Eating Disorders Information (EDI)

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Research

This blog aims to keep up with the latest research into eating disorders coming from all scientific and psychological backgrounds and present it in a concise and comprehensive manner so that you can understand better what you, or your loved one, is going through with your/his/her eating disorder.

I will be regularly checking the most relevant academic journals from each psychological discipline to bring you a summed-up and easy-to-read summary of the cutting-edge work going on to try to find a treatment for eating disorders.

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A Quantum Psychopathological Account of Anorexia Nervosa

Posted by a.marlow on May 1, 2013 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

To those regular readers who have noticed a sizeable reduction in output recently, I apologise. However, there is good reason: I have spent the last few months working on a research paper recently published in the academic journal Neuroquantology entitled "A Quantum Pyschopathological Account of Anorexia Nervosa", which is free to read online or download as a pdf if you click on the link.he basic thesis takes recent theoretical work on the potential link between quantum physics and the brain, and applies it to the specific case of anorexia nervosa. I invite you to give it a critical read-through and share your thoughts with me. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.


This last weekend, I was in Palermo, Sicily, delivering a talk based on this article to an assembled multidisciplinary crowd of psychologists, physicists and others who had assembled for a two day conference on the topic of "Quantum Paradigms of Psychopathology". I shan't bore you with details, except to say that current research into the role of neuronal microtubules as a possible site of quantum computation within the brain is flying ahead apace, with particularly interesting evidence submitted regarding the way in which certain microtubular structures closely resemble certain plant structures used in photosynthesis that are now known to exhibit effects best explicable by quantum mechanics. If these developments bear fruit, then the account of the unconscious quantum logic that I present in the Neuroquantology article linked above might represent a valid and crucial step forward in understanding the neuronal basis of anorexia nervosa.

Eating Disorders and Anxiety: Are They Correlated?

Posted by a.marlow on May 1, 2013 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Below is an article penned by guest contributor Ryan Rivera. He runs calm clinic dot com and has written several articles on the subject of anxiety that have been published on various websites. 


Eating disorders and anxiety often go hand in hand. People who are suffering from a specific eating disorder are also plagued with negative thoughts and mental imbalance, the same symptoms for depression. There have been claims that these two conditions are related; however, no hard evidence has been presented to support this until recently.  Mental health practitioners who have been intensively studying the underlying causes of these two disorders have found an absolute connection.  


The development of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, does not stem from the hate or disgust for food or weight but rather on specific emotional issues where food becomes an indirect participant. The person turns to food or away from it as a defense mechanism against emotional stress. This emotional stress is directly related to the things that can cause anxiety. Studies have been conducted and have shown that most people who have an eating disorder are also suffering from an anxiety disorder. 


It is still debatable which of them occurred first and caused the other. The widely accepted theory is that anxiety precedes eating disorder. A good analogy is a person who is suffering from anorexia.  This person is obsessed with the fear of becoming overweight. The fear can be so extreme that food becomes an enemy.  Food is avoided as much as possible, which is both unhealthy and harmful to one’s health.  


The person’s fear can be rooted from the society that sees obesity as an ugly physical aspect. This mentality will cause anxiety. This can push the individual to develop anorexia. But different types of eating disorders are not similar to each other. That is why this conjecture will not hold true for all situations.   


The truth is that most people who are suffering from an eating disorder are also likely suffering from anxiety or depression. 


There are usual anxiety disorders that are often found in people with eating disorders. 


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) occurs when people have a strong obsession in following certain rules or rituals. If they are not able to follow this set of rules, they undergo a state of great stress and restlessness. 


Panic Disorder is an intense flood of negative thoughts and emotions that can literally paralyze a person in fear. These attacks are uncontrollable and can come without warning. 


General Anxiety Disorder is a prolonged state of restlessness and worry that lasts far longer than normal. Some of these worries maybe irrational but causes excessive distress to the person. 


Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by intense fear of social interactions or of the public. A person with social anxiety disorder is very self-conscious and uncomfortable being in public for fear that they will be ridiculed or embarrassed.  

 

OCD and social anxiety are particularly common for people with eating disorders. In cases of bulimia or binge-purge type anorexia, where a person eats a large amount of food then immediately purges it out through vomit or laxatives, they are hounded by a fear of gaining weight that promptly induces them to purge. As the disorder progresses, the ritual becomes habitual and turns into a cycle. Because of these revelations, several treatments for eating disorders are also combined with therapies that are considered help for anxiety.  

 

 

Henry Stapp's plausible theory of the quantum mind

Posted by a.marlow on January 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Classical physics paints the picture of a reality that is deterministic and mechanistic, with no causal influence of mind at all. However, experiments in the 20th century showed this approach to be increasingly insufficient, giving rise to quantum mechanics, a theory that potentially gives mind a much greater influence on reality than previously thought.


In a recent article in the academic journal Neuroquantology, Henry Stapp describes precisely how this might work. He discusses three subtly different interpretations of quantum mechanics: the Copenhagen formulation and the approach taken by von Neumann.


