Nothing humbles history’s great thinkers more quickly than reading their declarations on the causes of madness. Over the centuries, mental illness has been attributed to everything from a “badness of spirit” (Aristotle) and a “humoral imbalance” (Galen) to autoerotic fixation (Freud) and the weakness of the hierarchical state of the ego (Jung).
The arrival of biological psychiatry, in the past few decades, was expected to clarify matters, by detailing how abnormalities in the brain gave rise to all variety of mental distress. But that goal hasn’t been achieved — nor is it likely to be, in this lifetime.
Still, the futility of the effort promises to inspire a change in the culture of behavioral science in the coming decades. The way forward will require a closer collaboration between scientists and the individuals they’re trying to understand, a mutual endeavor based on a shared appreciation of where the science stands, and why it hasn’t progressed further. more