Its not your mind, it’s not your body, its you!
Mind and body — what do we mean?
In essence it is good news. Loud messages in the media about mind and body being connected (read article by Rachel Kelly here), thereby trying to update society’s thinking from dualism to what actually happens. To philosophers, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists though, this is familiar ground. Mind-body has been the subject of discussion and investigation for eons.
Today there is further reporting upon schizophrenia research, highlighting the limitations of a dualist perspective, which continues to predominate within our health system. The system and huge swathes of society persist in divvying up the so-called ‘mental’ and ‘physical’. We even have different buildings dedicated to each bit of us, and within those buildings, and rooms that divvy us up even more. We have a liver location, a heart hub, a bones bit, and other parts of the institution that focus on a mere piece of us. Where is the room that puts it all together and acknowledges a human being who thinks, feels, moves, and perceives in distinctly human ways? Let’s talk qualia, and here’s Dan Dennett talking about consciousness.
There are reasons why this maybe convenient, however the separation is not how it works in reality. And try being an end user: ‘Hello, I’m the knee patient’. Within our language and thinking must be the start point of the whole, for it is the whole person who perceives a need via a variety of bodily sensations: thirst, hunger, pain, discomfort and anxiety as examples. What do I need to do here?
‘In the past, we’ve always thought of mind and the body being separate, but its just not like that’ said Oliver Howes, professor of molecular psychiatry. Too right! Its never been like that! He goes on to say that the mind and body ‘interact constantly and the immune system is no different’. I would propose a step further that there is no connection per se because they are one and the same: me and how I experience me and the world. If you are doing a maths puzzle for example, you could argue that this is a mental task. However, there is always the ‘you’ doing the puzzle and you are there, present and embodied. Your mind does not slip out and do the job and then slip back in.
The recent schizophrenia research findings suggest that treating the immune system could be a way forward. I think that society maybe surprised by this news in certain quarters, yet people will understand how this can work. I have great faith in society;s ability to learn, grow and evolve because that is what we have always done, naturally. There is much greater ‘attunement’ to the completeness of being human, although we still have a long way to go before the scientific and philosophical understanding is mainstream in society. Again, this is not news to people who have been studying and following the work of brain-body-person-immune interactions over the past 15 years. A notable example was Dantzer’s paper in 2008 on inflammation and the brain.
inflammation is a likely biological mechanism that links up many common problems: e.g./ pain, depression
It sounds simple to ‘treat the immune system’. Of course in reality this is not the case because our body systems work as a whole and interact in many, many ways. Modern society is very familiar and comfortable with the notion of taking medication to solve a problem. Indeed this is one case when a pharmacological agent is needed. However, this still fails to teach a person how to live or to live their best. This take understanding, practice, time and perseverance. In the rush-rush world we live in, people often want the quick fix that simply does not exist. Getting real means we pay attention to the data that now tells us that certain practices or skills each day are what we need to do to be well. This is non-negotiable. You make a choice.
I finish as I start — this is good news. It is another way in which society can see the changes in understanding afoot. Our thinking needs a drastic update, certainly in terms of chronic pain and chronic health. For years we have been led to believe that pills are the answer, yet they are not. They may have a role, but the main role is the person and the choices they make in how they ‘do life’. Their life-style if you like. We have so many known ways of building health, no matter where you start, no matter whether you have a condition or not, we can decide to live our best. And to do this needs recognition of the fact that we are whole. There is no mind-body separation, instead just ‘me’.