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Namah Journal

Mental health

Apropos exclusivism in thinking

Dr. Soumitra Basu

One of the greatest concerns in psychiatry is the issue of delusional thinking that underlies the phenomenon of psychotic illness. A delusion is considered to be a firm, fixed, false idea that cannot be corrected by reasoning and presentation of facts to the contrary and that is out of tune with the subject’s socio-cultural and educational background. There might be weird delusions with homicidal intent which can become difficult to deal with, as they defy all logic and are not amenable to counselling. Such delusions constitute a threat to society and have to be professionally dealt with. In extreme cases, such subjects have to be isolated from the rest of the community till he or she recovers meaningful insights.

So far so good. But what about the otherwise normal people who have marked overvalued ideas! Such overvalued ideas fall short of delusional thinking but nevertheless have far more disruptive effects on the society at large. What about the religious fundamentalist cult head who imposes fanatical ideas on those innocent people who grope for an ideal to which they can be faithful? What about the diehard atheist commentator who misguides the reasoning mind? What about the political mass leader who can effectively establish falsehood as truth and in the process dupe large masses of citizens? These people are not considered to be psychiatric patients and in fact some of them may consider themselves to be super-normal. Yet they do far more harm to the society than a group of delusional subjects can. For actually there are many delusional subjects who live in their own world of fantasy. They may be a social burden in terms of maintenance but they do not usually burden others by their behaviour. There seems to be some truth in the once popular (though now discredited) anti-psychiatric stance that it is the society which is primarily at fault.

Anyway, our concern is that humanity must grow out of overvalued ideas. After all there is a grey zone between overvalued ideas and delusion. It also can be possible that, in some instances, overvalued ideas may be the precursor to delusional thinking. And one day we may acknowledge that the very presence of overvalued ideas in the ideational stratosphere actually facilitates, albeit indirectly, delusional thinking. Just like the stockpiling of arms by nations can facilitate conflicts, which might not have happened in the absence of such indirect stimulation.

The Mother was especially concerned about such exclusivism in thinking which is actually more dangerous than a simple delusional idea. All such exclusive mental ideas fall short of the integrative world-view which is required to perfect ideational thinking. The Mother considered that it was imperative that the New Consciousness should surpass exclusivism:
“The bankruptcy of religions was because they were divided — they wanted you to follow one religion to the exclusion of all others. And all human knowledge has gone bankrupt because it was exclusive… The step forward humanity must take immediately is a definitive cure of exclusivism (1).”

The possibility of overvalued ideas could be reduced if we were taught from an early age to develop non-linear thinking. This would need a surpassing of the rational mind to reach what Sri Aurobindo called the Higher Mind. The Higher Mind is a supra-cognitive field that is capable of mass ideation and can simultaneously hold contradictory and complementary ideas without chaos and confusion. A programme in personal growth that is preparatory to developing the faculties of the Higher Mind, can allow the equal appreciation of contradictory ideas. Children could be trained to think simultaneously with alternative ideas of the same topic. Is that possible? One may argue that if a child can be trained to play chess with oneself, he or she can also be trained to counter oneself at the ideational and conceptual level. In a debate competition children could be encouraged to individually come up with alternative viewpoints on the same topic. It would be a small but significant beginning.

A sort of lateral thinking is now acknowledged to enhance creativity but something more is needed. One has to train oneself to be unbiased and non-judgmental towards an alternative set of ideas generated by others or even by oneself. This would make subjects capable of unbiased thinking and would counter exclusivism and improve the mental health of the community at large. At one stroke the mind would rise above the strata of dogmatic thinking. What a great relief this would be! Is it not true that we waste a lot of time, energy and resources by holding on to a set of idiosyncratic ideas as if the whole existence depended on a particular set of ideas? Throughout history generations of people have unnecessarily wasted their lives by clinging to a certain set of dogmatic ideas as if other viewpoints were valueless. At an optimal point in the flow of consciousness, things should start changing. It would not be immediately reflected in the mass-mind but even if selected minds are receptive, the message would spread.


1. The Mother. Mother’s Agenda, Volume 11. Paris: Institut des Recherches Évolutives; 1970 (English translation), pp. 22-24.

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Psychotic illness