From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madness on shifting cultural perceptions of the nonrational:
It is fortunate [..] that there were no psychiatrists around who might have locked up Paul or Brother Klaus, Joan of Arc or George Fox for their auditory and visual hallucinations. Is our problem, perhaps, to be found more in our conception of what is normal than in what is called sick?
We are living in an age of transition, still under the spell of an era of reason and positivism, but entering a new one of tolerance for the nonrational. Our psychiatry still belongs to the era we are leaving. Then, men looked on mind as consisting of the rational functioning of consciousness, assuming a right way and a wrong way to think and feel. A mental “normal” was assumed by a general consensus and would be demonstrated statistically, such that all so favored could be properly alike, adapted and adjusted one to another. In contrast to such norms were the unusual and nonrational ways, which then were called “disorders.” There could be no room for the Pauls, Foxes, and Blakes in this world of norms; imagine anyone talking with his visions! Things must be called by their proper designations: Trances were hysterical, visions and voices were visual and auditory hallucinations — and nothing more. All that departed from the normal was by definition symptomatic of the abnormal, the pathological.
In a new age that has a degree of tolerance and understanding for the nonrational, how far can we go with it? Have we room in our new world for divine possession, like the Balinese ecstatic dancer or the whirling dervish? If we are not going to expect that all should be alike and are to agree instead that the psyche has its own strange ways of accomplishing its ends, then perhaps what were called symptoms and syndromes may call for a different interpretation and evaluation.
Symptoms are judged by the fact of departure from the norms. If we look upon these same phenomena as expressions of inner experience, as valid psychic process and content, then a thorough reassessment of them is called for.
We might compare this problem with experience in the arts. If we were so governed by a rationalistic age that we expected painting to depict the objective world realistically, then the photographic would be “normal” and the Chagalls and Blakes “abnormal.” Or in literature, if it were expected that “normal” meant clear descriptive and narrative prose, then Goethe’s Faust, Part 2, would be considered crazy. So with psychic life. If health means stark reality-orientation and adjustment, then the adolescent storms have no place; they are sickness, not creative turmoils. If the psyche is expected to grow smoothly in its developmental stages, in gradually ascending steps, like the grades in schooling, there is no place for turbulence. But if we grant recognition to the empirical facts — that the psyche grows instead by cataclysmic upheavals — we must change our model. It is an organism that grows more like the deciduous tree than the evergreen; periods of leafing and flowering alternate with periods of recession and resorption. The psyche grows by renewals — death and new life, revolutions and overthrows of what has been, and the burgeoning of new forms dislodging the old ones.