It must be emphasized that when an ordinary person talks about mind, he is in reality talking about the mind, not the brain. This clarity of thinking gets lost the moment we enter the scientific community and their research. For all practical purposes of their research, brain is the mind. Often they use the two words interchangeably. Science loves simplified statements that come after data grinding and number crunching. You talk about love, sex, depression, stress – or anything else for that matter – and researchers get ready with instruments to isolate some electrical signal or biochemical reaction for correlation. Once that correlation is achieved the experience becomes secondary and the chemical secretion or brain signal becomes primary.
Take for example, depression; for long it has been linked to the deficiency of two vital neurotransmitters called serotonin and dopamine. The shortage of these two chemicals goes hand in hand with depression. Antidepressants are supposed to rectify this imbalance. It is assumed that once the imbalance is corrected, the depression will disappear. People looking for genetic cause find that the brains of depressed people aren’t different from the brains of undepressed people. Their studies also indicate that the genes responsible for the secretion and regulation of neurotransmitters are the same in depressed people as they are in undepressed people.
Then there are studies to indicate that for up to 50 percent of people, the standard antidepressants offer no improvement. Other studies reveal that the placebo effect is just as effective as these medications.
All this information is fine and there is a shortage of some chemicals in the body when a person is in depression. The problem comes when it is proposed that this deficiency is the cause of depression. This line of thinking leads to antidepressants which are supposed to restore the balance. This whole line of reasoning emerges due to the underlying assumption that the brain is somehow an isolated and independent entity and operates on its own. What is missing here is the mind and its experiences. This is the basic problem with today’s research: it equats the brain with the mind.
We just can’t ignore the fact that our mind is a rich, alive and constantly changing reality inside us, so what if there is no meat or flesh in the body with the label “mind.” The true nature of mind is known to the meditators and spiritual beings for ages. Turning a blind eye towards this rich knowledge is everything but wisdom and reinventing the wheel which is already distorted. The brain is at best a lump of meat with proteins, sugar and water in it. The brain along with the billions of neurons is a vehicle for the mind and it does what the mind wants. Thinking that the brain is mind is a drastic mistake.
There are numerous experiences that can precipitate the condition of depression and when the situation improves the depression disappears. We don’t need research to tell that there are numerous conditions that can invite depression: grief, physical illness, an accident or sudden shock, severe insecurity, low self esteem, harmful beliefs leading to guilt or shame, living in the company of depressed people, and so on.
The mind is faced with the complex experiences in life, and when overwhelmed by negative experiences it may get buried under depression. If you are suddenly told that you’ve just been fired, it’s not your brain that will make you depressed. It’s the sudden jolt of bad news that puts you into depression. People have different ways of handling such events; many would soon come out of the gloom and others may take much longer. It is pure common sense to say that people with low self-esteem and low confidence are more prone to depression, of course studies also corroborate it.
Depression or any other condition has another dimension, that of the responses and habits. We respond to situations of life by being depressed; once learned it may reinforce itself and turns into a habit. This is not different from the case of addictions; in both cases we are trapped and soon begin to respond by saying, “I can’t help it, it’s me, it’s my way.”
It is certainly true that the habitual responses form neural pathways that constantly reinforce the same depressed reaction. These are like ruts on the road in which a vehicle falls automatically. We can’t say that the road made these ruts. Likewise, it is not the brain that made the ruts, the mind did.
On the role of the antidepressants, millions of people can testify that antidepressants have relieved their suffering and severe depression requires medical attention. Of course, it is no use talking about the side effects of medications or drug tolerance, which causes a medicine to become less effective over time, because they are taken for granted (and also that you pay for it!). However, the numerous cases where antidepressants did not help, point to a wider picture that can’t be ignored. These contradictions arose because the role of the mind was ignored in the research.
Finally, it is unrealistic to believe that the world is going to abandon a belief system that puts materialism ahead of everything else. But discounting the mind while referring everything to the brain is a folly. It defies common sense experience that tells that antidepressants only relieve symptoms; in fact, they were never a cure.