Getting out some iron shapening tools

I guess I’m looking for a bit of a debate.  But at this point I’m not grinding an axe so much as trying to get where folks are coming from.

The things that’s on my mind is psychiatric medications.

It seems like particularly in Christian circles, there’s this distrust or disbelief in them.  I disagree that in principle psychiatric medications are a bad idea.  I agree that the way we implement them is problematic and that their use is much more of an art than a science.  But the way we implement them is really an indictiment of the way we do health care as a whole.  And the fact that they are more of an art than a science is equally true of lots of things in the medical field.

So here are my questions:

#1) How do you feel about the idea of psychiatric medications in principle?

#2) How do you feel about them in practice?

#3) Do you agree that behavior, mood, feeling, and perceptions have atleast part of a root in the brain (as opposed to the mind)… In other words, do you agree that our thoughts are atleast partly rooted in the body? 

#4) Should we pray more for certain types of healing than other types?  For example, why do people pray that God will take Bipolar disorder or Cancer from them but not pray that God would take away their need to wear glasses?

I realize that these questions might sound argumentative, but at this point, I’m just trying to get where the other side is coming from. 


Published by


The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

25 thoughts on “Getting out some iron shapening tools”

  1. Hey,
    This isn’t a subject to which i’ve given alot of thought.
    i suppose at first blush i’d have to say that i believe psychiatric drugs are too powerful things. When one considers what the effect of changing a person’s brain chemistry can have on their thoughts and feelings, i’m inclined to say keep them away from me.

    That being said, i was considering the possibility when i was going through a debilitating bout of depression a few months back. i used to do drugs. i know what they can do for you and to you. Whether legal and professionaly prescribed or illegal and self-administered, they are a bit like making a deal with the devil: they work great, but there’s a down side. The question ulitimately is “how sick are you?”

    Everyone who pokes around the brain will tell you unequivocally that more is not known about the mind/brain than is known. Just the same, i’m not willing to cavalierly toss out the medicinal value of psych drugs any more than i’m prone to leave a broken bone unset.

    Where faith meets medicine and they apparently don’t jive is what seems to be your frustration. Both with people who are dogmatic in their opposition and perhaps in your own mind. What does Jesus think of psych drugs? Who knows? i am quite certain however, that the severity of a person’s condition that would cause them to be candidate for them is not lost on the Prince of Peace. But i’m not sure just how God economizes the degree of our needs. He wants us to take everything to Him no matter what: glasses, headaches, E.D., etc.

    Don’t underestimate the power of God to change anything…even from bad to worse.


  2. wow Jeff, how about taking this one on. I think everyone knows someone who is or are themselves on medications of these sorts and so a subject like this becomes so personal and defensive to talk about. I would have to admit that I’ve been all over the place agreeing with both sides of the issue at different times over the last 10 years. I also agree that my more argument comes from the art and implementation of them and the marketing of these companies as though it’s not an art but good science. I don’t test to know much medically or scientifically about the brain and the body, but even when experts tell us that this whole understanding is complex and we’ve just touched the surface in knowing how the brain and body works, I get scared about putting man-made chemicals into my body. I don’t even try to take asprin or ibuprofen if can help it. but that’s just me. and having a head ache or a back ache is nothing similiar to bipolar. and so I understand that it’s not as simple to deal with by talking in hypotheticals or irrelevant correlations. To me, it seems like there is this coin that says medicine is a sure thing and it’s the only cure for this and this other side that says there’s no such thing as chemical imbalance. I fall somewhere on the ring on the outside of the coin.

    #3) Do you agree that behavior, mood, feeling, and perceptions have at least part of a root in the brain (as opposed to the mind)… In other words, do you agree that our thoughts are at least partly rooted in the body?
    I think that it is impossible to separate the body from the immaterial. Meaning, if I get angry, there are changes in my body. I suppose the question is what happens first? is it the whole chicken and egg question? I however don’t believe in total mind over matter kind of thinking. there is a place for medicine to support and help to get the body under control so that the mind can have a opportunity, if that makes sense.

    #4) Should we pray more for certain types of healing than other types? For example, why do people pray that God will take Bipolar disorder or Cancer from them but not pray that God would take away their need to wear glasses?
    great question. we should pray for healing in all things. maybe because the world has accepted it because there seems to be a simple solution to the problem, corrective lenses. people only pray for “serious” problems that seems to be complex and have no real hope of having a solution.


  3. I agree with Steve about it being a difficult thing to talk about. But a relatively impersonal problem with psychiatric rather than general medicines is that the science behind them is almost certainly false, insofar as it is materialistic neuroscience. Many scientists say that Joan of Arc would be humanely treated for her schizophrenia nowadays, instead of being burnt to death. Of course, only the politically naive scientists would think that of Joan in particular, but the underlying reasoning is quite general. If you were labelled as mentally ill, then the stronger your faith, the more likely it would be treated as another symptom. That is partly because psychiatric symptoms are so vague anyway. I read recently that there is a condition like schizophrenia, of hearing voices, that is very common, quite normal, and not schizophrenia at all, although (as with Joan) it has usually be taken to be the most reliable symptom. And that means that the drugs that have been used have been tested on all sorts of people, not just those with a medical condition.

