The Imprinted Brain

How genes set the balance between autism and psychosis

Neuromania and Darwinitis: Thought Disorders or Therapies?

Mechanistic thinking about human nature helps counter psychotic symptoms.

The previous post pointed out that according to the diametric model of mental illness, homuncular thinking—a symptom of psychosis—can help autistic children by way of remedying their hypo-mentalism with a little hyper-mentalism. I have already commented on how much mechanistic thinking can benefit psychotics, but this is not a direct equivalent of the situation regarding homuncular thinking prescribed for autistics.

Is there such a parallel? A recent book (left) by Raymond Tallis suggests there is. According to Tallis, Neuromania is “the appeal to the brain, as revealed through the latest science, to explain behaviour;” while Darwinitis is “an inflamed mode of Darwinian thought” (p.5). By the latter, he appears to mean what I would call modern, “selfish gene” Darwinism based on the Hamilton-Price principles. He anathematizes—and indeed pathologizes—both because of their reductionism, materialism, and seeming ignoring of the facts of consciousness and free will.

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But as I have pointed out in a previous post, the diametric model of parallel mentalistic and mechanistic modes of cognition does not deny free will in the least. On the contrary, it defines it much more accurately as an epitome of mentalism understood as enabled (or not as the case may be) by our neuroanatomical, “selfish genes” for mentalizing—in this case, predominantly maternal/female ones.

Nevertheless, Tallis has a point, which is that what he calls neuromania and Darwinitis are mechanistic ways of thinking that do indeed counter the hyper-mentalism of traditional views of the mind as something irreducible and ultimately inexplicable by science. Furthermore, these alleged errors are therapeutic for that very reason—at least where those with psychotic tendencies are concerned.

To see how and why, consider the case reported on the letter pages of New Scientist for 13th October 2012. Responding to an earlier correspondent who had suggested that “‘visions’ during epileptic seizures may have inspired the birth of monotheism in ancient Egypt,” this writer comments:

Having developed adult-onset temporal lobe epilepsy years ago … I had a religious experience during what I now know was a simple partial seizure. Far from being inspiring, mine was prosaic. While in my local pub, but not drunk, I was suddenly overcome with an incredibly intense feeling that God was present, and very scary it was too. God spoke to me saying: “Dave, why are you worrying, you know I don’t exist.”

I was somewhat freaked out—simple partial seizures in the temporal lobe tend to be scary—but in hindsight I can laugh about it.

Dave almost certainly knows that God does not exist thanks to some degree of Darwinitis, and was able to laugh about it thanks to his neuromanic belief in his diagnosis as a temporal lobe epileptic. And anyone who can laugh off such an experience as this is not likely to suffer secondary symptoms that would exacerbate his disorder nor risk the serious social consequences that could follow if he took them more seriously (for example, by trying to make believers listen to these words of God: in this case, a message hardly likely to go down well, and one which in many societies even today, would probably arouse strong—and quite probably fatal—censure!).

On the contrary, a person who takes such an objective, detached view of what was otherwise a very intense pathological experience can barely be described as being mentally ill at all, and if schizophrenics who hear voices (one of the most common symptoms) could be as rational about them, their sanity would benefit enormously. Hearing a voice that constantly berates you or continually intrudes on your thoughts is bound to be disquieting, but how much less so if you can laugh off what it says, or regard it as you would simple ringing in the ears!

Seeing yourself as a human, naturally-evolved intelligent interface coping with a brain that is malfunctioning for very prosaic reasons rooted in neural circuitry and genetics is much more likely to save you from the worst consequences of such psychotic symptoms than is credulity for the occult or belief in the supernatural, however expressed. And seeing yourself that way is the epitome of what Tallis calls "Darwinitis" and "neuromania!"

In truth, both are examples of anti-mentalistic, mechanistic cognition applied to our concept of our own selves, and as such both are therapeutic—and not just for temporal lobe epileptics. On the contrary, such thinking enshrines the best and surest hope for the future sanity of the entire human race, as I pointed out in an earlier post. 

 

Christopher Robert Badcock, Ph.D., is author of The Imprinted Brain: how genes set the balance between autism and psychosis. 

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