Species Narcissistica Species Sociopathia Species Anosognosia

Adam Daley Wilson, Species Narcissistica Species Sociopathia Species Anosognosia, 2021, Oil text on canvas, 120 inches x 54 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Aspect / Ratio Projects Gallery Chicago.

This article briefly sets forth and memorializes what appears to be a new idea about humanity and mental illness. This brief article is just the time-stamp marker; I’ll supplement this as time goes on. It’s based on all available research that a decent researcher can find (learned at Penn and Stanford Law) as well as consultations with a big-picture thinking psychiatric expert (a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who served on Harvard’s medical school faculty for some time).

I first put this idea into one of my conceptual text-based art paintings in 2019, in one of the works shown below. I also wrote about this idea earlier this year in another medium post: adamdaleywilson.medium.com/species-anosognosia-e367e79a43ed. Now, this post ties together the entire idea and uses three of my pieces to provide examples and initially flesh it out.

The observation is this: We have identified many mental illnesses of many types — but we believe they can only exist in individuals, one separate person at a time.

The idea is this: Not just individuals can satisfy the medical world’s psychiatric diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses, as (Western) medicine has defined them. Entire cultures, entire nations, entire religions, by their beliefs and acts, turn out to satisfy the established medical criteria that qualifies them to be diagnosed with some of the most serious mental illnesses that we currently choose to recognize only in individuals. There’s a lot of key words in this sentence about the idea, among them, the word indicating choice.

And further, it appears, by our collective acts and beliefs, that our entire species meets the established medical criteria for several severe mental illnesses, as well. The idea, which appears to be new, never entertained, which seems implausible but so far seems true, is that mental illness can be and is collective, not just in lone separate individuals, but in species themselves; and that our entire species is mentally ill, as evidenced objectively by what we do, and what we do not do, and our beliefs, when measured against the objective criteria that our best psychiatrists have developed and medically apply.

This initial post, as I say, is just a marker, a time stamp, to memorialize the new idea. I’m humble, and I make my art with humility, but I’ll take full credit for this theory, this idea, if it turns out to be confirmed that this — this idea that came out of my hypomanic bipolar 1 brain one night — it in fact really new. We’ll see; the research on that continues across several fields. If you’re reading this and you can point me in the direction of something that speaks to this, I would be grateful. My email is adam.daley.wilson@gmail.com and the rest of my contact info, including through my gallery in Chicago, is at adamwilsonart.com.

Meanwhile, here are three pieces of art that initially articulate and begin to flesh out the idea. The texts below are digests of my formal descriptions that I write and display alongside the works when they are publicly shown.

  1. Species Anosognosia
Adam Daley Wilson, Species Anosognosia, 2019, oil stick and charcoal on canvas, group show gallery view, Chicago, 2020, 72 inches x 54 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Aspect / Ratio Projects Gallery.

The conceptual text-based “Species Anosognosia” is part of a new body of work exploring ramifications that arise from the artist’s view that not just individuals can have a mentally illness — rather, entire societies, nations, even our entire species can be mentally ill too.

The piece creates a nexus between the above idea and anosognosia — the clinical psychiatric term describing a mentally ill person who is so sick that they cannot see their illness. It is not refusal to see or denial; it is without fault. It is not a lack of competence or capacity; it is a lack of what a layperson would call insight.

“Species Anosognosia” blends these two ideas to posit that we are together, all of us, mentally ill, as evidenced by our collective acts and collective beliefs, even across religious, cultural, and geographic boundaries; and that we know what we are doing, because we do not have anosognosia; and, as such, it seems that questions of collective and individual culpability and responsibility arise, worldwide.

These premises form the larger, bolder foreground text, while the smaller, lighter background text explores some of the consequences that seem to logically follow — at least to the mind of the artist.

From epiphany to completion, this work was created in just over five minutes using oil sticks that broke many times from the force of the artist’s hand, as he raced to document what, in his mind, inevitably flows from the core ideas of this conceptual text-based work.

2. Species Narcissitca (Species Narcisslective)

Adam Daley Wilson, Species Narcissistica (Species Narcisslective), 2021, oil stick, charcoal, and ink on canvas, 84 inches x 60 inches. Courtesy Adam Daley Wilson and Aspect / Ratio Projects Gallery Chicago.

Species Narcissistica, also known as Species Narcisslective, applies the idea to the disorder of narcissicm. Extending from Species Anosognosia, Species Narcisslective first observes that we as a species essentially — almost exclusively — paint, write, think, philosophize, and talk only about ourselves, extolling our primacy and supremacy as a species above every other species, and even nature and the earth itself.

After observing this, the artwork notes that if an individual acted as such, we would call them narcissistic, which is a disorder. But as a species, we label our parallel collective activity not as narcissistic, but as high culture, and we reward it and give it our highest regard. Our entire species uniformly celebrates itself for thinking about ourselves, especially for thinking about ourselves with grandiosity.

The artwork concludes that this contradiction — calling narcissism in the individual to be a disorder, while calling nation-level, religion-level, and species-level narcissism to be at the core of our notions of culture, supremacy, uniqueness, and specialness — may explain the root of many of the social, cultural, environmental, identity, and political conflicts we see globally today.

The look and feel of this artwork, relative to Species Anosognosia, reflects that species-wide narcissism, if we adopt such a notion, would be much harder to solve than species-wide anosognosia. This is because insight, which is the opposite of anosognosia, can be learned and taught. In contrast, psychiatry says that there is no known treatment for narcissism, just years of difficult therapy — which only has a chance if the narcissist is able to see the problem and wants to get better and actually tries.

3. Species Narcissistica Species Sociopathia Species Anosognosia

See description above.

The next work briefly discussed for this article is the title work, above. In addition to considering all of the works together, it in particular looks at, and applies, the diagnostic criteria for the elements of a mental illness commonly referred to, in an individual, as being a sociopath.

Here, the work explores what ultimately happens if you combine narcissism and anosognosia at the species level — what does that species start doing, and how does that impact the other species in the world? The world itself? One answer is suggested by the visual of the work.

This article trusts that, for now, even if you disagree with the premises and the conclusions, you can still understand the idea, and the potential explanations that it provides for facts we see these last few centuries in our world, facts we as a species might want to change. Or maybe not. But I say, for now, with this idea, that we do not have anosognosia; we know what we are doing, and yet we still keep doing it. And we seem to be deeply narcissistic as a species, with consequences to everyone else. And we seem, due to what we do, what we do not do, and how we do it, that we, as a species, are sociopaths as to every other living thing on this planet, from each other to nature to the planet itself. There is a lot to this idea, logically, and I will explore it, from time to time, as part of my body of work that is my art.

I memorialize the marker, for now, simply for the idea that our species meets the diagnostic criteria for multiple severe mental illnesses that we, ourselves, have identified and codified in what is essentially our psychiatric medicine bible, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Orders, now in it’s fifth iteration, the DSM-5. That’s what controls the diagnosis of mental illness in the West; I’m still learning about mental illness diagnosis in the rest of the world, which will in some ways put this new idea to a useful cross-culture test. We’ll see if the theory holds. Until then, I’m increasingly starting to ask, just who has the illness of the mind.




Adam Daley Wilson — self-taught conceptual artist represented by ENGAGE Projects Gallery in Chicago. The art is informed by — and comes from — his bipolar 1.

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Adam Daley Wilson

Adam Daley Wilson

Adam Daley Wilson — self-taught conceptual artist represented by ENGAGE Projects Gallery in Chicago. The art is informed by — and comes from — his bipolar 1.

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