I’m always on the lookout for cause/effect sequences. I’m more interested in understanding why people do certain things, rather than dwelling excessively on the details of their behavior. I lean in this direction because I agree with the academics who say that the exposition of human character is the highest of literary values. So it might be said this obsession of mine has utility, since I’m a writer.
But at the same time, I too often make serious mistakes in assigning causes, largely because I naturally assume motives are almost always complex, convoluted, buried beneath conscious awareness. One time a dear friend told me, not unkindly, “Let me see if I can make this complicated enough for you to understand, John!”
To rein myself in from these excesses, I often revisit the words of William Ockham, the influential nominalist of the 14th Century:
Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. This, of course, is known as “Ockham’s razor, and it’s generally understood to mean that a simple solution to a problem is most often the correct one. In a closely related vein, Ockham also cited what he called the principle of economy: Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora, or It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.
Now, in my second marriage I went into a gut-twisting tailspin when Elizabeth—a woman I loved deeply, truly, and madly—appeared to be distancing herself more and more from me. And it didn’t take me long to accumulate a long list of reasons for her seeming to be slipping through my fingers, and all of the reasons were bad, meaning that it obviously had to be MY fault.
In response to her rejection I mounted a vigorous campaign to reverse her course. I wrote lengthy analytical letters, which I left on the coffee table for her to read when she came home from work, and I interrogated her relentlessly, and I pointed out exactly how she was failing to hold up her end of the marriage contract. On and on and on and on. I wouldn’t ever give it a rest. Finally she just couldn’t take my obsessive bullshit anymore, and sent me packing.
In the year that followed our separation I spent a lot of time in solitude in a one-room apartment studying my journals, and feeling the flush of embarrassment when I saw how unmercifully I had pressured Elizabeth to explain her distancing. By God, there HAD to be a reason, but she repeatedly replied she simply had no idea. She felt what she felt, and that was it. What else could she do?
About three years after our divorce I stumbled across an article about antidepressants. And to my astonishment I read this:
Depression can be lifted in two-thirds to three-fourths of patients by antidepressant medications, including the SSRIs (serotonin-reuptake inhibitors) like Lexapro , Zoloft and Paxil; tricyclics, like Elaviland Tofranil; monoamine-oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, like Nardil and Marplan.
But for many people treated with these and other psychiatric drugs, the remedy, though highly effective in making life meaningful again, falls short in a major sphere. Instead of raising libido and the ability to achieve sexual fulfillment, popular antidepressants commonly cause a loss of interest in sex and block the ability to achieve sexual satisfaction.
Well, Elizabeth had always struggled with a severe form of PMS, which brought severe mood swings and depression, and one day she announced that her doctor had put her on Zoloft. It didn’t take long for her dark, suicidal moods to disappear, and we were glad. But neither her doctor—nor any of the marriage counselors we visited—ever mentioned this most serious side effect of the drug.
Speculation after the fact is like closing the gate after the horses have escaped, but I still wonder: What would have happened to our marriage had we known about the drug’s awful “contraindications,” as they called them?
Sculpture by Mark Newman