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Mental Health 2001-02 Forum
Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.
|Why get rid of science?
Name: Douglas Bl
Date: 2001-10-10 00:50:34
Link to this Comment: 435
Certainly science has a specific "world view" full of assumptions and a certain kind of faith, but it makes testable predictions that can be checked for their accuracy. It doesn't seem to me that the talk gave evidence to completely abandon the scientific method.
|Science and ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2001-10-10 09:38:38
Link to this Comment: 440
My own reaction was that Elio seemed to be dismissing "science" in one sense while endorsing it in another (make observations/have experiences, let them change how you see things, think for yourself). The confusion, I think, has to do with whether one thinks of "science" as an end state, a body of "Truth", or as a process, an ongoing and never ending exploration. As a description of "Truth", science is indeed imperfect (as, I would contend, are all other descriptions of "Truth"). In fact, science itself does not and cannot make any claim to "Truth"; it is instead a commitment to the unending process of "getting it less wrong", of examing current understandings and making new observations/having new experiences to test whether the understandings continue to be adequate (which, so far at least, they invariably turn out not to be; "scientific" understandings are, in this respect, no worse than any other kind). It is the process, not the current state, and certainly not the assertion of having reached "Truth", which gives science its power.
Can one, as Elio asserted following Descartes, reach new understandings by listening to things inside oneself? Of course. Are those, as Elio seemed to suggest, more certain "Truth", reached by virtue of a not yet understood (perhaps not understandable) access to the "real thing"? Maybe, but the history of humanity is full of counter examples, of assertions of "Truth" obtained by special, private access which over time prove both contentious and unreliable. For my part, I'll stay with the more modest task of continually testing and updating my own understandings, based on both my own experiences and listening to the experiences of others.
|Response from Elio to Douglas Blank about Science
Name: Elio Fratt
Date: 2001-10-10 11:01:23
Link to this Comment: 445
Name: Debbie Plo
Date: 2001-10-10 12:30:13
Link to this Comment: 446
As I thought about what has been lost, safe havens and hospitals staffed with psychiatrists trained in psychoanalysis I began to wonder if the art of psychoanalysis might come to be lost forever. With all due respect to the differences of opinions between scientists and doctors, those who engage in medicinal disciplines consider themselves practitioners of that which has historically been considered an art. While thinking about psychoanalysis as a specialized art it occurred to me that the situation is analogous to other situations within medicine where political and economic forces have changed who practices those arts and the ways in which they are viewed.
I believe that the changes that are occurring in the practice of mental health are analogous to the history of midwifery. Historically midwives were those who possessed the understanding of the mechanics of the birth process and who also possessed a highly developed intuitive understanding of the less physiological aspects thereof. Physicians trained in the medical model replaced those who were versed in the intuitive art of attending childbirth. As the medical model gained popularity its practitioners gained prestige, while respect was diminished (if not totally lost) for the practitioners of the art of midwifery. Throughout most of the twentieth century the practice of midwifery was looked upon with distain in the United States. Late in the last century the specialized medical model trained ob/gyns found themselves faced with a demand for a return to what was lost when the art of midwifery was discarded. However, because of economic pressures births attended by those who were highly skilled surgeons/disease specialists rose to levels that were highly prohibitive. Today there is a renaissance in the practice of midwifery, resurgence in their numbers and a renewed respect for their knowledge. This has occurred without diminishing respect for those who are surgeons/disease specialists. Their skills are still highly valued and called for when more chemical/mechanical intervention is needed.
As Dr. Frattoroli discussed, today's psychiatrists are no longer versed in the art of psychoanalysis. They are medical doctors who are being further trained in the management of brain chemistry without the component of psychoanalysis. However, traditionally psychiatrists have not been the only practitioners who possess the intuitive skills and who are versed in the art of psychotherapy. Psychologists and social workers have been the keepers of and are the practitioners of this art. As long as this art is preserved and its effectiveness acknowledged and respected and available then the separation of psychiatrists from the practitioners of psychoanalysis is not something to be feared.
