Review: 'Through the Shadowlands’ describes Julie Rehmeyer's ME/CFS Odyssey
I should note at the outset that this review is based on an audio version of the galleys and the epilogue from the finished work. Julie Rehmeyer sent me the final version as a PDF, but for some reason my text to voice software (Kurzweil) had issues with it. I understand that it is...
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False illness belief and Moore's Paradox

Discussion in 'General ME/CFS Discussion' started by Chrisb, Oct 19, 2015.

  1. Chrisb

    Chrisb Senior Member

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    I wonder whether Moore's paradox might partially explain the enthusiasm of others to ascribe to us false illness beliefs and our certainty that they are wrong to do so. I post this with caution as I am not a linguistic or analytical philosopher, merely someone with an interest in words and their uses and implications. I suspect that there may be people here with a better grounding in the subject and I would welcome their input.

    G E Moore was a Cambridge philosopher and his paradox was seized upon and utilised by Wittgenstein.

    You may say "it is raining". You may say "I do not believe it is raining". You may say "it is raining but he does not believe it". You may say "it was raining but I did not believe it". But you may not say "it is raining but I do not believe it". Try it if you don't believe me. This is Moore's paradox.

    It seems that one cannot assert the fact and simultaneously express a contrary belief-at least , not without lying about one part of the proposition. To assert the fact and express the contrary opinion requires the crossing of some linguistic and psychological boundary. It is apparently an illegal move in the language game. At some level, in some circumstances, assertion and belief are inextricably linked.

    We are familiar with the language of illness which we have been learning since childhood. We recognise the sensations, external indications and the loss of function or capacity which in normal parlance together constitute illness. On this basis we assert that we are ill. We can be certain of it. We do not have an illness belief, we have an illness. It is not open to us to say either "I am ill but I believe that I am not ill" or the converse "I am not ill but I believe that I am ill". Both statements appear to be nonsense. The latter statement seems to be what the charlatans try to persuade us to say, with a view to rectifying our beliefs. But until such time as all the signs and symptoms are removed we have no choice but to continue to assert, in accordance with our experience, that we are ill-and any belief must accord with the assertion.

    The problem is that these constraints and linkages do not apply to third parties. Just as you may say "it is raining but he does not believe it" you may say "he is not ill but he believes himself to be ill". In such circumstances one might reasonably call for evidence to a reasonable standard, in so far as evidence can be adduced to prove a negative, but there is no inherent contradiction in the statements.

    It may simply be that we are unable to have meaningful discourse on this matter with those who adopt the contrary position unless both sides recognise the problem (or puzzle as Wittgenstein would probably have preferred it to be called).

    On the other hand I may be wrong.

    For my part I find myself unable to imagine what a false illness belief could be. I see that it could be meaningful in the sense:A believed himself to have illness X whereas he was later discovered to have illness Y. In the intervening period he had a false illness belief. But the false belief only applied to the name of the illness. The symptoms would continue whatever the name ascribed to them. I suspect that the psychiatrists use a meaning such as this but seek to use it in some other inappropriate context in such a way as to render the concept devoid of meaning.

    I have not seen these questions discussed elsewhere but I do not always pay attention.
     
  2. adreno

    adreno PR activist

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    Good to see some logic applied to this.
     
  3. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards "Gibberish"

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    Where I think you are right, @Chrisb, is in pointing out that the psychiatrists do not seem to understand their own beliefs about this, or how to make use of them.

    What about this:

    1. Having ME is just the false belief that you have ME.

    2. Mary believes she has ME.

    Therefore:

    3a. Mary does not have ME

    or

    3b. Mary has ME.

    Surely 3b is correct if 1 and 2 are true. But then 1 is false. We have the liar paradox hidden in the psychiatric dogma. One could tidy the premises up a bit I think - as it stands a philosopher could probably pick holes - but it looks as if people with ME cannot have false beliefs about having ME after all. Like most analytical philosophy this is of doubtful relevance to real life but something is not quite right.

    Another point relevant to your post is that it is a basic tenet of psychiatry that CBT is not appropriate for irrational beliefs since irrational beliefs are by definition not amenable to reason. So if ME really is a false belief maintained despite discussion of all relevant evidence it is not the sort of thing CBT should be used for. This might be wrong, but then the basic tenet of psychiatry is wrong.
     
