Do you, behind your computer screen, consist of a set of dopaminergic, GABAergic, noradrenergic neurons firing in a haphazard manner? Consider this suggestion for a minute. Many of us feel an instinctive repulsion towars this thought. Surely there must be more than that? Some, on the other hand, may feel comfort in the thought – this is all we are, phew! There is something that takes the ‘blame’ away from human mistakes or ‘sins’ if it’s all just a matter of chemistry.
People asking themselves how to view the human mind generally fall under one of two camps; the positivist and the hermeneutic. During the 60’s and 70′, many psychologists, social scientists as well as artists preferred the latter branch. The DSM III, a diagnostics manual used by the psychiatrists back then, was heavily influenced by Freud and people believing human behaviour could be interpreted through childhood traumata and different developmental phases of the ‘psyche’, or the ‘mind’.
Since, a more positivistic view has gained ground. Psychiatric conditions have been considered to arise from chemical imbalances, neurons firing astray and from other biological cues. This view has been supported by the Big Pharma, as in the concept of ‘chemical imbalance’ lies a promise of cure through a pill. The current version of the psychiatrists’ diagnostics manual, the DSM-IV, has been influenced by the Pharma. Some diagnoses, such as panic anxiety, became popular first after it was discovered that it can be treated with a specific drug (SSRI, selective serotonine uptake inhibitor).
The last years has seen a rise in ‘positivist literature’, where the human mind is described as ‘neurons firing’, where behaviour can be interpreted in terms of biological illness, such as flaws in DNA coding (for example through Huntington’s disease), or where encounters between people are reduced to quantum physics.
Here are some examples:
Ian McEwan: Enduring Love
Ian McEwan: Saturday
Mark Haddon: Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
John Wray: Loveboy
(here I count even Juli Zeh’s: The Dark Matter)
Thus far, most ‘neuronovels’ have focused on characters with a disorder. Perhaps in the near future we can read about a ‘diagnose-free’ character whose whole life is explained in terms of neurons firing? (If you already know of such a title, please recommend.)
Here’s some further reading about the neuronovel.