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What Schizophrenia Teaches Us About Perception

Reality cannot be defined.

Joshua Earle/Unsplash
Source: Joshua Earle/Unsplash

Schizophrenia is defined as a mental illness characterized by the psychotic elements which cause abnormal social behavior and the failure to recognize and comprehend what is real and what is not real.

But who is qualified to deem what is real?


actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.

To imagine is to form a mental or concept of. A figment of the imagination is synonomous for hallucination.

But who is qualified to deem what is real?

The person conducting the reality test - the process of, objectively, discerning what is real and what is a hallucination - deems such things. This person gets to decide whether or not what you are seeing is real or is in your mind, thereby labeling your brain with either psychosis or sanity. Psychologically speaking, psychotic people lack insight.


the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.

But isn't it possible, that this mentally ill person who lacks insight, is not mentally ill at all? What if the tables are turned? What if, the insight this "schizophrenic" person lacks is insight upon a hallucination the "sane" person is experiencing, and the hallucination of the schizophrenic is actually reality? Who is to say what is real and what is not? And what does it matter? Schizophrenia is, for all intents and purposes, a label, by definition. What does it do for us, to attempt to define what is real and what is not real, and to work so hard to remove the label from behind our names? Why should we accept such a label to start with? Would we, in such cases of societal standards, label ourselves with "hipster", especially if we were in fact hipsters? We wouldn't, because the very act of it would epitomize the opposition of everything hipsters stood for.

We are hipsters.

The very definition of schizophrenia stigmatizes the entire human race as a parallel universe, thereby refusing the reality of exclusivity. In artistic society, we are categorized by how we see the world in a billion different shades of light, leading to the creations manifested by the alternate perceptions of the single universe we live in. Banksy sees conflict; Van Gogh saw beauty. I see words; a good friend sees fashion. Mental illness or not, we all want to be simultaneously different and understood. Would any teenager ever complain of being misunderstood if what was real to them - pain, angst - was homologous to the ideals and current situations of their parents' lives? How can reality be singularly defined by countless elements of our world that are never once repeated or duplicated?

It can't. There is no almighty ruler of what is real and what is not in this world. Perception is subjective in every human life, and it is not what we see that classifies us as sane or insane, but what we choose to manifest from that visualization or hallucination. Based solely upon the creations I will leave behind me in this world, I would like to say that perception of all who come after me would lean towards sanity.

Schizophrenia is just a word.


American Psychiatric Association. (2010) "Schizophrenia".

Aggernaes, A. (1994) Reality testing in schizophrenia: Nordic Journal of Psychiatry.