Name: Duffy McHu
Date: 2001-10-10 20:53:40
Link to this Comment: 458
|Response from Elio to Debbie Plotnick
Name: Elio Fratt
Date: 2001-10-10 22:29:38
Link to this Comment: 459
|I think I understand, therefore I am
Name: Douglas Bl
Date: 2001-10-11 13:05:34
Link to this Comment: 462
I think I understand your position now. It seems the point of conflict can be summed up in one question: "Does consciousness exist?" Here, you can substitute "mind", "inner self", "subjective experience", or whatever you want for "consciousness".
Science would have to claim that consciousness is beyond its reach as mind is composed only of subjective experiences. Science can only reach the brain. As scientists, we are left with two options: either deny consciousness' existence (which means there is nothing left to explain), or extend science so that it can include this new base property called consciousness.
My good friend Dave Chalmers is a scientist that has taken the latter approach, defined in his books The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, and Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem. This argument is only necessary, of course, if you believe that there is something that needs explaining.
The only evidence that you mentioned during your talk (other than the subject of your talk) that suggests that there is something that needs to be explained was the placebo effect. If this effect is truly "mind over matter" then we have something that science can and should test. However, the placebo effect appears to be far from well-established (see above link, for example).
Thoughts can, of course, have physical effects (chemical or behavioral changes in the body, for example). As I sit here with my banana-colored glasses, it seems that one could be a proponent of pyschoanalysis and still keep the requirement that "science only deals with what can be seen and/or measured."
Personally, I believe that mind is an emergent property of the brain. On the one hand, there is nothing left to explain ("it's in the brain" as Paul said). On the other hand, there are many things left to explain: how can such a property emerge? how does the emergent property effect the underlying brain's properties? I am hopeful that science can make progress toward these questions.
|Another response from Elio to Douglas Blank
Name: Elio Fratt
Date: 2001-10-11 21:57:52
Link to this Comment: 469
|exploring ... consciousness
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2001-10-14 12:50:04
Link to this Comment: 478
The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside-
Emily's assertion is that the brain (maybe we should say nervous system, of which the brain is a part) is big enough to contain not only all we see and do but also all we are and experience. Is it true that the nervous system is THAT big, so that one can find within it not only self but mind, spirit, soul, and all other needed concepts as well?
I suspect so, as I said at Elio's talk. But I freely and happily admit that, as a scientist and hence for the reasons given above, I cannot prove my suspicion to be so and doubt that such a proof could ever be given. One has, at any given time, only a set of observations which one is trying to make sense of and no way of knowing whether future observations will or will not fit the summary of observations with which one is currently comfortable.
This is not, however, to say that I regard Emily's suggestion (that it is all in the brain/nervous system) and Elio's/Descartes' (that there is some essential, additional, as yet to be recognized, non-material kind of stuff) as equally likely or useful. There are certainly "observations" (including many aspects of internal experience) which it is as yet difficult to make sense of in terms of the nervous system. On the other hand, the "trend of the evidence" over any reasonable length of time, has been one of a dramatic and progressive decrease in the number and range of things which it is difficult to account for in these terms. Epilepsy, to cite one obvious example, was once generally understood to result from the intrusion into the individual of non-material "spirits". No one ever proved that such things do not exist, but it emerged as more useful to think of epilepsy in terms of material things going on in a material structure, the brain. There are a host of similar examples, so that the terrain still apparently requiring "non-material" entities has been steadily shrinking.
Is there any reason to think that "consciousness" will inevitably be left as a unique and inviolate space requiring an appeal to "non-material stuff"? Not, I think, in terms of the "trend of the evidence". In this more specific realm, there has also been a progressive recognition of the usefulness of thinking of things in terms of matter and the brain. In the late 1800's, for example, it was discovered that "thought" takes time, a finding which made much more sense in terms of a material entity than an ethereal one, and one which made available valuable techniques for further inquiry into "thought". "Thought" in turn became "cognition", and was accordingly subtracted from "consciousness", leaving still less for which "non-material stuff" seemed necessary.
