The Neuroscience of Despair

In “The Neuroscience of Despair“, Michael Begun applies philosophical anti-scientism (i.e., the reductionism inherent in neurobiological ‘total explanations’ of conscious phenomena, that is, the materialist philosophical position known as scientism) to the issue of clinical depression:

“Together with the popular success of psychoactive medications like Prozac and Xanax, the change in the commitments of psychiatry has created ways of talking about mental illness that would have seemed outrageous or even nonsensical less than a century ago. Many of us now blithely accept that depression results from an imbalance of neurotransmitters. While the neurobiological understanding of mental disorders is still at a rudimentary stage, drugs that alter brain chemistry have definite palliative effects, and we increasingly look for and accept explanations of mental illness in neuroscientific terms. We might still take older explanations drawn from psychoanalysis or social psychiatry to hold some value, but we tend to assume that they can be reduced to neurobiology.

“We generally think that this counts as progress — that science has uncovered or will uncover the real causes of mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia, and will yield therapies that cure these illnesses at their neurobiological roots. But as more and more mental experiences get swept within the purview of neuroscience — from mental disorders like schizophrenia to everyday decisions like ‘Should I buy Coke or Pepsi?’ — we ought to think about how this came about, what it means for our self-understanding, and whether the new outlook can give an adequate account of mental disorders. How did we come to think of some forms of melancholy as a disorder called depression that is ultimately caused by chemical processes and properly treated by drugs that act on these processes? A look back at the historical developments that have led to this situation may offer some insight into the broader trend of uncritically embracing neuroscientific ways of describing our selves and our society.”

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