Georg Ivanovas From Autism to Humanism - systems theory in medicine

2.3 The psychosomatic confusion

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h) environment and its limits

Kuhn, 40 years ago, doubted that psychology has reached the state of a ‘science’ (Kuhn 1970: 160). Mind and psyche are a bit like the sky. It is there, if we look up, but it is not there, when one goes closer. There is no place where sky is. Sky is seen only because earth does not end at its surface. It has an environment. Sky emerges, just as von Uexküll's mind emerges in an environment. But it does not ‘exist’. It is an by-product of a certain angle of observation, not existent in a different angle of observation. This would imply that the ‘existence’ and definition of mind depends on the point of view (what has been demonstrated above). But the term environment as used here is deceiving. It pretends that there are separate things with a different logic being in contact. However, von Foerster claims that even the environment is an invention (von Foerster/Bröcker: 48-49), or, less strictly, that a system and its environment are energetically and structurally coupled in such a way that a separate self-organisation is a myth (von Foerster 1960).

The idea of a somehow distinct environment is also inherent in the concept of the ‘system mind’ in opposite the system of the body and the social system (Luhmann 1997; Simon 1999b). But this concept has the normal shortcoming of all concepts of body and mind: it provides no mechanism of interaction and leads to a certain confusion.

Atopic disease is known to affect different parts of the body. It mainly starts in childhood with an eczema often localised at the bends of knees and elbows. This eczema vanishes and later (sometimes years later) asthmatic disease arises. Also the opposite development is know. The asthma goes away and the eczema reappears. These are changes describable with physiological pathways.

Patients with asthma have a doubled risk of becoming depressive (University of Washington 2007). Sometimes (as I could observe several times) asthma goes away when depression starts and Simon describes a patient where asthma vanished and he become psychotic (Simon 1999b: 187).

If one assumes a distinct ‘system mind’ there would be a change in the system of the body, when eczema develops into asthma or vice versa. There would be, however, a change of the system (from body to mind) in the interplay of asthma and psychosis or depression. In the first case the same logic could be used which becomes invalid in the second case as soon as a mind is introduced. This reflection is not messing around, as it concerns the important field of the so-called ‘comorbidity’.


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