Science: July 2012 Archives

Perception

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I just saw the pilot for Perception. I like the idea that they're trying to portray a schizophrenic crime-solver sympathetically, in the mold of Monk for OCD but without the comedic elements. It's intriguing enough to want to see the other episodes that have aired. I like the main character and several supporting cast members. There was a nice moment during his neuroscience class when he presented an argument for skepticism pretty much the way a philosopher would, a reminder schizophrenic author Philip K. Dick had skeptical philosophical themes in his writing, partly from his neurological condition and the impossibility to detect from within a hallucinatory experience that it is not reality, since it appears just as real as anything else. This is what schizophrenia really is like for many who experience it. I liked that he has to have a handler who lives with him and follows him around on campus to tell him when someone he's interacting with is real or not. (But they don't raise the question, at least yet, of what happens if he hallucinates the handler's response to his questions.)

But two things bothered me. One is that they're trying to portray a schizophrenic's hallucinations as his subconscious mind trying to make sense of things his conscious mind can't make sense of. I know it's popular to emphasize the increased abilities that sometimes come with a disability, and these increased abilities are genuinely present in some cases with some disabilities (sometimes often present, sometimes very rarely). This is true with diminished senses and increased other senses, and it's true of some increased cognitive abilities for some with autism, But this looks like a wholly-concocted special ability for schizophrenia, which as far as I've been able to discern is not a "different" neurological condition with some pros and many cons but is in fact simply a mental illness, with no pros. I may be wrong about that, and experts can feel free to correct me if I am, but I've never even heard of something like this, and it does an injustice to what is good in the neurodiversity movement to pretend there are good elements to a condition where there aren't any, while bolstering what's insidious about that movement by acting like every neurological condition has to have positive features, when that's hardly the truth.

But there was one scene that struck me as being even more ridiculous, and I very nearly stopped the episode and refused to give the show another chance. I stuck it out, and I do intend to watch more episodes, but if they keep this sort of thing up I may not continue. They had a character who was aphasic, which is a varied condition involving brain damage and various linguistic inabilities. Sometimes it's extreme enough to involve a total inability to recognize others' attempts to communicate with language, and this character had that kind of aphasia. But apparently in the Perception universe people with extreme aphasia can tell when someone is lying, even though they have no idea what they're saying, and they find it extremely humorous. So this character was basically a human lie detector who never knew what the lies being spoken were (and may not have even known they were lies, just the the non-verbals involved, or something about the pattern of sounds maybe, was very, very funny.

Not only is this totally absurd, but they even had to bring out the tired example of Bush's 16-words State of the Union moment, where the political left successfully recast his accurate reporting of the conclusions of British intelligence about Saddam Hussein's attempt to get uranium from the West African nation of Niger as an outright lie by Bush. Factcheck.org argued that Bush had indeed not lied, even if something he had said was wrong, and that there was even evidence (which I consider much stronger than they seem to take it to be) to suggest that Saddam Hussein had made such an attempt (from the very reports of Joe Wilson, who was one of most prominent accusers of Bush as a liar). Putting this example next to Bill Clinton's moments of denying his affair with Monica Lewinski is pretty low, especially at a time when there's no political gain to be had by continuing this false narrative about Bush as a liar.

I was hoping that a show intending to portray a schizophrenic genius crime solver would provide a nice guide to what schizophrenia is really like, without the fantasy elements they seem to want to add. It doesn't help that they're immune to critical evaluation of what their political group-think partners tell them. That doesn't give me as high hopes as I'd had when I first heard of the show, but I will continue to give it

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