Re: crazy people

Tim A. Connor (
Wed, 9 Apr 1997 22:46:22 -0700 (PDT)


In your reply to Bob you write:

> 1) For me, 'crazy' is simply a characterization, formulated in language
> as either an opinion or a fact, made by an observer, of some aspect(s)
> of themselves or another. What that suggests to me is that we should
> turn our attention from the conundrums of naming.
> ~Instead, as I believe you agree, we might better focus our attention
> on grounding or operationalizing the distinction, 'crazy.' I believe
> this will require that we posit some standards of assessment we can
> agree upon, regarding observable actions / behavior, which we say
> constitute the presence of'crazy.'
> ~Even then, we are left with the possibility that what we come up with
> will be distinctions of opinion vs. distinctions of replicable,
> inter-subjectively reliable fact.
> >
> I'm curious to know where
> the notion arose that...
> > >
> > >Bipolarity refers to the presence of an opposite pole (whereas a
> > >concept does not necessarily imply its opposite)....
> I am concerned that we are likening linguistic interpretations
> (bipolarity) with physical dimensionality (...there must be some idea of
> what constitutes its opposite....) I'm not very clear on this, but take
> a look,will you? As best I can see, there is no 'opposite pole' that
> exists or can be logically-determined as a function of the establishment
> of an initial 'pole.' Rather, we are simply constructing an
> interpretation of both the distinction 'construct,' and of its
> anatomy.Or is my ignorance simply showing here?

I think there are a couple of different points that need to be teased out
here. First, a construct (in PCP terms) is not a verbal label, even
though our capacity to be aware of our constructs is constrained by the
availability of linguistic distinctions that we can calibrate with
experiential ones. But people can employ constructs that they are not, at
the time, able to verbalize. An infant, for example, has no verbal labels
to use when construing a diaper as wet vs. dry--but it does make the
distinction, and act on it behaviorally. Eventually it learns the words,
and so may be able to apply that construct to other things than diapers (a
wider range of convenience, in PCP-speak).

The bipolarity of constructs follows from the fact that to identify a
similarity is to imply a contrast. If I construe someone's behavior as
"crazy", there must be some other pattern of behavior I would construe as
"not crazy." (As in the example in the previous post, to construe
something as "light" implies that there must be something "not
light"="dark"). This doesn't mean that "crazy" and "not crazy" are
objectively real categories, or that bipolarity is an invariant feature of
the "real" world. It just means that human beings are organized in such a
way as to respond to contrasts (e.g., at the cellular level, a neuron
either fires or it doesn't). Here, BTW, is one place where I think Kelly
and Maturana are very close--my construing someone as crazy is a function
of the organization of my construct system. Whether it is a useful or
valid construction depends on whether it enables me to predict their
behavior, which in turn depends on whether I have effectively construed
their constructs. This leads to the matter of intersubjective validation.

For a simpler example, let's go back to the three cards. You present me
with three cards, and ask me "how are two of these similar, and different
from the third?" (this is one common method of eliciting constructs). I
say, as in the previous example, "these two are light and this one is dark."

Now, suppose that two of the cards are different shades of red and the
other is green, and that I have grouped one red card with the green one as
"light." This might well seem odd to you, especially if you have never
heard of red-green color blindness. But if I am red-green color blind,
and have lived all my life among others with the same trait (and so know
nothing of that color distinction), your sorting the cards according to
the red/green construct (or perhaps just red/not red) will seem equally
nonsensical to me. We might even begin to think each other "crazy."

If we learn a bit more about neuroanatomy and color vision, we will have a
shared construct system that can subsume both individual construct systems
as regards those cards, and you will be able to better anticipate how I
might construe red and green objects in the future (because of the
physiological basis of the difference in this example, I might have more
difficulty anticipating your constructions, although I would at least be
able to anticipate that you would respond to distinctions I could not).
In Kelly's terms, this is a "role relationship" as defined by the
Sociality corollary. It seems to me to be not very different from
Maturana's idea of structural coupling (though expressed in a different
metaphorical language). This is how PCP theorists see intersubjective
validation as taking place--through the development of superordinate
constructs by which we construe each other's constructs--and validity is a
question of whether a particular construction is internally coherent and
yields useful predictions about future events. (In contrast to the
"correspondence to reality" theory of truth espoused by
positivist/objectivist theorists).

"Crazy" is not a construct used professionally by psychologists, partly
because it's pejorative, but mostly (I suspect) because it isn't
fine-grained enough a distinction to be useful in anticipating behavior.
But it does seem to be a pretty universal one colloquially--every culture
seems to use it, though the criteria vary a bit. Perhaps it could be
defined as an inability to negotiate shared constructions with those
around you; or perhaps it's an inability to construe the world in a
sufficiently stable and consistent way that others can construe your
construing. (Neither of these makes any reference to the content of
behavior, which of course has no inherent meaning. In the color vision
example, I referred to my hypothetical self as color-blind; but if people
with such retinas were in the majority, those who could distinguish those
frequencies of light might be labelled as having "color hallucination
disorder" or some such thing. As long as they were able to have a
superordinate construction that subsumed both subjective experiences,
they would be participating in a shared construction of reality).

I was going to respond specifically to your solipsism question, but don't
have time right now. The short answer is "no"--perhaps what I've written
above gives some clue as to why.