A debate on Cartesian dualism has led to radically differing approaches to the treatment of depression

Jerome Burne in the Times Literary Supplement:

ScreenHunter_03 Aug. 25 17.47 Sixty years ago, the philosopher Gilbert Ryle published his famous attack on Cartesian dualism, The Concept of Mind, which claimed to find a logical flaw in the popular notion that mental life has a parallel but separate existence from the physical body. Among other effects it provided sophisticated support for the psychological behaviourists, then in the ascendant, who asserted that since we could not objectively observe mental activity it was not really a fit subject for scientific investigation.

Nowhere was the notion of banning mental states taken up more enthusiastically than by the emerging discipline of neuropsychiatry. If consciousness and all its manifestations were “merely” the firing of neurons and the release of chemicals in the brain, what need was there to focus on mental states? Once the physical brain was right, the rest would follow.

It was an approach that has spawned a vast pharmaceutical industry to treat any pathological psychological state – anxiety, shyness, depression, psychosis – with a variety of pills. The underlying promise is that scientifically adjusting the levels of various brain chemicals will bring relief and a return to normality. The biggest-selling class of these drugs are the anti-depressant SSRIs – brands include Prozac, Seroxat and Lustral. A recent report revealed that they were the most widely prescribed drugs in America, with an estimated global market value of over $20 billion.

However, as is set out calmly and clearly in Irving Kirsch’s The Emperor’s New Drugs, it would seem that the whole golden edifice is based on a lie.

More here.