause for pride, I hardly regarded it as pathological. I was convinced I was “normal” even if I seemed to lack much of a subconscious.

I remembered the excitement with which I left Ukiah at the age of eighteen and boarded a Greyhound bus for the university. There was a place at the University of California for any high school graduate with B average grades. Tuition was a mere twenty-six dollars a semester. Today’s cost of education, with the horrendous burden of student loans, might have caused me to take it all more seriously, but at that time working one’s way through college was an easy, carefree adventure.

A friend had arranged for me to spend one night with her aunt in San Francisco. In possession of fifty dollars, which I'd saved, and carrying a suitcase full of my belongings, I arrived in Berkeley early the next morning. Before registering, I located the campus employment office, where in exchange for room and board, I obtained a job helping with the children and household chores in the home of a professor. To my dismay the job didn't start until the next day. As I signed up for classes, I pondered the problem of where to spend that night. I'd never spent a night in a hotel. In fact, I was under the impression there was something unsavory about them. People made whispered comments about a woman in Ukiah who hung around the hotel. I was reluctant to take the ferry back to San Francisco for another night with the friend's aunt. A student adviser was assigned to each enrolling freshman, and I discussed my problem with her. She was probably puzzled by my aversion to hotels. Maybe she thought I didn't have any money, (I actually had what remained of that fifty dollars in my purse – more money than I’d ever had in my possession at one time!) but she offered me the bed of her roommate, who wasn't expected until the next day. We didn't inform the housemother. The roommate arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night. The housemother was exasperated to find an uninvited guest. Muttering to herself, she gave me a pillow and blanket and allowed me to sleep on a couch. It was an unsatisfactory beginning for my glorious adventure, but at least I didn't have to brave the mysterious dangers of a hotel. The next day I moved into the professor's home. After paying tuition, I blew the rest of my fifty dollars on clothes, acquiring a pair of shoes with heels so high I could barely keep my balance.

My first months in Berkeley were a euphoric haze of blissful excitement. During my childhood I'd wished my family were more like those described in movies and magazines. Now suddenly my parents were far away, and no one gave any thought to my family. I made my first friend because my name was Starke and hers was Stahl. Seated alphabetically in freshman classes, (presumably to help the professor remember our names) I helped Kay Stahl with math. The similar spelling of our names was the beginning of a friendship which would last the rest of our lives. Soon we met Alice, a spunky orphan who had been earning her own living while still high school. Then Phyllis joined us. We all lacked sophistication, even for our ages, but we shared a sense of humor and enthusiasm for new experiences.

During my second year in college, the four of us squeezed our few possessions into a tiny studio apartment, all of us sleeping on couches in one room. We supported ourselves on about six dollars a week by working as waitresses and theater usherettes. We ate canned tuna, peanut butter and fresh vegetables, food that cost only pennies in those days. Coca Cola cost a dime, so we drank water. But so did most people during The Depression. Kay owned a beautiful, black velvet dress that we all borrowed for special dates. We were usually able to scrape up a quarter for an occasional hot fudge sundae or a trip to San Francisco on the ferry. The only credit available was a department store that allowed us to buy some clothes and pay for them at fifty cents a week. The clothes wore out before those accounts were paid off, leaving me with a life-long aversion to credit. We learned to live on whatever cash we could earn. We once decided to discover what it felt like to get drunk. We bought ale and whiskey and came back to our apartment and sat down and drank it. It felt awful. We all ended up sick in the bathroom.

I chose math as my major because it was easy. One doesn't have to spend time and effort memorizing anything for math; you just solve the equations. My thinking ran along analytical lines, and an understanding of people did not come easy to me. Today people are no longer such a mystery, and I think most of that insight was achieved from books. Reading is certainly one way to compensate for a lack of intuitive understanding of people. That’s what books are, accounts of what other people think. One summer while still in high school, I decided to read every volume in the Ukiah library - alphabetically. I finished the A's and B's, which included Jane Austin and Louisa May Alcott, but the C's turned out to contain some pretty weird tales, and I abandoned the project. However when I started college I was still barely aware of my own feelings or beliefs, much less what went on in other people's heads. As a result, I was sometimes shy around strangers. Shy does not necessarily mean faint-hearted. I determinedly confronted new situations, and approached strangers, even when trembling with nervousness. Curiosity attracted us to the foreign students at the university, but we also made friends with cooks, waitresses, fire-fighters and baseball players. We worked and attended classes, but we also found time to swim, ice skate, ride horse-back, go camping and attend parties and dances. We stayed up all night with anyone willing to talk, trying to discuss our newly-found world of ideas. For me fun, and the discovery of this big exciting universe, took precedence over the pursuit of a career.