    Another complication is that religious people tend to believe in evil and the devil. Having said that, as the medical profession gets its act together there should be no problem in principle that I can see. The brain clearly affects our moods a great deal (hormones and such) and taking drugs for bipolar is like taking insulin perhaps. Or like putting on the right clothes for the season – a saint might wear heavy coats in summer and little in winter, and build up their character that way, but most of us would just succumb, so that it would be irresponsible for us to behave like that – or to not take our medications, if they were working. I gather there is a buzz from the highs of bipolar, so that people skip the medication that makes them feel merely human. But then not taking their medicine is only like positively taking to the bottle; not a good thing. But who knows? It’s a messy subject.


  4. Thanks for all the detailed thought everybody-
    I suppose in the interest of fairness and transperency I ought to explain that I have vested personal and professional interests in the subject. Clearly we over medicate some symptoms. And the side effects are real. There are a couple dirty little secrets of psychiatric medications. One is that the medications cause more changes to the brain than the mental illnesses do. These leads to the rather ironic result that an untreated, unmedicated schizophrenic’s brain would look more or less like my brain upon autopsy. A schizophrenic who took all his meds would have a brain that was clealry changed by the medicine.
    Perhaps more troubling is the side effects on other body systems. When I worked in a residential facility for troubled kids we were crystal clear that the doseages of medications some of those kids were on would impact the length of their lives, and the quality of their bodies. We were put in the rather God-like position, though, of having to choose for these kids: no meds= sociopathic behavior and kidneys that’ll work until they are old. Meds= functioining member of society with kidney’s that’ll probably fail before they are fifty.

    Garret, you’re questions are compelling around Jesus. All the mental illness he faced was caused by demons. I think this is the reason that so many Christians are opposed to meds: they are not operating on a medical model of mental illness at all. I think it’s actually right to point out the various ways that the medical anology doesn’t hold for mental illness. I also don’t discount an element of the supernatural, even the Satanic, in all this: but I think it’s foolish to think it’s an either/or thing: the wrong question to ask, I think is “Do you think demons cause mental illness or do you think it’s a question of brain chemistry and genetics?” I think the right question to ask is “How do the forces of evil utilize our genetics and brain chemistry as a way to attack us to get at God?”
    The connection between prescribed and illegal drugs is also worth noting. It’s amazing how accurately people with out access to health care can self-medicate. The chemical similarities between what people seek out “recreationally” and what they’d be prescribed if they had access is amazing, and well-documented. Obviously the prescribed varieties bare fewer side effects and by definition are accompanied by medical monitoring; someone indulging illegal drugs will by definition shun medical treamtment out of fear of being caught.
    This all leads to the obvious conclusion that increasing people’s access to legal drugs is helpful on all sorts of levels. It also helps put to rest the idea that users of illegal drugs are lousy people. There’s a serious socio-economic-political component to all this.

    Steve, I think your point about how we don’t pray for simple solutions is interesting, and probably about right… It makes me wonder, though, will we someday look to psych meds. in the same way we look at glasses now… Someday, will taking prozac be a simple solution to a problem that isn’t seen as worth praying about.

    Enigman, lots of people hold up figures like Joan of Arc, Theresa of Avilla, even Jesus himself and ask what the difference is between them and schizophrenics.
    A straight foreward, simple distinction, a proof that mystics aren’t simply crazy is really in their capacity to do life. Schizophrenia is a progessive disease. Generally speaking, Left untreated, the victim will slowly lose the ability to do most everything. Most famous mystics were incredible organizers, motivators, and planners when not grasped by the infitinite. Often they’d have visions, sometimes for days and weeks, but these visions would spur them into human contact. They could brush their teeth and hold down conversations with people, etc. This is not a very philosophically sophisticated distinction. But when you’ve watched the disease progress it feels about right.

    I’m wondering about the other condition you mention… Was it schizo-affective disorder?


  5. Jeff, this is a good subject. It is also a subject I have given a great deal of thought to, but have not really reached any firm conclusions. My father was a paranoid-schizophrenic in the early ’80s. No medications at that time worked for him. They eventually found medications which roughly stabilized him so he could be released from his institution (right in time for him to die of colon cancer shortly thereafter). I myself went through a pretty debilitating depression in my adolescence. This was the late ’80s/early ’90s and no medications were prescribed for me. I eventually taught myself coping mechanisms so that I never suffer from depression anymore. (I have the beginnings of depression all the time, but I am now capable of stamping it out very early on.) These experiences probably play a part in my opinions on the subject. You are certainly right about self-medication. The one drug that I still do is nicotine. It is almost the perfect drug for me, enhancing my memory and concentration and keeping me emotionally stable by perking me up when that’s what I need and calming me down when that’s what I need. Even better, it comes with no debilitating mental side-effects (it does not impair my ability to think or make decisions in any way – if anything it enhances them; I cannot count the number of problems I have solved while smoking a cigarette which had otherwise been stumping me). It is a pity that it will kill me much younger than other people and the physical side effects are so egregious and even more of a pity that it’s so habit-forming, but sometimes that’s the way of the world. (By the by, paranoid schizophrenics don’t have visions. Their hallucinations are entirely auditory.)

