Oxford neuropharmacologist Susan Greenfield has become notorious for arguing that the internet is warping our minds. Many people – myself included – regard her as a scaremonger. Nevertheless, in a recent history of neuroscience that I’ve been reading for other purposes, I’ve run across Eugen Bleuler’s original 1911 account of the key symptoms of schizophrenia, a mental illness of his coinage. They consist of the “4A’s”:
(1) a blunted affect resulting in diminished emotional responding; (2) a loosening of associations causing disorganised thought; (3) ambivalence or an inability to make decisions; and (4) autism referring to a preoccupation with one’s own self or thoughts (Taken from Andrew Witkins, A History of the Brain from Stone Age to Neuroscience, Psychology Press 2015, p. 261).
Not only prolonged exposure to the video screen but also postmodern thought more generally may lead to schizophrenia — n’est-ce pas? Perhaps this is why Giles Deleuze, co-author of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, killed himself in 1995. After all, 1995 marked only the dawn of the World Wide Web, which massified this particular vision of reality, against which Greenfield (and others) continues to struggle. From this standpoint, Deleuze may seem so luminous today because he personally lived a world that is now more widely available – and, crucially, more tolerable — than ever before.
In case the lesson of this story is not clear: What passes for ‘critical’ thinking nowadays is often a rationalization of a lived situation, i.e. an ‘enjoyment of the symptom’ as Lacan/Zizek might say. In the old days, we called it ‘making a virtue out of necessity’.