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Perspectives on brain and mind

Disturbances in the synaptic gap and life experiences

Published on: Friday 5 November 2004

Author : Nina GAREVIK

Perspectives on brain and mind - different aspects - different methods create different problems regarding a common matter.
- What could the connection be between disturbances in the synaptic gap and life experiences?

Death and history are both semantic illusions of life. We fear and struggle against death like a superior enemy. We don’t want to die. But when it comes to perspectives of history we have no problem imagining we did not exist. We have already been dead. Is that a problem stemming from medical or psychoanalytical points of departure, or is it a philosophical problem? Is it possible to overcome the difficulties? Can we find a “bridge over troubled water”?

There are many aspects of and theories on memory. Most theories commonly locate memory in the brain. Memory and time are deeply connected in our society; a memory of something is placed in the past. This construction demands we regard time as a line (not as a circle). This line has a beginning and an end. So let us assume that memory is located in the brain and in the past.

Time looked upon as a line is something measurable and in the medical field even memory is measurable. The medical field is dealing with diagnoses; to get a diagnosis there must be an objective proof of the disease. A subjective experience of illness without any objective evidence is always a problem in the medical field, since without diagnosis it will be hard to find effective treatment.

Memory is a highly subjective experience, but when it comes to the experience of having a failing memory, it will for sure become a medical problem. Today failing memory is not only something people of an advanced age make complaints about and suffer from; it has become a symptom of a lot of different diseases and conditions. The most common problem lies in differentiating this condition from psychiatric or "emotional" crises like depression, burn out, stress related syndromes or/and exogenous factors like high alcohol consumption. The main question is; is it a physical disease related to the brain as an organ, or is it a disease related to an emotional experience related to the soul? (Medicine will call it a psychiatric disease.)

With the help of the medical-technological advances, even emotional disturbances can be measured and it is generally considered the aim is to get the "fluids in balance". Expectations have become enormous concerning drug treatments. As long as there is no proof of measurable changes, we are limited to viewing expressions as psychosomatic and connected to factors related to social medicine, which reflects our perspective on the human beings as consisting of two parts.

Psychoanalysis has a total different perspective on memory. The psychoanalyst will hardly try to measure a patient’s bad memory by different tasks. He will work with open, qualitative questions instead of using the quantitative perspective. Freud discovered that symptoms had a dual structure, conscious and unconscious, and that they were not just brain events but mind events. This enabled him to illustrate the role of fantasy and emotions in human relationships for example. Experiences are told in words, meanings are shaped into memories. One common points of departure in medicine and psychoanalysis is the individual.

The differences in understanding memory can be expressed as; there is a difference between remembering and filing. But lets go back to the human being as divided into two parts consisting of body and soul, physics and emotions, the object and the subject.

Is that true? Are we working with two different, separate parts of the human being? The relationship has to be discussed. The symptoms and the consequences, the interpretation of a failing memory have to be communicated. It is closely related to nature, environment, norms and relationships, values and time. Memory, I believe, can also be located in the body and outside the body but that will be the subject of my next article. Science has shown how mental events - from infants learning to elders losing their memories due to Alzheimer’s disease - is caused by what happens in the brain. What is the relationship between the mind and the physical brain? If science tells us that the mind is the brain, then science tells us something very astonishing. If the brain is a purely physical thing, an organ, how could a purely physical thing hate onion, understand maths or philosophy, or have an opinion about punk rock and party politics? How can the organ inside my head create this article?

But is the proven objective failing memory more real than the subjective experience?

Medical studies have focused on finding the neurological explanations of psychiatric disorders; the specific parts of the brain associated with disturbed thinking, feeling, and behaviour. A great deal of research today continues to search for metabolic and physiological abnormalities, which might point towards the causes of and treatment of particular illnesses. Explorations are being made both within cells to find genes involved in the genetic transmission, and within the synaptic gap-spaces between each of the brain cells.
But imagine we find the abnormality, how will we know if it is a cause or a result of the disorder?

The subjectively lived life and the unique history of every living individual can never be neglected. From a medical point of view it will be expressed as: "You can let cells grow in certain cultures". There will be good or bad cells, but you can never ignore the importance of the culture.