So, what about the rest of "consciousness", including "internal experience" and "self" and "spirit" and "soul"? Are those fundamentally different? Perhaps, but I don't yet see any reason to think so (Descartes' "story" predates an enormous array of subsequent observations, and I don't find Elio's abstract arguments on this point any more compelling than Chalmers'). In addition, we are really only at the bare beginning of asking the right questions of the brain. As Elio appropriately notes, scientists interested in the brain have been to a large extent reluctant to admit as legitimate observations those based on "internal experience", and correspondingly disinclined to explore the brain from the perspective of issues related to "self" and "spirit" and "soul". This is (happily) beginning to change, and so I, at least, am inclined to wait a few years before concluding these are questions not explorable in terms of the brain.
Relevant here as well is a set of explorations entirely different from those based directly on observations of the brain, the inquiry into what has been called complex systems. Elio's concern notwithstanding, there is nothing "magical" about "emergent properties". With the advent of high speed computing, it has become quite easy to show that simple things interacting in simple ways yield remarkable outcomes, outcomes which no one could predict in advance yet which have no mystical element whatsoever. New properties and new forms of organization clearly CAN emerge from simple things interacting in simple ways. This is newly demonstrable but not new: assemblies of neutrons and protons and electrons can (and do) yield atoms with quite different properties; assemblies of atoms yield molecules with quite different properties ... who is yet to say that assemblies of molecules can't yield living things, and that assemblies of living things (cells) can't yield consciousness?
All this is, of course, the perspective of a "scientist" (in the sense of science I described above): let's see what sense we can make of things in terms of material things we know something about, can manipulate and measure in ways that others can see as well. But, what about Elio's argument that exploring things this way is itself constraining and dehumanizing? Along a "science" approach, won't we necessarily lose something, either by failing to notice it or by noticing it and then "explaining it away"? I don't think so ... not if we take the scientific task seriously. Instead, science will need to change somewhat (if for no other reason than we will have to take reports of "internal experience" seriously as significant observations). And, I suspect, "scientific" conceptions of the brain will have to change as well. If Emily is right, the brain cannot be the mechanistic, invariant system which "controls" behavior as it has been portrayed in many "scientific" contexts. It must instead be matter organized in such a way as to BE behavior, including having feelings, making choices, being unpredictable/creative, and having the potential for what Freud called "oceanic experience." All of this has to be made sense of, and "making sense" of it won't make any of it "go away". Instead, as with epilepsy, the increased understanding should free us from constraints not of our own making, and hence enhance our abilities to be responsible for our own lives.
On the other hand, if Emily turns out to be right a few things WILL disappear. One is the notion that "non-material entities" are a useful explanatory construct. And that, in all honesty, seems to me a good thing, not a bad one. The problem with appealing to "non-material entities" is that they are inevitably "mystical", the personal constructions of individuals not subject to question or exploration by others. They end exploration, rather than inviting it (and so inevitably lead to argument and conflict rather than to the shared creation of new ideas). What may also disappear is the idea of "Truth". If all there is is the brain, with no non-material, mystical entity out there, then we can all stop looking for (and arguing about) "Truth", and get on with the much more interesting and productive activity of sharing among our brains the explorations and creations that each of our brains is good at doing.
Perhaps, in closing this set of thoughts, its worth making explicit one other thing that I would not expect to disappear: the importance of approaching a subject of shared interest from a variety of perspectives and using a variety of tools/methodologies. "Experiencing" is indeed a "fundamental fact of nature", as Elio contends (though whether it is "not explainable in terms of anything simpler to itself" is open), and the "systematic exploration of subjective experience" has been and continues to be an important source of insights into ... what it is that we are all interested in. So too has been psychology, cognitive science, philosophy, and ... studies of the brain. As exemplified by the blind men and the elephant, we're all better off using the supposition that there is actually an elephant there, and that each of us has a useful contribution to make in describing it. Whether we end up calling the elephant the brain or the mind or the soul, the complexity of the elephant is such that that the need for exploration of it from multiple perspectives will always be there.
|Responding to Paul takes thought, which takes time
Name: Elio Fratt
Date: 2001-10-14 13:57:31
Link to this Comment: 479
>This is not, however, to say that I regard Emily's suggestion (that it is >all in the brain/nervous system) and Elio's/Descartes' (that there is >some essential, additional, as yet to be recognized, non-material kind of >stuff) as equally likely or useful. There are certainly "observations" >(including many aspects of internal experience) which it is as yet >difficult to make sense of in terms of the nervous system. On the other >hand, the "trend of the evidence" over any reasonable length of time, has >been one of a dramatic and progressive decrease in the number and range >of things which it is difficult to account for in these terms.
