When people are seeing the world really different than we do, it’s often reassuring to think that there must be something wrong with them – because if they are completely wrong, or ill, then we don’t have to rethink our own sense of reality, we can instead be confident about that own understandings encompass all that we need to know.
But it can be disorienting and damaging to others to have their experiences defined as “completely wrong” or “ill.” And we ourselves become more ignorant when we are too sure that there is no value in other ways of looking or experiencing.
In a practical sense, there are often many ways for example to look at a particular object – we can look at it from various angles, and through different lenses for example, and what we see will be different depending on how we look. In that sense, it’s actually ridiculous to see one way or another of looking or experiencing as “wrong” or “sick”; instead, it makes more sense to understand that different ways of looking may be useful for different purposes.
Looking at things the same way as others around us are looking at them can certainly be helpful if we want to understand what others are seeing and to coordinate with them. Looking at things in more unique ways may be more helpful though if we have other purposes: for example looking at part of a tree through a microscope may be very helpful for some purposes, even though it is unhelpful for seeing the tree in a conventional way.
In a fascinating recording titled OF MADNESS AND MAGIC: SHIFTING THE LENS TO UNDERSTAND THE MIND, Mischa Shoni shares both her own journey and also some great insights into how discovering new ways of looking at the world, or new “lenses” to look at it through, can be both disorienting and disabling, and then eventually enriching once one learns how to use those lenses in a good way.
Here’s the written description of her talk:
What differentiates what is labeled as mental dysfunction—mania, psychosis, seizures—from what is magic, spirit, or simply … beyond the scientific method? Mischa Shoni embarks on a journey to understand her own brain. On the path, she meets dragons, gryphons, crystal-eyed snakes … and some extraordinary people who see the mind beyond the limited lens of psychiatry.