Even according to the Copenhagen formulation, the influenceof an observer is crucial. The key equation in quantum mechanics is the Schrödinger equation, which describes a reality made up of a continuous and simultaneous mixture of possibilities. This is illustrated by the famous example of ‘Schrödinger’s cat’, where the cat is supposed to be both alive and dead at the same time, as these two possibilities are described by the Schrödinger equation to both exist simultaneously. Only when an observer intervenes and measures or observes the situation does one of these possibilities become a reality, nullifying theother and making the cat either alive or dead. In quantum physics terms, we say that the ‘wavefunction’ has ‘collapsed’.


Such a finding requires us to perform a Heisenberg cut, where we divide the world into the observed, which exists as simultaneous possibilities until is it observed, and the observer, whose observation causes the collapse of the wavefunction. According to the Copenhagen formulation, that which causes the collapse of the wavefunction is ‘a free choice on the part of the experimenter’.


This idea works well pragmatically in the context of an actual experiment, where it largely doesn’t matter where one makes the cut. Perhaps one would make it between the researchers and the thing being experimented upon, so that the substance being examined is seen as existing as a continuum of simultaneous possibilities until the observers- here being the experimenters- make their ‘free choice’. However, in the words of Stapp, this formulation cannot become “a rationally coherent theory of reality”, as the decision about where to make this ‘cut’ is arbitrary every time.

Enter the von Neumann formulation which, according to Stapp, does achieve the status of being rationally coherent. For von Neumann, we should place in the “observed” category all things that are physical, including the bodies and brains of the observers: for if the particular substance being measured is no longer existing in a state of continuous and simultaneous possibilities because of the observation of the scientists, then whose observation has caused the wavefunction of the scientist’s body and brain to collapse? Even if we extrapolate the problem back to the retina or the particular part of the brain that deals with vision, whose observation has caused this part of the brain to have its wavefunction collapsed?


For von Neumann, and according to the orthodox view of quantum mechanics, we can divide the world into three processes. Process 1 refers to subjective experience and observation by an “abstract ego”. Process 2 refers to the Schrödinger equation, which governs the behaviour of the quantum world until it is observed by process 1. Process 3 refers to “a choice on the part of nature”.


This, then, is what happens in von Neumann’s view: while the “observed” part of nature is not interacting with the “observing” part, it is governed solely by process 2- theSchrödinger equation- according to which reality is not made up of discrete, atomised particles, but rather an infinite number of possibilities about how those particles will fit together and, even, where they will be found. When the“observed” part of nature does come into contact with the “observing” part, however, process 1 occurs, and this “observing” part, put crudely, asks aquestion, which we can put simply as: yes or no? Now, Schrödinger’s cat can no longer exist as both simultaneously possibly alive and possibly dead- it must choose whether to be alive or dead. If the “observing” part of nature asks this question, the answer comes through process 3, when “a choice on the part of nature” answers us: yes, the cat is alive; or: no, the cat is dead. This, Stapp asserts, achieves the goal of reaching “a rationally coherent theory of a fully quantum mechanical psychophysical reality”.

 

What does this tell us about the mind, then? It certainly raises doubt around the idea that the brain creates the mind; rather, according to this hypothesis, the brain would constitute part of the “observed” world governed by process 2 and existing as many simultaneous possibilities until it is observed through process 1 by the “observing” subjective mind or ‘abstract ego’. We could therefore conjecture that, instead, mind creates brain and, indeed, all of the reality around it, at least in the sense that it forces nature to settle on one particular reality rather than continue to exist in multiple simultaneous states of possibility.

 

This, then, constitutes Henry Stapp’s attempt at formulating a quantum theory of mind- an attempt that is preferable to that of Penrose and Hameroff, whose approach has been found wanting due to the fact that it would require evidence that the brain can and does sustain states of quantum coherence- evidence that has not been forthcoming. By placing the mind outside the “observed” world, which is where one would find the brain in Stapp’s estimation, the absence of such states does not invalidate Stapp’s approach at all. For Stapp, we need not show quantum coherence in the brain- we need only acknowledge that, before process 1 observation, the brain constitutes a mixture of possibilities, one of which is settled upon by the combined action of process 1 and process 3.


Source:

Stapp, H., 2012. Reply to a Critic: “Mind Efforts, Quantum Zeno Effect and Environmental Decoherence”, Neuroquantology, 10(4), pp. 601-605


Please note that I am not a physicist, so this account of Stapp's theory is necessarily simplified and perhaps, in parts, inaccurate. Although I am not a physicist, as a therapist I am interested in understanding the mind, and this includes all cutting edge approaches to it, including those based on such complex areas as quantum physics.

 

Recovery from Anorexia includes development of neural coping mechanisms for negative emotional reactions to bodies

Posted by a.marlow on January 18, 2013 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (0)

How do recovered anorexics emotionally react to negative images of the body? Does recovery involve dampening one’s emotional reaction to them, or simply finding other ways of coping?


A recent study by Pruis et al in the International Journal of Eating Disorders has found that women who have recovered from eating disorders retain a greater emotional reaction to negative images of bodies as opposed to neutral or positive images as compared with a control group, and from this they conclude that recovery from anorexia nervosa does not include a dampening of one’s emotional responses to negative body images, but merely the development of mental coping mechanisms that prevent these emotional responses from disturbing cognition.


