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Mental Health and the Bipartite Brain

Mental Health and the Brain:
A Discussion
Fall, 2008


The Bipartite Brain

Our third session and resulting on-line forum discussion raised the possibility that not only human behavior but all human experiences (including understandings, a sense of reality, a sense of self, and acts of choice) are constructions of the brain. This in turn raised a number of new issues relevant to thinking about mental health (to say nothing of human life in general). Among them is the nature and relationship between "unconscious" and "conscious" processes, the subject of our upcoming discussion.

Readings for this week

Where's we've recently been ...

we talked a lot about dichotomies, and whether or not we felt the need to draw lines. Some people felt like these lines were necessary, that decisions had to be made to make terms and concepts credible. My problem with this is, even if in the moment, we can make some kind of line, how useful will that be? ... kgins

Depending on which way you view the world ... you will approach these questions in a particular way and be looking for a particular kind of answer ... MartinBayer

As a psychology major in undergrad, I often felt that there was a gap between the "harder" natural sciences (chem, bio, physics) and "softer" sciences such as psychology, anthropolgy etc ... I wonder why there needs to be a rift ... ryan g

So reality is actually only our perception, but does that help us navigate our perceived reality? ... jrieders

If we perceive things differently from one another, does this mean that there is more than one reality? ... vpizzini

I think it is true that we create our own realities, and what really matters is not the “actual reality” (or whether that even exists) but our perception of reality because this is what is real to us ... Paige Safyer

individual world views can be disabling, not (or not only) because they are not taken seriously by others, but (also) because ... they discourage personal agency and cast doubt on the possibility of change. Perhaps the problem in such cases is that the individual takes his/her own story too seriously ... anneliese

I insisted that there are some concrete realities that transcend one's perception. For example, if all the brains in the entire class agreed that we were sitting on chairs, then the concrete reality was that we were sitting in chairs. I thought that if many independent minds share certain perception of reality, then the perceived reality must be real ... Nowadays, I'm not so sure because the fact that the perception is shared may just be a construct of the brain in itself... Paul Bloch

I think that in creating narratives, our minds often strive to jive with others -- to make connections in shared perceptions or communal cues ... ysilverman

Throughout the course of his illness, he had learned to anticipate conflict between his story and the accepted, communal story or stories. To a limited extent, he was conscious of his inability to defend, factually, his story. Therefore, he chose not to share his personal story ... A storyteller without an audience is a sign of mental illness? Or more generally, the lack of storytelling activity is mental illness? ... jrlewis

How can we separate the physical from the emotional at all if they are, in fact, parts of the whole? Does this mean that all illness is, in some way, mental illness? ... Sophie F

I like this idea and I think it's very important for people to realize that mental illnesses manifest themselves very physically ... Riki

The "thing" that I get tripped up about when thinking about realism/constructivism, Truth, and the brain is materialism ... LauraC

Many religions dislike the notion that we can 'trivialise' the human experience down to the firing of a few synapses. What if we acknowledge that the human experience is a creation of the brain but that doesn't make it less wonderful. In fact, I would argue that we don't need a ghost because the machine alone is deeply subtle and complex. ... akerle

Dickinson couldn't separate God from the brain in her poem--and it seems to me that many people/patients will also have a hard time separating god/the creator from the brain, that which creates meaning ... mstokes

I know that there is considerable evidence for the physiological basis of emotions, but what about thoughts/ideas and the notion of the self? Who says neural firing causes thoughts? Why not thoughts causing neural firing? I know this is an old (almost cliche) issue. Has it been answered and I'm just unaware of it? ... ryan g (see Ljones)

So far all the questions and doubts we are discussing - can we have certainty about things outside of our minds, is there anything that is TRUE, and also more generally, that "science" is a process of people trying to achieve some degree of "objectivity," through commonalities in their own subjective experiences - these are all questions of the conscious mind. But what of the unconscious? ... kmanning What sorts of observations put the mind in the brain, and with what certainty?

The trend of the evidence

  • More and more of "mind" can be made sense of in terms of brain
  • There is less and less left for "mind" outside of brain

Mind outside of brain has not been proved or disproved

Mind inside of brain has not been proved or disproved

Which story has been/will be more "useful"?


