Is It Me or My Brain? Depression and Neuroscientific Facts
by Joseph Dumit
[Dumit, Joseph. 2003. “Is It Me or My Brain? Depression and Neuroscientific Facts.” Journal of Medical Humanities 24 (1–2): 35–47.]
- Wittgenstein says that there are certain points about which we no longer ask for an explanation or a test of its truth, and explanations come to an end:
- “Giving grounds, however justifying the evidence, comes to an end; —but the end is not certain propositions’ striking us immediately as true, i.e. it is not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting” (On Certainty, p. 204) (39).
- We might call the set of acts that concerns our brains and our bodies deriving from received-facts of science and medicine the objective-self”
- The objective- self consists of our taken-for-granted notions, theories, and tendencies regarding human bodies, brains, and kinds considered as objective, referential, extrinsic, and objects of science and medicine. That we “know”we have a brain and that the brain is necessary for our self is one aspect of our objective-self” (39).
- “Furthermore, objective-selves are not finished but incomplete and in process. With received-facts we fashion and refashion our objective-selves.
- Thus it is we come to know our bodies as endangered by poisons like saccharine, our brains as having a “reading circuit,” and humans as being either mentally ill or sane or borderline.
- I call this “objective-self fashioning” to highlight our own activity in encountering “received-facts.”
- I emphasize “received-facts” rather than just “facts”to highlight the activity of translation that has taken place in order for the results of a scientific or medical project to reach us.
- Each of these movements of facts from one media to another is also necessarily a transformation of the fact. Science studies scholars Bruno Latour and Michel Callon call this process “translation,” a term connoting both movement and change in meaning. We all know that a fact established in a lab is not known immediately by everyone, everywhere. It must travel through specific channels” (39).
- “Each of the aspects of our objective-selves has this personal history (of coming-to-know via received-facts) and also a social history. (39-40)
- “Some human kinds that we are starting to take for granted, e.g., depressives, require attending to broader social and institutional forces in order to understand how it is that we look to the brain for an answer” (40).
- “These social histories enable and constrain science at every level of fact conception, experimentation, publication, and dissemination and reception, but this does not imply that science is culture. Science produces facts in spite of and because of these constraints—laboriously, continuously, and creatively” (40).
- “And we fashion our objective-selves with the fruit of this labor in the form of received-facts in our own continuous and often creative manner, no matter how skeptical we are. This way of living with and through scientific facts is our form of life” (40).
- Examining sufferers of mental illness pints Dumit to a type of selfhood he wants to “a pharmaceutical self whose scale is one of days and weeks.
- Contrary to a Heideggerian phenomenology in which one is passively thrown into moods, here one’s abnormal neurochemistry actively throws one into depression or mania. Sometimes one can respond to this by taking drugs that, days or weeks later, throw you into yet a third state—not normal, but better.”
- This pharmaceutical Self brings forth “three critical aspects of objective-self fashioning for our purposes.”
- First, there is a tremendous flexibility and openness of explanation of the objective-self”
- Even in the face of specific received-facts about ourselves such as brain images, there is room for negotiation and redefinition. Sociologists and anthropologists of psychology have called this the “pandemonium” of folk psychology. But they also note that even as we can play with mind and brain, motivation and behavior, we also ultimately must satisfy local common sense” (44).
- “The second aspect … is the need for a nuanced, complex cultural, historical and institutional as well as scientific or biomedical understanding of context.
- Objective-self fashioning is an ongoing process of social accounting to oneself and others in particular situations in which received-facts function as particularly powerful resources because they bear the objective authority of science” (44).
- “The third critical aspect of objective-self fashioning is the fundamental connection between the brain as objective-self and one’s own personal identity.
- When genes are invoked as the cause of one’s objective-self and aspects of one’s personality they can become synecdoche for one’s identity. If one has a gene for depression, one can fear becoming depressed.”
- “We can note here that brain images further confuse the part with the whole—even though brain images only show a slice of the brain, they show the slice as representing the whole brain, which in turn is the person” (44).
