Brain Science. Fiction?

Stumbled upon this article, “Head Case: Can Psychiatry be a Science?” in the New Yorker that I can’t even begin to sink my teeth into.

In it Louis Menand (check this guy’s bio, btw.) evaluates two new books, Gary Greenberg’s Manufacturing Depression and Irving Kirsch’s The Emperor’s New Drugs. Both books question the culture of psychopharmacology (spell that 5 times fast) in modern America, and Menand delves into the complexity of how we define depression in the first place. (When does grief become unhealthy? How much sadness is okay? How do different cultures define happiness and normalcy? Do antidepressants work? Is therapy a better treatment? Or meaningful relationships? Exercise?)

I’m reminded of Freakonomics, which i just finished this month. The authors assert that we can’t always trust experts, because experts have the advantage as information keepers. Here pharmaceutical companies play the expert role when it comes to mental health. They’re here to help…if you’re here to pay. They have a treatment…therefore your condition is treatable.

Bottom line: it’s complicated. Science doesn’t give us isn’t one magic answer (or one pill) that makes everything okay. Menand asserts that it may not even be science’s job to answer these questions.

Here’s some nuggets to think about:

As a branch of medicine, depression seems to be a mess. Business, however, is extremely good.

Science, particularly medical science, is not a skyscraper made of Lucite. It is a field strewn with black boxes.

Mental disorders sit at the intersection of three distinct fields. They are biological conditions, since they correspond to changes in the body. They are also psychological conditions, since they are experienced cognitively and emotionally—they are part of our conscious life. And they have moral significance, since they involve us in matters such as personal agency and responsibility, social norms and values, and character, and these all vary as cultures vary.

Hm…see, it’s a lot to chew on…I think I need to go take a walk. And that might just be the best thing I could do.

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