Matter over Mind ?

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As knowledge of science and the human animal move forward it becomes ever more apparent of the interrelational nature of things. Our species has a propensity to compartmentalise the world and to some degree this makes sense. To deal with everything in its entirety is overwhelming, impractical and impossible. However, there are circumstances in which ignoring these entanglements is done so at our peril. Take for example the case of mental health. One might argue that the term itself is misleading. After all, we are biological beings, determined in many important respects by our physiology. Who can say where biology ends and mind begins? Hardliners would no doubt insist that there is no division. We are machines, composed of flesh and neuronal impulses. The mind/body distinction exists merely to allow us to make sense of ourselves and the peculiar relationship we have with the world around us. Whatever the position, we cannot deny that many psychiatric illnesses have a traceable physical cause. Depression, for example, has clear links to deficiencies in serotonin and noradrenaline. These neurotransmitters are important in the regulation of many processes that occur in the body. This is scientific fact. So why then do government insist on this physical/mind dichotomy when it is not terribly clear where these borders lie? An article in The Guardian believes that such an approach is artificial, divisive and ultimately damaging, suggesting that the treatment of ‘mental’ illnesses such as schizophrenia, psychosis, alcoholism, and personality disorders and ‘physical’ ailments should be treated in one integrated service.

There are of course those who would dispute whether alcoholism or certain personality disorders are physical in origin, but advances in our understanding are constantly challenging such assumptions. Consider how the understanding of Autism and Asperger’s has progressed in the last few decades. In the past such individuals might have been simply dismissed as anti-social. There is also considerable work being done on gene variants and their links to mental illness. Given this, we can conclude at the very least that we do not know enough to definitively say they are one thing or another. I think perhaps it is not unreasonable to work with the hypothesis that such issues result from a complex interplay of environment and biology.

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