I became disenchanted with math when I took a course in which we solved equations on an imaginary plane where parallel lines meet at infinity. The equations weren't difficult, but I kept asking the professor why anyone would do such a thing. Any solution achieved on an imaginary plane at infinity was itself imaginary. Of what value was it? The math professor, a Chinese gentleman who spoke less-than-perfect English, was never able to give me a satisfactory answer. I began to wonder what one might actually do after becoming a mathematician - other than teach, which didn't appeal to me. (I never enjoyed telling other people what to do, and imposing one‘s will upon children is an essential talent for a teacher.) I consulted a counselor, who suggested mathematicians might be statisticians, but she neglected to explain exactly what statisticians did. I changed my major to art. My drawing skills were adequate, and while I never really understood art, I felt empathy for the spontaneous, nonconformist attitudes of most artists. Then, I switched majors again and began studying architecture, where my math and spatial-relations talents came in handy.

I was the only girl in most of my architecture classes, although there were a couple of other girls enrolled in the school of architecture. Architecture students and professors were a liberal bunch and they seemed to feel no prejudice against female architects. However we were required to take a few engineering courses, and not all engineering professors were as tolerant. Proudly acknowledging the name Stinky Davis, one engineering professor made it clear that he resented girls in his classes. At the end of the hour, he would sometimes ask me to leave the lecture hall early so he could tell a few dirty jokes. The boy next to me fell asleep in class. Stinky threw an eraser at him and hit me. Today women would never put up with such harassment, but that was a different time. Women had only been able to vote since 1920, the year I was born. The engineering professor may have been correct in one respect though; I wasn't as serious about a career as the boys were. Other than some vague idea of yearning for adventure, I really had no idea of what I wanted to do with my life.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the war started, I quit school and went to work in the drafting department at a shipyard. There, besides indulging in my fondness for pranks and jokes, I tried to interest friends in buying a sailboat together and sailing off to the South Seas when the war ended. Some of my fellow workers pretended an interest, but I was probably the only one serious about such adventure. I was a good draftsman and was promoted, but “leader” was not a role I coveted, and I didn't enjoy supervising my fellow workers. Kay and Phyllis had married Turkish architecture students and were making plans to go live in Turkey. Alice had also married. All the boys I knew were going into the service. Everyone but me seemed to be going somewhere. Whatever my future might turn out to be, this damned war seemed to have brought it to a grinding halt. Finally I saved enough money for a ticket on a ship bound for Alaska, about the only place one could go during wartime.

Alaska was pristine and beautiful - mysterious fiords, placid little lakes and steep mountains covered with trees down to the water's edge. In Sitka I got a job in a music&variety store and rented a cabin. The cabin wasn't much more than a tar paper shack, but it was up a lovely green canyon, reached from town by a boardwalk. An oil cook stove burned constantly to keep it warm. I liked the Alaskan people. They drank a lot. Sitka had thirteen bars and only one grocery store. Most Alaskans were also hard working, adventurous and exuberant. Self-reliant and fun loving, they had tolerant attitudes and uninhibited lifestyles not acceptable in the States until years later. Many Alaskans had come from somewhere else, some giving up traditional careers. An attorney, for instance, had traveled up the Inland Passage in a canoe, with his wife, and set up a business repairing boat motors.

For most of my twenty-four years I'd yearned to fall in love, but I had almost despaired of finding a man I wanted to marry. Oh, I'd always developed passionate crushes. In fact I’d spent most of my life “in love” with someone - public figures, such as Bing Crosby or some unsuspecting classmate. One of the first objects of my affection, a little eight-year-old boy who sat near me in third-grade seemed alarmed by my romantic interest. I decided it might be prudent to keep my fantasies to myself. My passion was fickle though, and after falling out of love so many times, I wondered if I was ever going to find whatever I was seeking. (One of my most enduring fantasy heroes was Tarzan. I suppose he never talked enough to disillusion me.) My day dreams were never about settling down with a house and children. I was looking for something unusual in a husband, but exactly what I was seeking remained vague.

And then it happened.

Ike was in the Army and stationed in Sitka. He came into the store where I worked and bought all my favorite phonograph records. Then he invited me to the Army post to listen to them. His thirst for adventure seemed to equal mine, and from the moment I met Ike, I somehow never felt an urge to “play dumb“. Ike had an actual aversion to helpless women. He had been a newspaper reporter before the war and knew a lot about literature and poetry, things I was struggling to understand. Ike seemed willing to debate any subject, and he never appeared offended if I disagreed with him. I had always been fascinated by ideas. However I could never join a group or “movement” committed to a specific set of beliefs, for I always seemed to find something with which to disagree. Most people don't particularly enjoy controversy, and I'd learned to keep many of my thoughts to myself. But Ike and I could spent hours discussing ideas, and unorthodox concepts didn't seem to frighten or shock him. Sometimes after hours of debate, Ike would admit he'd actually agreed with me, and had only been arguing for fun. I respected Ike’s intelligence and independence, admired his character, and enjoyed his personality and his kindness. My attraction to Ike was more than intellectual though, and while still unable to define exactly what I had been looking for in a husband, I knew I'd finally found it. We were married after knowing each other only a few months.