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  4. Chrisb

    Chrisb Senior Member

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    @Jonathan Edwards
    I like the conundrum but I suspect that there is a problem in 1. in having ME as both the term to be defined and included within the definition. I am not sure that is permitted. It is bound to lead to difficulties. This will give me something to ponder when doing my grey sky thinking.

    I agree in part about the limitations of analytical philosophy but it has its uses.I once read a statement by a professor that if students leave university having learnt only one thing it ought to be the difference between synthetic and analytical propositions. But he may just have been writing about philosophy students. It is fairly common to see the errors occasioned by the failure to observe the distinction.

    Hear, hear1 to the comments about the basic tenet of psychiatry. I have always assumed that that was to do your master's bidding whatever the circumstances.
     
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  5. Snow Leopard

    Snow Leopard Hibernating

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    The "false beliefs" that the psychiatrists are talking about are not whether we are ill or not, but the following sorts of "arguable" beliefs:

    (a)
    The cause of our illness, eg chronic infections, chemical sensitivities etc.

    (b)
    Our level of impairment due to the illness, prognosis/potential for improvement/recovery and so forth.
     
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  6. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards "Gibberish"

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    Language permits it, as in the paradox 'This sentence is false.' And one can easily imagine someone saying 1. Formal logic systems do not permit such things, but people do not talk in formal systems.

    He probably was talking about philosophy students and maybe before Quine's famous 1951 essay 'Two dogmas of empiricism' in which he supposedly demonstrates that there can be no principled distinction between analytic and synthetic. But then not everyone agrees with Quine. I tend to think of him as the low point of academic stuffiness. It is time we got back to real philosophy - like Leibniz and Descartes.
     
  7. msf

    msf Senior Member

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    I think all these arguments rely on the dangerous assumption that Wessely and co. understand logic.
     
  8. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards "Gibberish"

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    I do not think he would presume to understand formal logic systems. And I think we are making the dangerous suggestion that his lack of presumption might be well founded. He and his colleagues do seem to presume they understand Descartes, though, and I would query that too.
     
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  9. msf

    msf Senior Member

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    I think they have just about got the Ancient Greeks´ theory of opposites - Wessely even wrote a paper whose title referenced that, to show how up to date he is.

    The Cartesian Dilemma a la Wessely: I think I am a expert on ME, therefore I am.
     
  10. user9876

    user9876 Senior Member

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    moderated with many others
    I thought that Godel basically constructed a liar paradox as a mathematical statement (in this incompleteness theorem) but then showed that it could not be proved from the axioms. So some formal systems allow statements such as this to be stated but not proved/disproved.

    I think the real problem is that people cloud meaning via inexactness so that they can hold contradictory beliefs or just twist arguments to the point they want. I think psychiatrists do it with quite a lot but I think in the past you have pointed out immunologists (I think) draw vague arrows linking various processes in non specific ways. I have seen the opposite problem where economists like to write the obvious in complex equations and can miss the complexity of the system because the equations would get too complex. I was given the example of some economists who came out with theories but the maths was too complex to express unemployment hence the obsession with saying people choose to be unemployed.

    One of the big problems I see with some of the psychiatry papers is over generalization of results due to an inexactness in stating the result. As an example, I think Wessely has said there are no muscle problems with ME quoting one experiment (I think showing that muscle power didn't reduce in one particular way).
     
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  11. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

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  12. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards "Gibberish"

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    I think I agree with most of that. However, having been taught pragmatics by Charles Travis and Dynamic Syntax by Ruth Kempson I am now firmly of the view that one simply cannot analyse language in a context free way. There are no rules about being able to substitute terms with their definitions because the change of pragmatic context often leads to a lurch in semantic values. A lot of ordinary people are likely to make statements like 1, as are BPS advocates. And together with Quine, who is an insufferably bad writer and sticks to none of the rules he preaches, you get propositions that seem to have a useful meaning but maybe do not. Maybe Quine was right for the wrong reasons. Now that all the dust has settled from Kripke's Naming and Necessity and philosophers seem to realise we are back to where we started I tend not to bother with linguistic philosophical analysis.
     
  13. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards "Gibberish"

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    Your original question is I think more interesting, for practical reasons.
     
  14. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

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    If you look at the language in this branch of psychiatry, especially in what is sometimes called the Wessely School, you find many overloaded words ( to borrow a phrase from programming).

