Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Calling NAMI....

The official website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a "Resource Library" which contains the book, Molecules of the Mind: The Brave New Science of Molecular Psychology by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Franklin. This book was published in 1987, a full generation ago. It's basic point is evident from selected quotes:

"As the neuroscience journal articles arrive each month with their fresh crop of discoveries ... we come slowly to understand that the enigma of the mind is perfectly capable of solution.... We are in fact solving it, minute by minute and month by month, molecule by molecule. And in every piece of the puzzle we see the same theme, that the mind and the brain are one.... The smile of the baby that warms the mother's heart and solidifies her love is reducible to chemical equations, and to mechanism.... There will of course be a certain sadness as the 'human spirit' joins the flat earth, papal infallibility, and creationism on the list of widely held but obviously erroneous convictions."

"We will have to turn our backs on the duality, and with it, the faith of our fathers. Molecular psychology represents the most fundamental heresy ever committed by science, and we will have to embrace it. We will have to look into the mirror, surrender illusion, and make peace with the fact that we're staring at a machine. We are mechanisms, pure and simple, explainable without resort to the concept of soul."

"We may not like it, but we're puppets on chemical strings ... Materialism is the soul as well as the body of the future ... Most of us, regardless of what church we go to, have already tacitly if not overtly adopted science as our religion."

Fine. That was 1987, as I say, one full generation ago. But Molecules is still a recommended resource in NAMI's library to enlighten people about mental health research - right alongside a video, "Dosing Strategies of Atypical Antipsychotics to Maximize Efficacy".

Cut to today. NAMI continues to promote the Franklin book. But their Massachusetts affiliate is also on my Twitter homepage promoting an article entitled, "The Myth of Depression's Upside" by Ronald Pies, M.D., which is a response to Johah Lehrer's recent New York Times piece, "Depression's Upside". These are fascinating articles, both only somewhat predictable from their titles.

Here's the most interesting thing to me. Both Ronald Pies and Jonah Lehrer clearly presume that meds are for serious depression only, not for sadness, melancholy or low mood. Pies refers to science that may hint at a qualitative distinction. Lehrer also cites authorities who argue for a clear category difference. In any event, neither doctor seems to question today's medical wisdom: we should cut back on the ubiquitous over-prescription of antidepressants. Lehrer concludes with a memorable and very anti-materialistic phrase: "The challenge, of course, is persuading people to accept their misery, to embrace the tonic of despair."

Maybe these discussions could be heroically translated into arguable coherence with Jon Franklin's 1987 views, but there is inescapable contrast. Twenty-three years later, "molecular psychology" has not cured schizophrenia or any other mental illness listed in the 1987 DSM. NAMI goes to lengths these days to make the public think they don't just push drugs for Big Pharma, they actually believe in talking to people, quite in addition to medicating the hell out of them. At the very least, fixing brains is a far more difficult and less promising project than what the NAMI faithful of the 1980's had hoped it might be. Western culture did not capitulate to the machine.

If a person is behaving badly enough, hurting somebody, etc., society will employ some kind of restraint. It doesn't matter much, I guess, whether that's a billy club or a shot of Haldol. But there's no great future in it either way, and no one (except perhaps the most arrogant and grandiose psychiatrist) pretends to be improving the perpetrator's life, let alone improving human nature.

Jon Franklin's brave new science was hallucination. We follow the traditional quest to understand whole people, rather than microscopic pieces of a mechanistic substitute. Improvement implies human intent, not mere brain chemistry. We have to deal with it.

I’d like to presume that NAMI sells Franklin's book today, merely as a curious artifact of a misinformed era.

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