    My opinion is that drugs should be a last resort, principally because they handicap your ability (and need) to learn coping mechanisms which could solve the problem for forever with none of the unfortunate side effects. Drugs also generally go too far, by, for example, suppressing your ability to feel depression at all. But depression is valuable and it’s a bad idea to shut it off completely. Many people with disorders like manic-depression hate their medications because it robs them of the ability to feel much pleasure at all. Psychiatric medications essentially disable a person’s brain, denying them the full range of human emotions. I am very much of the opinion that emotions should be mastered by our intellect and reason, but I think emotions are very valuable clues. If you feel guilt or shame or sadness or anger, this is a clue to you that you should consider changing your behavior or your situation. We need pain, even emotional pain, or else we’d all be dead. It is certainly the case that this pain misfires and we all feel pain about situations outside of our control (if our child dies, we will feel grief, but there’s nothing we can do about it). However, lots of times pain is caused by situations we can control and it’s an important motivation to control it. (The grief we feel over the death of a child is the reason we don’t let them die.)

    Now, paranoid-schizophrenia is a horse of a different color. I think an important distinction should be made between mental illness which is manifested purely by one’s behavior (like depression or anti-social tendencies or whatever) and mental illness which manifests as a misperception of reality. Schizophrenics fall in the latter camp. For these types of illnesses, there is no evidence that people can be made better through talk therapy or through coping mechanisms or anything similar. (Though it is possible, like John Forbes Nash, to learn how to live an approximation of a normal life while unmedicated and still dealing with, but ignoring, one’s hallucinations.) So I am certainly a proponent of drugs for these people and not just as a last resort.

    As for behavioral disorders, I am not at all convinced that the disease model is an appropriate model. The fact is that talk therapy does (sometimes) work to change these behaviors. But a disease qua disease cannot be cured by talking to someone or convincing them to do things differently. It is certainly true that medications can sometimes “cure” these “diseases,” but this doesn’t seem to me to validate the disease model. If we classified piano-playing as a disease, I’m sure we could invent a medication which could incapacitate someone’s ability to play the piano, thereby “curing” their “disease.” This does not prove that piano-playing is a disease. I do agree, however, that mental illness which causes misperception of reality fits nicely into the disease model. I’m not saying, of course, that we shouldn’t help people with depression or anti-social behaviors, but I don’t think it’s helpful to classify them as “ill” or “diseased” and try to treat them medically. They simply have personality traits which are inimical to their own happiness and we all have some of those.


  6. Thanks, Andrew, both for your insight and your honesty.
    I think there are a variety of cases where your distinction holds up between feelings and perceptions. But there are cases where it breaks down.
    Severe depressives begin to demonstrate a sort of paranoi. Eventually depression brings about full-blown psyhotic break down, so at some point we’ll have some squishy terrain to navigate here.
    A problem with the idea of mental illness that you allude to is the idea that certain things pop up as apparent mental illness only within certain contexts but are actually quite helpful elsewhere.
    A teacher might scream about AD/HD in a student because the rigid class environment has created all sorts of acting out behaviors. Send the kid to summer camp and he becomes everybody’s favorite: in this example, the “mental illness” is in the school, not in the kids brain, mind, or body.
    Some personality “disorders” are actually quite helpful in dysfunctional family situations. They only interfere with the person when he tries to cooperate with “normal” people.


  7. Depression does not inevitably lead to psychotic breakdowns; those are comparatively rare. Most psychotic breakdowns are precursors to schizophrenia, though not always. In those cases where it is not a manifestation of schizophrenia, it is called a brief reactive psychosis. Operative word being brief: it usually resolves itself within a couple of weeks, even without treatment or drugs. I grant your point that there are probably some fuzzy boundary conditions, but I don’t think those are common or any reason to reject my distinction.

    By the way, congratulations on noticing the helpfulness of certain mental “illnesses,” if channeled appropriately or in the right context. I doubt any psychiatrist would diagnose me with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I do meet a number of the diagnostic criteria. I simply channel this appropriately and it’s a great asset to me in my profession because it allows me to work on a problem for hours without a break. It can be a problem in that sometimes I will get obsessed with absolute trivia, but even in the worst case scenario, my wife is always able to shake me out of it (if I haven’t already done so myself) and get me refocused on the things that matter. Nevertheless, I still check my email every thirty seconds or so when I’m at the computer (hitting the Send/Receive button) and do plenty of other non-productive things. But it’s actually a very useful personality trait so long as it’s restricted to relatively harmless activities or channeled into productive ones.


