Is sanity collective?

I know I posted a thread along similar lines to this one, but I decided that it was a bit too broad. The question of this topic: is sanity collective? Meaning: is sanity simply what most people believe it is? Let’s assume that a man sincerely believed that there were little butterflies fluttering around his head to the point that all his senses suggested that they existed. Let us also assume that the rest of the world does not see the butterflies circling this man’s head. Now, assume that someone caused all of the world except one person to believe in the butterflies to the same degree that the man does, to the point that the input of their senses supports the existence of the butterflies. Would the man who didn’t see the butterflies now be insane?

I’ve seen this definition of sanity before: A general consensus on the content of reality. I apologize for not remembering where I read it. It could have been in a classic novel I read, or it could have been subway graffiti, I have no idea.

In any case, I believe it’s entirely true. To that definition, I might add something about a person’s own version of reality negatively affecting themselves or others. I mean, if a guy’s walking down the street happily going about his business and maintaining complete functionality, who cares if he has butterflies or not? It’s only when he starts swatting at them and screaming that it becomes an issue. The trick to appearing sane is to convince yourself and everyone around you that your version reality is acceptable.

Officially diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic posting here.
Consider if you will how much of your faith in the validity of your own perceptions comes from other people noticing and evaluating things the same way.

In my own personal experience, if you start seriously entertaining ideas of some importance and impact which are NOT generally shared by other people, you step outside of the comfort zone of being able to count on other people’s observations and assessments providing you with a convenient reality-check.

This makes it REALLY, OVERWHELMINGLY important to just accept and live with the possibility that you are off course, out to lunch, stark raving, waves ain’t making it to the shoreline. Even as you continue to believe and act on your beliefs that other people in general don’t seem to share.

MEANWHILE, the average typical relatively unimaginative person tends to reject any concept or notion to which they haven’t already been exposed, until their exposure to it reaches some kind of critical mass. You could be Einstein and on your way out of your apartment run into your neighbor and in your excitement decide to explain why energy is mass or why the speed of light is a universal constant, and your neighbor is going to think you are nuts.

Many of us who get psychiatric diagnoses are disturbing to others, and our attempts to communicate get us into institutional trouble. Many others of us (with, I should point out, a considerable degree of overlap) take a wrong turn in our conceptual, emotionally intense isolation and, regardless of the validity and usefulness of our previous castle-constructs of New Notions, Unusual Beliefs, etc, depart from the portion of them that make sense and entertain with equal fervor some that just don’t make it to the shoreline. And unless we are resilient and able to live with our own fallibility and have a sense of humor, we aren’t very willing to consider the possibility that we are wrong and react to challenges to our belief-systems with the pattern you know as paranoia; we get increasingly rigid and fragile and inflexible and farther and farther out to lunch, and often lose the original good valid creative intuitive core of interesting thought that started us out on this journey. (And if this weren’t otherwise true, a little psychiatric intervention will pretty much guarantee this).

In other words, yes.

This is an old parable which has likely been adapted numerous times. I’ve got an SF collection that has it dressed as a space colony story

     The Mad King

 Once upon a time, there was a joyful and prosperous kingdom. Everyone was happy, the king was wise and benevolent and life was good. One night an evil sorceror sent his minions to pour an elixir into all the wells in the kingdom. Those who drank the water went instantly mad. They saw and heard  things that were not there and behaved in strange and unpredictable ways. 
The king woke late that day, for his servants had failed to wake him. He smelled no breakfast cooking and could hear no sounds in the palace. Investigating, he found all the people gathered around the well in the village square. He knew at once what had happened. But the people would not believe him. Why, they wondered, can the king not see purple horse orchestra, or hear their beatiful music? They grew sad then. For the king would declare that things did not, could not, exist and his actions were strange to them. The people knew that the king must be mad.
   The king returned to the palace. He hoped than in its many libraries he would find some way to cure his people. But there was none. The next day, the king went to the well and drank the water. The king had seemed grim, but now he smiled. In a rousing voice, he told the people that this year's violin harvest would be the largest crop ever. The people smiled then, for the king had regained his sanity.

In a word, yes. If ‘we’ (as a society, I s’pose) didn’t classify thoughs/behaviors/etc. as “sane”, then “insane” wouldn’t exist & vice versa.

Did that make any kind of sense? It did in my head…Really!

Not necessarily. Sanity, and the valuation thereof, is as collective as morality, and the valuation thereof. Clearly as a practical issue even if you don’t think you’re insane but the rest of the society does than there is probably little you could do to dissuade them, but that isn’t to say they are right. Of course they think they’re right; they’re them, after all. And I would always say I’m right (until I find I am wrong, and then adjust myself to think I’m right by replacing what I thought wrongly).

In any matter in which two parties cannot agree on a method of evaluation there can be no definitive response. I think sanity falls within this parameter.

That is not to say that I would have problems saying that someone was insane, of course. One just has to accept that I only know that I am right. This really is a hand here. Really. You can look for yourself, of course, but to really test it is a hand, wouldn’t you have to watch it pick something up? And even then, how would you really know that I was the one who commanded it to do so?

The vanishing point of certainty is the limit of disagreement; where we agree, there can be no doubt. Where we disagree, there can be no certainty. Where we simply wonder, there can be only speculation.

For the most part, yes, I think sanity is a social concept. However, there’re a couple caveats:

  1. Imagine, if you will, two primative hunters. One hallucinates, and the other does not. I think there’s a clear difference between the two–after all, one has a handicap when it comes to hunting (I’m assuming here that you can’t feed your family on a hallucination).

  2. Some “mental illnesses” (or whatever term you like) really can kill you. I’m thinking primarily of anorexia here, but there are others. Even if there is some social component, the person’s mind is still at risking of causing the person to die.