- “Individual sufferers are trying to both understand their illness and live with it. These are activities that are not necessarily compatible. Using the notion of the pharmaceutical self, I would suggest that they have entered into a relationship with their brain that is negotiated and social” (46).
objective-self—our taken-for-granted notions, theories, and tendencies regarding human bodies, brains, and kinds considered as objective, referential, extrinsic, and objects of science and medicine (39)
objective-self fashioning—”an ongoing process of social accounting to oneself and others in particular situations in which received-facts function as particularly powerful resources because they bear the objective authority of science” (44)
identification— borrowed from psychology and semiotics, “we can characterize our relationship to culture as identification.In Kenneth Burke’s definition, identification includes the “ways in which we spontaneously, intuitively, even unconsciously persuade ourselves” (Burke, 1966, p. 301)” (36)
This article considers the roles played by brain images (e.g., from PET scans) in mass media as experienced by people suffering from mental illness, and as used by scientists and activist groups in demonstrating a biological basis for mental illness. Examining the rhetorical presentation of images in magazines and books, the article describes the persuasive power that brain images have in altering the understanding people have of their own body—their “objective self.” Analyzing first-person accounts of encounters with brain images, it argues that people come to understand themselves as having neurotransmitter imbalances that are the cause of their illnesses via received facts and images of the brain, but that this understand- ing is incomplete and in tension with the sense that they are their brain. The article concludes by querying the emergence of a “pharmaceutical self,” in which one experiences one’s brain as if on drugs, as a new form of objective self-fashioning.”
Continue reading Dumit – Is It Me or My Brain?
When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God
by Tanya Luhrmann
[Luhrmann, Tanya M. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Vintage Books.]
- Based on over four years of participant observation at Evangelical “Vineyard Christian Fellowship” in Chicago and Northern California.
- trying to find an answer to the “deep puzzle of faith … how sensible, reasonable people, living in more or less the same evidential world as the skeptic, are able to experience themselves as having good evidence for the presence of a powerful invisible being who has demonstrable effect on their lives and are able to sustain a belief in that presence despite their inevitable doubts” (xvi).
- Answer – “In effect, people train the mind in such a way that they experience part of their mind as the presence of God. They learn to reinterpret the familiar experiences of their own minds and bodies as not being their own at all—but God’s” (xxi).
- Vineyard members learn a new theory of mind (participatory) which “asks congregants to experience the mind-world barrier as porous, in a specific, limited way” (40).
- specifically meaning that you can hear things in your mind that did not originate there, but limited to God speaking to you
- The 1960s were a ‘great awakening,’ significantly among the hippie movement in California, which espoused a new, friendly, personal type of Christianity that became evangelism throughout the next decades—which leads to churches like Vineyard
- Vineyards basic view on the God-relationship: “God wants to be your friend; you develop that relationship through prayer; prayer is hard work and requires effort and training; and when you develop that relationship, God will answer back, through thoughts and mental images he places in your mind, and through sensations he causes in your body” (41).
Vineyard members engaged in many practices that trained their minds to work this way
- Figuring out whether or not it is really God is a practice called discernment, based on four tests:
- Is it not something you normally would have said?
- Is it the type of thing you think God might say or imply?
- Is the message confirmed through others’ experiences or larger circumstances?
- Is it followed by a period of peace?
- Another way Vineyard members practice hearing God—pretend you’re hanging out with him
- set an extra place at the table, pour him a cup of coffee, or even have a complete ‘date night’
- with practice, this behavior enacts a type of play that children have with imaginary friends—completely given over to the reality of the pretend, like in Huizinga’s magic circle
- Another type of training is “opening your heart” through emotional practices
- “crying in the presence of God”—be openly emotional when giving or receiving prayer
- “Seeing from God’s perspective”—look at situations past your own limited view
- “practicing love, peace, and joy”—practice it consciously
- “God the therapist”—tell him your problems
- “reworking God the father”—sometimes dads are scary and demanding; God is not
- “emotional cascades”—sudden moments of epiphany, when you physically feel God’s love
- “It is a profoundly social process. It is the evangelical church that teaches discernment, encourages the playI and models the six emotional practices. It is no small matter to become confident that the God you imagine in the privacy of your mind exists externally in the world, talking back. In the struggle to give the invisible being its external presence, the congregation surrounds the individual and helps to hold the being out apart from the self, separate and external. It is the church that confirms that the invisible being is really present, and it is that church that reminds people week after week that the external invisible being loves them, despite all the evidence of the dreary human world. And slowly, the church begins to shape the most private reaches of the way congregants feel and know” (131).