Time to Think

behavior/brain correlations (male/female, autism, Williams syndrome, Turner's syndrome, etc)

neuropsychology (Ramachandran, Sachs, Damasio)

brain imaging (with due skepticism)

Can we localize "mind" within the nervous system ("will contain with ease, and You beside")

  • Architecture
  • Sensory neurons, motor neurons, interneurons (further evidence for different and changeable realities)
  • Input/output boxes linked by cables running in both directions
  • Topographic organization and its implications
  • Another box: the "I-function"


The bipartite brain and "mind"

  • the blind spot
  • blind sight, spastic paralysis
  • pain, phantom limbs, emotion and feeling
  • eating behavior, moods, sleep and dreams
  • implicit, explicit memory
  • the "cognitive unconscious": characteristics/capabilities/limitations
  • the story teller: characteristics/capabilities/limitations
  • morality
  • multiple realities within one brain - Capgras syndrome
  • the bidirectional interaction between the cognitive unconscious and the story teller
Story implication
"Mental health" is necessarily about BOTH the brain and the mind, about the unconscious and the self-aware, about the physical and stories, because each one gives rise to the other and is in turn affected by it
Your thoughts in forum ....


merry2e's picture

P.S. On Parity

P.S. There are alot of details on the Mental Health Parity law only pertains to those covered by insurance policy from employers with over 50 employees, for starters. But it is a good start.
merry2e's picture

Mental Health Parity

Yes, the Mental Health Parity law made it though on the bail out. I am not sure what kind of message this sends...I am glad it went through, but do people really see a need or are they just concerned about losing $$. I was sitting at the dinner table the other night with some family members having a discussion and mental health parity was in the same line as wooden arrows and pork. What message are we sending?



merry2e's picture


Sorry for the delay in posting...missed last week's class so excuse me if I repeat something!


The conversation is very interesting. I am currently reading a book called Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. The author, Gerd Gigerenzer, interviews a judge on the subject of intuition or "gut feelings, hunches" and the judge responds by acknowledging that he will follow his own intuition but that he does not find the unconscious knowledge of others legitimate. I find this nteresting as we will trust our own thoughts, reality but not those of others, which led me to think about defining a mental "health" "illness" definition. Is it actually even possible to define when we cannot trust what others offer from their unconcsious thought such as intuition? And then I thought about certain mental "illnesses" already defined, such as the disorders involving delusions or hallucinations. How do we know these are simply not intuitions manifesting themselves?

Anyway, I did not go to the site on collective conscious yet, but the first thing my mind jumps to when I hear the term "collective conscious" is Hitler or Hiroshima...not sure why.

 Missed you all last week and look forward to seeing you tonight..


vpizzini's picture

One might think that

One might think that conscious experience is an essential part of our mental processes, but a great deal of our thinking happens outside of our awareness. The processes that belong to our cognitive unconscious are not threatening, nor are they actively suppressed. The unconscious processes are the support apparatus and the mechanisms that make the conscious experience possible. If we consciously registered every ambiguity we encountered, and spent a moment thinking how about  each ambiguity should be resolved, we would probably never get to the end of any paragraph (Baragh and Farella 2000).

I found very interesting an article about blindsight. The article was about patients that suffer from damage  to the occipital cortex, a receiving area for visual information. They aren't able to see anything  in large parts of their visual field and fail to react to visual stimuli when those appear in the affected regions. Researchers conducted experiment from 1986 to 1992 on this type of blindness. They presented particular stimuli to the patients' affected field and asked them to guess what the stimuli were (circles or squares). At first the patients complained that the task was impossible for them; but when the researcher persisted, they did venture a guess , and these guesses were unexpected accurate. It appears that these can perceive some aspects of the visual world even if they don't have concious experience of seeing.

Does perception require a conscious supervision?Does perception necessarily yield a conscious experience?  




jrlewis's picture

Up the Yellow, Down the Diagonal, Around the Outside

This was my second encounter with Dr. Grobstein’s story of the bipartite brain.  What struck me, on this occasion, was the possibility of the I-function influencing the tacit knowledge.  That by some mechanism, the unconscious can be communicated with, controlled, or even modified. 

