Neuropsychiatry’s Black Box

Image courtesy of Flickr user AMagill

Image courtesy of Flickr user AMagill

From the Spectrum of Developmental Disabilities XXXI, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore

Think back to those math and science classes that asked you to prove that statement A is equal to statement B or to derive the second law of thermodynamics from the ideal gas law.  If you were a typical student, your approach was to work a few lines down from the starting argument and then to work a few lines up from what you were supposed to be proving or deriving.  At that point, most of us got lost and were sorely tempted to insert a black box in the middle and label it either ‘divine intervention’ or ‘100 monkeys with computers.’

Today, as I sat listening to psychiatrists and neurodevelopmental pediatricians try to unravel the complexity of autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it occurred to me that neurology and psychiatry—each trying to explain the brain and/or mind—are a lot like those derivations.  On one side, psychiatry looks at mood and thought disorders that often have no signs of physical injury—like anxiety and depression—while neurology tackles brain disorders with somatic signs—like Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Both are trying to work through that black box of how the brain works—how we are “we”—but from different sides.

But that wall between mind and brain—or psychiatry and neurology—seems kind of arbitrary and limiting. I’m betting that the really interesting findings will be in that black box where psychiatry and neurology merge.

Maybe it’s time for psychiatry and neurology to tear down that wall.

—Kerri Wachter
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2 Comments

Filed under Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Pediatrics, Psychiatry

2 responses to “Neuropsychiatry’s Black Box

  1. Alicia

    Hey, 2 stories you need to check out in April issue of Wired on brain research. I’ve got it here when you’re back in, or pick it up. Exactly along your lines of thinking here.

  2. Kerri Wachter

    Are you talking about the brain mapping project at the Allen Institute? I read that article with relish and almost included it in the post but decided that brevity is the soul of wit.

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