Neuro degenerative disorders were not always neuro degenerative disorders. Before the enlightenment and its emphasis on naturalism and empirical study, neuro degenerative disorders were spiritual disorders. These “spiritual disorders” were never naturalized, but were considered a distortion of the soul. The naturalized language of modern day psychology and neuroscience did not make its appearance until the 19th century. The disordered souls were ostracized by their respective communities. And when rare help was called for, it was the religious healer, the back alley mystic, that answered the call. The mystic may have had some balm or powder with its corresponding superstitions, but the primary method of cure was prayer or meditation, direct links to the soul.
Prayer, meditation, and an overall spiritual emphasis, are things modern medicine is slowly forgetting about. Our reductionist understanding of the mind is taking over. We have realized the power of direct intervention in the brain and with this we have reinvented “soul disorders” as neurological disorders; problems of the brain. People are no longer inflicted with despair; they just have major depressive disorder. People aren’t driven to great anxiety by past sins or moral infractions, they just have obsessive-compulsive disorder. A new paradigm has brought with it new words and new treatments, but the ailment is the same, and the new treatment’s do not target the soul directly, but the brain directly.
Parkinson’s disease, although recently naturalized, was around long before neuroscience was. Parkinson’s is understood as a loss of cells in the brain region called the substantia nigra that produce the chemical messenger dopamine. Dopamine plays a vital role in muscle movement and coordination. The loss of the dopamine producing cells in Parkinson’s causes its well known symptoms; the jerkiness, the shaking, the rigidity, and later cognitive decline.
Parkinson’s is a disease that the new paradigm cherishes. Its origins are fairly obvious, and are under little scientific dispute. Certain cells are lacking; this is something we can measure. The new paradigm holds Parkinson’s up as a model of what neuroscience is capable of. We can identify what’s wrong in the brain, theoretically go in, and fix it. But Parkinson’s leads us down a path we have already started on. Depression as a spiritual disorder is ignored. A bad mood as a spiritual funk is ignored. Every mental event is being fathered by the new paradigm and the spirit, the soul, which we cling to dearly, is taking a back seat. Is something wrong here? What should we think when a child is in a bad mood and the parents take him in for some anti-depressants? Have we lost touch with ourselves?
The new paradigm should be put on a pedestal and it should be a guiding force in our decisions. It works. Without the new paradigm people with Parkinson’s would still be getting help from healing balms and ritualistic chants. But we need to be aware of what the new paradigm is doing. We need to be on our toes. Neuroscience is progressing much faster than humanity’s intuition, and it seems to me that we do not know where we are headed with this technology. Where do you think we are headed? What do we make of the soul when all ailments are ailments of the brain? What do we make of the soul, period? It is the case that we still love and cherish our soul even though we ignore it.