  8. But it is messy though. E.g. you ask elsewhere, who seems holier, when God is present, those who are so affected they go to pieces, or the one who explains himself clearly to others? (Re kings, I’m sure you’re right, it’s just that that passage did not seem to obvious in isolation; cf. the following.) There are clear-cut cases, sure, but much is not. There are clear-cut cases when the lynch-mob does a good job, but it is still a bad idea to support them in general.

    Not everyone who cannot brush their teeth is mad; or at least, not brain-biochemically ill. Many people mess about at school, get shitty jobs and waste their quality time watching crap TV or else are down the pub, possibly beating the crap out of each other. They may well fall into the arms of authority. Also, they may well not brush their teeth very well. Also, they need salvation. Imagine that one such gets Jesus. He does not thereby turn into Cliff Richards. He probably is not a pretty sight, but is better behaved, if a bit ranty. Also, he continues to habitually fail to brush his teeth well. (My point generalises to other symptoms pretty easily.) How would you feel about someoe like Richard Dawkins havng the power, nay the duty to decide, without anything like a trial, and as quickly as possible (being a public servant), to decide whether the obvious inability to brush his teeth indicates something that is susceptible to biochemical treatment?

    And the thing is, the stories one hears are often like that. If we don’t like the yobbo’s ideas or actions, and we sympathise with Dr. Dawkins, we see no problem. And if we don’t like the lynch-mob’s victim, we have no problem with what they do, we may even see them as heroes. But in reality it is messy, and the human complexities get totally swamped by the accountancy, both monetary and beurocratic… But yes, there are clear-cut cases when you would medicate. The problem is to decide when. The thing about Joan of Arc is that it would’ve been the leaders of the men that her men had been butchering who would’ve decided what was being channelled the right way and what was not. And God does keep asking the prophets, called from lowly backgrounds, to annoy those in authority!


  9. Enigman:
    It is messy. You are so right and make excellent points… Labelling is a society’s most powerful weapon. Calling someone insane as a political tactic is an incredibly powerful thing to do. It needs to be guarded against. There will be cases when it gets quite touchy. The idea that prophets are called up from the lowest ranks (often times) makes this particularly troublesome. God does seem to spend an awful lot of time in the communities that it’s easiest to target.
    However, I think mostly this is a theoretical and not a real problem. When someone claims to hear from God, I think there are a number of fairly straight foreward questions that will help determine it.
    Above I mention the question of whether or not they are able to function in every day life. This criteria could get abused, as you point out. But I’d stand by this as valuable information: would this person be capeable of getting by in society? This is a different question of course, than is the person getting by. I wouldn’t expect someone who is hearing from God to act ordinary. But asking if they are capeable is useful data.
    I think it’s also worthwhile to question if the reports are consistent with our understanding of God. The potential abuse of this, of course, is that we set our sights and understanding so narrowly that we are not open to what God is trying to tell us through the prophet, visionary, mystic, whatever. But I also would not submit my entire understanding about the nature of God to one person’s subjective experience.

    Yes, I agree with you. The distinction is worth while. I was simply observing that sometimes that distinction will be a little tricky. You’re exactly right about the depressive episodes leading to psychotic breaks. Much lower grade depression can lead to misjudging social cues and other’s perceptions, but overall I think you’re exactly right to notice these fundamental differences.


  10. i was thinking a bit more about this stream.
    i was drawn to the parts that manage to affix themselves to humanism.
    i think we do this naturally because of where we live most of our lives as thinkers and sensers. We live in the flesh.
    It isn’t hard to look around and see all the advances that have come by way of human ingenuity. So much has occurred in our lives (40 or so years) that we’ve come to expect that given enough time and neccessity, all the answers and solutions will work their way into being.
    i’m struck by the way the scientist speaks with such bold confidence that ignorance is just a temporary setback. It is the stuff that atheism is made of. It’s hyper-evolution to suggest that everything that can be known will someday be known.

    It’s a bold faith actually.

    i’m of the persuasion that there is a God that will only allow us to get so close. There’s a built in limit to just about everything. It seems that the old adage is true in all things and at all times that “the more we know, the more there is to know.” (…or, the more we know how much we don’t know.) i think that you’re on to the rub of the issue – as usual – Jeff. The mind and the brain are two distinct yet inextricable parts.

    i don’t really know how the ‘spirit’ affects the flesh. To be fair, i think the mind is represented by the ‘spirit’ and the brain is the flesh. i’m pretty intimate with how the flesh affects the spirit, though. Could it be that this connection is something we’ll never come to infallably undertstand?


