Saturday, January 18, 2014

The New Science of Mind

There is a piece in the New York Times Science section, (September 8, 2013, by the Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel)(See He is discussing the advances being made in the science of the mind, and in particular, psychotherapy. What he means by advances or progress is a deeper understanding of brain function. Here he states, “Consider the biology of depression. (We can) discern the outlines of a complex neural circuit that becomes disordered in depressive illness.” So here we have it; it is all about brain structure and function. No discussion of the human being that carries around that brain or her experiences. The brain and the mind are identical for him. He seems to think that brain scans are the wave of the future so that we can ferret out the nerve circuits involved in mental illness. He cites the work of Helen Mayberg of Emory University who gave two types of treatment to subjects: cognitive therapy where they train people to develop a more positive attitude to life and its adversities, or anti- depressant medication. She could tell by examining the function of the insula who would respond and who would not. Those who started with a low baseline did well with cognitive therapy. Those who had above baseline insula activity did better with medication.

What’s wrong with this picture? Are those the two key approaches in the treatment of depression? Is there any room for feelings? Either we medicate or change the subjects’ minds about life? It is no small thing that he is friends with a leader in the cognitive approach—Aaron Beck. What he believes is that they have discovered biologic markers for depression. And once we do that, what?

I have an idea. Why don’t we try to figure out what psychological factors change brain function? Why don’t we bring the emotional and mental into the equation? Otherwise, we are forced into a reductionist approach to consider it all within the brain; a form of pure solipsism. Like there is a brain but no person with experience. Or if there is a person with experience what are the experiences? And how do they change the brain? That is the real domain of psychotherapy. The brain and mind are not identical; otherwise how can the mind change the activity of the brain? For example, when we say this drill won’t hurt your teeth and it doesn’t. Or how hypnosis can change brain function. There are levels of reality; the chemical, the neurological and the psychological. They are different and cannot be equated to one another. Otherwise we get into the bind of saying that anorexia is due to too much or too little dopamine or serotonin. And we will never find out what makes for more or less of these chemicals floating around in our brains. So instead of minutely examining neural circuits or biochemistry let’s be psychologists and psychiatrists and examine the mind. If I read Kandel properly there is really no mind to deal with.

Of course there are changes on all levels due to experience but they are not necessarily causes; rather, they are accompaniments. They are responses, by and large, to experience. So what are those experiences? Look at migraine headaches. We have looked into this affliction and discovered that very early experience, anoxia at birth, is a major cause; the vascular system shuts down in an attempt to conserve oxygen. It is experience that counts here, and a specific kind of experience. If we examine the brain for 100 years we will come no closer to understanding migraine. Of course neural circuits change as most neuro-biologic functions change in reaction to trauma. This anoxic condition will certainly change the cortisol levels and the output of serotonin. But they are not causes? Does the function of the insula respond to severe input along with other limbic structures? Certainly. They are the result, not the cause of the symptom. Scientists removed from their feelings do not consider feelings in either causes or treatments. It is all cerebral, they assume. It is very much like assuming that those low in dopamine will not have a exaggerated reaction to coffee while those already agitated will have a greater reaction to coffee.

Kandel maintains that psychotherapy is a “biological treatment. A brain therapy”. And therefore there is no real place for psychotherapy. And then he goes on, “Any discussion of the biologic basis of psychiatric disorders must include genetics.” Not epigenetics where all the late research points, but inheritance. Again no place for life experience. It is either inherited or the problem is in the brain. He says it: Individual biology and genetics” make up the contribution to such things as depression. That is why it is a small step to operating on the brain to try to change depression. Again, when we get on the wrong train every stop we make is wrong. Let’s get on the right one.


  1. Terrible!
    Now Kandel is "credibe" and "authority" in these fields because he got Nobel Prize. Well, human race made mistakes, and from one mistake get into another.
    We should trust Art and our guts and instinct and intuition. In Philosophy intuition has the biggest value in knowing and finding. I have hunch and feeling and intuition that Art is intuitive person on the right track. And I know it from my personal experience of his intuitive discovery-primal pain and how to deal with it.

    Art, thanks a lot,


  2. Hi ,

    Do these commentators ever get challenged by this 'cause seeking' view? Directly.

    Do you send them transcripts of these posts ?

    Paul G.

    1. Hi Art,

      I might just take you up on that. . . might. . . but like you I have better things to do with my limited time and energy than shout at deaf ears.

      I'm much more interested in conserving my energy for something lasting, like a charity and / or 'not for profit' to spread Primal abroad.

      Paul G.

  3. In my mind the meaning of "mind" is the brain changing (subtly but sometimes significantly) because of quantum probabilistic intrinsic patterning potentials (QPPP) and PP put in place by Darwinian selection pressures (not by me distinguished among with conventional inEPTitude ;}) AND by (likewise on individuals impacting or individually interacted with) environmental factors "imprinted" epigenetically and thus passed on from or near ancestors AND by in our own lifetime "conditioned-in" challenges AND by currently influential/interacted with environmental factors (including internal milleu factors).
    IOW, I see no need whatsoever to make 'an in principle' distinction between the mind and what is going on in 'brainspacetime'.

