…Depressing Reality / Realistic Depression?

Hands up, I love TEDTalks. They’ve opened my mind up to a fascinating variety of topics, ideas and philosophies. A talk of high quality has the power to completely change my opinion or further strengthen a value I hold.

I’m actually quite proud to say that sometimes I listen to a talk and find out that I’m completely wrong about something or that I’ve derived the wrong answer from the same principles. Talks like that challenge me and who doesn’t like to be challenged intellectually? For me, a TEDTalk can be easy listening for 20 minutes followed by days’ worth of questioning and reasoning in my head. It’s just as well that I find the debates that my mind hosts to be quite the spectacle. Not that I have a choice, given that I have both the best and only seat in the house.

On the other end of the scale, sometimes I have an opinion which I can’t back up at all. Often, being slightly less ignorant than the average Sun reader, I keep these opinions to myself. One of these ideas has been about reality and clinical depression, a notion that’s been circling in my mind for many years. At this point I’d love to say that I saw a TEDTalk which confirmed my thesis either way, good night and God bless. Unfortunately, I can’t. The talk simply brought everything back to focus.

The talk was about ‘The Optimism Bias’ and if you care about it enough to make me explain it, you should probably just watch the video itself. Seriously, how much of a 17 minute video, presented by an expert, do you think I could do justice to here? Exactly.

Now is as good a time as any to explain my thoughts on the matter. I believe that reality is subjective. No one person can objectify everything without their personal bias seeping in. Everyone sees the world differently; something I think we should celebrate. Physicists see things differently to Priests who see things differently to Midwives who see things differently to Daily Mail readers — which is mainly because Daily Mail readers are a special bunch, but I digress.

Based on that belief, I’ve always been intrigued by different realities and all the questions that extend from that juncture. My main objective was finding a way to access reality in the most objective manner possible; to be as logical as possible. As a result, I come across as a realist to some and a pessimist to most. People have also called me some other choice words too but they’re mainly unrelated to this venture.

A good example of what I mean can be found in fictional characters. People tend to like characters that they share a world view with. For me, one of those characters is House. I’d never adopt his approach to life but I like a character who uses blunt, unequivocal logic to achieve a goal. Others hate him for being a misanthropistic maverick. Reality is subjective, don’t forget. House is a character in a fictional world who held views that didn’t fit in with what most would consider the (fictional) “world view” but his views were proven correct, time and time again. The other characters looked at him as a depressed, sociopathic prat… yet he was effective. His reality was the one that worked.

I extrapolated this idea — not purely from House I hasten to add — and found myself with a question that’s nagged me since:

When we say someone has clinical depression because of the pessimism surrounding their world view, who’s to say they’re the ones who are ill?

In a more literal sense, if most of us are subject to the optimism bias — alongside a whole raft of other cognitive biases — then we can safely assume that our world view is skewed. Some depressives don’t have these biases, therefore we can assume that their world view is less skewed. What if depressives are correct in seeing the world the way it is?

While that feels like an end-point, a cliffhanger worthy of ending any show (take note, writers of House, because your ending was terrible), it’s another question and thus a search for another answer: Does the depression cause people to see things more clearly or do people see things more clearly and end up depressed with what they see? Similar, in some ways, to how the progression from child to adult is clouded with doubt and confusion as new variables suddenly get forced into sight.

It’s an answer I don’t have but one that I’m enjoying the quest for. I look forward to seeing how science goes about solving this mystery before eventually coming to an answer. Once it finds that answer, I’ve already got the next question lined up: Does this prove or disprove depression as a predominantly modern societal illness? If so, I welcome a time when depressives aren’t looked down upon as the mentally weak when there’s a possibility they’re the enlightened few.

Does anyone else find it irritating when someone answers your question with another question, with a smug grin that lets you know they think they’re clever? Well, I do. That’s why there’s no hint of a grin when I answer my own opening question.

Do we live in a depressing reality or is depression pseudo-realistic? Neither. Both. I don’t know. They’re both smaller parts of a larger question pertaining to depressive realism. Is depressive realism something that can ever be proven via scientific method? I can say that I’m wholly relieved to know that this is a question others are not only asking but have been doing so since before I was even born.

I strongly believe that the next breakthroughs in human development will come in the field of psychology. Hopefully we’ll be able to assess our reality objectively before we cloud our respective judgements any further. I’d like that. Or at least I think I would.