Monday, 23 February 2015

Project PERFECT with Birmingham Uni | 'Ad'


Hi! My name is Lisa and I am a professor of philosophy at the University of Birmingham. I have always been interested in the human mind, with all its amazing capacities and its inevitable limitations. I worked on belief and rationality as a graduate student, and I focused in recent years on the nature of clinical delusions.

Since October 2014 I am leading a research project on the potential benefits of false beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations. These are things that we all experience on an everyday basis, but that in some circumstances are considered to be symptoms of mental distress and are used to diagnose psychiatric disorders. I want to explore the possibility that, despite having disadvantages, inaccurate beliefs, memories and explanations contribute to our wellbeing or to our capacity to interact with the physical and social environment surrounding us.

If you are interested in seeing what we are doing as part of the project, you can visit our Facebook page,  read our blog, or follow us on Twitter! Recently we have launched a new monthly feature on our blog, asking people to describe the positive side of their experience with mental distress. So far, we had a post on schizophrenia and outsider art, one on OCD, and we are delighted that Aimee has agreed to write one on BPD.

One of the cases we are currently looking at is manic depressive illness. My PhD student, Magdalena Antrobus, is writing her doctoral thesis on it. She is interested in whether creativity and realism are enhanced in people with manic depressive illness.  If you want to know more, please read her post on creativity and realism, her account of the potential benefits of depression, and her interviews with philosophers Greg Currie (on creativity) and with Jennifer Radden (on realism).

Aimee’s post beautifully illustrates what we want to research. When asked to think about how she benefited from BPD (almost an absurd question, I know!) she answered mentioning both psychological and epistemic advantages.  She writes that she has had some amazing experiences that she would not have had if it hadn’t been for her BPD-related impulsivity. She also mentions that having an unstable sense of self forced her to make a special effort to learn what her real values are.

This testimony is important for us. We don’t want to trivialise or romanticise mental distress in any way, we realise that it causes suffering and disrupts people’s lives. But we want to start offering a more balanced view of what it is to be affected by schizophrenia, obsessive thoughts, personality disorders, dementia, etc. in an attempt to undermine the stigma associated with these diagnoses, and see in other people’s struggles and achievements a reflection of our own weaknesses and strengths.