  11. Hmm… faith is more important than infallibility though. No point being only really successful in this world when we’re all headed elsewhere, and all that. There is a nice simple model of the interaction between spirit and brain. The spirit affects the quantum-mechanical collapses. How does it do it? Well, how does the earth pull the moon into orbit? The main thing, when it comes to understanding, is the simple model. Most of the details will depend upon agnostic neuroscientific investigations (as the details of the moon’s face depend upon astronomical ones), in conjunction with theistic psychologcial investigations, both of which are in their infancy. But fundamentally there’s little to understand philosophically. God makes spirits and matter. We’ll be able to ask him how one day, and when we do we’ll be so unencumbered by our brains that we’ll see clearly how it works. I guess.


  12. Enigman, I object to your reading of quantum mechanics. There is no evidence for, nor any reason to believe in, the “consciousness causes collapse” view. The Copenhagen Interpretation was absurd enough; the “consciousness causes collapse” interpretation is frightful. Either the Everett-Wheeler Many Worlds Hypothesis or (my favorite) Bohmian mechanics is much more plausible and elegant. I do not believe that quantum mechanics is a promising line of inquiry for a Cartesian dualist trying to figure out how mind and body interact.

    By the by, I do believe that the mind/body problem which is being discussed here is the major unsolved philosophical problem. I don’t believe there has been any significant progress on this problem for the last 300 years.


  13. Well, it’s complicated, so I can’t really do it justice, but there is some evidence to believe that some collapses, some of those in the human brain, are caused by minds. Stapp has written on a model of how being able to cause collapses can translate into being able to focus attension, make decisions and such. And as you say, the mind-brain problem is outstanding, so the hypothesis that minds interact by causing collapses is an explanatory one. I don’t see anything frightful about it, could you give examples?

    There is evidence for probability wavefunctions, but that is evidence on top of lots of evidence for an actual world, so the two together naturally indicate some sort of collapse. I would say that the Many Worlds interpretation is the absurd one. I don’t see why I should postulate that I might be constantly splitting into infinitely many people, when there are relatively tame alternatives (the sort that physicists presuppose most of the time). There is nothing inelegant about collapse, since it provides an astoundingly elegant approach to the mind-brain problem, whilst being the tamest approach to physical chemistry (e.g. liquid helium, and diffraction patterns).

    I mean, there was this intractable mind-brain problem, and then the study of the complicated structures of chemistry revealed the elegant periodic table of the atoms, and that table was itself explained extremely elegantly via the electron shells of atomic physics, which is based upon quantum mechanics… which practically solves the interaction problem. Surely no coincidence! What an elegant way to put minds into a physical world! And collapse is dualistic too – there are actual states, as observed in the world around us, and probabilities, as deduced by the extraordinarily explanatory model. Why not expect such dualism, in a world with people in it?


  14. The following uses a couple of terms which I should be sure to define. (I assume Enigman is familiar with them, but others may not be.) “Realism” is that a particle actually exists and has a definite position and/or momentum even if it’s not being observed. “Locality” is that there are only local causes – as Einstein said, there is no “spooky action at a distance.” Currently, there are no experiments yet designed which can distinguish among any of the quantum mechanical theories. The physical theory is consistent with itself and reality; it’s only the interpretation which is difficult and currently we have no definite way of choosing. Our choices therefore are dependent on our philosophy and have nothing to do with science (yet).

    I actually do reject the Many Worlds Hypothesis for the reasons you give. It seems implausible to me. I mentioned it because it is now apparently the dominant belief in the physics community (but it’s supplanting the absurd Copenhagen Interpretation, so I’m not sure what that’s saying). Bohmian mechanics, or something like it, is the obvious solution to the problem since it preserves realism (and determinism), though it does give up locality. Giving up locality is no big deal, however, since locality can only be preserved by the Many Worlds Hypothesis, which is fairly ridiculous in its unparsimoniousness. Those are the major advantages of the hypothesis, though. Realism is still true and locality is still true. Only a multiple worlds interpretation is even in principle capable of preserving local realism since Bell’s Inequality makes it impossible to satisfy for a single universe theory.

    “Consciousness causes collapse” and Copenhagen give up realism and don’t even preserve locality, so they’re clearly the worst alternatives available. It’s also entirely unclear to me how quantum mechanics can be used to explain free will. It is no part of any serious scientific theory that we can choose the outcome of the collapse of the waveform by, for instance, wishing hard enough. And it would still be entirely mysterious how we were going about doing it.

