Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Patient's Paradox

The patient in question is a living embodiment of the familiar Liar's Paradox ("this statement is false") -- a deeply delusional man whose delusions are nevertheless completely accurate. Psychiatrist and philosopher Bill Fruford describes him in his enticingly titled book Philsophical Psychopathology:

[There is an] even more fundamental sense in which delusions may not be false beliefs, namely that for some patients this would present us with a paradox.

I have reported one such case that occurred in Oxford... The patient, a 43-year-old man, was brought into the Accident and Emergency Department following an overdose. He had tried to kill himself because he was afraid he was going to be "locked up". However, this fear was secondary to a paranoid system at the heart of which was the hypochondriacal delusion that he was "mentally ill".

He was seen by the duty psychiatrist and by the consultant psychiatrist on call, neither of whom were in any doubt that he was deluded. Indeed, both were ready on the strength of their diagnosis to admit him as an involuntary patient.

Yet had their diagnosis depended on the falsity of the patient's belief, as in the standard definition, they would have been presented with a paradox: if the patient's belief that he was mentally ill was false, then (by the standard definition) he could have been deluded, but this would have made his belief true after all.

Equally, if his belief was true, then he was not deluded (by the standard definition), but this would have made his belief false after all. By the standard definition of delusion, then, his belief, is false, was true and, if true, was false.

via Mind Hacks

1 comment:

Chris said...

Awesome! I saw another interesting liar's logic puzzle applied to real life (at least fictional real life) in the TV show NUMBERS. Two suspects told conflicting stories, one of which had to be true, and one false. The detective (prompted by the mathematician character) asked each what the other's story would be. He got the same answer from both, and assumed that to be the false answer. If only life were so logical...

Here are some other fun paradox (or are they?) sentences:

This statement cannot be proved true

"is proceeded by its own quotation" is proceeded by its own quotation.

"is NOT proceeded by its own quotation" is NOT proceeded by its own quotation.

(these last two ideas stolen from Quine via Douglas Hoffstaedter)