Science is the most reliable form of knowledge that we have, but today, it has certain limits. Descartes prudently stated that science could only deal with the body and not with the soul (or the mind). From this original thought arose the dualism of mind versus body.
Recently, this idea has been taken further by eliminating the mind. Indeed many scientists and philosophers affirm that behaviour is a product of brain mechanisms. The only reality is matter, and matter is the causality of these mechanisms. Thus, the prevailing psychiatric model interprets mental disorders exclusively as a consequence of problems in the brain. It does not take into account our relationships, ignoring that we are fundamentally social, symbolic beings, and that we evolve within a specific context of values.
This paradigm corresponds to a philosophy of mind called materialistic reductionism. From this perspective, human beings have no free will; they are biological machines which are more or less effective; and in the case of the “mentally ill”, defective machines that can only be fixed through pharmacological (chemical) intervention.
The current state of science
The field of psychiatry reflects the paradigm change brought about by modern “science”: a mentalistic (psychoanalytic) model was replaced by a materialistic one. This neo-positivist model, adopted in the 1980s, claims that mental disorders result from a malfunctioning brain, and therefore, that their solution is biochemical (Aragona, 2013).
Yet, while it is no mystery that drugs can lead to changes of behaviour, they do not lead to an understanding of human behaviour. Drugs only provide temporary relief.
Conventional neuroscience assumes that if we understand the mechanics of the brain, we can explain the mind. But the mind does not respond to linear causality; there are too many factors involved. The mind is better understood as a nonlinear system. In Free Energy theory, for instance, the internal states of an individual influence the external states, and the external states influence the internal states. So, there is a circular causality, a flow of existential states (Friston, 2010).
The problem of consciousness
As the mind disappears from the scientific view, and is reduced to matter, explanations of human behaviour become mechanistic. Scientists speak of instruments or “tricks” that nature intended for the survival and reproduction of organisms; but these are without any real value, or are “illusions” (Dennett, 2017).
However, this approach cannot account for our subjective experiences (Chalmers, 1995), our emotions, or how meanings affect the brain structures themselves. These considerations lead to a different discussion that opens the possibility of a genuinely scientific paradigm for explaining consciousness (Freeman & Vitiello, 2006; Globus, 1973; Penrose & Hameroff, 2011).
We know that matter affects the brain; injuries in the brain have effects on behaviour. But we also know that education can shape the brain through meanings, and it is a proven fact that talk therapies produce changes in the brain. To this day, science is unable to explain how meaning is transformed into an electrochemical effect in the brain (Levine, 1983).
The mind is not a thing; it is a process. It is the way we experience life, our thoughts, feelings and sensations are in a state of constant flux, just like life itself.
The neo-positivist paradigm causes numerous problems in treatment since the categorisation of mental disorders cannot be demonstrated scientifically. Mental disorders are often culturally contingent; for instance, different cultures consider the same behaviour cowardly and heroic.
Many other factors fundamentally intervene in human behaviour, such as all social ones, the so-called “subjective facts”. For this reason, the neglect of human subjectivity produces dehumanization. Human beings are fundamentally social. After all, human knowledge is symbolic; we make abstractions through which we communicate. The human psyche also develops in a specific cultural context, above all, in family relationships.
Beyond these mechanisms, some of the factors that intervene in mental disorders can be understood as failed self-regulation, usually due to an unwieldy trauma. The construction of the self is very fragile because it must be continually adapting (plasticity and complexity). Instead of categories, there is a continuum from pathological to normal, from maladaptive to adaptive. Self-awareness is a precious evolutionary acquisition, but we know from experience and research that these strategies are limited and highly prone to error. They may be weakened or extinguished by as little as sleep deprivation, alcohol or trauma. In the modern world, the principal causes of psychological suffering are the impossible goals of health, beauty and wealth, which manifest in education, work or family. It is a kind of “social disease” that produces human beings with unhealthy minds.
It is metaphysics, not science
All efforts to explain the mind only through biology, in fact, correspond to metaphysical assumptions that are not questioned or doubted (Moncrieff, 2008; Moncrieff, Cohen, & Timimi, 2008). What we commonly call “reality” corresponds to the perception of human beings in their adaptation to the environment.
But we also construct reality. It would only be necessary to rectify the concept of space-time structure that also arises from perception. The mind-matter dichotomy comes from our perception; it is epistemic, not ontological.
This situation is not new in the history of mankind. Scientific data are manipulated, through language, to turn them into unquestionable truths, and these truths constitute models of thought (metaphysics) for the entire society. Scientific metaphors become unquestionable literal truths.
If we understand that the psyche or mind is a part of nature, there is no need to adjust the subjective to the objective as is usually done. The mind evolves, and we can observe it socially. It is true that for many, it does so very slowly, but we have to think about where we come from. It was not so long ago that human beings separated from the trunk of the apes. We must not confuse the real with the biological despite our naive tendency to dichotomize. The mind is the information that runs through all of nature. You cannot reduce human behaviour to the biological (brain) because it is information that runs through everything.
The brain is necessary to process information from the environment, but the brain is not the information. We can compare the brain with a device that broadcasts a program, this is necessary, but we can distinguish the brain from the content.
For all the above reasons, an ontological change in the understanding of matter (or reality) would be more appropriate.
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