Mind Myths

[Robert Spillane, “Mind Myths: The author responds,” The Skeptic, 2007, 27, 2, 55. PDF.]

The sceptical David Hume observed that reason is a slave of the passions. Empirical support for this proposition can be found in the cathartic letters which appeared in “Forum” (27:1: 50-55) in response to my article “The Mind and Mental Illness: A Tale of Two Myths” (26:4:46-50). Catharsis may be good psychotherapy (and it may not), but it cannot invalidate a logically valid argument. Since I was trying to put before the Skeptics a logical argument, I shall pass over in embarrassed silence the personal insults, tortuous arguments, guilt by association (no Virginia, I am not a Scientologist), and the surprisingly (for Skeptics) snide comments about philosophy and logic. If a state of affairs is logically impossible, then it is empirically and technically impossible. So empirical or technical ‘evidence’ for mental illness begs the question. My case, therefore, stands or falls on the following logical argument:

  1. Illness affects the body.
  2. The ‘mind’ is not a bodily organ.
  3. Therefore, the ‘mind’ cannot be(come) ill,
  4. So mental illness is a myth.
  5. If ‘mind’ is brain (process),
  6. And mental illness is brain illness,
  7. Then mental illness is body illness,
  8. And mental illness is still a myth.
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  1. Simon Mundy
    Posted February 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Skeptics can be relied upon to be skeptical of others. 🙂
    But seriously: I strongly agree with your position on the reality of “mind” and other reified abstractions like “consciousness”, “movement”,…. And yet, we almost all have, sorry: exhibit, systematically dysfunctional behaviour in classes of situation, idiosyncratic between individuals. Unless we take the Skinnerian position, these dysfunctional patterns are an expression of internal states which, for want of a better word, I’ll call feelings or thoughts: they arguably arise from interpreting present situations in terms of childhood experience and replaying the behavioural style which served the child’s immediate needs at the time.

    I’m not here to argue the ins and outs of attachment or any other therapeutic/developmental model; my point is that, if “mind” is disqualified as a useful term by its contamination with a pseudo-scientific spiritism, then we need to come up with a way of referring to that inner world which “mind’s” vernacular usage commonly denotes. I guess I’d also somewhat mournfully suggest that such a term is unlikely to emerge in the absence of at least the first sketch of a model of our inner world which does without the implication of a unitary “centre of consciousness”.

  2. Tasha
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    I have read your blog with interest. I have a problem with your logic however – it appears to fall over at point 3. Let me replace the word “body” with “chinese” and “mind” with “I” (a simple grammatical substitution, this does not change the basis for the argument). Therefore, your arguments would go:

    1. Illness affects the Chinese
    2. I am not Chinese.
    3. Therefore, I cannot be(come) ill.

    Sadly, as my current sniffling nose and hoarse throat will attest, this is not true.

  3. Posted May 11, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Tasha: Your comment, perhaps intentionally, misunderstands Spillane’s argument.

  4. Tasha
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for clearing that up Benjamin. Perhaps the word “only” should be added into the argument then? If that is what is intended, I then have a problem with that statement in and of itself: ‘Illness only affects the body’. I’d like to see justification for this – a quick google search for the definition of “illness” includes the statement “of body or mind” in most results. I understand this is the essence of what is being argued against here, but the argument is becoming circular.

  5. Posted May 12, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    As explained at the beginning of Spillane’s short post above, the short post above is Spillane’s response to the responses to this article of his. In that article is the following assertion regarding the definition of illness being bodily:

    Following the publication of Virchow’s book, Cellular Pathology in 1858, the standard scientific measure of illness became bodily lesion, objectively identifiable by anatomical, histological or other physico-chemical observation or measurement.

  6. Stuart
    Posted February 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ben
    I state that Schizophrenia is a disabling disease
    The brain is an essential part of the body, it controls all functions of the body.
    With no brain, humans cease to live. It is thus vital to human life.
    You and Virchow define lesions as being objectively identifiable by… physico-chemical observation or measurement.
    If Schizophrenia is not a disease, why is it that it is Observable and Measurable physico-chemical medications have a benefical, Observable and Measurable, effect upon people suffering from Schizophrenia, alleviating their signs and symptoms, in an Observable and Measurable manner?
    Neurochemistry is dependent on a whole host of subtle chemical processes that we as humans are only beginning to understand, there is a lot to discover about neurochemsitry. However I have observed in measurable ways, that psychiatric medication helps people live better, more productive lives.

    Unless, Szaz or Professor Spillane, can get inside the head (which is impossible) of a person who suffers hallucinations or delusions, the Professors will never really know that a Schizophrenic is a liar or not.

    I have seen people disabled horribly by this disease, and I have experienced and observed that Psychiatric care helps enormously. There are of course, levels of alleviation from the signs and symptoms, some people react better to some medications than others. Psychiatry is a new science.

    Psychology also helps. A person with Schizophrenia if they are fortunate enough to have the capacity to be reflective and have a certain amount of insight (which some sufferers do not have) can really benefit from Cognitive Behavoural Therapy, helping their internal self talk, which is in fact, different to hallucinatorial voices.

  7. Posted April 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    If evidence contradicts your argument and the argument is logical the premises are wrong.

    There are documented cases of hysterical illness and the relationship between mind and body is still unclear.

    Illness affects the body. TRUE

    The ‘mind’ is not a bodily organ. DEBATABLE: UNDEFINED TERM
    Therefore, the ‘mind’ cannot be(come) ill, DEBATABLE: UNDEFINED TERM
    So mental illness is a myth. UNTRUE: CONTRARY TO EVIDENCE

    If ‘mind’ is brain (process), DEBATABLE: UNDEFINED TERM and unproven
    And mental illness is brain illness, DEBATABLE
    Then mental illness is body illness, COULD BE VICE VERSA
    And mental illness is still a myth. NOT DEMONSTRATED

  8. Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Alex: There are also documented cases of drapetomania and homosexuality, but that does not make it a mental illness as it has historically been defined as. Documented does not mean proven.

    As for your other comments, you have not sincerely engaged with his argument. For example, you have said nothing regarding Virchow’s definition of illness, which is quoted in my previous comment. It is easy to call something “undefined” when you ignore the definition provided.

  9. Ken Westmoreland
    Posted August 29, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Spillane’s not a Scientologist, so what? The fact that Szasz saw the need to find common cause with such people undermined his case. Scientology believes in getting people off drugs, Szasz believed that we should be able to buy drugs as freely as we do bacon, eggs and ice cream. Scientology seeks psychiatry’s obliteration, whereas Szasz rejected the label ‘anti-psychiatry’.

    I can see a case for people with diametrically opposed political views sharing a common objective – for example, the anti-war movement consists of people who oppose war for pacifist or libertarian reasons, but there is no reason at all why Szasz should have sought common ground with L Ron Hubbard, even in the short term.

    It’s possible to criticise immigration without being labelled a racist, so it ought to be possible to criticise psychiatry without being a Scientologist. However, sharing a platform with the Church of Scientology through the ‘Citizens Commission on Human Rights’ is like sharing a platform with white supremacists, it is completely counter-productive. Maybe one day the Church of Scientology will be looked upon as no more sinister than the Christian Scientists, despite their penchant for faith-healing, but that day is some time off.

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