At a Royal Institution lecture last night on the worst ideas on the mind there were some polite, but nevertheless underhand, tactics on show in an attempt to sway the vote towards one of four ideas. The ideas were lobotomy, drug company advertising, post-trauma counselling and the Freudian theory of hysteria.
Each speaker had ten minutes to convince us that their idea was the worst idea anyone had ever had on the mind. Ultimately, simple disgust won over the audience and lobotomy took the title.
I voted for drug company advertising or more specifically, as explained by Joanna Moncrieff, drug company promotion of the ‘chemical imbalance’ hypothesis of mental illness.
What’s my reasoning? Well the idea of people with depression having a chemical imbalance is such a widespread, and incorrect, idea that it needs to be challenged publicly. The problem is that it directly leads to the idea that depressed people need to take drugs to ‘rectify’ this so-called imbalance. Many psychologists and even growing numbers of psychiatrists would agree that this approach is fundamentally flawed and there is little or no evidence for it.
What about the other contenders? Yes, trauma counselling has now been found to be worse than useless but now we know that and so presumably we’ll stop doing it. Lobotomies are almost, but not quite, extinct; so why get particularly upset about them nowadays? Freud’s theory of hysteria triggered many of his later discoveries and the occassional modern misdiagnosis of a conversion disorder is a small price to pay for the foundation of psychoanalytic ideas.
I realise that my stance is utilitarian and focussed on the present, but that, I think is where we need to remain.
If allowed more philosophical leeway I would point to Cartesian dualism as the worst idea on the mind. The idea that mind and brain are separate just goes on and on and on and on to the most tedious degree. If your mind isn’t your brain then what the hell is it? No, actually, please don’t answer that, it’ll only give me a headache.
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