The researchers specifically looked at three parts of the brain, and found unexpected results from a fourth. Their intention was initially focused on the amygdala, which is related to one's initial fearful and/or emotional response to stimuli; a subregion of the fusiform that particularly responds to bodies; and the lateral prefrontal cortex, which is supposed to regulate emotions.


While they found no difference between the recovered anorexics and the control group in terms of how their lateral prefrontal cortexes reacted to a working memory task, they did find increased activity in the recovered anorexics' amygdalas and fusiforms and, unexpectedly, a suppression of activity in their medial prefrontal cortexes.


The increased activity in the amygdala and fusiform is seen as evidence of a greater emotional response by the recovered anorexics' to the stimulus of a negative body image. This could be taken as a 'scar' left behind by the anorexia, an indication that these particular women were predisposed to get anorexia, or perhaps evidence that their recovery is not quite complete on a psychological level.


An increase in activity of the lateral prefrontal cortex was hypothesised as the means by which the recovered anorexics' emotional responses to negative body images could be mediated. However, there was no difference between the activity here in the recovere anorexic group and the control group. This in itself is a result, given that those still ill with anorexia show reduced activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex; however, it was not the result the researchers were looking for.


What they found instead was asuppression of the medial prefrontal cortex, which was hypothesised to be involved in the control of self-referential emotional responses in order to allow other cognitive processes to continue. 


The practical results of such research for therapists are as follows: recovery from anorexia does not necessarily involve salvation from one's initial negative emotional response upon seeing a negatively rated body image, but it does involve the learning of coping mechanisms to prevent these emotional responses from blocking other cognitive processes, these perhaps being expressed in the increase to normal levels of activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex and in the suppression of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. 


 

Source:

Pruis, T. A., Keel, P. K., & Janowsky, J.S., 2012. Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa Includes Neural Compensation for Negative Body Image. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45, pp. 919-931

The qualities of a good therapist, from the client's perspective

Posted by a.marlow on January 16, 2013 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

How does one go about offering therapy to someone suffering from an eating disorder? It's one thing to have a detailed understanding of the neurochemistry or psychoanalysis of anorexia; it's another thing to put that theoretical knowledge into practice. One thing that comes across when we compare therapists working from Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian etc. backgrounds is that the particular theory being used is far less important than the quality of the relationship between therapist and client.


So what qualities must the therapist embody in order that his/her therapeutic intervention is experienced as something positive by the client? A recent article by Gulliksen et al. in the International Journal of Eating Disorders has suggested that successful therapy, at least from the point of view of the anorexic client, involves a therapist who is generous in affection and understanding, respectful of the client's perspective, patient about change in the client's behaviour and in the development of the therapeutic relationship; actively interested in the client's personal qualities and thought processes and possessed of a sense of humour; who focuses on the client's strengths and who supports the client through difficult situations; who has experienced knowledge of eating disorders, and who is authoritative and self-confident about their expertise.


On the other hand, clients tended to view negatively those therapists who disregarded their feelings and opinions, who were passive and seemingly uninterested in the client's problems, and who pampered them, showing an attitude of pity and sympathy that could end up perpetuating the disorder.


None of this should come as a surprise, but it is sometimes more difficult in practice than in theory to embody these qualities. Moreover, before rushing to embody all of these attributes without giving them a second thought, one major weakness of the study must be considered: it only looked at how these qualities impacted upon the client's feeling of satisfaction with the treatment, not at whether these qualities led to concrete outcomes of weight gain or improved mental well-being.


Source:

Gulliksen, K. S., et al., 2012. Preferred Therapist Characteristics in Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa: The Patient’s Perspective. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45, pp. 932-941


A Bohmian approach to psychopathology

Posted by a.marlow on December 16, 2012 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Despite the reservations of Lane in the previous blog post, the question of if, and how, quantum physics relates to the workings of the brain remains a poignant one- so poignant, in fact, that it has spawned a whole academic journal devoted to its answer, Neuroquantology. It is an article from this journal that forms the basis of today's blog.


David Bohm was a quantum physicist who uniquely decided to see what the implications of his discipline would be for deeper philosophical questions of reality and of mind. It is against this backdrop that Pylkkänen seeks to find what implications these, in turn, may have for how we treat psychopathology, or mental illness.


Mental illness, he observes, is often characterised by a breakdown of unity or wholeness. It is therefore pertinent to note that Bohm's quantum ontology underlines the primacy of wholeness, in comparison to biological, social and psychological explanations, which seem to take the whole to be the sum of its parts. From a quantum perspective, we should not view apparantly separate events and objects as being truly individual, but rather as being parts of a greater whole, like vortices in a stream of water; and from this perspective, it is possible to view the mind, as a whole, as a stream of consciousness, out of which emerges the relatively autonomous entities of thoughts, beliefs, desires and perceptions. If we take this view of the fundamental nature of mind, then "mental disorder results in part when this wholeness is lost", perhaps by giving too much emphasis to various natural divisions within the stream of consciousness. Moreover, if each part of the mind is a manifestation of the whole stream of consciousness, then each individual mind is a manfiestation of the whole social environment in which it is found, and we can say that mental disorders are not simply the private affair of a disordered individual, but rather the manifestation of a more widespread social phenomenon.