- Vineyard gives classes in prayer and regards some practiced members as “expert prayers”
- These practices are important even to non-believers because “we cannot understand how God becomes real to someone until we understand that a person’s experience of God emerges out of the vortex not only of what they are taught intellectually about God but also of what they do practically to experience God—above all, the way they pray, and what the bring to their prayer experience as unique individuals” (156).
- Vineyard members practice St. Ignatius’s “Spiritual Exercises”— training the imagination to picture the imaginer as a part of the life of Jesus
So how does this work?
- Luhrmann says that the congregants who have the more intense experiences and the most verbal relationship with God have high rates of the absorption personality trait.
- when you get absorbed in something, it seems more real to you, and you and your world seem different than before. That is why it is related to hypnotizability. Both rely upon your ability to throw yourself into something and then to involve yourself intensely in the experience” (199).
- This gave her a hypothesis: “that when people believe that God will speak to them through their senses, when they have a propensity for absorption, and when they are trained in absorption by the practice of prayer, these people will report what prayer experts report: internal sensory experiences with sharper mental imagery and more sensory overrides (sensory experience in the absence of sensory stimuli). Note the combination: an interest in interpreting a supernatural presence (the participatory theory of mind, taught by the social world of the church); a willingness to get caught up in one’s imagination (an individual difference); and actual practice ( they do something again and again, which has consequences)” (202).
- So she tested it in Northern California by having subjects listen to training tapes for 30 minutes every day for a month.
- She found that the subjects “entered the project with a broad, generic desire to hear God speak or perhaps just to get their prayer life moving again; they spent thirty minutes a day imaginatively immersed in the scriptures; and then they had unplanned idiosyncratic experiences that they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears” (216).
evangelical—based in three beliefs: literal truth of the Bible, one can be saved through a personal relationship with Jesus (being “born again”), and one should spread the gospel
absorption—the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and to most imaginative experiences in which the individual becomes caught up in ideas or images or fascinations. That is not to say that absorption is equivalent to hypnosis or dissociation or trance: manifestly it is not. But absorption seems to be the basic, necessary skill, the shared capacity of mind that allows what we choose to attend lo become more salient than the everyday context in which we arc embedded. It is the ability to use a book to take your mind off your troubles. That cuts both ways, of course. Some people use novels to keep the world at bay long enough to recover and regain the strength to return. Others use novels-or soap operas, or reality television-to escape and ignore the troubled marriage or the needy child. In both cases, individuals use their mind to change their relation to the reality they perceive … That is why absorption is central to spirituality. The capacity to treat what the mind imagines as more real than the world one knows is the capacity at the heart of experience of God” (201).
The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
by Allan Young
[Young, Allan. 1997. The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princeton University Press.]
- Young argues that the concept of traumatic memory, which is seen by some as having roots hundreds of years ago, is actually quite a recent invention
- He argues that: “this generally accepted picture of PTSD, and the traumatic memory that underlies it, is mistaken. The disorder is not timeless, nor does it possess an intrinsic unity. Rather, it is glued together by the practices, technologies, and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied,treated, and represented and by the various interests, institutions, and moral arguments that mobilized these efforts and resources” (5).
He does not deny that the suffering accompanying a PTSD diagnosis is not real:
- “My job as an ethnographer of PTSD is not to deny its reality but to explain how it and its traumatic memory have been made real, to describe the mechanisms through which these phenomena penetrate people’s life worlds, acquire facticity, and shape the self-knowledge of patients, clinicians, and researchers” (5-6).