I think I have been trying to modify my unconscious understanding with respect to my sport, horseback riding, for some time.  When I am approaching an obstacle or jump on my horse, I unconsciously ask her to move up, or increase her impulsion and lengthen her stride.  This is entirely unnecessary, she is perfectly capable of clearing 3’ obstacles from a slow, lopey pace.  Why do I do it then?  Because my older horse, does require those signals in order to correctly clear a jump.  Sending those specific signals to my horse has become a habit for me. 

However, with out my trainer, or photographs showing me, I am completely unaware of these movements on my part.  How do I fix an undesirable unconscious habit?   As I approach each jump, I attempt to think, consciously, about sitting still and supporting my horse in order to keep our pace steady.  Starting to see some success this way.  Therefore, I do think it is possible for the conscious to affect significant change in the unconscious.  However, in the absence of active conscious thinking, I still sometimes, relapse. 

Martin's picture


Hey yall, I thought yall might like to know, if you didn't already, that the Bailout bill contained a section that requires health insurance companies to pay for mental illness treatment in the same way they are supposed to for physical illness.
akerle's picture



I do like the idea of the triune brain but I'm not sure if I buy it. Where is this third part, this preconscious? Where does it exist? In our memory or lack thereof? I suppose what I like about the bipartite brain is that I feel like I can see it. There is an action/reaction structure that I find satisfying. I won't discount the importance of this social function or the need for talk therapy, I have seen first hand how useful it can be. I just don't understand WHERE this bridge between  the conscious and tacit knowledge exists. As we do more and more research we begin to understand how much behaviour is tacit and how much of say, Freud's story for example, is obselete. It is unnecessarily complicated perhaps when it doesn't need to be.

As for tacit knowledge, I am a big fan of this being the 'unconscious' we so often discuss. Lets take something like flirting for example. All of us know how to do it (to varying degrees of success) but certainly no one has taught us how. This is just one of many examples. We talk about a shared consciousness but I think, the story that is more useful perhaps, is the idea of a shared tacit knowledge (or unconscious if you like that word). We are linked more closely by what we do without realising than anything else.

Riki's picture

After hearing the extremely

After hearing the extremely brief alternative story of a triune brain at the end of class, I started thinking about it and decided that I like that story over the story of a bipartite brain. The story of a bipartite brain seems too simplified to me, even though the story of a triune brain only adds one more part and is also simple. I like the idea that there is a mediator between the unconscious and the conscious. My unconscious feels very inaccessable so it makes sense to me that a preconscious is needed to facilitate communication between my conscious and unconscious. As kmanning said, with the story of the bipartite brain, it is implied that the conscious has limitless access to the information in the unconscious. I don't know if my story is wrong, but I don't think that the conscious can tap into all of the information in the unconscious. With the story of a triune brain, it seems to me that access to the unconscious is limited by the preconscious. A question I had about this model is can the conscious and unconscious ever directly communicate even if there is a preconscious?
Ljones's picture

Just playing devil's

Just playing devil's advocate here... (I'm not sure which model of the brain makes more sense to me just yet... they both seem to be very similar and have both pros and cons) but isn't it feasible that the consciousness can access everything in the unconscious, but that we just don't know how to do it yet. For example, when you are looking at the ballerina silhouette and she flips for the first time, you don't really have any control over when that first flip happens, but then you can start trying to flip her back and forth and you can get better at "seeing" her move in one way or another... couldn't there be other brain activities that are "unconscious" that we could learn to control consciously with some practice? Maybe like biofeedback things where people can control their heart rate and blood pressure etc...?

I don't know, and maybe there are only a subset of things that you can learn that is covered by the preconscious... but it's another thing to think about.  

PS2007's picture

I was really fascinated by

I was really fascinated by both the idea of a bipartite or triune brain.  While they both provide interesting explanations, I think the idea of a triune brain makes more sense to me.  I feel like there must be some communication between the conscience and the unconscious brain, and I hope that we examine how this happens in class.  

I though the idea of “relationship schemas” in our unconscious really underscored how these two parts of the brain must be related.  If our unconscious is facilitating our interactions with others, I feel that our conscious could be made aware of these schemas at some point through observation (and therapy?).

