Georg Ivanovas From Autism to Humanism - systems theory in medicine

2.3 The psychosomatic confusion

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g) conglomerates

Mostly the use of the term mind is a kind of mixture of all these definitions. Sometimes the use is quite clear as in psychoanalysis where the psyche is the inner sight, the meaning however is settled by observation (the therapist). Sometimes definitions are a kind of patchwork as “By the term ‘mind’ I mean ideas and purposes. By the term ‘body’ I mean stuff and process” (McCulloch: 72). But mostly scientists are not aware that they use a conglomerate of incongruent definitions. This becomes a problem only when such a ‘mind’ is more than a figure of speech used to illustrate certain processes.

To a certain extent, the confusion cannot be avoided as the distinction between an inner and an outer sight is already artificial and mechanistic. Varela called this an endless oscillation between subjectivism and objectivism in the search for ground in a groundless state (Varela et al 1993: 141).

Somehow, everything is an inner experience, as everything is based on sensual perception. This has been summarized by radical constructivism and has been confirmed in practice by Piaget and Gestalt psychotherapy. Even observed behaviour (what is sometimes called objectivity) is nothing else than the abstract of several inner experiences. In the extreme cases it is only the inner experience of one expert. On the other side, everything can be seen as coming from the outside. Nothing ‘emerges’ by accident. All observations, values and beliefs are the product of development and socialisation. Every idea is formed through ‘outer’ language and learned behaviour (Sacks 1989). Extreme forms of socialisation like the twins (Sacks 1998), the wolf children (Maclean 1978) or the children of the deaf school in Nicaragua who developed their own language (chap. 4.2) show how essential communication is for the construction of reality.

The interconnectedness of the inner and outer world is nothing else than the simple but basic discovery that man is a social being. As he only exists in a social context, it is the context that determines behaviour and experience (Varela et al 1993: 197). ‘Mind’ is not found inside the autopoietic unit (chap 4.8.c). It is found in the relation to others and to the environment (Maturana, personal communication). It is the interaction of physiology, history, experience and emotions (Melmed 2001a). In such a view experience and behaviour are neither limited to the brain nor to the brain and the body together. A separation from others or from the community is highly superficial. The term ‘family somatics’ (Kröger/Altmeyer 2000) is as applicable and correct as ‘psychosomatics’.

Such a mind is as diffuse as the definitions of the organs in acupuncture which include all related functions and are not restricted to anatomy and physiology (chap. 5.6). This functional view of mind has a certain right to exist. But it should be clear that it is a description of a complex process and no source of causality.


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