Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mount TBR #40

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti – Dr. Milton Rokeach

This report tells of three paranoid schizophrenics who believed they were God or Jesus or The Holy Ghost or all three. In the late 1950s, the author put the three together to see if their delusion would be shaken by their fundamental belief that it was impossible for two or three people to have the same identity. 

Working with each other and their various caregivers in the Ypsilanti (Michigan) State Hospital, the three subjects just assumed the other two were crazy and denied that they were deluded about being a supernatural being. In fact, the three stopped arguing and fighting over identity and came to get along peacefully. More or less, considering that they were still paranoid schizophrenics, i.e. people that don’t even treat themselves nicely. 

The sensitive reader will have qualms about ethics. The three subjects were not informed that they were involved in research. The researcher used iffy interventions such as placebos and letters purporting to come from a wife and the superintendent of the facility. One has to grant the possibility that the argument could be correct that participation in the research probably would not make them worse off, since their prognosis was so poor anyway. After about two years, however, the researcher’s ethical qualms were such that he brought the experiment to a close. 

This is a valuable book for readers interested in research in the pre-Institutional Review Board world not to mention a glimpse into institutions where our society housed the mentally ill before we stored them in prisons or on city streets, like we do now. It also raises provocative  questions about why we believe in our identity and why we believe what we believe.

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