I would like to believe that we could communicate and change the underlying beliefs of our unconscious.  The brain is such a plastic, changeable structure that it seems to make sense that through different methods we could change our beliefs.  
Sophie F's picture

NY Times article

Laura Cyckowski's picture

I saw, and liked, that

I saw, and liked, that article too. Just a quick thought... at one point it says, "The field has resisted scientific scrutiny for years, arguing that the process of treatment is highly individualized and so does not easily lend itself to such study." Psychotherapy is highly individualized, but on the other hand that makes it seem like pharmacotherapy is/should be straightforward when it in fact seems to be just as highly individualized as well.
ysilverman's picture

But CBT and DBT, etc.

But CBT and DBT, etc. programs are often less individualized, at least as treatment models. (Though often also more strictly time -limited, and easier to do in groups -- so cheaper, as well.)

Anne Dalke's picture

"What if it is a disease?"

After class on Monday night, I was musing to Judie that her story of the tripartite brain might prove more "useful" than the account Paul had given of two severely separated sections of the nervous system-- more useful because it actually locates a third "place" where therapy and change can occur, rather than highlighting the existence of an unconscious that works tacitly and independently of consciousness (though I'm assuming, in the session upcoming on "the adaptive brain," there will be invitations into other avenues for changing who we are and what we do....)

Later Monday night I had a very strong (and very troubling) dream that I'm sure had been fed by our discussion: my family had organized an intervention to have me institutionalized. Surrounded by people who kept saying, "We love you," I shouted, "I will not be hamstrung by my life!" It seemed to be a dream about entrapment--about, particularly, being trapped by what has been, who has known, who I am...

and I'm (pretty obviously!) looking for a way out of that.

What interests me right now is the idea that different diagnoses, and different discourses, might offer different ways out, even different definitions of what "out" means. Brief mention was made, Monday night, of Anne Fadiman's 1998 account of a Hmong child and her American Doctors: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Fadiman tells this as a story of a catastrophic collision between two very different cultural understandings: the child's parents and her doctors all take note of the same symptoms, but the parents thinks they are caused by "soul loss," the doctors by the "misfiring of damaged brain cells." Which is "right"? Which is more useful?

Dostoyevsky's Prince Myskin asked (about this same phenomenon, which we know as epilepsy): "What if it is a disease? What does it matter that it is an abnormal tension, if the result, if the moment of sensation, remembered and analyzed in a state of health, turns out to be harmony and beauty brought to their highest point of perfection, and gives a feeling, undivined and undreamt of till then, of completeness, proportion, reconcilation, and an escstatic and prayerful fusion in the highest synthesis of life?"

Sophie F's picture


I apologize if this is either irrelevant or redundant; I haven’t yet read others’ posts…

Walt Whitman wrote, in stanza 51 of the poem Song of Myself:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

This notion of “containing multitudes” is one, for me, that gives texture and meaning to experience, to life, to interactions. I think that multiple “realities” are necessary in order to truly conceptualize the breadth of human experience, both to reconcile conflict within oneself and to understand similarities and differences in perceptions amongst people. In my thinking, “reality” is not a singular, knowable, “thing,” but rather a collection of unknowable things. The level of uncertainty about what is “real” is made less daunting and lonely based upon an understanding that while there is little that can be “known” there is much knowledge that can be shared. Even if we map out the entire brain and understand what each and every “box” within it does and from which boxes behaviors originate, randomness always exists and behaviors that defy “laws” persist. As such, our best guess must be one that is inclusive, not exclusive and one that enables a maximum number of people to thrive. Furthermore, more stories need to be included in the story of "truth," and/or our culturally accepted, perhaps implictly and not explicitly known, version of "truth" or "reality" needs to be extended, so more "truths" are incorporated. If we are all our own storytellers, perhaps with multiple versions of a story, sometimes which are conflicting, why are we not better at listening to our own stories or communicating them to others? On the flip side, perhaps, given the variation in individual stories, we are excellent at it and should congratulate ourselves for reconciling so many differing stories with as much harmony as we do.

Arthur Kleinman, a psychiatrist and anthropologist writes of “illness as narrative” and speaks to his observation that in certain cultures, particularly Chinese and East Asian, mental “illness” more often manifests as physical illness. And, thus, illness, both mental and physical, can be viewed as a story that the body, the mind of the sick person is telling. It is the physical manifestation, perhaps, of the unconscious. Here is an interview with Kleinman from 2006:

Are we making ourselves more "sick" in some ways becaue of the types of stories our culture tells about illness? Maybe not "more" sick, but sick in different ways?

