Monday, March 19, 2012

The Basis of Cotard Delusion

There are not entirely uncommon cases in Science when a person feels that he is a stone and that he is devoid of life. The medical pragmatist tended to call this a delusion but it is quite possible for one to suddenly feel lifeless. Feeling lifeless is not a low feeling or a catatonic spell. Although it could be a delusion, the feeling of lifelessness by itself is a valid experience. If it is a form of madness then like Michel Foucault said; “madness is the déjà la of death” (from Madness and Civilization). But there is a difference as there is absolutely no anticipation of reality in a person with Cotard delusion. Let me explain why I chose this topic. One point I can make for choosing it is that its experience shakes the foundation of what we commonly call reality. We experience the life of every sensation that breathes through our veins. It is for this reason that it is quite complicated a matter to define life. It would be better to resort to a more pathological perspective just to escape the metaphysical implications of this state.

The Cotard syndrome is considered to be a negation delirium. It occurs when a person has a delusional belief that he is dead which is why it is also called walking corpse syndrome. One may feel that one’s existence does not exist. The negation of oneself is treated as a consequence of existence itself. Of course it is distinct from other states such as derealisation and depersonalization. The first hint at what it means to not have life is typically boredom. In boredom one feels a lack of excitement. This lack of excitement is a state one is usually conscious about. In the case of someone with Cotard delusion the experience of lifelessness or death is not a state to be conscious of. It might be argued that this state cannot be discussed or explained by someone without this syndrome. Martin Heidegger talks about how boredom reveals the totality of existence and how boredom takes you away from the trivial and the ordinary. As long as one is conscious of something there must be life.

Supposing you walk in a garden and suddenly feel disconnected from your surroundings and your thoughts then what are you left with? You may be left with consciousness but if you are then you cannot experience lifelessness then because what takes you back to your surroundings is your consciousness. In case you lose consciousness of your own consciousness then you experience the black out of sensory perception. In this situation you cannot continue walking, clinically ‘alive’. The active cogito-reflex is absent and so is the negation of it. In such a state one is alive only to the surroundings but not to oneself. There is no self as the cogito-reflex is dead and this experience is perceived medically to be the Cotard syndrome. It is called a delusion because it is not enough for the self to deny its existence but also for the objective reality to do so.

In case someone continues living just for self/body-preservation then he is said to be in a state of ennui rather than lifelessness. The state of ennui is the affirmation of the meaninglessness of life but not death of life. The negation is not achieved in ennui but is achieved by someone with the negation delirium. The ennui afflicted individual treats experiences as a passenger would in a train. He would experience the Doppler Effect and other cascading effects and lose them as they go out of sight. The Cotard syndrome may be called the anti-solipsistic fallacy where there is someone to say that he does not exist. There is something to say there is nothing and therefore nothingness denies itself. As it is not enough for someone to say that he does not exist and as it is equally necessary for the objective reality or the ‘others’ to also negate his existence he cannot be said to be non-existent. But through it, it is still possible for someone to experience lifelessness or the negation of self despite being alive to objective reality. Therefore there is a layer of vacuum beyond consciousness which marks the end of identity and experience.

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