Pylkkänen also observes that many mental disorders are characterised by a lack of information, mistakes about information and failure to respond adequately and accurately to information. From this perspective, Bohm's concept of "active information" might be helpful.


For Bohm, a particle whose behaviour is governed by the laws of Quanum Mechanics can be viewed as simultaneously possessing the characteristics of a particle and of a wave. A typical experiment that shows the wave and particle nature of, say, an electron is the double slit experiment, where a series of electrons are fired through two slits and exhibit both particle properties (in that they arrive at the detector in the form of a single spot) and wave properties (in that the place where they land is determined by the mathematics of wave behaviour, so that when many electrons have been fired, their pattern forms that of a wave). For Bohm, this is explained by saying that the electron travels through one of the two slits and appears at a point on the photographic plane, while its accompanying field goes through both slits and interferes with its tragectory so that the collective pattern of the particles exhibits a wave formation. This accompanying quantum field is said to contain "active information" about the environment around the electron, giving rise to a "quantum potential" that influences the individual electron's movement. Crucially, this active information should not be seen as something imposed from without, but rather as a core part of what the electron, as a union of field and particle, actually is. Bohm came up with the concept of "soma-significance", where a process in which information and meaning have a tangible effect on matter is called a "signa-somatic". Based on this general idea, Pylkkänen goes on to suggest that:


 

"it is possible that the information that is experienced in consciousness is carried by some much more subtle medium, analogous to the quantum field, but capable of much more complex properties, including qualia, subjectivity and conscious experience"


This 'very subtle' field might act as an influence on the bain's neocortex by means of the quantum field. Moreover, Bohm went on to suggest that, if the quanum potential constitutes active information that can give form to the behaviour of physical particles, so might there be a superquantum potential that gives form to the quantum potential and that does not obey current laws of Quantum Mechanics; there might also be a super-superquantum potential that performs the same function, and a super-super-superquantum potential, and so on. In this way we could include mind as a subtle principle of organisation into Quantum Theory.


Pylkkänen suggests that a Bohmian understanding of information as an active organising principle could hold beneits for our understanding of mental illness. For example, depression could be conceived of as a state where negative information is overactive while positive information is underactive,  and anxiety could be a failure to deal with the active nature of information, with sufferers relying too much on their own self-agency, their own ability to control their thoughts, rather than acknowledging the autonomous influence their thoughts have qua information and dealing with it calmly.


In general, it is asserted that, from a Bohmian point of view, mind can be said to subtly influence the movement of particles such as electrons, and these electrons can in turn be said to control the more classical brain functions observed by neuroscience. Empirically, previous work by Pylkkänen has found that the quantum potential can increase the probability of synaptic exocytosis, leading him to conclude that "we could regard the “mind-field” as initiating a subsequent neural process which finally activates the motor neurons to produce the outward behaviour", active information being the trigger for classical neurological processes. It is also suggested that similar processes might be at work in the behaviour of dendritic fields or in microtubules. Moreover, to account for perception of the external world, it has also been suggested that the influence goes both ways: nerve matter communicating with the mental wavefunction about what is being perceived in the same way that mental wavefunction communicates with the nerves in order to express its will, creating a "new kind of feedback-control loop that is absent in dead matter" (Jack Sarfatti).


References:

Pylkkänen, P., 2010. "Implications of Bohmian quantum ontology for psychopathology", Neuroquantology, 8(1): 37-48

'Medical Constraints on the Quantum Mind'

Posted by a.marlow on December 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

In recent years, the old philosophical problem of the nature of mind has become a subject of interest to physicists. Thinkers like Roger Penrose (author of 'The Emperor's New Mind' and 'Shadows of the Mind') and Stuart Hameroff have begun to suggest that the human brain works according to the same mechanisms as a quantum computer. Others have gone further, taking their thoughts to more esoteric levels and proffering that the human brain acts merely as a conduit, a transmitter, for an underlying and pre-existing quantum field of mind.


All of these ideas are fascinating- but there comes a time to move beyond the theory and the textbook, and to ask instead whether and how we may use these ideas in diagnosis, treatment and therapy; and, when this question arises, so too does the question of whether these theories even present an accurate picture of the human mind in the first place.


Into this quandary steps Nick Lane PhD, whose article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is the inspiration for this blog post. Writing from the perspective of a biologist, he pits the quantum view of consciousness and the biological view of consciousness against each other by viewing the fundamental requirements underlying each. A biological theory of consciousness simply demands an "extraordinary organisation of rather ordinary matter", while a quantum account would have to be based on "some very special properties of matter" in the form of "macroquantum effects". This is due to the fact that, while quantum physics almost perfectly describes the behaviour of matter at a subatomic level, Einstein's theories of relativity and Newton's laws of motion generally still hold water at the macro level; indeed, it is very rare to view the kind of effects generated by quantum mechanics at a micro level replicated at a macro level.