    I don’t regard any theory which gives up realism as a serious contender and deterministic theories should be preferred to non-deterministic theories. This leaves only two contenders – Many Worlds and Bohmian mechanics. For many reasons, Bohmian mechanics is superior to Many Worlds or any other view. Not only does it not create a multiplicity of universes, but the particle also has a unique history (though the waveform doesn’t). It is also deterministic, the waveform is real, it doesn’t have any silly “waveform collapse,” and has no role at all for the observer. One sacrifice (locality) must be made by every single universe theory and the only other sacrifice is the existence of “hidden variables,” but surely this is a tiny sacrifice compared to preserving realism, determinism, and ridding ourselves of silliness like waveform collapses or unique roles for observers. Moreover, Bohmian mechanics has a formalism which can be completely described mathematically, unlike Copenhagen or these other contenders. And it has no counter-intuitive results. In the double-slit experiment, the particle passes through exactly one of the slits and it’s the pilot-wave which causes the interference pattern. The only counter-intuitive result is the violation of locality; there is indeed action at a distance in Bohm. This is why I don’t completely discard Many Worlds, the only theory which preserves locality.


  15. Do you guys want to take this outside?
    i know that’s a bit pedestrian, but some ‘fresh air’ might do y’all some good.

    i’m feeling a bit sorry that i brougt it up.

    i think i had a collapse of a different kind trying to figure out what’s being said through context. i’d have to do an astronomical amount of reading to keep up.


  16. Mr Outnumbered, you gave me my last chuckle of the evening. I’m afraid at the rate that this is all going we’re going to end up with half-suffocated cats who are altnerately dead or mostly dead, like in the Princess Bride.

    In truth I was lost about 3 posts ago. But it’s kind of fun watching all this anyway. Somebody ought to take the sentence “Enigman, I object to your reading of quantum mechanics” and put it on a t-shirt, because there is something wonderful about it.


  17. We have rather wandered off the subject. By the way, the nice thing about Bohmian mechanics (and Many Worlds) is that they resolve Schrodinger’s Cat. In Bohmian mechanics, the cat is either alive or dead before you open the box. (You have to open the box to find out which, of course, due to the hidden variables.) In Many Worlds, the cat is alive in one universe and dead in the other and you open the box to find out which universe you’re in. This is what is meant by preserving realism. In Copenhagen and particularly in the “consciousness causes collapse” view, the cat is neither alive nor dead until the box is opened, an absurd result. Schrodinger’s thought experiment was instrumental in revealing the absurdity of Copenhagen, but it took physicists sixty or seventy years to finally come around to rejecting Copenhagen in large numbers.


  18. Sorry for being boring, it just annoyed me, as a natural philosopher, how wrong Andrew’s statements are. I don’t give up realism (just determinism) nor the possibility (that theists seem happy with) that God causes most of the collapses. How do we think of creation? It is certainly some sort of actualising of mere (or unreal) possibilities, but it is difficult to say more (and more is not needed by my view of physics). I just think that it can help, if our faith ever cools to something that seems unrealistic even to ourselves, to notice that the world itself is ambiguous about such things at worst, not such as to make them objectively unrealistic.

    As I said, the most elegant explanation for the patterns in nature, the biochemistry, the period table of the elements, and so forth, happens also to be a way in which something neither deterministic nor random could affect and be affected by the world. It is an amazing empirical validation of Descartes’ theism really (much better than IDer nonsense), but of course it is not advertised as such in this neck of the woods. The connection with psychiatric medicine (thanks for taking my rant about teeth brushing in good spirit Jeff, I’m just defensive/guilty about my own teeth) is that the scientific mainstream would agree with Andrew.

    I think that is a problem, because one cannot decide to allow the medication of one’s children, for example (and some medicines are effective sometimes), and then not take seriously the scientific advice on how to apply those medicines. That would just be stupid. So it is important that we can trust the advice not to have been biased by anti-theism. I would trust Jeff’s judgement, and many health workers are like Jeff, but the problem is the expert technical advice on how to use the medicines. I fear that the whole health industry is still moving towards the impersonal. A few mistakes can be allowed for, if the basic methodology is sound, but similarly a few widely said to be effective drugs can be doubted along with everything else. That is not a plea for paranoia; it is a statement of the need for (the problem with not getting) a science for the people, who are not anti-theistic (especially in psychiatry).


  19. The following is way too untechnical, you’ll be pleased to know (but I included a reference for thoe who like technicalities – they can be surprisingly damaging to one’s opponents, when one is right):

    Andrew, Stapp’s idea (in Journal of Consciousness Studies 12, which also had a nice Sheldrake article) was that we have souls. Given that, then, if consciousness can cause collapse (which you would not grant) then it can affect our our decisions. The idea is that the content of much of our thoughts is mirrored in the action of the brain, in what it might do next. Rather than our changing the probabilities themselves, we affect the outcome via the frequency of collapse. Different frequencies of collapse lead to different probabilities of outcome. We would learn how to do that as babies or foetuses, much as we learn how to ride a bike without thinking about all our muscle movements, and then later just get on the bike and ride without thinking about what we had been thinking about when we were learning how to ride it. This is pretty recent (2005) only because very few people work on this. Most academic scientists do not want to accept the premise.


  20. AndreW! (this is outside, surely? the blogosphere? what could be more outside?) The cat is conscious, so it would never be neither alive nor dead. It is such refutations of Copenhagen that are absurd. Do you know any actual problems with Copenhagen, or just such poppy nonesense?