Jung talks about a “collective unconscious”
Which he held to be “objective.” Whether or not it is “objective,” is there some shared experience that is a “human” experience? I mean not to set humans apart from other organisms particularly, but for the purpose of extending the notion of our individual stories into some sort of tapestry of stories that may, in fact, be interwoven. Perhaps this is something to celebrate and not to fear. Perhaps, from an extension of shared experience or shared knowledge can come a shared understanding, rather than alienation from "self" and others.

Finally, when we dream, does our unconscious seeps into our conscious?
This site has a gallery of drawings, paintings, etc. based upon dreams people had that they submitted, along with accompanying interpretations of the dreams. I found some of them very interesting and wanted to share it, for those interested. If, according to the schematic Professor Grobstein showed us in class, the unconscious is far bigger than the “I-Function” in size, yes, but also in its boundaries, what is the interplay between the conscious and “tacit knowledge?” How and when is information exchanged and is a disconnect between the two manifest as “illness?”

ryan g's picture

More ramblings..

I just want to start by saying that I was also a tennis player in college, and I can relate to what kgins mean by trying to shut out the noise. I would recommend the book The Inner Game of Tennis.  Maybe you've already read it...  It's about tennis, but it has a pertinent message for anyone interested in just generally being more mindful.  

Anyway, kgins post reminds me of another thought that has been forming in my mind lately.  In her post above, Sophie suggests that mental illness could be the result of a disconnect between the I-Function and Tacit Knowledge. 

Maybe mental illness could sometimes be the result of the connection between the I-Function and Tacit Knowledge.  We have talked about several examples of the I-Function hindering performance.  Dr. Grobstein offered the in-class example of driving and kgins offers the example of playing tennis.  

Perhaps in some mental illness, the I-Function is overactive or malfunctioning.  That is, perhaps the inner noise has gotten too loud, or is somehow out of control or is somehow not under conscious control of the individual.  Or perhaps there is part of the I-Function that is out of whack.  Should we separate the I-Function into more components?...

I tend to think not..  In fact, this is my problem with the triune brain theory.  I feel that although a third component is added to the model, it does not become more useful.  I realize that I have a severe lack of knowledge about the theory.  So, my comment is only based on what I've heard.  I look forward to discussing it more on Thursday.  But, what is the preconscious?  What makes it unique from "the arrows between the I-Func. and Tacit Knowledge" in the bipartite brain that Katie points out?  

I also wanted to comment on two more ideas that Sophie suggested.  First, this idea of multiple realities.  I agree with Martin that claiming multiple realities can unnecessarily complicates things.  However, I also agree with Sophie that multiple realities add texture to life and are necessary to fully conceptualize the breadth of human experience.

Maybe the problem is in how we are using the word "reality."  It seems that sometimes when we say "reality" when we are talking simply about whether something exists.  Other times when we say "reality" it seems like we're taking it for granted that the things exist, and we are just talking about the meaning that is assigned to those things.  

Finally, Sophie also questions the possibility of a collective consciousness.  This is really interesting and something I look forward to discussing more.  Has anyone ever read the book The Hundredth Monkey?  It's about this phenomenon that was supposedly observed in populations of monkeys that were separated geographically.  The idea is that a new skill, let's say some monkey invented a better way to peel a banana, is learned by other monkeys in the direct community by the usual means such as observation etc..  Then when some critical number of monkeys learn the skill (the hundredth monkey), a tipping point is reached and the idea seems to jump and just become implicit knowledge for the whole population including monkeys that were incapable of ever learning the skill by observation.  

I realize that that was a haphazard explanation, and I am pretty sure that this theory has been shuffled into the "more wrong" category as opposed the the "less wrong."  However, it may be relevant to think about as we search for evidence of a collective consciousness.  

kmanning's picture

struggling with consciousness...

