Sentences between squared brackets do not appear in the original Spanish version of the manuscript.
The Return of Quetzalcoatl: Chapter 5
by César Tort
Silvano Arieti and schizophrenia
Paradoxically, if something had been impeding the collective form of suicidal psychosis that the West self-inflicts today, the massive migration of inferior psychoclasses, it was Christianity. But Christianity is in crisis and Westerners lack a new myth that bestows on them a self-image for social cohesion. Jaynes wrote:
In the second millennium B.C., we stopped hearing the voices of the gods. In the first millennium B.C., those of us who still heard voices, our oracles and prophets, they too died away. In the first millennium A.D., it is their sayings and hearings preserved in sacred texts through which we obeyed our lost divinities. And in the second millennium A.D., these writings lose their authority… And here at the end of the second millennium and about enter the third, we are surrounded with this problem.
Hearing voices is the archetypal symptom of what today is named schizophrenia. But the distinctive traits between ancient schizoids and modern Western man is not absolute. In his magnum opus, Interpretation of Schizophrenia, Silvano Arieti wrote a sentence imagining a space visitor, more integrated psychologically than the Earth dwellers, who would find many instances of “paleologic thinking” (bicameral thought) in the moral, social and religious costumes of Western man.
Those who give credibility to everything that, under the banner of science, the status quo sells us, will consider it foolish that I take seriously an author who published a work about paleologic thinking and schizophrenia in 1955, the edition translated to Spanish. The reason that moved me to do it is simple. As I have said, decades before Colin Ross published The trauma model and Schizophrenia, Arieti had already written, with different words, some phrases about the locus of control shift [explained in the first chapter]. In 2007 I felt confident to ask Ross if he knew that Arieti had said something very similar to his model half a century before. Ross replied that he barely had read Arieti. His ignorance surprised me but I understood him: the good doctor is more a busy clinician than an armchair theorist. Anyone can acquire through the internet the 2004 book that Ross wrote about schizophrenia. On the other hand, the 1965 Spanish translation of Arieti’s treatise is not even available in the catalogue of out-of-print books. In 1975 a second, revised edition of Interpretation of schizophrenia won in the United States the National Book Award in scientific subjects. In this chapter I will use both editions: the 1955 edition, and the 1975 edition republished in 1994 (in the second edition the book was thoroughly rewritten and fattened with medical testing on schizophrenia).
Virtually forgotten, Arieti’s treatise is an authentic mine of theoretical and clinical information to understand psychosis. Most striking about the massive body of literature from Arieti’s colleagues that pointed at the family as responsible for the schizophrenias in their patients is that the theory was never refuted. It was conveniently forgotten, swept under the rug of political correctness in the mental health professions. It is very common to read in the textbooks of contemporary psychiatry and psychology that the theory of the schizophrenogenic parents was discarded because it was erroneous with the most absolute absence of bibliographic references to support such claim. I cannot forget an article written in the present century in which an investigator complains that, despite an extensive search, he did not find any coherent and clear explanation of why the schizophrenogenic theory has been abandoned. As always, everything has to do with the fact that to question the parental deities is terrifying for most people, especially for those who are forbidden from using their own emotions: academics, including the mental health professionals. As deMause said way above: “The usual suppression of all feeling” in childrearing studies “simply cripples a psychohistorian as badly as it would cripple a biologist to be forbidden the use of a microscope.”
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Arieti distinguishes between a “paleologic” form of thinking, and the thinking that comes from “Aristotelian logic” that rules Western man. Since the first edition of his book Arieti points out that the paleologic thinking, which modern man only experiences in dreams, was omnipresent in prehistoric cultures. In order to avoid a runaway anxiety that drives the victim into panic, the patient diagnosed as schizophrenic abandons the Aristotelian norms of intuitive logic and lapses into the sort of thinking of our most primitive ancestors. Like John Modrow, Arieti acknowledges the value of the work of Harry Sullivan about the panic the child experiences as a result of an all-out emotional assault from both parents. The paleologic regression can be adapted years after the abuse occurred, even when the child has become economically independent. [A chapter on Modrow appears in my second book.] The withdrawal from reality, or psychotic breakdown, is the last and most desperate attempt of the unconscious to maintain the ego in a state of internal cohesion. A dramatic regressive metamorphosis arises when, one after another, the defenses that the victim had been using do not work anymore. To a greater or lesser degree all human beings function with a dose of neurosis, but in the psychotic outbreak, when neurotic defenses collapse, the subject falls into even more archaic forms of defense: mechanisms which had been overcome millennia ago, a regression to the bicameral mind. Arieti’s book contains chapters about his clinical experiences with patients. In the case of two brothers, Arieti describes how one of them suffered a pre-psychotic panic as a result of the abuse at home and observes that, once in a florid state of psychosis, “The paleologician confuses the physical world with the psychological one. Instead of finding a physical explanation for an event, he looks for a personal motivation or an intention as the cause of an event.” Just as the primitive man, in a definitive breakdown of the Aristotelian superstructure, for the disturbed individual the world turns itself animist; each external event having a profound meaning. There are no coincidences for those who inhabit the world of magical thinking. Both the primitive animist and the modern schizophrenic live in distinct dimensions compared to the rational man. The conceptualization of external happenings as impersonal physical forces requires a much more advanced level of cognition than seeing them as personal agents. Arieti wrote:
If the Greeks are afflicted by epidemics, it is because Phoebus wants to punish Agamemnon. Paranoiacs and paranoids interpret almost everything as manifesting a psychological intention or meaning. In many cases practically everything that occurs is interpreted as willed by the persecutors of the patient.
