brain, activity and experience
Tue, 8 Dec 1998 14:36:08 -0400

Jim Mancuso took on Tony Downing is a long (!) reply.

Although there is much with which I agree in Jim's posting, there
are some points that Jim makes with which I disagree.

Jim makes the following arguments about Tony's posting:

> If I have followed your description, I would say that the problem
>which would evolve from the situation, as you clearly indicate, is not
>from the physical condition, but from the effort to build a validatable
>construction -- using an existing construct system -- under input
>conditions are considerably it altered. The problem comes not from the
>physical condition, but from the effort to use an existing construct
>system to build a useful construction of the unusual inputs.

And, in acknowledging that brains sometimes "malfunction," Jim proceeds
to propose how one would talk about the _role_ of brain dysfunction in
the production of unwanted behavior. He writes:

>misfunctioning brain did not PRODUCE the unusual constructions. The
>misfunctioning brain messed up the inputs, and the person needed to come
>up with a set of constructions by which to "make sense" of the messed up
>inputs. You affirm this point when you allow that the person might
>adopt a neurological explanation that is less troublesome!!

Now, there's a problem here. Indeed, Jim is right: We cannot say that
the misfunctioning brain is the entity that produced the unusual
constructions. And Jim makes an interesting hypothesis about brain
misfunctioning: they produce "messed up inputs' which "THE PERSON" needs
to construe. Although it is interested to consider that malfunctioning
brains mess up inputs, Jim introduces a very troubling dichtomy between
"the brain/messed up inputs" on the one hand, and "THE PERSON" on the
other. Is not the process by which persons produce constructions of
inputs not as much a biological process as it is a psychological,
social or cultural one? To say that the brain does this (messes up
the inputs) and the person does that (construes them) runs the very
real danger of thinking of the person as a type of disembodied
Cartesian-like mind! There is simply no reason to assume that
malfunctioning brains do not mess with the construction process itself
as well as with the inputs to that construction process!

The trick is to break out of this mind/brain dochotomy. Can we come up
with a series of metaphors in which psychological functioning emerges
from (and thus has emergent processes) but is entirely embodied in
biological processes?

Addressing a different issue, Jim writes:

> Again, referring to your example, do you think it would be possible to
>have the "schizophrenic" develop suitable, acceptable constructions upon
>his/her being told that his/her unacceptable constructions derived from
>improper dopamine functioning? Think how effective that might be, if it
>were possible!! No more "psychotropic drugs, etc. And, how about
>depressives. Let's run an experiment. Tell them that their depression
>comes from blocked upper, metastasis of the lower renal channels of the
>left kidney. Would that be as effective of telling a Cargas syndrome
>person that his problems derive from some kind of messed up neurology?
>I doubt it. The depressive derives his troublesome constructions as a
>way of helping him/her to construe some kind of input.. What is the
>input that he/she is trying to construe???? Personal failure, according
>to a set of standards that his social surround has built into his
>personal construct system????? Perhaps the inputs derive from a change
>in potassium (or whatever) levels that he/she interprets as "being
>tired." "I always feel tired because I HAVE a depression!!!" (You see, I
>would not exclude anatomical/physiological considerations. But, from my
>perspective, those parameters did not CAUSE the depression.
>Experiencing depression is just that =96 EXPERIENCING DEPRESSION; that is
>CONSTRUING THE SELF AS DEPRESSED. Will drugs help? Perhaps for some
>people who EXPERIENCE DEPRESSION on account of altered inputs due to
>some kind of physical condition. But, does everyone who EXPERIENCES
>DEPRESSION use that construction to account for an altered biological

I think that there is a problem here. There are multiple levels
of "experiencing depression." Let me call the subjective experience
and reflective experience (not a precise distinction, I'm sure).
Jim defines experience as "reflective"--it involves a self-conscious
turning of one's attention to one's private and bodily states and
applying a conscious, even linguistically-mediated meaning to "account
for" and "explain" the inputs. And so if he'd like to say that there
are many ways of "explaining" or "construing" one's bodily state
as depression, fatigue, etc., he's certainly right. But it is also
meaningful to speak of subjective experience. I need not be able to
construct a conscious aware "that I am depressed" or "that I am tired"
to experiences a syndrome of actions or states. For example, I can
experience the bodily aspects of what we call "tired," "lack of
motivation," "lack of will," "feeling devalued" etc. without construing
reflectively that syndrome as "depression" "fatigue" or the light.
In short, there is subjective experience and reflections on that
experience. It is a mistake to say that the only type of experience is
reflective. Constructive processes figure prominently in both types
of experiences. Biological processes figure promnently in both
types of experiences as well. There can indeed be funky stuff going
on with my serotonin that contributes to my subjective and bodily
experience of what we call "feeling tired" or "lethargic" or
"unmotivated" without my ability to reflect upon those subjective

We need ways of embracing the mutuality of biogenetic, psychological,
and sociocultural processes without reducing human activity to
any of these systems or "levels."

Michael F. Mascolo

Department of Psychology
Merrimack College
North Andover, MA 01845