  4. I'm trying to get Richard, my brother, to draw up a cartoon for me: A picture of a scientists looking deeply into a powerful microscope, focused onto a tiny portion of the skin of an elephant (that is standing in the room); and the scientist says to a bystander [caption] "No, I'm sorry sir, but going by my analysis of the skin tissue and hair, I cannot yet conclude that there is in fact an elephant in the room".

    This is what I see with scientists who look at nothing but brain scans, and what is clinically quantifiable in general. They sometimes become blind to what should be obvious, because it's outside the scope of their measuring equipment which their mindsets have "devolved" into.

    Neurologists (some, at least) are playing dumb and blind to the obvious variable that is information (the psychological component) within the brain, as though it doesn't even exist when, patently, it does.

    I can't remember if I've linked this before, but the included link is my way saying the same basic thing as you, Art.

    Just because you can't (yet) clinically measure a given variable, that does not mean it does not exist. And to think and act as though it does not exist, when it so obviously does or could, can only be interpreted as 1st order stupidity.

  5. We know now that knowledge around psychiatric and psychological issues more serves to be a symptom of defense then to reveal the contents of what it defends. This phenomenon dependence on a training of intellectual limitations... intellectual sentences... an academic end station without further possible opportunities to display their own content... an end station like a filled storage room... a task for an professional chair... a store as has no room for other questions then what honor is its own professional task... and offended when the task as professor is no longer sufficient as a defense against what science presents... and we have a "meltdown"!

    This phenomenon is of a content to be the subject of a primal therapeutic process but when the offer can't be taken for the science it contains... there are no other than a legal process to considering as the consequences for suffering are a matter of life and death... if not the primal therapeutic process can see the light of the day!

    It does not matter if we know or not... if we are aware or not ... what is happening at our schools... we are strangling our kids... but we will let it happen because we do not see any sense in doing something to protecting them.

    In the name of what children wish for... I want to say... please try with a legal process... then we have in all cases tried!?

    The cost here in Sweden can pay for itself if we can highlight the issue in a way that legitimizes the right to have the proceedings!

    1. Frank: Let it go. there will be no legal process which starts at $100.000 art

  6. It's interesting that this Scientific determinism is almost religious in it's authoritarian dogma. The individual and his or her early experiences do not count. So much of this is to do with fear. I had a dream about my Mother's hands the other night. She had huge hands in the dream. When I was talking to my wife about this strange dream I suddenly felt this rush of terror as I said "They would have been very big when I was very small". Small Boy thinking his Mother would kill him. So many of these scientists run from early fear and hide behind the "certainty" of Science. However will we ever stop learning about Science and gaining more knowledge. The Royal Society in the UK held on stubbornly to the Newtonian theory of the Planets even in the face of early work by Einstein. It was only when he proved that light could bend following observation of an eclipse that they relinquished these previous beliefs. Carrying on with the Planet metaphor I gather that astronomers know that there are Planets circling distant Suns not because they can see the Planets but because of the fluctuation of the amount of light the Sun throws towards us as the Planet passes between it's Sun and the Earth. No-one really counters this theory but a certain amount of guess work, intuition and imagination was needed to find those planets. Einstein was a genius because he had imagination and could see beyond the ordinary to understand the extraordinary. In the same way Art you had to look beyond the tried and tested to understand those first Primal Screams you heard. To understand trauma is to understand the individual and enable the individual to understand that trauma and feel it. To do so limits the power of the powerful who like to control the masses.

    Fiddling around inside someone's Brain to fix depression etc is the ultimate power kick and ultimate betrayal of the person suffering. Terror wins out in the end.

    1. Hi,

      we're living in our defenses, on alert, in the ramparts of our minds and not relaxing and enjoying emotional life in the 'keep' where who we really are resides.

      Paul G.

  7. I listening to the words that condemn my pursuit of something uncertain! Science is much more interesting than trying to change something you do not know how it will end! But ... but ... but all these children who suffer and are relegated to suffering without anyone cares for what needs to be done for them... "it rests a curse over human inability"!

    One could wish a preacher for science for those who would like to hear... hear what need to be done for their suffering... a meaning they impossible can hear... but once there know... feel there is nothing to lose... an equation to solve... containing human love!

    It echoes an outcry for smothered science of human suffering... why cognitive methods is so dominant... they claim "love" for their task as nothing else does than buffers suffering!


  8. Hi Frank,

    -"trying to change something you do not know how it will end" !

    In the past I launched myself recklessly and dauntlessly into activities which were non-essentially adversarial, ie: they didn't need to happen. Hindsight is a wonderful thing etc etc.

    That's the problem in the legal system. Is that it is an act out of adversity on the stage of the 3rd line, (where anything can mean anything in defence or prosecution of your act out). We are advertising who we are to others (for a bit of 'care', to satisfy our need) in court, to win our attack on those we perceive are preventing us from getting our needs met. The courts are an advert for conflict and mostly attract those who are compelled to seek conflict.

    In conflict resolution (on the other hand), mediation is the goal and also the method for getting your ball into it too.
    In court you may win a conflict (50% chance); you may even assemble an 'advertising campaign' but you won't necessarily get your original ball into your original goal.

    Frank, assuming that Primal is your goal, what is your ball ?

    Paul G.


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.