The quick fixed quirky mind!

Mr. Anand Balasubrahmanyam,

Writer, free lance lecturer and Neuropsychology enthusiast,

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

 

We are currently in the “quick-fix” era. We are aware of the slightest change to our surroundings, which again is a good indicator of our sentinel system working to protect us. We have incredible access to information, and we revel at the data flotsam around us. How good are we equipped to process this information accurately, as a function of time and space or situation?


This is essentially a neuroscience article. However, it focuses more on the processing of the concepts already known and new information that keeps getting thrown at us. The “meta” of thinking, the basic force behind our curiosity in neurobiology, psychology and psychiatry.

Data are numerous, but what essentially constitutes a “finding” or a “discovery” how we process and interpret data.


I will try and minimise the use of the word “data”, I somehow get this opinion that this word has been synonymized with siliconization. Data is instantly associated with “software”, “analysis” and “representation” and “graphs”.


I hereby introduce a thought: We are seemingly unaware of the fact that the information we generate, publish and digitalise has done nothing to contribute to “KNOWLEDGE”. The gap between knowledge and information is widening, and information has taken centre stage. Everything is just a google away. We are more informed, but “know” very little, due to technological hegemony. It has influenced how we “think”, which is the most unique aspect at the individual scale of a species. The most perilous aspect of our condition is that as a species, we have “normalised” thinking, do not pay attention to one’s own uniqueness. We claim to understand all the tenets of logical analysis and we have “outsourced” logical thinking to computers, thereby creating artificial intelligence (AI).


Proponents of AI would inarguably contest this by saying that this “frees” up our mental space to be more innovative, and we do not have to spend time reinventing the wheel. There is one tiny glitch in this argument: The wheel never really existed. The so-called wheel is a mere summary of accepted thought patterns, and by adhering to these thought patterns, even the new “out-of-the-box” ideas are really not free from the “box”. So yes, to be innovative, one has to reinvent the wheel.

Knowledge is a relative concept, in other words, it takes into account the time frame of how a concept evolved, considering all the (mis)conceptions. Information is static in nature, knowledge is not. This should make us sensitive to the general danger of “normalising”, especially that of human behaviour.


Once we establish that nobody really prefers to be sad, we come to the context of psychological/emotional/neural pain. To the centres in brain that control emotion, to talk of one kind of pain, would mean to talk of all three kinds of pain. So, pain or sadness is a crucial warning system that something needs to change since something is not right within. The cause could be external or internal. Many a time, we are aware of the cause and we attribute our suffering to it clearly. Even there, it so happens that we pay more attention to our emotional pain than to the cause. Sometimes, the pain lingers on, and we come to the classification system of mental disorders. By pain, I am not referring only to depression, I am referring to all thought and behavioural patterns, that cause us obstacles and conflicts, that we would have preferred not to have.


The unfortunate part is that there is no order defined to tell us precisely what is the “dis”order. We have defined for ourselves what is wrong without a clear benchmark of what is right. The reality is that the benchmark does not exist.


Diagnosing somebody according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM-V), is a woefully simplistic approach to characterising behaviour. I have to tread really carefully in this paragraph, and not get too philosophical. So even with my philosophy reined in, I daresay that one’s perception of the world is unique to oneself. You see the world, you perceive it, you perceive the person teaching you and the information being transferred. You are the one who records it. The person sitting next to you will add the same information to an entirely different repertoire of information and experience (similar at the most, but never the same.). Thus, two of you can never have the same mind.


That brings us back to the psychological benchmarks. We developed these benchmarks because we thought it was convenient to decide and set emotional and behavioural benchmarks for others. So, a “prolonged” period of sadness came to be defined as depression. And quick variations in moods or emotions came to be classified as bipolar, dissociative, borderline personality disorders and many more. Now, as a society, we subscribe to a set of tacit and explicit rules which makes life convenient for us as well as for the society as a unit. Whatever or whoever does not subscribe to these is seen as an aberration, which is necessary for our security, well-being and relative stability.


Let me make myself clear: I am not against rules, and when certain social aberrations impinge upon somebody’s well being and livelihood, we need an agency to resolve such problems. Within the framework of law, that we all abide by, I want to talk about emotional diversity in the individual level.


Within this framework, it is important to understand the relativity of emotions. Sadness is sadness because it falls short RELATIVELY of the benchmark of happiness. Now happiness for us is again a non-existent benchmark. How we express ourselves and how we feel is actually a unique entity.

It is important to reiterate the issue that I am addressing here. When we count too much on our own set patterns for our gamut of expressions and feelings, and any deviation is recorded as a “disorder”, and medicated with, we are undermining our own system’s capacity to cope.


So, brain controls behaviour. It is no great secret, and certainly not the kind of redundant information that one should share with an already knowledgeable readership. However, it is astounding that neuroscience and psychology have only started to amalgamate now, in more recent times. I could recount personal interactions with psychologists whose knowledge of neuroscience was not significant, this is a lapse at the basic formation level. Neuroscience, psychology AND psychiatric training should go at least hand in hand in the near future.

The problem with the above illustration is that our thinking patterns have attributed one’s psychological suffering to ONE chemical, in this case, serotonin. Again, the advent of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, was not without success and without basis. It DID work, for SOME. The reality is, with psychiatric drugs, that SOME does not qualify as ALL (Pies Ronald, 2010). What I am trying to put across is that we must caution ourselves against prescribing psychiatric drugs as a blanket cure for psychological disorders.


It is important and relevant to discuss this concept in the context of pharmacology, neurobiology at the connectome levels. And, it is important to substantially change the concept of chemical imbalance, these are some of the points that I shall be addressing in my future articles.


References:

Pies, R. (2010). Antidepressants work, sort of—Our system of care does not. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 30(2), 101–104. https://doi.org/10.1097/JCP.0b013e3181d52dea

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