Lane admits that a complete and coherent view of consciousness based on the biological view is currently unavailable. He writes that:


"...all we must do is show that an enormously complex parallel processing system, comprising a hundred billion neuron-equivalents, coupled to a multifaceted and profoundly integrated sensory system, and an ability to remember and learn, is capable of giving rise to consciousness... That might take a while."


Yet if the biological account still fails to provide us with answers, Lane's view is that it is more likely to do so in the future than any nascent quantum theories currently on offer. What are these theories? Evan Walker proposes that consciousness is produced by delocalised electrons using cytoplasmic RNA as stepping stones and tunneling through synapses; Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff present a similar theory, except where microtubules take the place of Walker's RNA as the required intracellular structure. Yet Lane dismisses these theories, arguing that the probabilities of post-synaptic firing offered as evidence for Walker's viewpoint could just as easily be explained by conventional neurotransmission, and that the argument of Penrose and Hameroff (who claim that the key role of microtubules is shown by the way in which anaesthetic agents accumulate in them, implying that the ensuing loss of consciousness is related to an ensuing change in microtubule functioning)  is discredited by the fact that anaesthetic agents also have effects on ion channel function and calcium influx, that there is no expert consensus on how anaestetics work (or even that they all work in the same way), and that certain chemicals, such as colchicine, are known to explicitly affect microtubules without having any effect on consciousness at all. Another theory, suggested by Ian Marshall, proposes that consciousness is generated by a coherent, non-local order of protein vibrations- "the melody of proteins singing together". Yet, as Lane points out, this particular theory also lacks any confirming evidence.


Each of these theories share another weakness: they all require specific molecular stepping-stones in order to be viable. For Walker, this stepping stone is a particular set-up of RNA; for Penrose and Hameroff, it is the presence of intact microtubules; and for Marshall, it is the existence of tiny gaps between vibrating proteins. Lane points out that the evolution of such specific systems is less likely than the evolution of a system whose only requirement for generating consciousness is a generally increasing complexity, as described by the biological account. He writes:


"...from a quantum broadcasting point of view, the machinery required to sustain consciousness must have evolved without compromising the computing function of the nervous system. Cells as highly specialized as neurons, which have evolved to a high degree of complexity even in organisms with little recognizable consciousness, cannot have much remaining flexibility to support the evolution of a new infrastructure for consciousness."


Because of this, Cairns-Smith has argued that neurons are bad candidates for ever being used to explain human consciousness, and that we should instead be looking to the less specialised glial cells of the brain, such as oligodendrocytes in the white matter or astrocytes in their support network throughout the brain. 


Yet examining certain neurodegenerative conditions, even this hypothesis seems doubtful. In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), we see an attack on these very same oligodendrocytes- but no loss of consciousness. In Alzheimer's disease, we see early correlations between symptoms and neurofibrillary tangles in the neocortical association areas of the temporal lobe, such tangles being "but the ghosts of microtubules"- but again, no loss of self-awareness, with even advanced sufferers continuing to speak in first person and to respond to changes in their conversations and their environment.


In acute ischaemic stroke, however, there may be tentative evidence for some of Cairns-Smith's ideas. This kind of stroke sometimes brings about widespread depolarisation of astrocytes. A 1995 study of 24 patients who showed dramatic recovery from their stroke during a thrombolysis trial by Grotta & Bratina found that "most patients seemed peculiarly unaware or blasé about their deficit and improvement", perhaps implying that a sluggish recovery of the astrocyte network led to a sluggish recovery of their self-aware consciousness.


While Lane's article is certainly informative, but my major critique would be his working definition of 'consciousness', even if it is a somewhat orthodox one. He writes:


"For consciousness... I mean awareness or sentience, both of our own self and of our relationship to the world around us."


Yet this strikes me as a rather reductive definition. We tend to think of something that is not 'conscious' as being 'unconscious'. Yet there are many altered states of consciousness where one might not satisfy Lane's working definition above, but still be far more 'conscious' than 'unconscious'. Altered states of consciousness may be reached in many ways, whether through certain types of meditation, through use of illicit drugs or through experiential therapies such as Holotropic Breathwork. In these altered states, one may experience a loss of identity and individuality, often coupled with a sense of oneness and unity with the universe. One might also 'hallucinate' in such a way that an outsider would say you were 'seeing things that weren't there' when, in actual fact, a proper understanding of the experience would acknowledge the deep psychological meaning and healing potential of the visions. Crucially, these experiences, in which one ostensibly loses awareness of one's self and one's physical surroundings, are often experienced as being far more real than ordinary wakeful consciousness. The person going through them is not in a dream and could not be said in any sense of the word to be 'unconscious'. Therefore, while much of what Lane says in his article is fascinating and illuminating, a proper study of human consciousness cannot be undertaken while the background definition of the subject excludes states where one is quite clearly conscious in some sense of the term. 


So, what of the question that started off this blog post? Despite his definitional deficit, Nick Lane provides an evidential background to the theory of the Quantum mind and shows it to be lacking. In this context, while the truth and mechanisms of this particular theory have yet to be established, there seems to be little we can take from it into the therapeutic situation.


