A debate has been raging for some time now; recently it has been heating up. It’s a debate about the exploding field of neuroscience, and specifically about whether a greater understanding of the chemicals inside our brains will ever unlock the mysteries of the mind. A number of voices have entered the fray, but one response has caught our eye over here at the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center: this measured opinion piece by legendary New Yorker writer Adam Gopnick.
Gopnick gamely reviews several new books that have entered the arena, concluding something that some in the field of psychoanalysis consider self-evident: that neuroscience is still in its nascency, and has little to teach us about the complex emotional underpinnings that drive human behavior:
[N]euroscience can often answer the obvious questions but rarely the interesting ones. It can tell us how our minds are made to hear music, and how groups of notes provoke neural connections, but not why Mozart is more profound than Manilow.
The process of psychotherapy is concerned principally with the many nuances of personal history and symbolic meaning that color our experience as people. To be sure, these things must be located somewhere – there is no doubt that the brain houses the mind – but our crude fMRIs and imaging technologies can only tell us what we already know: that our brains are doing something.
Neurology is a promising field that augurs well for the science of the mind. But we aren’t remotely at the point where understanding biochemistry could supplant the far more complex enterprise of talk therapy. One day, the sciences of psychology and neuroscience will perhaps converge into a single whole that captures the fullness of human experience. Until then, your best bet for addressing emotional issues remains the quiet wonder process of psychoanalysis.