Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Here is a recently published paper about the mind-body problem in psychiatry journals: Moreira-Almeida, A., Araujo, S. de F., & Cloninger, C. R. (2018). The presentation of the mind-brain problem in leading psychiatry journals. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, Epub February 01, 2018. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1516-4446-2017-2342 (click here)

Alexander Moreira Almeida

Alexander Moreira-Almeida

Saulo de Freitas Araujo

Saulo de Freitas Araujo

C. Robert Cloninger

C. Robert Cloninger

Abstract

Objective: The mind-brain problem (MBP) has marked implications for psychiatry, but has been poorly discussed in the psychiatric literature. This paper evaluates the presentation of the MBP in the three leading general psychiatry journals during the last 20 years. Methods: Systematic review of articles on the MBP published in the three general psychiatry journals with the highest impact factor from 1995 to 2015. The content of these articles was analyzed and discussed in the light of contemporary debates on the MBP. Results: Twenty-three papers, usually written by prestigious authors, explicitly discussed the MBP and received many citations (mean = 130). The two main categories were critiques of dualism and defenses of physicalism (mind as a brain product). These papers revealed several misrepresentations of theoretical positions and lacked relevant contemporary literature. Without further discussion or evidence, they presented the MBP as solved, dualism as an old-fashioned or superstitious idea, and physicalism as the only rational and empirically confirmed option. Conclusion: The MBP has not been properly presented and discussed in the three leading psychiatric journals in the last 20 years. The few articles on the topic have been highly cited, but reveal misrepresentations and lack of careful philosophical discussion, as well as a strong bias against dualism and toward a materialist/physicalist approach to psychiatry.

The authors concluded:

“Our findings indicate that the MBP has been neither carefully nor systematically addressed in the three leading general psychiatry journals with the highest impact factors during the last 20 years. We found only 23 papers published in this period which discussed, or made explicit reference to, this challenging problem that affects psychiatric training, research, and practice so greatly. Moreover, these papers were usually authored by prestigious and highly cited psychiatrists and had high citation rates – much higher than the three top cited journals’ average. This suggests that those views on MBP have been influential and may have helped shape the field’s stance on the subject.”

“A careful reading of those articles on the MBP, however, reveals a series of misrepresentations of theoretical positions (often based on secondary literature), lack of relevant contemporary literature on the topic, and a strong bias toward reductive physicalism in psychiatry. In summary, without further discussion or evidence, these authors present the MBP as solved, dualism as an old-fashioned/superstitious idea, and physicalism (mind as a brain product) as the only rational option and the only one that has undoubtedly been empirically confirmed. We are not arguing that physicalism (either in its reductive or nonreductive forms) is false. Given the current state of our knowledge, it should be considered a viable and promising hypothesis for the MBP, a good framework for research. The problem, in our view, is the misrepresentation of alternative hypotheses and the presentation of physicalism as the only game in town or as a proven fact . . .”

“. . . given the status of our current knowledge and the absence of a satisfactory theory of the MBP, the best way to achieve progress in psychiatry is to recognize that the MBP is far from being solved and to be open to competing theoretical models, as is being done in contemporary physics and philosophy of mind. It is crucial that several models of the MBP, including physicalist and nonphysicalist ones, be allowed to develop and show their value (or lack thereof). Rather than misrepresenting potential candidates, it is more productive to consider alternative hypotheses seriously and test them rigorously with respect for what they propose. Psychiatry could benefit from such competition to move beyond its current limitations.”

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