References:

Lane, N., 2000. "Medical constraints on the quantum mind", Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 93:571-575

Stoicism, 'Logos' and the reform of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Posted by a.marlow on December 4, 2012 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

An interesting article appeared in the Guardian today that I'd like to discuss here in this blog.


It starts with a discussion of the ancient Roman system of philosophy called stoicism and one of its central ideas, that of the λογος (pronounced 'logos'). Λογος can be translated into english as either word, discourse, reason, activity, or principle, although none of these words truly reflects its full meaning. Writing about λογος, the early Stoic philosopher Cleanthes wrote:


"...For thus you [Zeus] have joined all things, the good with the bad, into one,

so that the eternal Word of all came to be one.

This Word, however, evil mortals flee, poor wretches;

though they are desirous of good things for their possession,

they neither see nor listen to God's universal Law..."


Λογος is also found at the heart of Christianity. In one of the most famous passages of the Bible, from the beginning of John's gospel, it is proclaimed that: "[i]n the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God". Christians take this to mean that Jesus Christ is 'the Word' and often leave it at that, but one would reach a fuller understanding of the passage if one understood the meaning of 'the Word', or 'λογος', in the context of stoic philosophy, from which the author of John's gospel undoubtedly took inspiration.


Explaining the concept of λογος in the practical stoic life, Mark Vernon in his article for the Guardian writes that:


"The ancient stoic training was an attempt to orient the whole of life to the logos. Chrysippus, the third head of the school and one of the most brilliant philosophers of the ancient world, used the metaphor of a cylinder rolling down a hill. Life is like that. There is nothing you can do to change it. What you can do is learn "to go with the flow", as opposed to resisting the bumps and shocks.


But why should you go with the flow, one of his young disciples might have asked? Because the flow can be trusted, Chrysippus would have replied. It is the action of the logos. It is mysterious, yes; often painful, yes. But ultimately benign. And if life were not providential, you are right: it would be more noble to resist it all the way."


In this way, belief in the λογος is a belief that the universe is ordered in a rational way according to a unifying rational principle, and that one can be sure that everything one enjoys or endures is for the good of the whole, even if it is not good for the self, and should therefore not be resisted. This idea makes sense when one takes into account the statement of another ancient philosopher, Heraclitus, that:


"Listening not to me but to the logos it is wise to agree that all things are one."


If, underneath it all, 'all things are one', then each of our individualities would have to be seen as nothing more than separatist illusions, mere parts of a greater whole; and if we believe that temporary harm to our individual selves is ultimately for the good of the whole of which we are merely a part, then we will be much more able to endure the inevitable challenges that life throws in our path.


What does any of this have to do with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), though? As a matter of fact, the ancient school of stoicism is often said to bear many similarities to modern cognitive approaches to mental health. And yet, if  CBT has taken on many aspects of stoic thought, it has left out consideration for the λογος. Mark Vernon warns us:


"the stoic notion of flow was a kind of devotion, an offering of yourself. Cultivating the right inner attitude was absolutely crucial to the good life stoicism promised. Practise stoicism for self-serving reasons, as instrumentally driven therapies and self-help might encourage, and you risk alienating yourself further...


...Longitudinal testing of CBT appears to be suggesting the benefits are short-lived. I wonder whether Chrysippus might help explain why: does CBT unwittingly encourage the delusion of living out of your own strength, he might ask?"


It is this difference that could be crucial. If CBT does encourage its clients to live out of their own strength, then when that strength inevitably fails them, they will lose the faith they gained in themselves and go back to square one. If, however, consideration of the λογος were included in CBT, then such setbacks would be taken on the chin and accepted as being, in some as yet inconceivable way, a good, whether that be for oneself or for others, and could therefore be endured much more effectively without returning to the symptoms for which the patient sought CBT in the first place.

The New Physics: Quantum Skills for the 21st Century Therapist

Posted by a.marlow on December 2, 2012 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I was trawling through the internet on a lazy Sunday afternoon, as you do, when I came across and interesting article from 2010 called "Spirituality, Mental Health and the New Physics" (reference below). Intigued, I read it, and what follows is a summary of the ideas contained therein.


The premise of the article is that, with the new understanding of physics engendered by quantum theory and chaos theory should come a new understanding of psychology and, thus, new approaches to psychotherapy- or, at least, a rethinking of old approaches.


The article pits old-school Newtonian physics, based on the idea that the universe can be conceived of as a 'Great Machine' with fixed, predictable rules of behaviour, against the new insights of Quantum Mechanics, which might imply that the universe should rather be conceived of as a 'Great Mind', where randomness and chance rules the day and where the more mystical and maligned ideas of Jung, Janet, James, Assagioli and the modern school of Transpersonal Psychology would come to prevail over the accepted orthodoxies of Freudianism and behaviourism. The author of the article, one Charlotte Shelton, uses these ideas to suggest seven 'Quantum Skills' that therapists should use and clients should develop to further their mental health goals.


