Friday, October 31, 2008

Mind-body panel 1: Jeffrey Schwartz on how Leo DiCaprio gave himself obsessive-compulsive disorder and then cured it

As Schwartz, author of The Mind and the Brain, told the audience at the Beyond the Mind-Body Problem symposium,

Maybe I’ll tell one brief anecdote about Leo DiCaprio that will kind of lead into where I'm going here, which really does make the point. Leo DiCaprio so immersed himself into this role—and there's another 15-minute video after the one that you saw where I talk about Mario Beauregard's work in the lab showing how the mind can change serotonin and how actors in portraying a role actually change how their neurochemistry works—that for three months after the filming was stopped he could not stop having obsessive-compulsive disorder. So he actually induced in his own brain a transient case of obsessive-compulsive disorder that took several months for him to recover from.

That should tell you how powerfully the mind can affect the brain, and how much an actor can immerse himself in a role to the point that it takes him three months after the shooting is done to get out of the role and to stop having obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and symptoms. I think that is a very powerful way of understanding the extent to which focused attention can change the brain.

In a lighter vein, Schwartz - who famously says what he thinks - struck at least one other panelist (Sternberg) as "confrontational." For one thing, he was quite frank in his assessment of the pharmaceutical industry:

I am not anti-pharmaceutical industry or anti-drug, although my opponents try to describe me as such. But the fact that I want to use pharmaceutical agents, psychiatric medicines as a way to enable people's capacity to focus their attention more effectively so that they are enabled to change their brain, that view of using pharmaceutical agents, which I think most people would say is common sense, is considered radical and anti-establishment. They are now putting electrodes in people’s brains even though the neuroanatomy is not understood at any level that would justify doing so to treat psychiatric disorders, and yet it's been done and it’s being aggressively pushed by the industry, by a collaboration of industry and elite science who want on the one hand to push the materialist paradigm, and on the other hand to make significant profits from the sale of these medical devices.
And the following comment certainly yanked the chain of a New Scientist writer:
The last thing I want to say is that you cannot overestimate how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down. You’re going to hear a lot in the next calendar year about Darwin and how Darwin's explanation of the manner in which human intelligence arose is the only scientific way of doing it. If you take what Henry said as a physical mechanism, you can understand evolution, and even Darwinian evolution. There's a big difference between Darwin's view, and the neo-Darwinian view, and you can understand that difference in non-materialist ways. If the scientific culture is going to become “pro-human life”—I don’t want to say “pro-life” because I don’t want to throw around politically charged terms, but a “pro-humanity culture,” it is going to have to deal with the fact that the materialist paradigm has broken down. There are huge social resistances against recognizing this fact and I’m asking us as a world community to go out there and tell the scientific establishment,“Enough is enough!” Materialism needs to start fading away, and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.
Schwartz insisted, in response to Sternberg's discomfort, "I don’t think I was confrontational; I was assertive, but I was not confrontational."

Moderator During responded, with impeccable smoothness, "Yes, I think that was pretty clear."

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