Shades of Gray: Towards a New Way of Categorizing Psychiatric Illness
A new crop of researchers hope that computational psychiatry will shift how we understand the mind, which could lead to novel ways to diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders
“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” — Buckminster Fuller.
One rainy Wednesday evening in November, I had dinner in Mayfair, central London, with a successful filmmaker, whom I’ll call Arthur. I thought I had him pinned after the first course of a rather extensive vegetarian tasting menu: a mushroom tea served in a tiny ceramic mug.
Arthur likely grew up in a small village somewhere in the northeast of England. Perhaps his father was a fisherman or worked another blue-collar job? Recognizing his creativity and intelligence early, Arthur likely excelled in his small ‘state’ (public) school and eventually made it to London to study film.
Having lived the better part of the first decade of my life in London, I was aware of the specific peculiarities of English speech. Compared with North America, where an accent usually conveys region, English accents can also signify socioeconomic class. If Arthur had attended Eton, Harrow, or Westminster, or a university like Oxford or Cambridge, the school would have sculpted his regional accent into one more “posh.” Arthur’s accent wasn’t posh. It was regional. According to an argument made decades ago by English novelist Nancy Mitford, my impressions were sound.
In 1955, inspired by a paper published in a Finnish journal by University of Birmingham professor Alan S. C. Ross, “U and Non-U: an essay in sociological linguistics,” Mitford penned “The English Aristocracy,” in which she compared the core differences between how upper-class English spoke (known as “U” for upper class) with the rest of English society (“non-U”). The essay classified people by word choice as well: the U call the after-dinner sweet ‘pudding’ and the bathroom ‘lavatory,’ for instance, whereas the non-U use ‘dessert’ and ‘toilet.’ As my barrister friend Nigel put it: “It blew up English society as we knew it: there was henceforth no hiding behind an accent alone, diction…