In ancient times, the insane could often attain a lofty place in society. We were the prophets, seers, poets, shamans, oracles, the soothsayers.
At some point during the enlightenment, or slightly before, reason displaced faith as the highest value in civilization. With that shift, society came to redefine itself, not in light of faith, where the mad had a place, but in light of reason, where they apparently had none.
This led to civilization eventually cutting off communication completely with the madman and isolating them from the rest of society, a period which Foucault calls “The Great Confinement.”
Yet, I don’t think the story ends here. Society has always had something of a fascination with insanity, and while the dialogue may have ceased, that does not mean it cannot reappear again in some other form.
So let us consider for a moment, this social role before the modern age. In some sense or another, the insane have always seemed to translate abstract, distant, intangible, concepts into lived realities. In ancient times, this meant that religion became something alive and real. God(s) had a voice. Because of the mad, spirits, prophecies, the supernatural, all had a real substance to them in civilization.
But these concepts have all fallen out of favor. So what role would the mad take in modernity? Well, one possibility is that prophets of religion could transform into prophets of science. Science has its own distant intangible concepts like the singularity, the simulation argument, or synchronicity, that could be put in more tangible forms.
But if it sounds far fetched, we can ask, what exactly would a prophet of science look like? Well, one beautiful example is The Hybrid from Battlestar Galactica:
The conversation may have ceased temporarily, but I don’t think it’s over quite yet.