Re: Psychotherapy

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Thu Feb 23 1995 - 12:10:57 GMT

> From: "Roberts, Craig" <>
> Date: Thu, 23 Feb 1995 13:53:57 GMT
> A question we would like to raise regards Stevan's comments in todays
> lecture about therapy being a 'mind-mind thing.'
> Behind all of this is a deep rooted concern we have pertaining to the
> relation between mind and brain. Do you believe that the mind is a
> separate entity or do you believe the mind is a function of the brain?

You are asking me whether I am a "monist" (i.e., someone who believes
that matter/energy is all there is) or a "dualist" (someone who believe
that the mind is an extra, independent causal force in the world, over
and above matter/energy).

I am a monist. I believe that every effect a mind has (whether on mind
or on matter) is really the effect of matter on matter, and that the
mind somehow "piggy-backs" on this but is not an independent causal
force. We will be talking about this when we discuss the Libet
experiments in Consciousness 2 (the next to last Module in the

> If, as we believe, the mind is a term used to describe the apparently
> non physical aspects of the brain (we are willing to defend this
> point of view if you wish) then they are one and the same. We hold
> this position because there is a tendency to assume that the physical
> has to be tangible whereas in actual fact matter is energy. Therefore
> a thought may have a physical existence in terms of a wave or
> electrical impulse in the brain, but we cannot extract it.

The problem isn't whether you're talking about matter or about energy.
Both are perfectly straightforward physical stuff. The problem
(otherwise known as the mind/body problem -- but it might as well have
been called the mind/matter problem) is that it is not easy to
"situate" the mind in a purely physical world of matter and energy.

In Module 1, I pointed out that, if things really are as they seem to
each of us subjectively, then we are exercising "telekinesis" (mind
over matter) not only if we bend a spoon by merely willing it to bend
(as the psychic Uri Geller allegedly does), but even when we will our
fingers to bend it the usual way!

That can't be so, so when I do something deliberately, there must be a
matter/energy story, a cause and effect story about my brain, my past
causal history, etc., and that must be the real causal explanation of
why and how I bent the spoon (with my fingers, not the Uri Geller way).

So we are left puzzling over what our feelings and our wills have to do
with all of this...

> With respect to therapy, could this explain why it is reported to
> work no better than chance, whereas a drug like Prozac acts upon the
> chemical nature of the brain and is reported to be beneficial?
> Craig, Darren and Laura.

Well, that's not quite how I'd put it. If there is something imbalanced
about you chemically, and one of its effects is to make you feel
unhappy, and Prozac fixes the imbalance, and you feel happy again, that
was all pretty straightforward (except, of course, why you felt anything
at all, one way or the other).

But if you feel miserable because nothing good ever happens to you, and
then I inform you that you have won the lottery, that immediate rise in
mood when you hear the news (a bigger rise than Prozac ever causes in
normal doses!) is purely psychological (you haven't even gotten, much
less spent any of the money yet). It's double telekinesis: It's
something my mind did to your mind, yet it's as powerful (and real) as
the effects of any pill...

There is, of course, an explanation, having to do with your having
learned the meaning of language and of money, etc., earlier in life, so
that your euphoria was an experience-derived chemical reaction based on
the predictive signal that my message about the lottery was for you.
And that kind of predictive signal is very much like Prozac.

But in neither case -- the lottery message OR the Prozac -- is it at
all obvious why, apart from the predictive signal about future survival
and reproductive possibilities arising from conquering Camelot, and the
remedying of the biochemical imbalances by the 5-hydroxytryptamine
enhancer -- you should be FEELING anything at all, one way or the other.
Try cashing THAT in in terms of pure matter and energy, with nothing
left over...

What's left over is the mind/body problem. If that interests you, see the
paper "Other Bodies, Other Minds" in my E-print Directory, back on the
Home Page.

Chrs, Stevan

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