November 9, 2009

The Undiscovered Mind

The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication and Explanation, John Horgan, The Free Press (New York), 1999.

John Horgan, who achieved fame and notoriety with his previous book, The End of Science, now challenges the "decade of the brain" and other theories of the mind in this new and provocative book.

Horgan addresses both psychological and biological theories of the brain, emotions, consciousness, and mental disorders and finds all of them wanting in intellectual rigor and proof. He notices that every theory has their adherents and critics and sides with the critics in that no theoretical framework (Freudian, biological, medication, artificial intelligence) stands up to the physical sciences as science. He challenges the successes of medication (noting that most of the effects are equivalent to controls when placebo is counted). Evolutionary psychology seems to be a competition of who can tell the best story. His attack on genes and heredity seems the weakest to me but all one needs to do is turn to the chapter called "Blaming the Brain" in Running on Ritalin for a more trenchant analysis of the genetic theories of ADHD as a paradigm for the field in general.

Horganís notion of a good theorist (and I couldn't agree more) is someone like Oliver Sacks, who writes case histories from a literary narrative perspective. Sacks is always attempting to demonstrate the humanistic universality of pathological behavior. Of course, case histories are somewhat limited when it comes to generalizations about other individuals. This book is a welcome companion to the previously reviewed Pseudoscience In Biological Psychiatry: Blaming the Brain.

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