    Is it absurd that a tossed coin is neither heads nor tails until it lands? Of course not. Is it absurd that we are in two minds whilse we make up our minds about which to bet on? Of course not. The beauty of the Copenhagen approach is that it needs external input to cause collapse. Without that there is just probability. But the cat is real because it has real pain, real feeling, is not a robot. The cat would know. Also, God creates and sustains the universe. That is a very real input from beyond the physical. If it is absurd then so is theism. Is theism absurd?


  21. Enigman, your view sounds like the whole quantum mind view of Roger Penrose. I’m not certain I want to argue against it too much (though I have my doubts about how well it will actually explain consciousness) since I’m more than happy that people are doing scientific and philosophical investigation in this area. By the by, Enigman, I have spent a couple of very enlightening hours reading your website. Philosophically, there is actually very little I disagree with you about, except that I’m an atheist and I lean toward property dualism (though I am a substance dualist on alternate days). I even agree with most of your criticisms of atheism and I am by no means necessarily a materialist. (I am not convinced that consciousness, free will, or moral values can be explained in a materialist framework. I am also not convinced that God is a necessary or sufficient explanation for any of those.) My only objections to your posts on quantum mechanics is that you do not even seem to consider Bohmian mechanics (or something similar – I’m really just advocating a non-local hidden variable theory).

    As for Schrodinger, forget the cat – let’s take something that is not conscious. Let’s take a piece of balsam wood which will get shredded if the particle decays. We now have a “superposition” in the box of a piece of balsam wood which is both shredded/not shredded at the same time. This is giving up realism. That’s even true when we’re talking about electrons. Any time we have to talk about “superpositions” and “collapses,” we’re giving up realism. We are saying that the electron is in two different states at once and violating a law of logic, at least the Law of the Excluded Middle and possibly the Law of Non-Contradiction as well. Schrodinger used a cat in his example only to show just how absurd the theory was, since the theory has to decide whether the cat was an observer or whether it required an outside observer as well. To give examples, it is not absurd that a tossed coin is tossed and has not landed on either heads nor tails, because it hasn’t landed at all. It is absurd to say that it has landed both heads and tails until someone observes it.

    But the most important thing is that it’s not necessary to cling to Copenhagen and we don’t have to resort to Many Worlds to get away from Copenhagen. Bohmian mechanics, a non-local hidden variables theory, completely resolves the problem. It does explicitly violate special relativity, but so does Copenhagen or any other single-universe theory (due to Bell’s Inequality).

    Von Neumann triumphantly proclaimed the death of hidden variables theories in 1932. In 1952, Bohm invented Bohmian mechanics and proved him wrong. J.S. Bell himself (virtually the sole proponent of Bohmian mechanics for many decades) said, in 1987:

    “But in 1952 I saw the impossible done. It was in papers by David Bohm. Bohm showed explicitly how parameters could indeed be introduced, into nonrelativistic wave mechanics, with the help of which the indeterministic description could be transformed into a deterministic one. More importantly, in my opinion, the subjectivity of the orthodox version, the necessary reference to the ‘observer,’ could be eliminated. …

    “But why then had Born not told me of this ‘pilot wave’? If only to point out what was wrong with it? Why did von Neumann not consider it? More extraordinarily, why did people go on producing ‘impossibility’ proofs, after 1952, and as recently as 1978? … Why is the pilot wave picture ignored in text books? Should it not be taught, not as the only way, but as an antidote to the prevailing complacency? To show us that vagueness, subjectivity, and indeterminism, are not forced on us by experimental facts, but by deliberate theoretical choice?”

    As I said above, there is no scientific experiment (yet) which can choose between Bohmian mechanics and Copenhagen. Bohmian mechanics was deliberately designed to give the exact same predictions for everything as Copenhagen. So all we have is “deliberate theoretical choice.” I have a lot of respect for your view. Unlike most people who embrace Copenhagen, you do not do so out of some sort of desire for the world to be weird or mystical, but out of a desire to see Cartesian dualism validated. I sympathize. Nevertheless, Bohmian mechanics gets rid of all the vagueness, subjectivity, and indeterminism of Copenhagen at virtually no cost and you cannot genuinely claim that quantum mechanics is an empirical validation of consciousness.


  22. Phew, too much information! I don’t think my view is at all like Penrose, though. He thinks that a certain size of uncertainty automatically collapses. I think that collapse happens because of input from the non-physical. I would say that the non-physical certainly exists, and that the choice is theistic Idealism (where God is somewhat unlike either us or our sensations) or Cartesian dualism (which is substantially monistic via the underlying God). I think that the existence of quantum-mechanical observations indicates the latter, for realistic reasons (see below).