I disagree. The evidence whose trend you are noting is evidence about the “functions” of the mind, and, as Chalmers argues, it is easy and appropriate to explain functions in terms of neurological processes. Thinking makes use of words and impressions that are encoded in the brain, and something like it can be done by an unconscious machine. It is a mental/neurological function. So it makes sense that thinking takes time. But experiencing— the becoming conscious of the neurologically based contents of thinking, feeling, sensing, imagining, dreaming etc.— cannot be described or defined in space/time or neurological terms. This isn’t something that can change with any trend of evidence. It’s in the nature of experiencing consciousness as opposed to the nature of neuronal activity.
>So, what about the rest of "consciousness", including "internal >experience" and "self" and "spirit" and "soul"? Are those fundamentally >different? Perhaps, but I don't yet see any reason to think so >(Descartes' "story" predates an enormous array of subsequent >observations, and I don't find Elio's abstract arguments on this point >any more compelling than Chalmers').
On this point I wouldn’t expect my argument to be more compelling than Chalmers’ because his argument IS compelling. Not surprisingly, it’s the same as mine – the one I just gave. Where I personally find Chalmers less than compelling is where, after accepting that consciousness is irreducible, he circles back and sort-of-tries to reduce it.
>On the other hand, if Emily turns out to be right a few things WILL >disappear. One is the notion that "non-material entities" are a useful >explanatory construct. And that, in all honesty, seems to me a good >thing, not a bad one. The problem with appealing to "non-material >entities" is that they are inevitably "mystical", the personal >constructions of individuals not subject to question or exploration by >others
I don’t invoke non-material entities because they are useful. I invoke non-material entities because they are essential. Material entities are HOPELESSLY limited in their explanatory power. They can’t even explain your feeling about Emily’s poem, and why it is different from your feeling about my story of a mystical experience at a Phillies’ game with which I begin my book. Come on admit it, you know they can’t. Sure, they can explain something about why you might prefer materialistic stories to mystical stories based on your unique neurologically encoded history of personal experiences. But they don’t fully account for that special, dare I say mystical, feeling you have about Emily’s poem And while we’re on that subject, what’s inherently the matter with mystical concepts. There is such a thing as mystical experience, after all, and in the course of history I suspect far more people have had that kind of experience—and have been questioning and exploring it with each other since the time of Homer at least—than have had the experience that neurological science offers a satisfying explanation of the mind.
|taking time ... consciously
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2001-10-14 21:42:08
Link to this Comment: 480
To put it differently, I don't usually find philosphical arguments about the natural world compelling, and particularly don't in this case. Yes, it is easy to account for all sorts of "functions" mechanistically and neurologically. Yes, that is clearly NOT the same thing as accounting for the EXPERIENCE of "functioning"; the experience is indeed different from what we can currently easily account for. But that, for me at least, doesn't require postulating the existence of something other than organized material entities; that's the leap I deny any philosphical argument can compellingly make. There is a long history of successfully making sense of things in terms of organized material entities, and no way to know whether there are fundamental limitations to the process except by pursuing it. Or by showing that some other way of making sense of things is equally or more effective. In the present case, I encourage everyone to see what they can make with their stories. We're all betting, no more and no less, and my bet, based on all the observations available to me (including observations of things like anesthesia, and drugs, and brain stimulation and trauma which clearly show that material manipulations of the material brain CAN affect the "experience" of functioning), stays with Emily and the brain.
