The mind-body problem: in theory, in life, in politics
The Murky Politics of Mind Body, in today's New York Times Magazine, intersects in interesting ways with a conversation this week in our senior seminar course in neural and behavioral sciences. The Times article poses the question
"How much of a difference should it make to health care - and health insurance - if a condition is physical or mental?"
The problem, of course, is that many of us still tend to think, as the Times puts it, that "The mind and the body, while linked, are separate. They exist independently, perhaps mingling but not merging". And while we're willing to invest millions of dollars in repairing bodies, we are, for a variety of reasons, less willing to invest comparable money in minds.
But what if, as seems increasingly to be the case, mind and body don't in fact exist "independently", if mind is in fact a product of the brain, which is in turn a part of the body? Then the old distinction between the "physical" and the "mental" would increasingly prove to the a shakey one, as it is in fact proving to be. And one needs to rethink a variety of related issues. As I wrote in the forum for the neural and behavioral sciences course
"much suffering and pain not only originates in the brain but has no explanation other than in the workings of the brain. Psychology is no longer distinct from biology, and what goes on in the brain is at least as important to human health as what goes on outside the brain."
In light of this, does the insurance industry need to think differently about coverage? Of course. But so too do doctors need to think differently about how they practice medicine, educators need to think differently about how they teach, and we all need to think differently both about each other and about ourselves. Maybe there is, in breaking down the mind/body dichotomy, a route to a more humane world not only in regards to the health industry but more generally.