This is a perennial question going back to the ancient Greeks and beyond. Closely associated with this is: what are the twists of our minds that our civilisation calls illnesses of our minds?
In the last century, the medical fraternity have increasingly decided, consolidating in the late 1950s, there is ‘scientific’ evidence that what they call mental illness is rooted in our physical nervous systems, e.i. in simplistic terms, ‘depression’ is a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. So now, the vast incidence of ‘psychiatric treatment’ consists of dishing out pills acting on the nervous system - many of which bring their own unique penalties.
Conversely, their are many of the people labelled (and sometimes incarcerated for it) mentally ill who have used the psychiatric services and have survived their ‘treatments.’ Some have effectively managed their own ‘treatment’ for stopping the pills they were given. And many of these people have found spiritual (in the widest sense), psychological - including the brilliant Hearing Voices movement - and even dietary means of managing the esoteric twists of their minds. These survivors swear by what they have discovered and there is a growing tranche contributing learned accounts of their own experiences and much excellent academic philosophical work. Examples of these ‘mindful’ people include: Clare Allan writing for the Guardian Newspaper, Judith Haire writing for Chipmunkapublishing and the Survivor History Forum (firstname.lastname@example.org). There is even an international movement for ‘Truth and Reconciliation in Psychiatry, led in the UK by Jan Wallcraft
In the midst of this there is a very interesting article in the Guardian Newspaper of May 8th
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/may/07/quest-connectome-mapping-brain) written by Ian Sample, the Guardian Science Correspondent. The article details research being carried out by Jeff Lichtman at Harvard University. Mr Lichtman is described as examining brains by taking minutely thin slices of them with the object of mapping out all our approximately 1000 trillion nerve pathways!! In the tradition of calling the mapping of our genes the ‘genome,’ he calls his brand of mapping the ‘connectome’ (my apologies for the liberties I’ve taken with this in the title of this posting).
The article, in spite of being full of scientific neurological jargon is well worth reading and keeping towards a full record of developments in the study of the mind and its twists and turns. In relation to us, the survivors, here are some quotes:
- “...we will lay bare the biological code of our personalities, memories, skills and susceptibilities. Somewhere in our brains is who we are.”
- “Brain scans have already found signs of miswiring in parts of the brain...in people with schizophrenia. The connections in another network...are important for addiction and compulsion.”
- “A future question for neuroscientists is whether, or by how much, abnormalities in brain circuits cause dementia, depression and other brain disorders, or are themselves a result of the conditions, or the drugs taken to treat them.”