There is an emerging possibility that schizophrenia can be cured without medication by an ‘avatar’.
A treatment using this premise is being fully tested now with the support of the Wellcome Institute. Even if the cure is not a permanent solution its reduction of the impact of aggressive voices on the sufferer from an initial test group of 14 was significant, 2 of the subjects stopped hearing voices. Given that statistics claim that up to 7% of the population suffer from low-level schizophrenia and 1 in 10 sufferers commit suicide (also bearing in mind the violent random attacks that can be brought on by the condition) it seems an important field of investigation effecting thousands of people.
The onset of the modernist literature at the end of the eighteen hundreds saw the development of unstable narrators whose perspectives and emotional landscapes were oscillating and bifurcating across ever emerging subjective states. Writers such as August Strindberg and Knut Hamsun epitomise these fractured selves in their plays and novels. Strindberg himself suffered a schizophrenic breakdown (1894-96), which is described in detail in Occult Diaries and Inferno. Seers has used references to both of these authors in her works It has to be this way, Monocular, Nowhere Less Now 4, 2052 Selves. Beyond these initial literary influences her interest in schizophrenia grew when a brilliant student of hers was sectioned 15 years ago and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
The implication that virtual technology (Avatar Therapy) can have such an impact on consciousness–that it can actually prevent psychotic hallucinations, points to the influence a representational image has over the mind, the consequences of which should expose just how significant images relating to perceived reality v spectral reality are to our unconscious and conscious mind.
Twelve of the initial subjects of the 14 involved in Professor Leff’s study into Avatar Therapy were without doubt that the avatars which represented their persecutor (and which they prepared together with their psychologist and virtual reality technicians) were the embodiment of their own demons/protagonists.
The system of the Avatar Therapy works by screening the virtual head with a live voice lip-synched to the clinicians voice speaking the words identified by the psychologist as belonging to the persecutors voice. This voice is modified to sound like the persecution voice heard by the sufferer with the collaboration of sound technicians. The avatar goads the patient, as is their want. The clinician then speaks off camera to the patient telling them that the avatar is wrong and asks the patient to defend himself or herself against the inappropriate criticism/denigration. Slowly the patient gains strength and begins to defend themselves. After the therapy the patient takes an mp3 recording with them and keeps it in their pocket on a small player, which they can listen to this whenever the voices come back.
When Hamsun claimed himself as potentially schizophrenic during his trial for treason he meant it as a condition that was creative and not destructive and ultimately it may manifest itself as something that does not cause suffering. In this ilk Guattari and Deleuze use schizophrenia as a way of breaking out of systems of control implemented by society.
Guattari worked as a psychologist at the experimental clinic La Borde in France. One patient of Guattari’s Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée performed magic and set up a circus with Victoria Chaplin at La Borde, This circus which involved clowns and animals was used clinically at La Borde as a means of treatment with patients performing in the acts as well as watching. (Both Victoria and Jean-Baptiste performed in Fellini’s film The Clowns and set up the Cirque Invisible).
Other literary influences on my new work come from Artaud, Buchner, Pessoa and Philip K Dick. Both Artaud and Buchner are mentioned in the schizoid philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari. Artaud coined the phrase Body without Organs which is used throughout Anti Oedipus; Captialism and Schizophrenia and a Thousand Plateaus to address subjectivity and its relationship to the physical and psychologically defined body. Also D+G’s philosophy mirror Seers own interest for her works to lean towards complexity rather than its inverse.
Buchner wrote a short incomplete novel called Lenz (a portrait of a schizophrenic based on the actual diaries of Lenz). The novel opens with Lenz walking in the mountains his sensitivity to his environment is so intense as to bring him to the edge of madness. I draw a reference here to ‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep’. In the novel a character called Mercer repeatedly climbs a mountain on which he comes under attack from unknown forces; he is a religious guru who promises and preaches empathy. It is important to note Dick’s writing on and own experience of schizophrenia and the relevance of this to the project. In Blade Runner (the film based on the Dick book) an empathy test is used to identify synthetic humans, but the machine has a flaw, which cannot distinguish between schizophrenics and the nexus (synthetic humans). Empathy is what is at stake in the novel and man’s relationship to animals and the natural world epitomizes this question of empathy – in the novel the most meaningful thing a human can do is own an organic (not synthetic) animal.
Anil K Seth is a neuroscientist who has taken on what seems to be the most esoteric problem for neuroscience – how to evidence and quantify consciousness in the brain both human and animal. His description of the schizophrenic minds inability to accept the evidence from reality from the physical world whilst being over powered by the brains desire to respond to a pre-formed suppositions (in this case corrupted and paranoid) were verified by my conversations with the experience of schizophrenia by my former student (DD). No amount of physical evidence could convince DD for example that his friend was not recording him with a hidden receiver embedded in his friends ear –the fact that DD could not see the device confirmed to DD that the Government was involved in obscuring this truth. Anil’s experiments test the limits of introceptive and extroceptive experience in interpreting lived experiences and he is charting brain activity to create maths for these predictive systems that help us process what we believe to be real. He also uses virtual and augmented reality to test the brains responses to body consciousness.