What I left class being most intrigued by was the difference between Professor Grobstein's bipartite brain and the alternative tripartite brain theory, mostly because I think in many (maybe even most) ways the two models are actually very similar.
In the tripartite model (from the explanation in class) there is one realm of human function that is conscious, one that is unconscious, and one that can be unconscious but can also be accessed by the conscious mind if it so desires (the preconscious). Prof Grobstein's model on the other hand has the conscious and unconscious as the only two realms within the brain/mind, but they are connected by arrows going in opposite directions: the unconscious affects the conscious (the more obvious and easily agreed upon principle) but also the conscious effects the unconscious. Like the tripartite model, then, this certainly leaves open the possibility that if the conscious brain wants to become aware of something in the unconscious, it can. To me however, there is a difference in the limits of the two models; two-way arrows leave open the possibility that with enough conscious effort (perhaps to the level of meditation or something similar) the ability of the conscious mind to influence the unconscious is limitless. Is it a theoretical possibility that someone could eventually be able to make all of their unconscious functions accessible to the conscious when it desires them? In the tripartite model, the line between the preconscious and the unconscious answers this question: no, at some point, some functions can only ever be unconscious. But in Professor Grobstein’s model, is this a theoretical possibility? (Professor Grobstein?)
In applying this question to mental health, the tripartite brain then says that at some (very real) point people’s attempts to control their actions are futile – the conscious mind simply cannot expand its power further. However the bipartite model doesn’t necessarily have such a problem. It allows us to say yes, the large part of our actions may be unconscious, but that does not mean we cannot learn to be conscious of them and thus consciously change the unconscious.  

mstokes's picture

Overcoming the unconscious?

Like Katie, I left class Monday night considering the differences, similarities, and limitations of the two brain models presented: that of the bipartite and tripartite brains.  I like the distinction that Katie makes regarding the ability for the bipartite brain to communicate with the unconscious--perhaps more easily or directly than the tripartite model would allow.

I just read an article in Runner's World Magazine (admittedly not an authority on brain research) which speaks of the brain's ability for "anticipatory regulation," which would cause you to slow down in a race before your muscles became over heated or taxed--so that perceived feelings of fatigue, rather than fatigue itself, is at work.  The research suggests that it's this unconscious function that causes you to slow down, rather than any signals from your muscles causing you to stop or slow down.  Unconsciously, the body starts to slow down; but consciously, you can train the brain to keep the muscles working and the body moving quickly, despite the feelings of fatigue.

Returning to Katie's post--it's an example of learning "to be conscious of [actions] and thus consciously change the unconscious."  I realize a simple model of "mind over matter" in running is an oversimplification of the more complex issues related to mental health and more complicated brain function--but it does seem to offer more support for the conscious to communicate with the unconscious, as may other more complicated stories.

Student's picture


I can relate to the basketball player example from class- where, before she shoots, she tries to get out of her own head, in a way- trying to get out of her awareness, and her consciousness, to a place where she can focus without being so overly stimulated and aware. I try to do this when I play tennis, except a lot of the time, I end up failing. I've always tried to be able to find the key, the distinguishing factor, or factors, that result in either a successful escape, or a trapped, overly aware conscious. It's when I become aware that I need to escape that I know I'm already in trouble, and maybe that's a general part of the awareness part of the conscious. 

 I think different people have different resting states, with different measures of how aware and conscious of the world around them that they are in general. I think one of the biggest problems I have is being too aware and too involved in every little thing that goes on around me. Someone suggested that I read about the 'highly sensitive person', an innate sensitiveness.  I'm not sure I buy into the whole Jung personality types fully, but it is interesting. Do those of us, with such active conscious', have more trouble reaching down into what is unconscious? I wonder if you need all the noise and all the distraction to stop, in order to see what lies beneath and beyond? 

Martin's picture


The terms "worlds" and "realities," in the plural, are misleading and unnecessary. It seems to make more sense to speak of one reality/ one world in which we all exist and about which we can know nothing with absolute certainty, on our own (without some sort of extrareality assistance). But, each person living in this world sees only a part of it and they see that part from a unique perspective. It is this that gives rise to the ideal of multiple realities. This jump to the idea of multiple realities is unnecessary and makes things more confusing then they need to be. We all find that our interactions with the world have varying degrees of success in accordance with how well our perception of the world match up to the thing itself. Perception here is more than just seeing things but also understanding cause and effect relationships between things. For example, if we treat a desk like it is a toilet and a toilet like a desk, we are going to have a bad day. This is an example of how we can misinterpret reality and act on our faulty interpretation. 

