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    What Defines Psychopathology in the Age of Artificial Intelligence?

    Written by

    Kara Crabb

    Photo via Flickr / CC. 

    Sometimes I find myself feeling deceived by the sheer possibility that perhaps I've been retarded for all my life and I've only ever failed to notice it.

    I begin manically speculating about the sincerity of all my social interactions. I wonder if my friends are actually just care workers who have been hired to take me out on field trips and lunch dates. I wonder if all the guys I've ever liked are actually just perverts who fetishize/entertain the company of girls with Down's Syndrome, or something. I wonder if perhaps it is a cultural irregularity that my parents are so accommodating and seemingly optimistic about my "progress" in life, and if all of this speculating only serves as proof to my newfound pathology.

    I contemplate the possible reasons why no one has ever brought it up to me before, and assume that perhaps everyone is behaving under the reservation of social affability or, even worse, that their understanding of my deficit is just too far complex for me to comprehend.

    Each time these delusions occur I recoil into my memory for confirmations that I do not, in fact, have Down's Syndrome. For example: “Holly, you know Holly, and she would have told you if you were retarded.” “Remember when you went to the grocery store and bought eggs?”

    The feeling of deception only begins to dissipate after I remember what exactly characterizes these disorders in the first place, concluding that I obviously don’t have it. Then I think about if I did have it, it wouldn't be a big deal anyway because there's nothing I could do about it. Within this private regard, I realize that I am only ever working within the biological parameters that I’ve “been given.”

    Humans, as a species, must objectively be "retarded" to some extent, compared to:

    A. other forms of intelligence in the universe (I’m assuming, based on the scale of it); or, 

    B. maybe even just compared to plants (very Zen…); or, 

    C. compared to future-humans (one would hope); and definitely, 

    D. compared to computers, in many regards.

    Einstein at Harvard graduation, 1935, via Flickr / CC.

    It seems like our biological parameters should be pretty malleable for optimization.

    Take Albert Einstein’s developmental error. He had an actual, physical brain disfiguration but now nobody ever refers to him as having been mentally ill. After his death, researchers at McMaster University discovered that Einstein’s parietal cortex contained an enlarged patch of tissue, where there would normally be two infolds, amalgamating the modules associated with special awareness and mathematical calculation. So, Einstein’s developmental error just happened to be really convenient.

    I am very concerned about the expression of intelligence, and people’s relationship with it. It never fails to astound me that I have the capacity to feel so honestly and deeply deceived by myself.

    Once, while I was in public, the belief I that may actually be mentally handicapped was not just an illusory hiccup of epistemic doubt. Instead, the belief lasted for several hours as I tried to figure out if I had William's Syndrome or not. I had a book that described people with William's Syndrome as being particularly charismatic, having a fine grasp on language and tone, and yet intending little to no meaning behind any of the things they say. When I first read this, I was in utter shock, thinking that this perfectly characterized 98 percent of the people that I’ve ever met in my life. Then I thought, maybe this skewed perception of “meaning” was actually just a validation that I am the one with William's Syndrome.

    For hours I concealed my anxiety, until I was finally able to search it on Wikipedia and read about the physical traits of the disorder. Basically the only reason I knew I didn’t have it for sure, at that moment, was the fact that I don’t have “elfish” facial features or serious respiratory problems.

    Some would call me a hypochondriac for this kind of behavior, and in some way, it is absolutely true. However, I think this highlights a much more complicated problem about intellectual identity, wherein the definition of “hypochondriac” folds back onto itself as a paradox. Is the anxiety within health phobia separate from whatever “health” is in the first place? Is anxiety a social creation? When is something considered an illness and not just a predisposition? Is anyone truly healthy? How efficiently does language reflect nature in characterizing pathology, especially in terms of mental health?

    These delusional experiences always remind me of a personally enclosed, comedic version of the Salem witch trials after they’re finished. The entertainment of the situation gives me the urge to call up one of my parents or a close friend to tell them about the hilarious thing that just happened, but luckily I’ve managed to refrain from doing this. Not only would it be difficult to explain, but my loved ones would probably find it more alarming than funny.

    Is the anxiety within health phobia separate from whatever “health” is in the first place? Is anxiety a social creation? When is something considered an illness and not just a predisposition? Is anyone truly healthy? How efficiently does language reflect nature in characterizing pathology, especially in terms of mental health?

    Delusions feel like they are almost entirely freestanding of anything other than belief. It sounds a bit heady, but I’m actually just referring to a module or physical representation of belief within the brain. There’s hardly a viable way to speak of these connections without the interpretive dissonance of language.

    Whether I momentarily believe I am retarded, or “in love”, or God, it is evidence that my seemingly coherent, chronologically understood mash-up of memory and perception is in realiy subject to its own physics. And it isn’t that my identity is “just” a series of computations. It is a marvelous, vast, complex series of computations that is synonymous with nature. While whatever causes momentary discrepancies of intellectual understanding could be considered a flaw, perhaps the infinite amount of possible features that are yet to be “flaws” should also be considered in the scope of psychopathology as well. Most researchers understand this point of view, probably because they’re constantly living on the edge of ignorance by principle, but when it comes to medical application there seems to be a conflicting approach.

    My personal relationship with my intellect is riddled with skepticism and doubt, based on the amount of times I’ve been deceived by it. Language itself seems to be the most inconspicuous feature of its extreme vulnerability, hence why syntax and semantics are even transferable at all.

    Humans often harbor a misleading sense of ownership, and sometimes even praise, over their intelligence, which I’m almost forced to believe is necessary for creating whatever circumstances its determinism as a species thrives upon. (Eh, ehm, computers.)