Whatever we believe in, there will be a certain "dilemma" in regarding human beings as divided into two parts. Expressions of suffering must always bee spoken. From the first day of life, this is communicated within the parent-child relationship. The suffering is in me and how I experience it must be expressed in relationship to another. To find the causes of psychiatric disorders, psychodynamic treatments as psychoanalysis must find the culturally bound signs and put these spoken worlds into the right context. Otherwise, psychoanalysis will continue to be criticised for being an ineffective and long form of treatment. Our world and our perspectives on life have changed.

I will try to give examples of this argumentation: families, relationships and the times we live in are no longer looking the same. The concept of being "young" has changed in Europe. Children today can live at home with their parents up to twenty five or twenty six years of age, due to how impossible it is to find an apartment of one’s own and due to unemployment. It takes longer to become adult today, but there is one area where there has been a decrease of age and that is the "sexualised human being". Girls are having the first menstruation much younger and young people are looked upon as sexual objects much earlier. Young people in western societies have an increased prevalence of depression and syndromes of anxiety. The experience of being old in a western society today has also changed. The elderly have become more and more of a burden for society, and today you will be looked upon as old earlier. The adult period has become shorter.Should it not be essential to find the true meaning of a shortened adult period, and have "one third" more life to live from a psychoanalytic perspective and find from a medical perspective their "reflexion" and connections with brain activities? Is there a connection between cultural phenomena’s like this and failing memory, psychiatric symptoms or other diseases? If our bodies change due to culture - is it not possible our brains and interpretations also does? I also believe psychoanalysis can open the door and begin to interpret "real things". Otherwise psychoanalysts will be viewed as "babbling" about something no one understands, while we have to surrender under the laws of Nature and our failing brains.

The humanities and natural science of today have developed into a mirror of how we view the human being as divided into two parts, and what is worse: it has become two contradictory parts.

To really understand our selves in a holistic perspective, these two dimensions have to approach each other. They must work together, because after all: do we really believe we consist of two parts, one that can be explored as an object and the other a subject? Do we really believe we can choose whether we want to be looked upon as a biological organism, or a subject in relationship to others? We must find the connection between the processes in the synaptic gap and the unique life history of every human being.

P.S.

This article has been inspired by:
My work within the natural sciences and all the articles I read about failing memory from a medical perspective, my previous work in the psychiatric field at psychiatric clinics, the lectures in Cultural Anthropology by Marianne Agostino Bengtsson, which have had a deep impression on me, Ida Magli a great thinker, Jean-Yves Raffort the discussion we tried to have, the one we had and the one we never succeeded to have, all the articles by Christophe Bormans, who I believe is a great thinker even if I only partly understand them due to my poor French and who has the courage to publish my searching thoughts, Maria Martinsons my translator for all the patience, Petra Löfstedt for her courage, all the paintings by Chagall, Picasso and Matisse, the sculptures of Giacometti whose thin and tall bodies helped me to see things from a different perspective, Jean-Paul Sartre (strange, but he makes me laugh at the absurd conditions of our lives), all the support and discussions with Lars-Olof Wahlund, professor in geriatrics and Lars Lannfelt, professor in geriatrics for his explanations, understanding and support, all the books by George Klein -he truly has found a way to get it all together, discussions with Charlotta Grudin-Nowak, pedagogue of drama and close friend - who is always struggling to find the truth and all the good bottles of wine we have shared and will share, Simone de Beauvoir - her brain can certainly not only be reduced to an organ, all the beautiful pieces by Chopin, U2, Wagner, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Simon & Garfunkel and all the others, the smell of lavender and the field of sunflowers in southern France, all the vacations on Corsica I had, the absolute crazy weeks in Paris, Chévre, the work of Sigmund Freud which is interesting but partly annoying because of his neglect of context, Calvados, Stockholm for being a lovely place to live in but also so cold and boring, the movies of Ingmar Bergman which make me experience anxiety and boredom at the same time ( I would never have watched them if I had not been told it was necessary if you were to be considered educated), the face of Matt Dillon, the royal family of Sweden for doing something I never will have the whole picture of and everything else.................and all my friends for being there and Lou Reed for beeing afraid of Sweden and the people living in Sweden

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