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Brain, Behavior, and Medicine in the West: The Progression

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posted on Mar, 26 2010 @ 03:16 PM
The aim of this thread is to describe a general trend that I observe in modern medicine and the natural progression of this trend in the future. Then I'd like to discuss with all of you whether or not this observation is correct, and whether or not this trend is desirable.

This is the current state of affairs and the current paradigm in mainstream western brain and behavior science:

More and more, scientists are coming to understand that the brain controls behavior. Through ongoing research a clear of picture of how the brain works, how neural activity translates to behavior, and what specific neurological phenomena are responsible for what specific behavior, is being developed. The paradigm of neuroscience today is materialist. The mind is the name for the process of the brain. The mind is what the brain does. Functionally, the mind and brain are inseparable, and there is nothing spooky or non-physical about consciousness. Every psychological event is simultaneously a neurobiological event, every behavior pattern has a persistent neurological cause, and every specific behavior can be explained entirely in neurobiological terms. The brain is highly plastic, meaning it changes constantly in response to experiences, and chemical events in the body. The reason we are all different is that our brains are all different. They start out being formed by different genes, random variation in the developement process of the fetal brain increase uniqueness, and ultimately the brain is physically effected by every single experience a person has in their life. This means that even if two people were born with indentical brains, their brains will become unique almost immediately. The only way for someone to have an identical brain as you is for them to have been born with an identical brain and to have had the exact same experiences as you thoughout their life.

Our brains explain everything about us, and the fact that our brains are all different explains why we experience things differently; why we experience things subjectively. This is the current paradigm.

Because this is the current paradigm, the main task in brain and behavior science is to corrolate neurobiology with behavior. Figure out what part of the brain controls what part of the body. What happens in the brain when someone reports being happy, being sad, when someone is violent, when someone is good at math, or good at art, or when someone is hyperactive or autistic or delusional. The list goes on. We're explaining everything that we do in terms what is happening in our brains. We're also gaining a better and better understanding of the physical mechanisms at work in the brain: how neurons work, how memories are formed, how vision and hearing and everything else is manifested neurobiologically.

It is a general trend in human history - particularily in the history of science - that the next step after understanding how something works is the ability to control it. Once we understand what's going on, it becomes more and more clear what we could do to achieve a desired outcome. Intentional manipulation of relevant variables naturally follows from identification of relevant variables and understanding the role of those particular variables in the larger workings of the system.

So the trend in Western medicine that I am interested in is this: We characterize and more precisely identify dysfunctional behaviors. We then identify the neurological basis for those behaviors. Then, once we have this clear biological/"mechanical" cause for a dysfunctional behavior, we happily call it a disease. Then, in order to cure the disease, we give medications which effect the biological factors that we believe cause the disfunctional behavior. Then we say we've cured the disease.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in psychiatry. Even in the early 1900's, annoying, hyperactive kids got the crud kicked out of them by their parents and teachers, and people with more substantial mental illnesses were just locked up. Now we say that hyperactive kids have ADHD, and treat them. That was the example of this trend that we are talking about for the 90's and early 00's. Now it's Autism. Kids who don't socialize well are said to be on the Autism spectrum. They will be treated accordingly. The same is becoming more and more true across the board. Depression, bipolar disorder, sleeping problems, ect. We continue as vigorously as we can to identify the neurological basis for any behavior which society deems dysfunctional, and then we invent a drug to alter that biology and eliminate the dysfunction.

Eventually every substantial dysfunctional behavior will be accounted for in neurobiology, and then it will only be a matter of time until pharmeceutical intervention is possible in every case to eliminate the dysfunction. We accept that behavior is entirely brain based, and we're learning how to tailor the brain to our liking. This means we're learning how to tailor people to our liking.