"Mystical" experiences are indeed common (even I have them) and need to be made sense of, and, yes, people have been trying to do so for thousands of years. Is it perhaps relevant that they haven't had much success other than appealing to various different external non-material entities the validity of which they end up fighting over? Perhaps its worth taking a different approach to mystical experiences, maybe one that roots them in human characteristics we all share? Maybe or maybe not; time will tell.
Name: Debbie Plo
Date: 2001-10-15 13:10:33
Link to this Comment: 482
Many times I have been aware of viewing a scene in which I have appeared to myself from outside of myself. I have observed myself from an outside place in the present. I have looked at myself from outside myself in a time/space I have believed had taken place in the past. And I have viewed myself taking part in scenes that had not yet but would soon occur.
A certain brain scientist (familiar to many of us) has made a compelling augment that my experiences are common and can be understood as originating and taking place only within my brain. However, while I can follow and even accept this explanation, it only works for the experiences that I had believed were taking place in the present or as having occurred in the past.
What makes me doubt the scientific, skeptical view (although I have really wanted to believe that my experiences were literally only all in my head) is that it is possible to verify that sometimes people do understand and know about events that will occur in the near future. My story is that many times I have known about events that had not yet come to pass but that I believed soon thereafter would and then they did. It is easy to claim that I only thought that I knew; only believed that such things would happen. What is not so easy to dismiss is that others have also been party to my foreknowledge. On a number of occasions there have been individuals who have independently verified that I have told them about places that I had previously not seen but would, and about events that had not yet but that would soon occur. Without regard to whether they believed me at the time, they were able to corroborate that they had been informed of scenes and events that I came to be in, described fully by me, which occurred sometime after the telling.
I don’t claim, or even believe, that my experiences are evidence that there are external non-material entities or such. No, my view is merely that the self, soul, consciousness or whatever one wants to call it, is not contained solely within the body. My working theory, (because as Paul contends, “we are all scientists, and I’m trying to get it less wrong”) is that consciousness can act as a means by which information is conveyed from outside as well as inside of the body. According to my view, it is akin to types of other molecular communications, which emanate from bodies and communicate information between bodies, such as pheromones. Therefore, I have come to think of so-called mystical experiences as messages that can be received when one steps outside of the interference of one’s dwelling.
Name: Elio Fratt
Date: 2001-10-15 20:31:03
Link to this Comment: 483
|Keeping Multiple Stories in Play
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2001-10-16 11:18:32
Link to this Comment: 484
In this light, I'd say we very much need to hold on to the concept of the "mystical" precisely BECAUSE it is elusive/NOT definable. To make this claim is to build on the conversation we were conducting last spring in the Two Cultures forum about the broad range of different uses of language: "from scientific texts, which intend-to-be-precise, through the sort of ordinary language intending to 'communicate information,' to literary language, which is intentionally more ambiguous, playful, productive of interpretation and dialogue." It is the latter playground where I spend most of my time. I've just finished reading (there) the most recent issue of the Publications of the Modern Language Association (October 2001), which begins w/ Wolfgang Iser's essay on "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach": "If the reader were given the whole story, and there were nothing left for him to do, then his imagination would never enter the field, the result would be the boredom which inevitably arises when everything is laid out cut and dried before us. A literary text must therefore be conceived in such a way that it will engage the reader's imagination in the task of working things out for himself, for reading is only a pleasure when it is active and creative...boredom and overstrain form the boundaries beyond which the reader will leave the field of play....no author worth his salt will ever attempt to set the whole picture before his reader's eyes. If he does, he will very quickly lose his reader, for it is only by activating the reader's imagination that the author can hope to involve him and so realize the intentions of his text."
|my bet: not with science
Name: Sharon Burgmayer
Date: 2001-10-16 23:19:48
Link to this Comment: 485
At the end of Debbie's description of her mystical experiences, she concludes with stating her working theory that the soul, etc., are outside of the body and that consciousness can assimilate information from outside, as well as inside, the body. What struck me was the question "why does it have to be either inside or outside?" Was the problem rooted in the limitations of our language? (brain-referring language, incidentally, as derived from science.) Maybe it's not a question of inside/outside, maybe what is needed is another (or multiple) dimension(s). Maybe the soul is "inside the brain" but not simply within the matter and associated neurological events, nor constrained by the three dimensions to which humans naturally reduce all physical nature. Maybe it's there in another dimension, a dimension science has no language (yet, if ever) to describe.
