Final considerations

Neuroscience is starting to be viewed as a science with scopes beyond those of aiming simply to understand the brain. In fact, in 19Z8, Schmitt (29) was already pointing out that 'These advances [in neuroscience] are valuable and meaningful for a significant attempt to understand the most complex known mechanism, the human brain, and to achieve the highest ultimate aim, a comprehension of human selfhood and psyche'. A recent conference on 'Neuroscience and the Human Spirit' in Washington (sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and held in Washington, DC, September 1998) and another on 'Cognitive Neuroscience and Divine Action' (sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and held in Paserbiec, Poland, June 1998) are good examples for how knowledge from neuroscience is increasingly involved in providing a new perspective on human nature. In an editorial comment in Nature Neuroscience entitled 'Does neuroscience threaten human values?' (30> the perspective of neuroscience being a challenge to the free will and 'a new ammunition for a materialist account of human nature and thus as an attack on traditional belief systems' was put into critical perspective.

Neuroscientists in general do not like to discuss matters of religion or morality, but certainly neuroscience provides a new perspective which embraces both brain and mind and broadens the our understanding of human nature. Implications of such a new perspective will necessarily include matters of moral values.

This new perspective in which brain and mind are viewed within the framework of identity has consequences for all fields of knowledge, mainly biology and medicine and therefore also for psychiatry. Kandel(l9) has recently pointed out that not only do psycho- and neuropharmacological drugs alter mind processes by changing the brain machinery but also:

We no longer think that only certain diseases, the organic diseases, affect mentation through biological changes in the brain and that others, the functional diseases do not. The basis for the new intellectual framework for psychiatry is that all mental processes are biological and therefore any alteration in those processes is necessarily organic.

As a consequence Kandel(19) points out that:

When a therapist speaks to a patient and the patient listens, the therapist is not only making eye contact and voice contact, but the action of neuronal machinery in the therapist's brain is having an indirect and, one hopes, long-lasting effect on the neuronal machinery in the patient's brain; and quite likely, vice versa. Insofar as our words produce changes in our patient's mind, it is likely that these psychotherapeutic interventions produce changes in the patient's brain. From this perspective, the biological and sociopsychological approaches are joined.

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