Would you be surprised that having schizophrenia helps a person think critically? It can, provided that the major instabilities of the illness are effectively dealt with. Nearly every person with schizophrenia has some elements of paranoia, even the stable and relatively rational ones as I’d like to think I am. My mind works very much in terms of suspicion of what people are saying and attempts to figure out what they are NOT saying. I tend to presuppose that everyone I am dealing with has some sort of hidden agenda and is trying to achieve some secret goal they are not disclosing. This can hinder private dealings with people, but is an essential approach to public statements made in our century. The fact is that, today, nearly everyone making a public statement IS after something they’re not telling you about, and the content of their public speech is an attempt to achieve some goal that they don’t want the people hearing or reading that speech to know. This is in obedience to the necessities of the universe (colloquially, “the laws of nature”), which, from a critical realist point of view, always disguise the hidden truth with a false appearance. Nothing can be done about it except to be wary and stay on guard, which someone prone to paranoia naturally does.
Of course, it’s important that a person’s thoughts not be disordered. Having disorder in one’s thoughts is the death of all attempts at critical thought, because critical thought is above all ordered, which means self-consistent, even if potentially deluded. The most extreme example of self-consistency, mathematics, doesn’t necessarily correspond to anything real, but its internal consistency has been robust enough to change how we experience life, and has largely shaped our twenty-first-century perspectives. Alternatives to mathematics are possible when trying to get at the truths of our slippery reality, and many are implemented almost esoterically, as if the techniques and methods they involve were commercially sensitive. Each of us must necessarily come up with her own critical system, drawing critically on whatever sources she can, at the risk that her system is claptrap (a British word that means “self-consistent nonsense” and contrasted with “twaddle,” which is “self-inconsistent nonsense”).
The danger of a claptrap critical thinking system is better expressed as the danger of delusion, especially when talking about people with schizophrenia, who are highly prone to delusions. Yet the real question is whether any critical system can be anything other than claptrap. To the best of our knowledge, the answers to the ultimate questions of life are permanently out of reach, and we must be content with what makes sense to us and enables us to be effective. And that is the key feature of a good critical thinking system: not an impossible grasp of ultimate truth, but effectiveness. A good critical thinking system enables us to minimize the trouble and distress in our lives and take the best path to achieving our goals. In the end, we are all deluded, and what distinguishes the delusions of someone with schizophrenia from the delusions of Machiavelli and his spiritual heirs is that the latter always got everything they wanted while the former never was able to get a single thing.
I’m very happy being suspicious, because suspicion is essential to survival in today’s world. And if the internal coherence of my suspicions points to something that you find delusional, rest assured that you’re necessarily delusional too, and our delusions are simply different.