Anne's plea for an "openness to a multiplicity of stories" resonated with my evolving response to something Paul added most recently. Paul said: "But (experience), for me at least, doesn't require postulating the existence of something other than organized material entities." This sounded to my ears like a nice use of Occam's razor: why invoke that messy non-material stuff if it's not explicitly needed? Why not keep it simple (i.e., all in the brain)? But note, the greater value attached to simplicity --the principle of Occam's razor--is a by-product of the same cranial system that created science, which is already highly questionable as a suitable tool for dissecting the unscientific non-material mysteries. Why not accept/choose complexity over simplicity? And that is where, for me, Anne chimed in. A multiplicity of stories/approaches are needed and this multiplicity of stories has been one of the means used for generations to help guide each individual who wishes to undertake the inner journey, identify the guideposts and understand the adventures awaiting her therein.
With regards to the mystical, Paul suggests that the (study) "of organized material entities" might show if "some other way of making sense of things is equally or more effective". But isn't this "other way" already available in the ways of knowing the non-physical world? The mystical experiences that Paul says "need to be made sense of", are _already_ understood. There are well-established paths to enlightenment that have been confirmed over and over again for _thousands_ of years. These paths are so well-established that some persons have referred to their methodology as a "science of contemplation" so as to make the analogy between the reproducibility of the spiritual method to reproducibility required by the scientific method in material studies. These paths to enlightenment may--or may not--involve an "(appeal) to various different external non-material entities" but, indeed, all these paths _are_ very much rooted in "in human characteristics we all share", to borrow Paul's words.
As I write this I am in Tucson (ahh!). Today while on the University of Arizona campus, I walked by the Campus Health Center. I noticed two large banners on the building with abstract designs in a typically southwestern palette. On one banner was "Mind" and one the other banner was "Spirit". Given the topic of Elio's talk that subsequently generated this forum, the sight of "Campus Health--Mind--Spirit" on that brick building jarred me, hard. I took a picture of it; maybe it would add a visual component to the on-going debate here.
|Responses to Anne and Sharon
Name: Elio Fratt
Date: 2001-10-18 13:17:16
Link to this Comment: 486
The mystical experiences that Paul says "need to be made sense of", are _already_ understood. There are well-established paths to enlightenment that have been confirmed over and over again for _thousands_ of years. These paths are so well-established that some persons have referred to their methodology as a "science of contemplation" so as to make the analogy between the reproducibility of the spiritual method to reproducibility required by the scientific method in material studies. These paths to enlightenment may--or may not--involve an "(appeal) to various different external non-material entities" but, indeed, all these paths _are_ very much rooted in "in human characteristics we all share", to borrow Paul's words.
One of the fascinating experiences I had while writing my book was reading philosopher of religion, Jacob Needleman, and discovering that he was telling essentially the same story I was -- namely, that we become fully ourselves (achieve enlightenment/self-actualization/wisdom) by becoming fully conscious, able to fully feel and accept our deepest conflicting emotions (our dark side, our Jungian Shadow)-- only he had gotten to that story starting from Eastern religious traditions and practices while I had gotten to that story starting from Western scientific (specifically, Freudian) traditions and practices. The person who reviewed my book for the "New Age Journal" singled out the following passage: "by generating anxiety, shame and guilt...consciousness gives us the knowledge of good and evil that makes us human and helps us grow."
As Hippolyta puts it in Act V of Midsummer Night's Dream, effectively countering Theseus's skepticism:
"But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy's images,
And grows to something of great constancy;
But, howsoever, strange and admirable."
Name: Susan Levi
Date: 2001-10-19 12:03:55
Link to this Comment: 487
|ADHD - Dyslexia
Name: Charles T.
Date: 2002-05-24 11:46:47
Link to this Comment: 2132