So, that is the trend that I observe. I think it's very interesting the think about the implications of further developement in this direction. Some of the interesting question:

How do we decide exactly what behaviors are "dysfunctional?" Right now we go after things which are pretty clear; Depression, Bipolatiry, Autism, Schizophrenia, ADHD when it interferes with school, ect... But as we get farther down the road with this way of doing things, we will have addressed the most obvious "diseases" and we will have to pick out more subtle "dysfunctions." If you're not getting all A's should you take a smart pill? If you're not a morning person should you take a "wake up" pill? If you don't trust the government, should you take a sheeple pill?

How will this effect or opinion of others, as we come to believe that the reason they are the way they are is because of the chemistry of their brain? Can we blame them for anything? Can we hate them for the way they are? What do we do with criminals?

Is consciousness ever going to become scientifically relevant? Or can we just proceed under a materialist paradigm and continue to get everything right?

Is reducing a person to their brain dehumanizing?

Once we understand brains, will we treat the other animals that have brains any better than we do now?

Is the trend I've described even accurate?

Think, discuss, respond!

posted on Mar, 27 2010 @ 10:27 AM

off-topic post removed to prevent thread-drift


posted on Mar, 27 2010 @ 10:46 AM
reply to post by OnceReturned

First off, nothing is psychology is ever cured. If the symptoms disappear the disorder is said to be in remission. Also, consciousness is a very important part of neuroscience and psychology as a whole. In fact the goal of these fields is to identify what exactly consciousness is. Also, in terms of using psychology to control people, we already have the means to do that. However, in many cases the costs outweigh the benefits, because in many cases it involves giving up important freedoms. Also, when one looks at the work being done on the DSM V it sounds like many disorders that were in the DSM IV will be removed. I know a major argument has been over personality disorders and whether they should actually be considered disorders.

posted on Mar, 27 2010 @ 11:24 AM
Interesting thread Once Returned, S&F

OK...As your O/P was a biggie, I'll break up my reply to respond to each section of your post...

I agree that the main thrust of neuroscience these days is very much material, rather than the "old days" where we had study of the physical brain side of things as a material "we can see it" discipline Vs study of the mind/psychology, which was considered a nefarious almost kind of black art because the mind and its workings could not be described in "physical terms"

Yes, there is a growing trend in neuroscience to focus on behaviors, and how the brain is responsible for them, and also how to control these behaviors either by chemical or surgical means...IMO, neuroscience would be best served by accepting these behaviors as simply "being human" rather than trying to find ways of changing and controlling said behaviors...Instead, neuroscience should focus on how to treat and cure diseases of the brain which have such a devastating effect on human life, not to mention the economic cost of things like stroke & dementia every year...

Neuroscience focusing on behavior and controlling same can only lead to individuals who have control over large numbers of people (read: our "leaders & society) using these discoveries neuroscience has made about behaviors for nefarious purposes such as even greater control over populations...

Which leads to your comment about what is "normal" and what is "dysfunctional" behavior...In the past, we have simply used whatever is "normal" to a majority of people in a society as a measure...This has already caused untold numbers of people to be persecuted by society and to suffer in ways unimaginable to most people at the hands of medical science... If the current trend toward neuroscience' focus on behaviors continues, more and more people will be defined as having behaviors not normal or undesirable by societal standards which will lead to still more people suffering at the hands of medical science...

Sadly, I doubt consciousness will become largely relevant to the neuroscience community, at least in the medium term, while there is untold billions of dollars a year to be made in studying behavior and the control of same...

Is reducing a person to a mere brain dehumanizing ? I believe it is...As you said earlier in your post, we are the sum of all our experiences...

Will we treat animals any differently once we fully understand the brain ? I doubt it...We have treated animals, all animals as mere "commodities" since the dawn of time and I can't see us evolving beyond that anytime soon...One only has to look at the way 3 nations on the planet continue to murder Cetaceans in the face of evidence of their sentience and abundant intelligence and complex societies/cultures they have developed over millions of years...

Again, a fine thread
I'd love to give you a WATS, but that won't be coming back for a while yet so you'll have to make do with the S&F

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