The first "Quantum Skill" is "Quantum seeing", based on the insights gained from Quantum Mechanics about just how much our own perceptions and intentions shape the world around us. Based on this idea, the skill of 'quantum seeing' would acknowledge that a bad situation is only bad because of our own intentions and perceptions that shape our experience of that situation, and that our first task should be to change those perceptions in order to have a much more pleasant experience of life.


The second skill is "Quantum thinking", based on the insight that, at least at a subatomic level, our reality is much more governed by randomness and chance than it is governed by fixed, binary laws. Despite this, most adults tend to think in a fixed and binary manner, one that limits their creativity and blocks certain nuanced possibilities from emerging in their lives. Challenging this way of thinking, especially by encouraging right-hemisphere thinking, is the route to a more creative life, suggests Shelton.


The thid skill is "Quantum feeling". This builds on the ideas of 'quantum seeing', but focuses on one's feelings and, especially, the relationship one has with one's own heart. Research by the Institute of HeartMath has shown that the heart exerts a strong electromagnetic influence on one's thoughts and emotions; specifically, that when one is experiencing a negative emotion, the heart's electromagnetic waves become less coherent, while a positive emotion makes them more coherent. It is therefore healthier to feel better in oneself. This point, really, reinforces the ideas developed in 'quantum seeing'.


The fourth skill is "Quantum knowing". A growing number of physicists are speculating that there is a single unified quantum field containing Bose-Einstein condensates from which the entire material universe emerges, and Shelton suggests that this field might itself be conscious, or at least the source of human consciousness (as one hypothesis suggests that Bose-Einstein condensates are the prerequisites to the neurological structure in the human brain that underpin consciousness, and if this hypothesis is proven true, then this "will lend support to thehypothesis that the quantum field itself is conscious"). If this is true, it might indicate that the human mind can tap into this quantum field, postulated to be the source of consciousness, as a source of intuitive knowledge; and, on this basis, fostering an attitude of mindfulness and intuitiveness will lead to better decision-making. 


The fifth skill is "Quantum acting". As particles have been shown by quantum theory to maintain an instantaneous connection despite being separated by impossible distances, an awareness of this interconnectivity of the universe will foster an attitude whereby someone acts not just for their own atomistic self, but rather for the whole- whether that whole be their whole self, their whole community, or the whole planet.


The sixth skill is "Quantum trusting". At the subatomic level, Bohm has suggested an 'invisible ordering principle' as a means by which the larger quantum field could influence the behaviour of individual subatomic particles, and at the more macroscopic level of chaos theory, computer simulations have shown a 'strange attractor' that seems to set limits on otherwise random structures, that brings order and structure out of randomness and chaos. Quantum trusting, then, is an acknowledgement of the ever-changing nature of life and the way in which order can arise even when one feels completely in disorder.


The seventh skill is "Quantum being". At the subatomic level, the individual particle is a mere abstraction; each particle exists only in relation to the other, and can merge to become one larger, more whole system. Applying this by analogy to the human level, "[q]uantum Being is the ability to be in healthy relationships –relationships based on unconditional love. This skill requires clients to owntheir feelings rather than project them onto others".


Personally, I am not sure whether each of these 'skills' deserves the label 'quantum', and nor am I sure that one can necessarily abstract from the behaviour of subatomic particles to the level of human relationships and mental health. Nevertheless, some of these ideas are interesting, and the relationship between the insights of quantum theory and human consciousness and mental health remains a fascinating and groundbreaking area of research. I hope some of these ideas will be useful to you in your therapetic practice or personal growth, and if you want to read Shelton's original article, you can find it at the reference below.


References:

Shelton, C., 2010. “Spirituality, Mental Healthand the New Physics”, InternationalJournal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 7:161-171.

Hysteria: the 19th century's answer to eating disorders?

Posted by a.marlow on November 25, 2012 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

It has been claimed by certain feminist thinkers that the prevalence of Hysteria among women in the late 19th century and the prevalence of eating disorders inour current cultural climate are linked by the idea that both conditions represent an exaggeration of and protest against the prevailing social rolesavailable to women at the time. In the late 19th century, Hysteria represented a response to the view that women should be romantic and frail; in the late 20th and early 21st century, anorexia represents a response to the view thatwomen should, on a literal level, be constantly getting thinner and, on a symbolic level, be denying their own needs and putting those of others first, in the manner of the housewife and mother who makes her husband and children a priority above herself.

 

So goes the theory. But before we can evaluate its validity, we need to have a better understanding of what 'Hysteria' means in the context of psychoanalytic theory.

 

The core of 'Hysteria', according to many psychoanalysts, is a constant search for evidence that one is loved, a search that is rooted in the experience of early trauma in the form of a Mother who was unable to fulfil the needs of her infant child. In this sense, Hysteria comes about as a sort of defence mechanism against the threat of abandonment by the Mother (or, in later life, by a lover). The loss of the loving look and warm regard of the Mother in early life leads to a sensitivity in later life to the threat of being abandoned by a lover, to the loss of his/her loving gaze. This defence operates by means of an auto-eroticism, a sort of self-love that divorces the mind from the body and creates a reluctance to love another, external person. The Hysteric's mode of love is a purely sensual one that leads to a permanent dissatisfaction with all her lovers and a contradiction between her desire to bask in an eternal, absolute mode of love and her reluctance to give such love to the Other. It is common for a Hysteric to complain of being treated as a mere sexual object for use by men, while at the same time treating her lovers in just the same way. She fears abandonment as something that would put her 'ego', her 'self', in danger, while at the same time seeking out lovers who are just the kind of people who would subject her to the very abandonment that she fears. She will often identify with her lover one minute, as if he were the basis of her identity, and then unexpectedly show a cold indifference towards him the next, as if her love, which was so passionate seconds ago, had simply disappeared.

