Mental illnesses have been a subject of study, rumors, and stigma for a long period. The understanding and ignorance have always been strolling hand-to-hand when it comes to disorders of the mind, but does anybody know where the first notes about it took place, and most importantly, how do residents of the 21st century should reflect on it? Answers for these and other questions are found in a book ‘Disordered Mind’ by Eric R. Kandel.
The first mentions of mental disorders are discovered in the early antique works referring to Plato. He believed that people whose psych was out of the ordinary had been ‘touched’ by gods and were to accomplish great deeds. However, Europe of the early 12th century and eras after brought a new definition of such divergences and called them ‘insanity,’ and tended to isolate such individuals from the common folk by incarcerating them along with heretics, the poor and pleasure procurers. The psychiatry of the next generations, when the disciple of the psych was officially recognized, advanced a lot and started referring to disordered minds as to the ones that had lost spiritual and solemn traits.
It’s interesting to underscore that understanding and representation of mental disorders have been given to modern psychology by Emil Kraeplin whose cards, more than a hundred years ago, would depict different kinds of illness classified by their standard features. His sketches of the mind are the first, clearest, examples of approaching the disorders from the position of science, but not spirituality or philosophy.
The concepts of Kraeplin are, to some extent, the foundation of ‘The Disordered Mind’ by Eric Kandel, who attempts to draw a parallel line between the image of one’s psychological well-being and modern brain science. The author has designated his works’ purpose, which is to define the reactions and counter-reactions that potentially cause or stimulate mental illness from the dawn of mankind and have plagued the existence of human beings.
The novelty of the work is that the circumstances and reasons for having a mental condition are deduced from the tiniest elements of one’s brain’s functioning and the brain’s nervous system dysfunction. For him, mental illnesses are nothing else but chemical balance and nerves disability to work in accordance to a DNA’s pattern.
In 2000, a Nobel Prize was granted to Kandel as a response to research on biochemical transformations that enable or disable one’s cognitive capabilities. The creation and editing of volumes of ‘Principles of Neural Science’ and curation of various labs based in New York and Washington, D.C. are just some of his achievements.
The book, ‘Principles…’, is based on the same theory as his next work ‘The Disordered Mind,’ and provides a reader with the same accessible statements about human mental health and its malfunctions. The research is conducted and presented in a subtle and comprehensible way and includes empirical facts narrated in the first person. Moreover, it comprises historical references that make it interesting for both beginners and advanced professionals.
The chapters build a structure of a story going from one to another disorder that is argued with the evidence based on neurological discoveries. For instance, dementia is reconsidered through the prism of a 1950s-surgery held by the author’s friend Alzheimer whose client, X, underwent it and therefore lost the capacity to create explicit memories. As for Kandel, he introduces his interpretation of Alzheimer’s as a biochemical dysfunction.
Also, gender determination is mentioned in the piece and is told from the perspective of a gender-transition surgery undergone by another author’s friend, who was a neuroscience professional as well.
Genes and their influence have a significant share in the scientist’s works. He underscores the chief possibility of inheriting a mental illness by progeny and bases the theory on experiments conducted on different animal species. The molecular structure of genes and their functioning are determined as the first and primary cause of mental conditions, though the author doesn’t discard other factors that may or may not be the reason.
Another scientific novelty and the timely statement made by Kandel is the significance of decrypting the human genes since they are a key to understanding the principles of how brains work, and what alterations can cause mental illnesses.
Having elucidated his theory, the scientist comes back to his introduction and states again that the cause-result ration of human DNA structure and psychological conditions is yet to be discovered, and there more questions than answer. This very ration shows that genes are variable and can be both benign and malevolent for one’s mind, and their relationship is too confusing for merely assigning the blame for generating dysfunctions to some aspects of one’s DNA.
Depression, or major depressive disorder, is the cornerstone of modern psychiatry as it’s estimated the top one disorder of the 21st century-generations. Even though it’s in the public eye, there is too little evidence of how, why and when such an illness is activated. For instance, the infamous C4 DNA component that allegedly causes schizophrenia can be possessed by people who mental health had never been and, probably, will never be disturbed.
Also, experiments on and modeling of animals with similar genomes to the human ones are not always a helpful solution to determining the relationship. Mostly, since it’s problematic to distinguish animal mental conditions from the instinct of self-preservation.
In this light, Kandel assures that the perspective from which the psyche has been looked upon is changing drastically, mainly, due to genetic discoveries. One of such discoveries causes a tremendous problem for psychiatry and states that inheritability is not the only factor of distorting mental health, but the surroundings and society are to blame as well.
Eric Kandel is one of the supporters of the New Humanism Movement that has been reshaping the perception of disordered minds in the last decade. He and his comrades advocate individuals with mental conditions and believe, just like ancient antique thinkers, that they should be favored for their peculiarities. On the other hand, supporting such an opinion is no chance to discard the necessity of elaborating a means of how to treat harsh illnesses. However, it testifies that the times are changing, and people should see themselves as a part of a social and earthly mechanism, that has passed the point of complete and inevitable singularity of the human psyche.
My name is Erica Fleming, I am a blogger and work as an editor. I have a Master’s Degree in literature and love both reading and writing about books and literary topics. I also help students with their literary assignments – articles, essays and summmaries of books, my works you can see at https://flashnews.net/