The book is broken into threes sections:
- an historical overview of trauma theories up to the beginning of WWI
- Erichsen—”railway spine” in the 1860s—to deal with railway insurance
- fear is the body’s memory of pain—memories come form physical stimulus, not images or words
- So the traumatic event itself causes the continued anxiety
- Janet & Freud
- Repression and dissociation—horrible buried memory
- The memory of the trauma (rather than the event) is the cause of the anxiety
- Rivers, WWI & “shell shock”
- Although seen by many scholars as the precursor to PTSD, Rivers is “observing that, in most cases, it is not the traumatic memory that produces the physical and emotional symptoms of the war neuroses (anxiety disorder) but rather the reverse: the symptoms account for the memory” (83).
- The DSM III revolution
- 1940s pre and post WWII war neuroses
- Kardiner—The Traumatic Neuroses of War, based on post WWI studies from the 1920s
- Grinker & Spiegel—War Neuroses, based on field studies during WWII
- no matching diagnostic categories between the two, so the War Department makes one…
- The DSMs
- DSM I—1952, nomenclature not universal, listed on spectrum from “Mental Illness, to Mental Health”
- DSM II—1968, better, but still involved “neuroses”
- DSM III—1980, built from scratch on completely positivist basis, that is, it was all descriptive, some critiqued this “cook book approach … making mental disorder equivalent to their aggregate of their symptomatic parts” (100).
- in DSM III, a person “gas experienced an event that is outside the range of usual human experience and that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone (124).
- system worked like this:
- first order feature (PTSD) is defined by
- second order feature (an event outside the range of usual human experience),
- but then what is the third order (usual human experience)? Unlike the anecdotal research of Rivers, Freud, or Kardiner, the DSM relies on analogical comparison, which has no bounds.
- so throughout all this time:
- “What counts as a reasonable question, a satisfactory answer, a significant difference, an anomalous finding, or even an outcome—the criteria for each of these changed during this period. What did not change was the belief in the solidity of scientific facts and the conviction that psychiatry’s facts, being scientific, are essentially timeless” (9).
- PTSD in Practice
- This section is based off of fieldwork in a U.S. Veterans Administration unit for the diagnosis and treatment of Viet Nam veterans suffering from PTSD in 1986-87
- There is a long section that includes case studies of four different Vietnam War veterans being considered for PTSD diagnosis.
- The four men all present psychometric and standardized diagnostic results consistent with a PTSD diagnosis
- The case studies consist of transcripts of narratives from the men, which are significantly different
- Following the narratives, transcripts of meetings between professionals at the center show how they rationalize these differences back into the requisite parameters using the open ended language of the DSM designation
- the centers espouse an ideology of PTSD that allows the patients to talk about their own experiences using specific terminology that feeds back into the center, and back into the diagnosis.
- The seventh chapter has a lot of group therapy transcripts where you can see this happening.
In the end, the book basically shows how the social creation and maintenance of PTSD (like Scott with blindness) can work in the process of creating a “kind” of people (like Hacking with MPD).
Continue reading Young—The Harmony of Illusions
The Making of Blind Men: A Study of Adult Socialization
by Robert A. Scott
[Scott, Robert A. 1969. The Making of Blind Men: A Study of Adult Socialization. Russell Sage Foundation.]
- In one line: “blindness” is a learned social role, inculcated by both blindness agencies and larger society
- The book comes out of a project Scott began within the blindness car industries that sought to
- obtain a systematic view of the blindness problem in America, and to determine—
- which aspects were being dealt with and which were not,
- how effective the organized system was,
- the consequences for blind people who join blindness agencies, and
- the potential application of social science theory to this field
- He interviewed about a hundred blind people, almost a hundred workers in the blindness field, and visited many programs and agencies for the blind.
- Big take away from the project: “Two facts of paramount sociological importance emerged from these experiences. The first is that many of the attitudes, behavior patterns, and qualities of character that have long been assumed to be given to blind people by their condition are, in fact, the result of ordinary processes of socialization. The second is that organized intervention programs for the blind play a major role in determining the nature of this socialization” (3).
Before the book, there were three explanations of behavior patterns and attitudes of the blind:
- commonsense explanation
- mostly folkloric, blind people have a fundamentally different internal experience and world than sighted people, melancholic and spiritual.