 

According to Jacqueline Lanouzière, Hysteria can be characterised as a sort of addiction to the love of the Other and, more specifically, to his look, to his gaze. The loving gaze of the Other acts as a drug for the Hysteric. Her choice of lover is based on needs that went unmet at a certain point in her life due to the inadequacy of her 'objects' at the time (in psychoanalysis, and particularly in the Object Relations school of psychoanalysis, the term 'object' refers to a significant other who has been unconsciously internalised into one's own mind and plays a decisive role in determining one's mental health). For the Hysteric, only the loving gaze of the Other can bring her to a sense of unity and oneness; otherwise, she feels like a divided person.

 

The irony of Hysteria is that the Hysteric often treats her own body as a sexual object. And it is here that the psychoanalytic account of Hysteria gets... weird. The above description of someone treating their own body as if it were a sexual object is more generally a description of the Freudian conceptof narcissism, which takes on a particularly weird role in the psychoanalytic account of Hysteria. Lanouzière claims that female narcissism comes about later than male narcissism, as the male genital organs are visible from birth while the female genitals are hidden away inside. They only really make an appearance in puberty, when the breasts start to form and periods start to occur. The late beginning of female narcissism gives it a character of uncertainty, and this is at the heart of Lanouzière's account of theHysterical condition. According to her, the fact that an infant girl spends much of her early life aware that, when others look at her, they will notice her lack of penis, leads to this girl overinvesting in her appearance and in ananxiety about how others see her. Her obsession with how others perceive her is almost a fetish for the Hysteric.

 

Indeed, according to Lanouzière, the gaze of the other is the only way that anyone ever becomes a narcissist. In her account, the mother looking at her newborn baby sees it almost as an extension of herself, and thus a mother's love for her child is an extension of her love for herself. This, so it is claimed, forms the basis of the baby's own narcissism that becomes her own self-love and self-esteem as she grows up. But the mother's gaze is different depending on whether the child is a boy or a girl: with a boy, the mother's loving gaze will be centred on the penis, while with a girl, he rgaze will cover the whole body, leading to a sort of exhibitionism seen in Hysterics in particular whereby the whole body becomes a sort of eroticised show for the whole world to see. While such exhibitionism is common during adolescence in most people, the Hysteric maintains it into adult life.

 

The failure of the early maternal gaze to provide a look of unconditional love leaves the Hysteric feeling invisible, a feeling she tries to get rid of through making a show of her body, for example by using bright clothes to attract attention and adoration. In this way the Hysteric engages in a desperate quest for perfection and beauty- because for the Hysteric, she is literally nothing without the loving gaze of the Other.

 

This is basically a summary of the account of Hysteria given by Lanouzière in the work referenced below. You might have noticed that I have constantly used 'she' throughout this blog post, and that is deliberate. Hysteria is and was always seen as a female condition, for some of the logically spurious reasons given above. The psychoanalytic account rests heavily on 'penis envy' to explain why Hysteria occurs in women rather than men, as this (somehow) explains why the Hysteric makes an exhibition of herself when her female narcissism finally comes into bloom in order to compensate for a childhood of lack.

 

But, look, this is psychoanalysis, so don't take it too seriously, okay? It's obsessed with sex and has little evidence to support any of its claims, so don't get thinking this is how the human mind actually works. Most modern psychologists have abandoned it to the coffin of history as an embarrassing relic of the 1950s when psychology wasn't so scientific, and although I do think that sometimes it can come up with some profound insights lacking from the more experimental branches of psychology, this is not one of those times. It really isn't. I have only included it here so that you can understand the concept and see if the feminists are right when they say that the Hysteria of the late 19th century is in some way related to the prevalence of eating disorders in the late 20th/early 21st century. I'll leave you to reach your own conclusions on that one.

 

In other news- I've just yesterday completed my final examination for the Eating Disorders course I've been taking with the British School of Yoga so, assuming I haven't failed, I am now/soon-to-be a qualified Complementary Therapist for Eating Disorders. And when they send me the exams for the other courses I'm taking with them, assuming I pass, I'll also be generally qualified in Psychotherapy and in Vegetarian/Vegan NutritionalTherapy- so if any of you out there feel you would benefit from my services in these areas, get in touch. I'm sure there's a 'contact' section somewhere on this website. I'm currently living in Rennes in France, and plan on moving to Bangor in Wales next year.

 

References:

Lanouzière, J., 2010. "L'hystérique et son 'addiction'", in: Marinov, V., et al., 2010. Anorexie, addictions et fragilités narcissiques. Presses Universitaires de France: Paris. pp. 131-157

 

 


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