Georg Ivanovas From Autism to Humanism - systems theory in medicine

2.3 The psychosomatic confusion

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e) mind as inner experience

Many authors define mind or psyche as inner experience. Mind is how a person sees, feels, judges. This leads to a certain uniqueness. “Psyche is a sphere of phenomena that is observable only by one person directly (in self observation)” (Simon 1995: 102-103, my translation). In this sense von Uexküll defines the psychosomatic model as “which role the individually experienced reality of a person plays for health and disease” (von Uexküll 1986: XXV, my translation). A lot of psychological approaches use this model. Maps of psychosomatic interrelationship are drawn on the basis of tests, interrogations and discussion. Again, there is the enormous danger of the metaphysical shift - from description to prescription - when descriptive relations are seen as causal. As long as this does not happen, these maps have some value in the classification of disorders, in the evaluation of the course of therapies and the prediction of further developments.

The theoretical problem arises, if an inner mind is not seen symbolically, as a somehow vague description but as something real. Then, again, the question of the distinction arises: From when on do children have inner experience and therefore a psyche? Handicapped? Victims of an accident? Brain dead? Animals? Where does it come from? Where does it go to? What happens if someone in the opinion of others seems to be in bad mood but denies it? Is he in bad mood or not? And what if he corrects himself after several hours and admits that he had been in a bad mood? Or if he never realizes?

In order to overcome this problem the term of consciousness is used. But this is of no real help. For example, a patient in a vegetative state showed signs of a normal pattern of brain reaction to spoken sentences (Owen et al 2006). She was considered as conscious by many scientists, but not by others (Nacchache 2006).

Consciousness in normal use describes what a person says to experience at a given time. It has to do with a sensation of unity. Some relate consciousness to the so called neurophysiological parsing, the ability of the brain to work on only one task a time. The related time frame is a few hundred milliseconds, the so called psychological refractory period (Varela et al 1993: 75-79). Parsing seems to be a method to process all incoming data (Sigman/Dehaene 2006). Consciousness also has been related to re-entrant interactions between posterior thalamocortical areas involving areas related to memory, value and planning for action (Tononi/Edelman 1998). Here consciousness would be the eigen-behaviour (chap. 4.2) of a recursive brain function.

All these approaches see consciousness as a kind of figure on a ground of ‘unconsciousness’. Thus, unconsciousness remains the undefined. This is why unconsciousness has no coherent logical basis (Miller 1942). However, such a consciousness as the figure on an unconscious ground has nothing to do with a causal mind often encountered in psychosomatic literature.


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