    But I don’t think that any of this matters, because it is really so very iffy, what it all means. I like inclusivism. There are lots of coherent approaches, and these arguments often just end up with people noticing that they have different objectives in life. You can object to my view of physics if you like. I can object to the quality of your objections, et cetera ad nauseum. But it’s messy. You say Copenhagen is absurd, but if I’m not misunderstanding it (and I did study it at Oxford, on a scholarship) then does that make me silly, not serious; no, since you respect my approach to my view (thanks). What is absurd? Life is absurd (worse than these communications)!

    Incidentally I object to your final point. I won’t argue directly, but briefly give my favourite analogy (since there is no counter-argument to an analogy;-) David Lewis’s Humean Supervenience is also compatible with all the evidence, being deliberately designed to be. But for a realist, there is a hell of a lot of evidence that his theory sucks big time. That is, I instinctively find your argument to be invalid (and as I say, I don’t wish to argue about its soundness). Good luck with thinking about physics though. It is important but too difficult for me not to have got tired of it’s details.


  23. When I say that Copenhagen is absurd, what I mean is that it violates the laws of logic, the Law of the Excluded Middle at least. (Even Quine said as much back in 1953.) Well, some people say, so much for the Law of the Excluded Middle. But the mathematical system upon which Copenhagen rests relies on the Law of the Excluded Middle and I know of no serious attempt to replicate that mathematics without it. In other words, if the Law of the Excluded Middle is not true (and, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s false anymore), it’s by no means certain that Copenhagen is any longer a valid interpretation or, for that matter, if there’s anything to interpret at all. (By the way, it is a major part of my philosophy that the world is not absurd, including life.)

    Bohmian mechanics is a stand-in for me for all non-local hidden variables theories. Getting away from Schrodinger’s Cat and all that, Copenhagen states that a single entity, the electron, exhibits characteristics of both particles and waves. Bohm merely says that both a particle and a wave exist. The particle goes through either one slit or the other (in the standard two-slit experiment), but never both. However, the pilot-wave traverses both slits, giving us an interference pattern. The electron’s motion is guided by the wave. Surely this is a more sensible account than the standard interpretation?

    I am, by profession, a mathematician. One of my biases toward Bohm, I admit, is that the formalism can be completely described mathematically. Copenhagen must use natural language with words like “when measuring” and must make references to “observers” and the like. Bohm needs none of that; the complete system can be described mathematically. But, at the very least, the success of Bohmian mechanics is a disproof of the claim that hidden variables theories are impossible or that particles cannot exist before being measured. Bohm gives us simple, non-mystical, and completely intuitive answers to what are, under Copenhagen, perplexing philosophical questions.

    The reason why we cannot convince each other, I think, is because you want those perplexing philosophical questions because you believe they may hold the key to answering other perplexing philosophical questions. Perhaps you are right. By all means, it seems to be the only work anybody’s really doing to try to solve the mind/body problem, so don’t let my skepticism stop you. If I ever see any really serious work on the subject, it is quite possible I could be convinced to change my mind. But right now, a non-local hidden variable theory completely solves all the philosophical conundra in quantum mechanics, which should be a relief both to the scientists and to the philosophers.

    I’m afraid, however, that I could not possibly comment on David Lewis’s Humean Supervenience, since I’m not familiar with his argument.


  24. Wow. You guys flew over my head about 8 posts ago. It’s still kind of fun to read what’s going on. I get about every third paragraph, feel all smart and stuff, and then, before long, end up lost again.
    Outnumbered by 5 actually asked a question on his blog (at this point it’s the most recent post) around releativity and to a lesser extent quantum physics. I know that he’d take no offense if I said that he and I are much less informed than the two of you. I’d be really interested in hearing what you both have to say with reference to that post and the ensuing comments over at
    (This is not to say that you can’t keep going here, of course.)


  25. You’ve certainly got some interesting discussions going on here and thought I’d just go back to the initial questions (mostly because I am feeling more than a little dim and not sure I’m able to follow some of the arguments). I think there is a place for psychiatric medication but not exclusively. There are certain biological reactions that create psychiatric disorders and sometimes stimulation produced by medication can counter this.
    I do not think that it is the only solution or should ever be an exclusive solution as the brain is remarkably complex and interacts with personality in a way that other physical symptoms and disorders may not so obviously.
    I work in an environment where one of my responsibilities is to act almost as a conduit for medical professionals in order to ensure medication regimes that they feel are appropriate are seen through to their natural course and one of the dilemmas I face is when a choice is made not to follow that course.
    I like the idea that psychiatry is often based more in art than science. Psychiatry is unique in medical fields in that there is a lot less certainty. I think in some ways that affects those medics who choose psychiatry as a field of practice.
    Basically I see medication as part of a whole process of recovery that shouldn’t be used in isolation.

    As far as prayer is concerned, I’d say that we have to trust that the best outcomes for all illnesses will be achieved without having to specify. A young child can pray for their sick mother without having to name the illness that she has. Why do we need to make things more complicated than they are?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s