 The notion of mentally illness as being "out of touch with reality" fits this way of thinking fairly well as far as I can tell. The bigger question along this vain of thinking is "Why are some people's perceptions of reality worse than others?"

In this way of looking at the problem we can still move forward trying to figure out what "works best" and by that we can only mean figuring out which perceptions of reality are the best approximations of the real thing (about which we can have no certainty).


As a side note: I think there is something seriously wrong with thinking about a collection of jelly blobs as the necessary and sufficient substance for a human being. What I think of as "me" when I say that word I mean all of me, not just my brain or a part of that brain. To some extent I even consider my family and my friends to be a part of "me" so that if you hurt them, like hurting Christopher's toe you do hurt me even if I don't feel the pinch.  

Ljones's picture

I understand the difficulty

I understand the difficulty of thinking that you are your brain, but I do feel its a more accurate statement. For example, your knee is a part of your body, yes, but if you had to get knee replacement surgery, would it change who you are? On the other hand, if you had a brain tumor and had the choice to either die with your own brain or get a brain transplant (assuming they could be done) would you do it? I wouldn't.

In that sense, I feel like your brain really is where "you" are.  So, Christopher Reeves might feel like the toe we pinched was "his" toe... but I'm not sure if it is a part of "him" so much as part of something he owns.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Mental health: a new story in progress?

Seems to me there's a story beginning to emerge from the stories, in my mind/brain at least. Let me see if I can sketch it ....

  1. The mental heath system is a fragmented mess.
  2. Its very hard to define "mental health" in a way that is satisfying to all.
  3. Empirical science does not/cannot yield "Truth".
  4. We all live in different worlds.
  5. We all have different, potentially different worlds within ourselves (at a minimum, those of the cognitive unconscious/tacit knowing and of the I-function/story teller).

The big question is whether all of that is "demoralizing" or whether instead items 3-5 might give us a way to think about "mental health" (and perhaps health in general) that would draw from/make sense of our differences and, by so doing, suggest ways to make mental health care more coherent, "less wrong" both individually and institutionally. I"m betting on the latter, on the possibility that problems 1 and 2 result, at least in part, from discomforts associated with 3-5, and that if we fully embraced 3-5 new ways to approach 1 and 2 would result.

Is that a good bet? We'll see. In the meanwhile, we've explored some tactical terrain that may prove relevant. The line behind "hard science" and "soft science" may be useful in some contexts, but less so in, for example the context of mental health. More generally, drawing lines that require one to pick between one alternative and another may get in the way in this realm. A different approach is to find stories that accomodate what might otherwise seem to be mutually exclusive perspectives ("physical" and "mental," "objective" and "subjective," "body" and "mind,") and, in so doing, create both new possibilities and new questions.

Along those lines, we've been (as above) using the concept "useful" a lot, in lieu of "true" or "real." What exactly do we mean by "useful," and how can one judge "usefulness"? Can two quite different things be equally useful? And, if so, what we do about that? And what about the possibility that the inability of empirical science to say what is "True" or "Real" should actually encourage us to look in other places for such thing, rather than to regard them as in unachievable?

More immediately, we've got thoughts and the mind in the brain (or at least know what observations those stories summarize), but that's only a start. Why are there two boxes and how do they relate to one another? Can we get by with a bipartite brain or do we need at least one additional element (a "truine brain," an ego/id/superego, an uconscious/preconscious/conscious)? How shall we think about discovering things about oneself, about interpersonal relations, about cultural and its influences? In what ways might this sort of story be "useful," ie suggest new ways to think about therapeutic approaches to mental health problems, about the definition of mental health, about the institutional structures aimed at promoting mental health?

Like I said, a story seems to be emerging in my mind/brain, but its far from complete so I think we should keep meeting for a while. Looking forward to hearing what sorts of stories others are making of our conversations.


Ljones's picture

Multiple Personality Disorder Article

Hey Guys,

Here's the article I referenced in class about Multiple Personaliy Disorder...

It's an older article, but the information is really interesting!


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