- But this would mean all blind people act the same way, which is not true
- psychological explanation
- blind people are not all the same, but they are all dealing with the same type of initial shock. The way they deal with it is diverse, but predictable.
- But many people deny their technical blindness, so there is no initial shock. Also, if the person does not act n the predicted way, the fault then lies in the blind person, which ruins any empirical value of the explanation
- Stereotype explanation
- misconceptions by laypeople affect and contribute to blind people’s behaviors:
- “When, for example, sighted people continually insist that a blind man is helpless because he is blind, their subsequent treatment of him may preclude his ever exercising the kinds of skills that would enable him to be independent. It is in this sense that stereotypic beliefs are self-actualized (9).
- But this theory puts too much emphasis on belief, rather than lived reality.
The major thesis of the book is that
- “blindness is a learned social role. People whose vision fails will learn in two contexts the attitudes and behavior patterns that the blind are supposed to have, in their personal relationships with those with normal vision and in the organizations that exist to serve and to help blind people” (117).
It is important to note that in the
- “total network of agencies, organizations and programs for the blind. caters to about one-quarter of all people who are, according to administrative regulations, blind … These are the blind children who can be educated and the blind adults who can be employed. The system largely screens out the elderly, the unemployable. the uneducable. and the multiply-handicapped—in other words, the vast bulk of the blindness population” (119).
They all come out as “blind” in the way the agency defines it—
- “They have learned the attitudes and behavior patterns that professional blindness workers believe blind people should have … He is told that he is “insightful” when he comes to describe his problems and his personality as his rehabilitators view them, and he is said to be “blocking” or “resisting” when he does not. Indeed, passage through the blindness system is determined in part by his willingness to adopt the experts’ views about self” (119).
blindness workers’ approaches: (119)
- restorative approach
- “assumes that blind people can lead independent and fulfilled lives in the outside world, but only if they first recognize and accept as final the fact that they are blind”
- accommodative approach
- regards these objectives as noble but unrealistic for most blind people. It holds that a more realistic objective is to provide environments to which blind people can accommodate with a minimum of effort”
These techniques lead to people who truly internalize their social role as “blind”:
- “The picture that emerges from my analysis is of a group of people who initially share in common only the fact that they have problems of vision and eventually come to feel and behave in patterned, predictable ways” (120-121).
- “People who initially think of themselves as sighted people who have trouble seeing come to think of themselves as blind people who have residual vision. Blindness becomes the primary factor around which they organize their lives and in terms of which they relate to other people” (121).
Want more?—Of those 3/4 of the blind who don’t go through the programs, many of them don’t exhibit the “blind” behaviors the agencies expect:
- “The overpowering importance of the blindness system in the socialization of the blind who are in it is demonstrated by looking at the blind who live outside it. These people, particularly blinded veterans and the independent blind. fail to display the attitudinal and behavioral patterns that so many insist they should have because they are blind. This demonstrates not only the importance of blindness organizations as agents of the socialization of the blind; it also demonstrates that blind men indeed are made” (120).
So, the last word on the blindness-creation complex:
- “My analysis suggests that such organizations create for blind people the experiences of being blind. Such organizations are not, as some have suggested, merely helpers of the blind that facilitate or change processes already occurring; rather, they are active socializing agents that create and mold the fundamental attitudes and patterns of behavior that are at the core of the experience of being a blind man” (121).
But all is not lost:
- “Some may regard as deplorable the fact that blindness agencies have so great an impact upon the very nature of the phenomenon of blindness in our society. I do not, for it suggests that this system has the potential of becoming a powerful tool for positive social change” (121).
For a view of the book’s importance, here is an interesting book review from 1981
Continue reading Scott—The Making of Blind Men
An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community
by Timothy Grivell, Helen Clegg, & Elizabeth C. Roxburg
[Grivell, Timothy, Helen Clegg, and Elizabeth C. Roxburgh. 2014. “An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community.” Identity 14 (2): 113–35.]
coming from psychology
interviewed five self-identified Therians online
found three patterns throughout interviews
- journey of self-discovery—mental shifts and phantom limbs occur in self-reflection that implies good mental health
- transspeciesism—interviewees made links to homosexuality and “coming out” as a part of Therian identity as well as to transexuality in that they did not feel they belonged in their bodies
- the “Therian Shadow”—the “animal” represents immature, uncivilized, and shameful behavior patterns in Western culture, so those behaviors are repressed, doing particular damage to the psyches of Therians. This creates the internal Therian Shadow, based on Jungian psychological archetypes. Therians mitigate this by asserting that they are “in control” of their theriotype behaviors.
