Are psychological problems measurable? In his documentary As long as night doesn’t fall Mark Schmidt looks at research that could prevent mental suffering. He concludes: ‘Data is not a representation of reality.’
Can you convert the human brain into numbers? Predicting the mind with data? Mark Schmidt was full of questions. In three countries, he follows with his camera research that is supposed to protect people from mental pain. In Norway, scientists who study the psychological development of children are monitored: those who show abnormalities can receive guidance to prevent the worst from happening. In the Netherlands, Schmidt tracks down a man who once suffered from psychosis and wants to avoid the next one through brain research. In the United States, the director visits a social experiment in Florida: a utopian neighborhood where biometrics must ensure a hyper-conscious, wrinkle-free health existence.
“How often do you feel sad?” “How often do you feel anxious when your parents are not around?” In Norway, scientists give children questionnaires to detect mental stress at an early stage. What is your impression of the Norwegian research?
Schmidt: “It was done with the best intentions. I don’t rule out that it can work well sometimes. But there’s also another side to it. The essence is in the questionnaires. Hard data is based on simple questions. Take the question: Have you ever counted things? For no reason?, modeled on the disorder’s idea of obsessive counting. In the film a girl says: “Yes, I like to count.” Many children enjoy counting! Is this abnormal behavior?
Mark Schmidt (1970) has previously made films about the human psyche. In winning the Golden Calf Award Matisse rules It followed a childhood friend who is autistic and can’t control his life. to In the arms of Morpheus He made a film about restless sleepers. He started with an open mind As long as night doesn’t fallHowever, he gradually grew more skeptical about the possibility of capturing the human mind in data collection.
Schmidt: “This is the complicated side of science: statistics are about the norm, the common denominator, and the deviation. But translating large numbers into an individual is a problem. Are you allowed to deviate?”
In Florida someone talks about a “contactless life.” Sounds very tempting, doesn’t it?
“To be honest, during the two weeks we filmed there, we had to escape every now and then to a bar to eat a lot of oysters and a lot of beer. We filmed in an area protected by drones, everything is put together, everything is planned, everything is done.” “His analogy is: How can we improve people? That’s so boring. If you don’t want friction, go to a holiday resort and live a frictionless life for three weeks. But resort life is hell.”
“I believe that when you experience friction, you are forced to look again at yourself, at others, and at life. Struggle makes you think about how you stand in the world. This is how you give meaning to life. Without friction, I think you have a meaningless existence.”
Is this the meaning of life?
“I think so, yes. My psychosis was a nightmare,” says the Dutchman. “And yet, sometimes I long for it again. This is a paradox, and this is exactly what is interesting. If you ask about the meaning of life, for me there is a paradox.”
Someone also says: Madness is a human being. Isn’t there a danger of romanticizing mental problems?
“Don’t get me wrong: We should stay away from romanticizing. Mental problems can be devastating, people can die from them, and bystanders can have a very hard time with them. But I think that without romanticizing them, you can also accept that bad and terrible things are part of “From life. The alternative, which is getting rid of all difficulties, is the worst in my opinion.”
When it comes to physical suffering, containment is welcome: we want pain relieved, diseases cured, disabilities preferably detected in the womb, and euthanasia socially acceptable. Why aren’t we also moving in this direction with mental illness?
“With physical problems, it is often easier to determine what is healthy and what is unhealthy. A psychological problem is not hip surgery. In psychiatry, you deal with the mind, the body, genetic influences, environmental factors… The complexity cannot simply be captured in Statistics. There’s a lot of discussion about the DSM-5, the standard book for mental disorders. It’s a collection of symptoms that have been categorized. You can question each category.
Shortly before our conversation, Schmidt ran a dam-to-dam race. 16 km. Without a smart watch. His time: ‘About an hour and a half.’ Doesn’t today’s rider want to measure and monitor everything? Schmidt: “Does this data provide me with anything, does it make me wiser? I want to feel. As long as running is good, it will be fine.”
A woman in Florida thinks very differently about this in the film: “My body is giving me signals, and the data shows it.” She seems to need the data to experience her body. This won’t seem crazy to many. Schmidt makes his film in an era of the great data-collecting craze.
Would you participate in such a study yourself? Do you want to measure something?
Schmidt thought. “In the American study, I was struck by how often it was about brushing teeth: obviously that says a lot about the person. Whether you take care of yourself, I guess. Or you’re so obsessed with eating six times a day. For myself… well , maybe small obsessions, like nail-biting. And immediately I heard that little voice in the back of my head: “So, what do you know?” Data doesn’t reflect reality. I like confusion: it leads to thinking or conversations. And that’s my fear: that statistics will end the discussion, Instead of encouraging it.
As long as night doesn’t fall It is a research, impressionistic and visual article. The creator adds an abstract layer containing graphical elements: when viewed from the air, characters are given a colored path and tracking line as they move through the environment. “It’s a metaphor for a human being who is being followed, like a mouse in a lab,” Schmidt says. The larger theme, with Schmidt’s musings on a society where bliss is the norm, seeps into the poetic voiceover by poet Saskia de Jong. “Perfection is no reflection on us.” “What if all the lawns were mowed?” they say.
You seem resigned to the idea that life involves ambiguity.
“I think that’s a nice conclusion, yes. Acknowledging that we can’t know everything. We measure because we want to understand and control. And for good reason, it has brought us a lot, also in healthcare. But measurement doesn’t help us create meaning, and when we talk About mental health, the meaning comes quickly. The most important moments in my life were the moments I had no control over. Whether those experiences were negative or positive. Not knowing doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. If someone is sitting in front of me “And I don’t understand exactly what’s going on, so I can still help. And so we come to the mystery, the not-knowing. Let’s cherish that above all else.”
As long as it’s not nightfall, it can be seen in cinemas from September 28.
Tonight will be shown at De Balie in Amsterdam with a discussion on data technology in psychiatry, also attended by Mark Schmidt.
The poor sleeper’s constant nightmare: “I can never escape myself”
Director Mark Schmidt himself suffered from nightmares. This inspired him to make a documentary about all types of sleep disorders.
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