In those days wives obeyed husbands. Ike was nine years older than I, and I'd promised to "love and obey" in the marriage ceremony. (Agnostics were accustomed to repeating meaningless words, and it wouldn’t have occurred to us to request a change in the wording of the marriage vows,) However the first time I asked Ike’s permission to do something, he laughed,

"Don't ask me what you can and can't do," he told me. "I'm your husband, not your father," enforcing my feeling of being a liberated woman.

Soon after we were married, we bought a thirty-foot boat some soldiers had put together in their spare time, and began commercial halibut fishing. Our engine was an old truck motor "found" somewhere on the Army post. Salt water corroded the cooling system, causing sudden streams of water to shoot into the air. A supply of corks stopped up such holes, making our engine look like it had warts. Our knowledge of boats was dangerously limited, but being young and fearless, we laughed about harrowing experiences. I suspect it was only luck that saved us from piling up on the rocks or being swept out to sea. Financially, the fishing venture was a failure. We would tie up at the dock next to big fishing boats unloading tons of halibut and place our few little fish on the huge scales. Fish liver, used to make fish liver oil, was sold separately. The weight of our livers was imperceptible on the big scales, but the workers on the dock would laugh and give us a few cents for them. We didn't make enough money to cover the costs of fuel and fishing gear, but both Ike and I cherished the experience.

  • -*-*

Homosexuality was still considered a mental illness just a few years ago. How do psychiatrists determine which behaviors are pathological and which are mere deviations from average? Actually, they do it by ballot. The psychiatric profession publishes a list (presently numbering 374) of mental illnesses in a “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. Psychiatrists add to, and delete from this list every few years by popular vote at their annual convention. Not long ago any woman who considered herself the mental equal of men would have been viewed as an abnormal female. In fact, just a couple hundred years ago, a man could have his wife committed to a mental institution for being too independent. (Feminism is still probably considered a mental illness in most Muslim countries.) Some of the listings in the current DSM Manuel include: antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder and dependent personality disorder. Psychiatry hasn't found cures for the most debilitating forms of mental illness, so it's understandable that they might prefer to “treat” such personality traits, conditions they might convince people they had some ability to change. Most of the “disorders” that psychiatrists deal with are merely identified by “deviant attitudes and behaviors”, and no physical marker has been found for any behavior, deviant or otherwise. Most mental illness was once called dementia praecox. What was once regarded as manic depression might now be called schizophrenia. However there is no evidence that Ids, egos, or psyches even exist anywhere outside the imaginations of psychologists and psychiatrists. Nevertheless, according to psychoanalytic theory, perfect people, ones who enjoy perfect childhoods, wouldn’t suffer from personality defects, much less psychosis. They would lead perfectly happy lives. Such perfection might be uniform and uneventful.


Questions[edit | edit source]

The original images may be found on this pdf copy of the book.

Current page: Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?

  1. Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?
  2. Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?
  3. How did the laws of nature originate?
  4. Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?
  5. Are intelligence and creativity two separate and distinct processes?
  6. Are psychoanalytic theories profound? Or just convoluted?
  7. If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
  8. Can the value of scientific knowledge ever justify enrolling people in research projects without their knowledge or consent?
  9. Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?
  10. Should "normal" be equated with average?
  11. What technical knowledge enables psychologists to declare people emotionally abnormal?
  12. Are psychologists able to scientifically measure parental love? Or its lack?
  13. Is the universe, including life, an automatic, mechanical process, driven by nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry (the materialist position)? Or do other forces play a role, such as mind, consciousness, judgment and volition - most of which we presently have only have limited understanding?
  14. Should doctors and scientists refrain from expressing skepticism about theories of colleagues in other fields?
  15. Do people generally choose the challenges which force them to grow?
  16. How can we claim to scientifically manipulate thoughts and emotions if we don't even understand how such elusive phenomena relate to physical reality?
  17. What is faith? If belief that God organized the universe is a matter of faith, why isn't the materialist belief that the universe came together by some accidental, mechanical process also a matter of faith? (Or, the Buddhist belief in self-organization.)
  18. Are living creatures constantly evolving as they strive to grow and adapt? Or must evolutionary adaptations passively wait around for a random mutation to accidentally pop up in someone's genome?
  19. Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge? Or is an ever-changing, constantly-challenged, general consensus our best way to keep our understanding of reality vibrant?
  20. Could lying on a couch and obsessing over a traumatic childhood ever be therapeutic?
  21. Would it even be possible to conduct a scientific study to determine whether psychological treatments are effective?
  22. What is racism?
  23. Does free-will exist?
  24. Would obsessing over a traumatic event ever cure any mental illness?
  25. Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?
  26. What would define economic theories as materialistic or non-materialistic?
  27. Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?
  28. Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
  29. Can we do other people's growing for them?
  30. Are Western democracies civilization’s ultimate achievement?
  31. Which would produce the most psychologically stunted individuals? Being emotionally challenged? Or never encountering any challenges?
  32. Could the purpose of life be to participate in the growth of the universe?
  33. Can science investigate and attempt to describe a non-materialistic version of the universe?
Current page: Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?
  1. The photos used by Berthajane can be found by linking a copy on the pdf file. Click "photo" to reach the appropriate page.