Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Experience changes the brain..."

From the Psych Pundit blog: The Mind-Body Problem.
...if I had to nominate the one myth that's the most widespread and damaging in its influence, I think I might pick the "myth of mind-body dualism".

This is the idea that the mind and the body (brain) are completely different entities, made of completely different 'stuff'. It's an idea with an impressive pedigree (luminaries like Plato and Descartes), but that's not why most people believe it...

Anthropologists tell us that remote people groups all over the world are mind-body dualists. They've yet to encounter a clan, band, or tribe that's not. Likewise, researchers have found that children are natural born dualists - making claims about non-physical minds as early as age 4-5.

But science, of course, is about discovering things that aren't obvious...

We know from neuroscience that the mind is what the brain does. In fact, the mind and the brain are flip sides of the same underlying reality.

This means anything that changes your brain also changes your mind. But perhaps more importantly - it means anything that changes your mind also changes your brain.

If, as a psychologist, I can help change a patient's thoughts, I've also (by definition) helped change his brain. Changing behavior changes the brain. Changing feelings changes the brain.

In a nutshell: experience changes the brain...
Much more at the link. Must add Psych Pundit to my blogroll!


Blogger Dr Dork said...

I can't recall the source, but recall reading about significant PET changes after CBT.

BTW (sorry to "comment" this, but you have no email) do you mind if I link your blog ?

5:14 AM  
Blogger Greg P said...

The whole mind-body problem has various issues that probably will never be resolved.
It's easy as a neuroscientist to say that, "Well, obviously, the mind is a manifestation of the brain and its activity," and it's hard to deny this, but it doesn't really help us decide what the mind is.

It's not clear to me that the bottom-up analysis of the brain -- starting with elemental brain circuits, and working our way up to understanding larger aggregations of circuitry in the brain -- is ever going to help up with an understanding of the mind.

6:57 AM  
Blogger David said...

I think this view is oversimplified reductionism. To again make an analogy with computers:

Anything an operating system does will eventually be reflected at the level of electronic circuits. But does this mean that the whole concept of "software" is unscientific dualism? I don't think so.

You can study gates and latches all day long, and it will not help you to understand software-level constructs like "dispatcher" or "thread" or "parser." It would be strange if something similar weren't true in the case of the mind/brain.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Psych Pundit said...


You've misconstrued my point, I'm afraid, as doesn't at all entail the sort of eliminative reductionism you seem to believe it does. I'm not saying the "software" (mind) doesn't exist, or even that it's not important . . . merely that it does not exist independent of the hardware. It always has a physical instantiation. Dualism is merely the denial of this claim. Although it comes to people quite intuitively, dualism has many unfortunate consequences, as elaborated in my Psych Pundit post.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Dr Dork said...

I like the computer analogy. I use it myself. Software doeasn't work if the hardware's broken...and vice versa

9:25 AM  
Blogger David said...

Psych...although you may not be an advocate of this kind of reductionist thinking, it does to be very common.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

It always amazes me to hear people say that the mind are the body are separate. Friends in mania often scorn it so they can pursue compulsive prayer, for example.

As I have grown older, I've stopped believing in the Soul. I believe in neurons and neurotransmitters shooting messages across the synapses. My thoughts are the result of interaction between my body and where it happens to be at the moment. The environment includes the brain itself.

I find myself an interesting chemical reaction whose complexities cannot be ever quite entirely unraveled. The concept of a separate Mind and a separate Soul are little more than attempts to fill in the blanks, to draw an intangible where we simply do not yet understand.

Reductionist? Perhaps the opposing view might be called evasiveness. Science calls for measureable phenomena. The Mind and the Soul cannot be measured. They are like the shell game played by many New Agers and others: "We just can't measure them, but trust us. We know that they are there."

Still, there are reasonable concerns. How do we explain human diversity? First, I suggest again that our environment includes the brain just as the environment of a river may include a dam or a floodgate that regulates its flow. The actions of the dam are largely independent of the river. So too are some actions of the brain amid Society and the larger environment. This chemical reaction can manipulate itself: it can think.

Second, there is a dualism in genetics which may be helpful to us: genotype versus phenotype. The genotype is the hardwired -- the instincts, the senses, the reflexes. The phenotype is the actual expression of characteristics by the organism. For me, what I can my Mind -- my organic power to think -- is a phenotype, able to govern itself and develop its own characteristics.

A psychologist may suggest courses of action to a patient. A psychiatrist prescribes medications. The first strives to change the phenotype and the latter the genotype or its analogy at a greater level than our genes.

Determinism? Reductionism? No to the first. As for the second, it's a darn complicated system full of tricks and jumps that whose total interaction we, the viewers, have great trouble comprehending. The Mind or the Soul are, in themselves, a kind of reductionism, a way of saying "It's simple because it is vague."

I am bipolar, for the record.

10:17 AM  
Blogger shrinkette said...

Hi, everyone. Thanks for these comments! "Dr. Dork:" My e-mail address is shrinkette01 followed by It's in my sidebar (which is so full of stuff now that you probably can't find it. I'll fix it this weekend). And of course, anyone can link to me.

7:53 PM  
Blogger jw said...

I read the article and the posts ...

Frankly, I am not so sure about this. I don't like saying X is true when there is no known way of measuring for X. That's what we're talking about here.

Plus, there's simply too much circumstantial evidence for both sides. When one must make a choice based on circumstantial evidence, one must be very careful not to weigh one side more than the other.

One of the factors bearing on this argument comes from the experiments to prove/disprove ESP: No matter what, you get something close to chance.

That said, the belief of the researcher pro or con changes the numbers. That is consistant through all of the known tests. Use a believer and you will get numbers on the high side of chance. Use a skeptic and you will get numbers on the low side of chance. No doubt about that and no known reason for it either.

We could go on and on and on ... It simply comes down to circumstantial evidence on both sides: To faith, in other words.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

jw: I don't see how you can say that the evidence supporting the body-thesis is circumstantial. You threw out a claim and gave absolutely no evidence to back it up.

ESP has been subjected to double-blind study after double-blind study. It doesn't pan out. By the principles of Science which are based on the senses, we cannot say that it exists.

There's nothing circumstantial, for example, about the scientific basis for bipolar disease: we have instruments based on sensory awareness which can show disruptions in the neurochemistry. We can detect the trauma in the brain using MRIs. These, in turn, are backed up by surgery and autopsy. And even though we have something to learn about bipolar disorder, it's solid. We have documented evidence of mood shifts that can be observed by others.

The evidence for bipolar disorder is replicable. That for ESP is not.

Borderline disorder is a disease which we do not understand well. Yet we recognize a pattern in its sufferers. Two people can observe the subject at the same time and come up with similar lists of behaviors. Our knowledge is not as deep as it is for some diseases, but it is replicable.

When you demand that we put ESP on the same footing as this research you are asking us to buy the sketch of a horse as if it were a horse. That's neither scientific nor honest.

7:45 PM  

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