    So recovery is not recovery, normal is not normal, functional is not about function, and so on. They are about such things but in highly contrived and sometimes almost arbitrary ways. Yet when they speak or write they rely very heavily on people not examining the definitions of the terms they use. Yet if you get it wrong, and misinterpret them, it has to be your fault because they specified the issue (except of course the stuff they left out of their publications). Its about deception by deliberately constructing argument that can be misinterpreted, and then using that misinterpretation to further their position.
     
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  15. Snow Leopard

    Snow Leopard Hibernating

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  16. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

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    If you are writing about written context, that does not work. If you mean situational context, the situation in which the person finds themselves, its very relevant. That person has what they know, how they approach problems, and social and cultural background. Any of those can change interpretations, and can lead to error ... or not. Consider poetry. Meaning in poetry is created by a combination of the written text and what the observer brings to that text. Meaning is not some arbitrary line in a dictionary, that is just a definition and often incomplete. Meaning is what we get when the person makes the interpretation in the situation they are in.
     
  17. Chrisb

    Chrisb Senior Member

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    I deleted my previous response as I quickly realised that it was too hastily composed long, after a time when I should have retired. I apologise if it caused any offence. Your response warranted a more considered reply. Unfortunately it takes days or weeks for me to produce such a response, if it is done at all.

    I think that a difficulty centres on whether what the psychiatrists talk about in public fora constitutes the entirety of their beliefs. Just as they attribute beliefs to us we may attribute beliefs to them. There is a multitude of ways in which ones beliefs about other people's beliefs may be wrong. One cannot rely solely upon what people write or talk about to determine their beliefs. One makes inferences from the totality of the evidence available. One also assumes that there may be unavailable evidence. One judges behaviour.


    I don't think Moore's paradox precludes the possibility of misleading others as to ones beliefs. I think it precludes the possibility of deceiving oneself as to ones beliefs at the time that one uses language seeking to accurately describe sensations or facts either to oneself or to someone else. The world which we assume that we inhabit is an artificial construct created from the linguistic concepts which we have acquired. The noumenal remains noumenal.

    I agree that the "false beliefs" which you describe are matters which the psychiatrists consider but whether these constitute the full extent of their "false illness beliefs" is questionable, and it seems inevitable that the "false beliefs" are coloured by the "false illness beliefs".

    With reference to the article "Believing what we do not believe" I think that this merely constitutes a play on words relying on the crossing of a language boundary. To use Wittgenstein's idea the language game has changed whilst pretending to be the same. Just because both are ball games does not mean one can play rugby with a golf ball.
     
  18. heapsreal

    heapsreal iherb 10% discount code OPA989,

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    Two points in psychiatry are

    1 to make something simple into something complex.

    2 tries to follow on from one, that is, bull shit baffles brains or tries to. Maybe they are good at baffling themselves, like playing twister with their own brain helps them to believe alot of the BS that come out of them.

    What i find interesting is how there are so many psychiatric diagnosis and conditions but they are all treated with 2 things, serotonin and cbt. Notice i didnt say cure either. If someone states that a certain treatment treats many things, than its like the old snake oil salesman .
     
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  19. Chrisb

    Chrisb Senior Member

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    Just an addition to my last post. The quotation on which Jonathan's paradox is based seems to be "I will argue that ME is simply a belief, the belief that one has an illness called ME.... there is another illness with which ME might easily be confused... it is hysteria." This statement was apparently made in 1994 despite the protestations in 1988 that opinions had moved on since the days of hysteria.

    I think the solution to this paradox is now clear and requires the assistance of nothing more recent than 1949. Wittgenstein and Ryle provide the answer. The answer lies in the area of category error and the crossing of linguistic boundaries. The term ME is used in two different ways and has different meanings. This also relies on the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions.

    The first time it is used ME appears as an analytic proposition. This is merely a taxanomic question (incorrectly answered). One can sit at one's desk and not talk to a patient and come up with whatever definition one likes. Others may or may not agree with it.

    On second use the term is a synthetic proposition. Certainly people have the belief that they have ME but it is necessary to interview them and find out what they meant by the ME which they believe in. They do not believe that they suffer from a taxonomic category. They would say that they suffer from all the symptoms which we know and which are bundled together under the name of ME.

    It ought to be considered embarrassing for a consultant psychiatrist that he seems unaware of a distinction made in 1949 by Gilbert Ryle in The Concept of Mind, a fundamental text on the philosophy of the mind.
     

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