Therianthropy is the belief that one is part nonhuman animal. Opinions vary in the academic literature as to whether it is a mental illness or a spiritual belief. Although believed to be rare in the Western world, the development of a Western online community of therians who largely have not come to the attention of the academic community suggests that it is not well understood. In this study, five therians were interviewed about how the adoption of the term therian impacts their identity. Using interpretative phenomenological analysis, three themes emerged: (a) a journey of self-discovery, (b) transpeciesism, and (c) the therian shadow. The personal discovery and acceptance of therianthropy appears to be a gradual development process. Strong parallels were made totransgenderism. A desire for public acceptance was expressed by the respondents. ”
Continue reading Grivell et al—An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community
The Social Construction of What?
by Ian Hacking
[Hacking, Ian. The social construction of what?. Harvard university press, 1999.]
constructionist (categories are socially created) v. essentialist (categories are proof of/ derived from an essence of the members of the category)
“Social constructionists about X tend to hold that:
- (1) X need not have existed, or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable.
- Very often they go further, and urge that:
- (2) X is quite bad as it is.
- (3) We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically transformed” (16).
This is predicated on the thought that:
- “(0) In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted; X appears to be inevitable” (22).
What is constructed:
- objects – things that are in the world (practices, experiences, people, social classes, etc.)
- ideas – beliefs, theories, concepts (groupings, classifications, justifications, systems, etc.)
- “elevator words” – facts. reality, knowledge, truth: things that simply are, and explain the world (called elevator words because they work at a different, higher level than other things).
human kinds – we label human behavior and/or situations in a way that labels the people themselves—makes them kinds of humans (child television viewer, woman refugee, abuse victim, anorexic, etc.).This creates ontological categories—new ways of being human.
Interactive kinds – human kinds are interactive kinds because they interact with other of that same kind and become aware of their kind, changing the way they experience it. This causes looping effects. Quarks, however, are not interactive, because they are not self-aware. This is Hacking’s designation between concepts of the social sciences (interactive) and natural sciences (not).
looping effects of human kinds – “kinds of people, can become aware that they are classified as such. They can make tacit or even explicit choices, adapt or adopt ways of living so as to fit or get away from the very classification that may be applied to them. These very choices, adaptations or adoptions have consequences for the very group, for the kind of people that is invoked. The result may be particularly strong interactions. What was known about people of a kind may become false because people of that kind have changed in virtue of what they believe about themselves. I have called this phenomenon the looping effect of human kinds” (44).
Continue reading Hacking—The Social Construction of What?
Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et al
by Fiona Probyn-Rapsey
[Probyn-Rapsey, Fiona. 2011. “Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et al.” Society & Animals 19: 294–301.]
Critiques Gerbasi et al on a few points:
- while they work to define “furry,” the study does not try to define “human”
- elides the controversy surrounding “gender identity disorder” diagnosis, thus legitimizing and furthering the pathologization of non-normative sexualities
- does not address animal studies and “humanimal subjectivities”
- gives subjects the choice of heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual to choose from (more normative sexuality), and does not include respondents who choose other types (pan, omni, a, demi, etc)
This is a response to an article published in Society & Animals in 2008 that argued for the existence of a “species identity disorder” in some furries. Species identity disorder is modeled on gender identity disorder, itself a highly controversial diagnosis that has been criticized for pathologizing homosexuality and transgendered people. !is response examines the claims of the article (and the design of the study itself ) and suggests that the typology it constructs is based on unexamined assumptions about what constitutes “human” identity and regulatory fictions of gender identity.
Keywords furry fandom, gender, gender identity disorder, sexuality, species identity disorder Continue reading Probyn-Rapsey—Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder