Why isn’t homosexuality (or religion) a mental disorder?

In a comment discussion last month, we touched on the question of whether religion could ever be considered a mental disorder. This is a common idea among atheists, sometimes expressed as a joke, or sometimes claimed seriously. I am not mentally ill, so I would defer to other people to explain why it is wrong to compare religion and mental illness even as a joke. Here I will ignore the jokes and consider only the serious question: Why isn’t religion a mental disorder?

According to the DSM-5,

A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’ s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress or disability in social, occupational or other important activities. An expectable or culturally approved response to a common stressor or loss, such as the death of a loved one, is not a mental disorder. Socially deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) and conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are not mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict results from a dysfunction in the individual, as described above. [emphasis mine]

There you go. Religious behavior isn’t a mental disorder because the DSM-5, an authoritative document, says so. However, you could be forgiven for not taking the DSM’s word for it. Let’s dig deeper.

Look at what else has been excluded from mental disorders: socially deviant sexual behavior. This exclusion arises from a famous controversy, which led to the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM in 1973. And until 1987, homosexuality remained as a mental disorder (“Sexual Orientation Disturbance” and later “Ego-dystonic Homosexuality”) as long as the patient was distressed about their orientation. The architect of these decisions was psychiatrist Robert Spitzer. I believe that Spitzer himself offers the best insight into the definition of mental disorders.

[Read more…]

Inheritance of sin

In my Catholic education, we learned that Adam and Eve committed original sin, which released evil upon the world. I don’t recall to what extent Adam and Eve were literally real people, but that was beside the point. The point was that original sin causes temptation, temptation leads to sin, and sin leads to evil.

I have heard many critiques of the content of Christian morality (e.g. homosexuality is a condition like alcoholism, no sex before marriage) and its methodology (e.g. it is right/wrong because God said so), but relatively few critiques of the most common frameworks. Temptation, whatever pedagogical value it might have for kids, can be quite damaging when it’s your primary moral framework. Temptation produces a strong association between sin and anything mildly hedonistic. People sin because it feels good, so if you feel good you must be doing something wrong.

The concept of sin itself also has many problems. It refers to wrongdoing, but it is also the source of all evil. Therefore, any evil arising from natural causes must also come from wrongdoing. How does bad behavior produce bad weather? Apparently sin kinda floats around and sticks to people. Or maybe sinning sets in motion an invisible Rube Goldberg machine–a Rube Goldberg machine of evil. The mechanism has never been very clear.
[Read more…]

Linkspam: October 10th, 2016

Earlier this month, Niki Massey of Seriously?!? died.  Dana has a roundup of memorial posts for Niki, and to that I would like to add one from Prismatic Entanglements.  All I can say about Niki was I ran into her blog around February, and it just immediately clicked for me.  I didn’t even know her and yet I feel this was a great loss.  On a side note, she was also openly ace, although not known in the ace blogosphere.

In more positive news, new bloggers are now being added to FtB.  I’ll link them all later, once they’ve been given a chance to settle.  Now, for links from the past month.

Rebirth of Dudebro – Great American Satan shared this one in the comments, in response to the idea of atheist jerks.  I definitely agree with the observation that the atheist dudebro type is systematic, and endlessly replenishes itself.  Just the other week in the local student group, some new guy made jokes about Asians.  Dude, you live in California, you can’t be that clueless.

When people complain about atheist assholes, I have a mix of feelings.  First, I don’t necessarily believe you, because everyone is a jerk according to someone else.  Second, you think you have it bad, but I willingly associate with these people on a frequent basis.  Which maybe makes me a jerk too, although I’m a different kind of jerk.

Thoughts on cults – Ozy suggests replacing “cult” with “spiritual abuse”.  “Cult” has the problem of targeting strange (but not necessarily harmful) behavior, and targeting new religions, whereas “spiritual abuse” can equally apply to major religions, and is not either/or.  I largely agree with this, although I also agree with the first comment that “cult” captures a bunch of heuristic properties of a certain kind of problematic group.

I generally avoid calling groups cults because I think of it as basically an insult for new religions, and I don’t have any particular beef with new religions.  On the contrary, since non-belief is gaining popularity among the younger generation, I fully expect to see more sympathetic atheistic new religions in my lifetime. [Read more…]

Unpopular tastes

I’ve said before that I tend not to like things that are popular (e.g. movies, music, TV shows, topics of interest, etc.). I reflect a lot on the minor disadvantages associated with such unpopular tastes.

To give an example, the popularly preferred social network is Facebook. What if you happen to hate Facebook, and instead prefer Google+? Either you join a network that’s missing most of your friends, or you just put up with a network you dislike. Many people think this problem could be solved if either Facebook changes or people leave. While this might help, the problem could never be eliminated, since there will always be someone dissatisfied with the most popular social network.

When it comes to social networks, many people want one that has their friends on it. But what about books? Do you particularly care whether you can find friends who like the same books? If you really like Ulysses, does it matter to you that few other people understand?
[Read more…]

The Physics Nobel this year

A few days ago, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Haldane, Kosterlitz, and Thouless, ”for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”Hey, I recognize two of those names!  In my field of research, superconductivity, there’s something known as the Berezinskiĭ-Kosterlitz-Thouless transition.  (Berezinskiĭ didn’t win the Nobel because he died in 1980.)

As always, the Nobel provides an article explaining the background for popular audiences.  I’m just going to talk about it briefly to give you the gist.

Berezinskiĭ, Kosterlitz, and Thouless (BKT) explained the superconducting transition in flat, 2-dimensional materials.  Below a certain temperature, the material becomes a superconductor, conducting electricity with precisely zero resistance.  Above that temperature, it behaves as a normal material.  What changes?

Superconductors have topological defects called vortices (singular form is “vortex”), which I depict below:

On the left, a grid of atoms where all arrows point outwards from a topological defect. On the right, the arrows point horizontally outwards and vertically inwards.

Here, each blue circle is an atomic site, and the arrow represents the “phase” of the superconductor.  The two squares above show the two kinds of vortices, the “+” vortex and “-” vortex.  These vortices behave as electrical charges, with like repelling like, and opposite charges attracting. [Read more…]

Origami: WXYZ Impostor

WXYZ IMpostor
WXYZ Impostor. The design is mine, but I include WXYZ units, designed by Tung Ken Lam.

Once a year, I run a little class to teach origami to kids. This year, one of the projects was to create the famous WXYZ model, which consists of four intersecting triangles (labeled W, X, Y, and Z). So I had been thinking about this model, and thought, I could design a variation on the theme. The result is shown above.

Once I had completed it, I realized I could not show this to the kids! It would just confuse them! The WXYZ Impostor looks like the model they were trying to create, but is slightly different in a way that is difficult to place. Check out the comparison below.
[Read more…]

Paper: The Sokal Hoax

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal was unhappy with the tendency in academic postmodernism to dismiss scientific work. So he submitted a bogus paper called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to Social Text, a journal in cultural studies. After it was published, he revealed it as a hoax. And now, it is one of the best known shots fired at academic anti-science.

While the hoax is a good conversation-starter, I would caution against thinking it’s a total slam-dunk. Journals are there to filter out shoddy work, rather than bad faith actors. Secondly, AFAICT Social Text is a journal of mediocre impact. Finally, Sokal himself said that academic postmodernism has now backed off from many of its previous excesses. (Sokal credits the Bush administration, which was more effective at satirizing academic postmodernism than he ever was.)

In any case, this is a paper report. To humorous ends, I will review Sokal’s paper as if it were a serious work.
[Read more…]