I wanted to quote all three of you in my reply because I feel like this is a response to all three of you to one extent or another.
I am not proposing a “Cartesian” substance dualism here, where man consists of two interconnected substances: mind and body. What I am suggesting is that mind and body are two radically different kinds of discourses or conversations about experience and reality (there was another thread where I responded to Peter about this topic, so I’ll try not to repeat too much of what I said there). Concepts such as “leg” or “immune system” or “brain” or “neurotransmitter” belong to a body discourse, whereas terms such as “thought,” “memory,” “depression,” or “(emotional) trauma” belong to a mind discourse. In your post, Trith, you suggested a distinction between brain and body, that some people (you might have been referring to me here) view certain experiences as coming from their gut or their heart or wherever, when in reality that experience is coming from their brain, even though they don’t feel that sensation in the brain. I suppose I both agree and disagree with you. I believe that the expression “gut feeling” is a metaphor that some people might interpret literally, and I also that emotions do not come from the heart (again, literally). But I also don’t believe that these feelings or sensations “come from” the brain either, though those experiences may be reflected in that organ. My objection to the claims that OP were making have to do with my objections to positivist neuroscience generally; that author, in my view, is reifying trauma just like neuroscientists have a strong tendency to reify thought, memory, rationality, morality, even the mind itself—all of which are nouns that don’t actually refer to things, and are better understood as actions that a (human) agent are performing. Thought= to think; memory = to remember; and reason and morality are tools that we use to talk about our experiences in different ways. None of them are best understood as things that spew forth from the brain or any other organ of the body.
So let’s just talk about depression, for instance. What is the referent of that word? Well, we could conceptualize it in a number of different ways. If we are ok being very old-fashioned, we could conceptualize it in theological terms, as being possessed or controlled by demons or witches. Few people in the modern world would suggest such an understanding, so I’ll just move on. Others would define depression in more existential terms—depression is the label we attach to the affective experience we have as the result of a perceived loss or lacking of something that is valuable to us. This is my preferred understanding of depression.
Still others (especially those of a strongly scientific bent) insist that, since the material world is all that is “real,” depression (and all the other “mind” terms I mentioned) must be understood in materialist terms. In this sense, depression would be defined by observations about the neurological and physiological correlates of that experience. Which of these models offers the best way to understand and respond to depression? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this claim about depression being a serotonin imbalance of the brain were empirically valid (it isn’t, and I’ve always considered that claim to be ridiculously over simplistic and a comical recapitulation of the “humoral imbalance” theory of disease, but for this exercise, let’s just assume that claim were grounded in solid science). If that is how we are understanding depression, then it would be possible (at least in theory), for a person to “have depression” without being depressed, and it would also be possible for a person to be depression but not “have depression” (this is of course the primary reason why psychiatrists don’t—and never will—have any organic tests for identifying their conditions). A corpse or an unconscious person, in other words, could “have depression” just like he could have Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, if a person who becomes depressed conceptualizes his problem as a chemical imbalance, he will respond to his problem, not by asking himself how he can cope with his loss, or figure out how to make a life that is more meaningful and rewarding to him. Instead, he will ask himself “how can I give my brain more of that sweet, sweet serotonin.” And so he might start taking SSRI’s, or buying OTC serotonin supplements, or do research on foods and exercises that are associated with boosting serotonin. I even heard one person claim that her therapist told her that starting a new relationship can help create serotonin in the brain! And when a person engages in these activities, he might notice some improvements which he of course attributes to a boost in his serotonin, but he will often feel only temporary benefits and wonder why he can’t sustain those good feelings. And I think the reason why is this: the eternal quest for serotonin is not a very meaningful or valuable activity for most people.
I have said said many times on this forum that I do think that a semantic and teleological model offers the best way to understand human experience and behavior, and nothing I’ve heard from neuroscientists or psychiatrists has convinced me that their materialist-mechanistic-evolutionary approach is better. I do think that modern man is prejudiced to accept positive science as, prima facie, the best way to understand everything and I think that is a mistake. I mean, we can understand a cultural artifact like a wedding rink entirely by its materialist composition and physical provenance, but is that the only “proper” way to understand it? And is that understanding necessarily superior to an economic, emotional, or cultural account of its value? All human behavior must be situated in a matrix of values, and this includes the activities we call science.
When it comes to my own personal issue (whatever it is), I do have reason to think that some structural issue is underlying it—what that issue is, and whether it’s “in” my brain, or inner ear, sinuses, hormones, or immune system (though I do suspect the brain for many reasons I won’t go into here). However I also can’t deny the role that the language I’m using to talk to myself about my problem plays in this whole drama. And it seems clear to me that the language I’m using is coming from my own attempts to make sense of my life, and is not just spewing out from my brain beyond my control.