The DSM literally makes everyone crazy

Having a book like the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in Mental Disorders,” a large catalog of ways that people can be crazy, inherently creates more crazy people. I’m not talking about this in a sociological or historical sense, but in a geometrical one.

First some intuitive geometry. Imagine a cloud of points floating still in front of your face, maybe a hundred or so, and try to visualize all the points that are on the outside of the cloud, as if you had to shrink-wrap the cloud and the points making up the border started to poke out and become noticeable. Maybe a quarter of your points are making up this border of your cloud — remember that. Now take that away and instead shine a light at your cloud of points to cast it’s shadow on a wall. You’re now looking at a flat shadow of the same point cloud. If you do the same thing on the shadow, draw a line connecting all the points that make up the border around it, it turns out that the points making up the border of the flat cloud are a smaller percentage of all the points, less than a quarter. That’s because a lot of points that were on the top and bottom in three dimensions look like they’re in the middle when you flatten down to two dimensions: only the dots that described a particular diameter of the cloud are still part of the border of this flattened one. And, going in the opposite direction, up from shadow to cloud to tens of dimensions, what ends up happening is that the number of points in the “middle” crashes: with enough dimensions, they’re all outliers. A single point’s chances of not being an outlier on any dimension are small. This is a property of point clouds in high dimensions: they are all edge and no middle.

Back to being crazy. Let’s define being crazy as being farther along on a spectrum than any other person in your society. Real crazy is more nuanced, but let’s run with this artificial definition for a second. And let’s say that we live in a really simple society with only one spectrum along which people define themselves. Maybe it’s “riskiness,” so there’s no other collective conceptions of identity, no black or white or introverted or sexy or tall or nice or fun, you’re just something between really risky and not. Most everyone is a little risky, but there’s one person who is really really risky, and another person who less risky than anyone else. Those are the two crazy people in this society. With one dimension of craziness, there can only be two truly crazy people, and everyone else is in the middle. Now add another dimension, e.g. “introvertedness.” Being a lot of it, or very little of it, or a bit introverted and also risky or non-risky, all of those things can now qualify a person as crazy. The number of possible crazy people is blowing up — not because the people changed, but only as a geometrical consequence of having a society with more dimensions along which a person can be crazy. The number of people on the edge of society’s normal will grow exponentially with the number of dimensions, and before you know it, with maybe just ten dimensions, almost no one is “normal” because almost everyone is an outlier in one way or another.

The DSM-V, at 991 pages, offers so many ways in which you and I could be screwy that it virtually guarantees that all of us will be. And, thanks to the geometry of high-dimensional spaces, the thicker that book gets, the crazier we all become.