(Strindberg’s Occult Diaries also significantly evidence this breakdown of external modification of internal inferences.)
Artaud’s Theater and its Double and his manifesto for Theatre of Cruelty is also relevant to this work. Artaud himself a schizophrenic proposes an intensity for theatre in which the audience will have to see truths. His rules for theatre have also informed the architecture of this worThe Bayesian equation for probability in neuroscientist Anil K Seth’s work takes into account a subjects prior beliefs about an emerging situation –i.e. how one takes evidence from a new event to add to a priori or embodied knowledge hence modifying our understanding in a feedback loop that reinterprets this new event in the light of its fresh evidence. Hence driven forward by memory we modify the past with the present and also the present with the past introceptively and extroceptively – the brain uses this information feedback to act (at least according to Seth) as a kind of prediction machine for the most likely understanding of what is happening inside and outside of the body. Of course errors can occur. He demonstrates even instability in our body awareness – where the position of the body itself in space can be misinterpreted by the brain. He uses the heartbeat of a subject to join them to an augmented reality.
The Art of Memory was a significant Neo-platonic device, which emerged in the Renaissance as a means to elevate the mind to a point beyond the material world to a place of omnipotence which it was believed could influence time – the past and future. It was an esoteric and metaphysical endeavor when in the hands of Giordano Bruno. This involved an idea of a specific place – an actual theatre as illustrated by Robert Fludd – seemingly a Shakespearean theatre. Influences from the memory theatre and also in the influence of colour over emotional states are used in the architecture of this wor
A previous proposal
Seers is proposing a waiting room – this waiting room is part of the work and not just a holding space – it is a threshold, waiting as an activity, visitors should be at least 20 minutes in this space and are asked not to talk and use any electronic devices. It will be white and brightly lit with a book, a slim volume which will contain a story written in the form of a parable. There is a portrait on the wall. The participant takes a number on entry. When their number is ready they enter through a door. They walk along a long corridor dimly lit they see a chair waiting for them. They sit in the chair – someone walks over to them and slips a device over their finger and fixes this arm to the chair – they begin to hear their heartbeat in the room. They are given headphones – the heartbeat can still be heard outside through the headphones – the chair turns 180 degrees to the green screen. Projected is an image of a mountain scene – mist and elemental changes occur. We see breath condensing into a cloud. We see an image of a man climbing in the mountains – a real scene that slips into a virtual one. There is sound but not language. Music. The scene darkens to night and as he walks he is hit by a rock but continues, we see the moon ahead of him but become aware that the scene is painted – that he is walking in a set. Animals emerge from the darkness – real and then virtual – they seem to express emotional states, happiness, sadness, fear. The red screen lights up and sound is coming from it – but a voice says not to turn around to look at it. The two screens are working at the same time and the viewer is aware that an image is coming from the other screen but can not see it directly – flashes of light feed through reflecting on visible surfaces. The chair slowly turns to the next visible scene on the red screen – the animals from the green screen are here now in the red screen but in a circus with clowns – the image starts to become violent, the clowns and creatures enter attack/defensive mode. Now the heartbeat is replaced with a recorded heartbeat, which is significantly faster and louder. The persecution head now appears and the animals dissolve – huge head starts to talk (perhaps using the content of real sufferers persecution voices and text from Lenz original diaries?) It starts its attack but low level voices are always there coming from behind asking for the subject in the chair to defend themselves. As it reaches the pitch of its assault the chair turns away from the head slowly to the blue screen – it passes the green screen where we see the man from the mountains hunched forward in despair he looks up and tells them it is nearly over. At the blue screen there is a silent head a female clown, the red head is still ranting but far away behind –but the head in the blue room takes on the role of gentle comedy mocking the red head, then starts to support the viewer (based on therapeutic techniques). The make-up slips away and it is no longer a clown. The voice of this avatar is a live feed. An actor is in a hidden place and can see the participant through a hidden camera or from a hidden vantage point. They ask the person to change their physical position in some way, or remark on their heartbeat rate, which has returned to live feed. It must become evident that this avatar is live and present. The avatar speaks as Mercer speaks after he is exposed as an actor in Do androids dream of electric sheep. This dialogue makes a case for the fact that even though Mercer is a failed actor and the scene in the mountains a set it does not change anything – he is still real and will continue to support and empathize as before. Ultimately this work is using a philosophy from theatre (Artaud) for a cinematic experience. It moves from embodied to disembodied experience and questions the role of catharsis which cinema seems to have taken on. Even at a very simplistic level how often have we seen people cry at films when they cannot purge these emotions in life? Avatar therapy could be used in other ways – perhaps it already is – inadvertently?