why study neurology?

Nick Medford nick at hermit0.demon.co.uk
Tue Jan 15 12:56:27 EST 2002

In article <43525ce3.0201150200.785083cf at posting.google.com>, mat
<mats_trash at hotmail.com> writes
>> These treatments are based on empirical observation- simply the
>> practical fact that they have been found to be useful- rather than any
>> philosophical stance.
>Initially yes, but new drugs are based on the findings of neurobiology
>- a reductionist approach to the brain/mind. New receptors are
>targeted, or the affinity and/or selectivity for a receptor known to
>be important is improved.  No-one just throws them at patients and
>watches anymore.

Well, I have been involved in clinical trials of a number of psychiatric
drugs, and I think such trials could indeed be described as "throwing
them and seeing what happens" . Of course the prospective treatment
may be based on some pre-existing theory, although as James points out
elsewhere, sometimes the pilot work is purely serendipitous.

Perhaps it would help the argument if I clarified something, as I have the
impression you are consistently misrepresenting my position: I am
perfectly happy to utilise the assumption that the mind arises from the
brain. I am not invoking  "ghosts in the machine", disembodied entities,
or any other paranormal or other-worldly phenomena. The problem I
have is with this blithe assumption that emotions, memories, sensory
experience- qualia of all descriptions- are somehow reducible to
molecular biology- they are not. They may be contingent upon molecular
biology, but biology cannot explain them away. See my earlier example
re. the wood from the table. 

>> >).  SSRIs for depression and agents affecting the dopaminergic
>> >systems for schizophrenia have shown how these chemical systems in
>> >concert with others define 'us'. 
>> !!!
>> This is a truly wild claim, up there with any religious crackpottery. 
>Its only wild if you don't want it to be true.  Of course current
>drugs are relatively blunt tools for changing the mind of a patient,
>but they do work and IMHO the targets of the drugs must therefore be
>involved in how the mind arises from the brain.

Yes, of course I agree with all that, it goes without saying, or so I would
have thought. But this is a long way from your previous claim that we
have now learnt how chemical systems define "us". We haven't. And we
never will- because our selves cannot be "defined" by our chemical

If you were able to view a functional MRI scan of someone's leg while
they were performing a kicking action, would that "define" the action?
Would it (for example) tell you anything whatsoever about the
motivations for the action?? (e.g. kicking a football vs. kicking another
person?)   Of course not. Similarly, scanning someone's brain while they
are performing a memory task will inform you about the neural circuitry
involved in that task. But it will not in some mysterious way "define"
memory or the experience of remembering.

>(Its just empirical
>observation!) By your comments do you mean that you don't believe that
>dompinergic, glutamatergic and all the other systems in their
>particular anatomical forms are enough to account for the mind?

Hopefully I have answered this above.

Nick Medford

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