3) Depression and the Post Human: Daniel van Schaik

October 8, 2014

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— Material and Form / Emotions and Thoughts 


When we talk about depression it is important to distinguish the difference between a ‘thought’ and an ‘emotion.’ Thoughts manifest in the brain as an internal dialogue and as previously discussed, can be as damaging as they are liberating. They are constructed through experience, events, education, memories etc. and are in constantly in motion. Feelings and/or emotions are different in that they are raw incidents that our mind produces as a reaction to an event or thought. As opposed to the act of thinking, an emotion can culminate outside of the brain and affect your body. When your happy you react by smiling, whilst sadness prompts a tear and anxiety can make you feel nauseous.


A thought tends to consist of a string of words that we say to ourselves, whilst a feeling can usually be summed up in one term. For example, you might contemplate, “life is to overwhelming,” but the feeling you may be experiencing is ‘stress,’ ‘anxiety,’ ‘sadness,’ etc.[1] If we apply these perceptions of emotions and thoughts to the current approach to performance specifications presented in Katie Lloyd Thomas’ article Going into the mould; comparisons can be drawn between feelings as a raw material and thoughts as edifices developed in our mind.



Figure 1: Speciation of emotions/ thoughts


Similar to the RIBA’s approach to the National Building Specifications, by simplifying a complex mechanism into specific parts and interfaces it is easier for people to understand and decipher the whole. Parallels can be drawn from the way we approach a complex mathematics, most of us cannot fathom the entire equation in our head, and therefore we break it down into parts and scribe each step. However, as we write out the equation, what we don’t include is an explanation as to the theory behind each step. A student therefore could not understand the scratching’s on a whiteboard without explanation from his/her teacher; the same goes for architecture and building.


Trades in the construction industry operate through assumed knowledge. An architect expects a builder to know their trade, and is employed by the client to offer guidance in order to achieve a certain form. If we assume then that a depressed person knows their brain and has the ability to control and construct their own thoughts, then their role in therapy mirrors that of the builder. Consequently, the therapist becomes the architect. They have the ability to couple the simplified theories written in texts, with their own knowledge of the patient and professional judgment. From this they form an approach to therapy that attempts to take the raw emotions and destructive thoughts, and manipulate them into a more productive state of mind.


Moreover, in architecture there is no ‘perfect’ building, only an attempt at making the best out of what you have available. Therapy is the same in that there is no cure; a therapist can only hope to help someone the best they can from the tools and information they have been given.



[1] “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Workshop: The Difference Between Thoughts and Feelings,” http://www.allaboutdepression.com, Accessed 7 Oct, 2014. http://www.allaboutdepression.com/workshops/CBT_Workshop/CBT_13.html


2 Responses to “3) Depression and the Post Human: Daniel van Schaik”

  1. emmarcrea Says:

    Dan, I really like how you have drawn from the readings and applied it to your topic. It is an interesting analogy that you have suggested between thoughts, feelings, matter and form. The concept that feelings are raw matter and thoughts are something that we construct and form, led me to think about where these intersect.

    Your line “a thought tends to consist of a string of words that we say to ourselves” I found particularly interesting. This got me thinking; does a thought exist before we say it to ourselves in our heads? And how can that be? Are we reacting to a feeling that prompts a thought and is this thought not complete until the sentence is finished in our brains? Could it be that the external stimuli is the ‘material’ that triggers our raw ‘matter’ (feelings) to ‘form’ into a thought? And the result is the container (us)?

    The therapist becomes the external stimuli (material) that a depressed person seeks out to affect their thoughts and feelings. They (the therapist) are well-constructed materials, yet it is still the quality of this material (how good is their education/experience, or how well do they mesh with the patient) that decides the outcome. If a therapist is not the right fit for a patient then the patient remains to be troubled. Just as a building will be of less value, will decay at a faster pace, or not reach its full potential without the correct materials selection. Architecture starts with an idea but it is the materials that bring it to fruition. Just as a person cannot have their thoughts and feelings without external stimuli, and by surrounding oneself with positive stimuli we are more likely to find a sense of happiness.

    Emma Crea

  2. Dear Daniel, You are on to something here, sketching out a relation between depression, building specifications and ‘performance’. In fact the idea of performance, and the pressure to perform extends from how a building or building material performs, all the way to how we perform at our lace of work (and are judged in terms of our performance…for instance, in academia, how much you publish, how much grant money you bring in) See also the book, Perform or Else, by Jon McKenzie. Depression is a widespread phenomenon, affecting so many…this also leads to another theme that you have brought up and that is ‘affect’ (see Nigel Thrift, a geographer, on affect in cities, do a search on this blog for his work). Thrift argues that while it is very hard to produce pre-determined affects in an audience, a public, anyone, yet more and more sophisticated means are being developed toward the management of affect, and how this can shift modes of inhabitation in urban contexts. I like where you conclude, between therapy and the critique of buildings! Great work. H Frichot

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