Arieti also writes about the time before the Homo sapiens acquired the faculty to choose an action through what we call today free will, and he adds:
Philogenetically, anticipation of the distant future appeared when early man no longer limited his activity to cannibalism and hunting, which were related to immediate present necessities, but became interested in hoarding and, later, in agriculture in order to provide for future needs.
The reference to cannibalism makes me think that, though unlike Jaynes Arieti maintained that schizophrenia is due to the parents’ behavior, unlike deMause Arieti did not conceive that such cannibal practices, like the ones described in the Preface, could have injured the inner self of the surviving children in prehistoric times. Nevertheless, Arieti disagrees with the theoretical psychiatrists who see no similarities between schizophrenic and non-schizophrenic. He believes that such points of view “are fundamentally wrong”, and, speaking of non-Western cultures and even of the times of Cro-Magnon man, he writes:
Often the culture itself imposes paleologic conceptions and habits on the individual, even though the individual is capable of high forms of thinking. The more abundant is the paleologic thinking in a culture, the more difficult it is for the culture to get rid of it.
This last phrase reminds me how presently Western culture imposes relativist conceptions on the individual, even though the typical Westerner is potentially capable of discriminating among inferior cultures: a higher form of thinking. Arieti also rises the question of why civilization originated only ten thousand years ago. Like Jaynes, he believes that the incredibly long gestation of civilization had to do with the persistence of paleologic thought, and he adds that presently the paleologic defense mechanisms underlie the human psyche and can return in extreme conditions.
Arieti elaborated his theory twenty years before Jaynes or deMause started to write their books, and he was within an inch of discovering what deMause would discover: precisely that schizophrenogenic forms of childrearing through the Bone Age and the Stone Age had impeded the psychic integration of our ancestors. Getting ahead in time to Ross, Arieti wrote: “A characteristic unique in the human race — prolonged childhood with consequent extended dependency on adults — is the basis of the psychodynamics of schizophrenia.”
Arieti defines schizophrenia as an extremely regressive reaction before an equally extreme state of anxiety, a dynamic that originates in infancy and that accelerates in adolescence, or later, due to abuses at home (think of the case of the second girl in the Ross chapter ). “In every case of schizophrenia studies serious family disturbances were found” (emphasis by Arieti). He adds that to produce schizophrenia a drama is needed which is sufficiently injuring to the inner self; a drama that, if we ignore it, we become deaf “to a profound message that the patient may try to convey”. And writing about one of his patients, and getting again ahead in time to Ross, he tells us that this patient “protected the images of his parents but at the expense of having an unbearable self-image”.
Interpretation of Schizophrenia contains the keys to understanding issues that at first sight seem incomprehensible, and even bizarre, for those of us who live in the world of Aristotelian logic: the probable meaning of the symbols of the oneiric world in which the psychotic individual lives; his apparently incoherent salad of words, the linguistic whys of his inner logic and the many regressive stages of the disorder. In Arieti’s treatise there is an enormous richness of ideas and theoretical schemas that I cannot summarize here, as well as clinical analyses of his patients, to understand the gradations of madness. Even though, as I said, in the middle 1970s his book won the National Book Award, in a more valiant world his work would have been influential. But society freaked out before the findings of Arieti and his colleagues because, to understand psychoses, it would have been necessary to point the index finger at the parents. As a Ross reader would say, the problem of the attachment to the perpetrator [cf. chapter 1], the basic and fundamental axiom of the human psyche, could not allow this (Arieti himself dedicated his magnum opus to his parents).
Let us see where the ideas expressed in these brief chapters drive us when pondering the violent past of ancient Mexico, and how the psychogenic arrest of that culture may serve us to understand the dilemmas that the West faces today.
The Return of Quetzalcoatl
- Preface: A Taste of the Flavor of the Whole Book
- Chapter 1: A Class with Colin Ross
- Chapter 2: The History of Childhood and its Newton
- Chapter 3: Periodization of Parental-filial Relations
- Chapter 4: Julian Jaynes and the Bicameral Mind
- Chapter 5: Silvano Arieti and Schizophrenia
- The “World’s Most Beautiful” City
©2008 César Tort