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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why Psychiatry Should Discard The Idea of Free Will

Steve Stankevicius
The Skeptical Shrink
Originally posted March 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Neuroscience has continued to pile on the evidence that our thoughts are entirely dependent on the physical processes of the brain, whilst evidence for ‘something else’ is entirely absent. Despite this, mind-body dualism has endured as the predominant view to this day and the belief in free will is playing a crucial role. Free will would only make sense if we invoke at least some magical aspect of the mind. It would only make sense if we relinquish the mind from the bonds of the physical laws of the universe. It would only make sense if we imagine the mind as somewhat irrespective of the brain.

It is not surprising then that psychiatry, a medicine of the mind, is not seen as ‘real medicine’. Only 4% of medical graduates in the US apply for psychiatry, and in the UK psychiatry has the least applicants per vacancy of any specialty, about one applicant per vacancy (compared with over nine per vacancy in surgery). Psychiatry is seen as practise of the dark arts, accompanied by mind reading, talking to the dead, and fortune telling. It seems psychiatry deals with metaphysics, yet science is not in the game of metaphysics.

If psychiatry is medicine of the mind, but our common beliefs about the mind are wrong, where does that leave the medicine? In my view, free will is forcing a gap in our picture between physical processes and the mind. This gap forms a trash can where we throw all cases of mental illness we don’t yet understand. Does it seem like a trash can? No, because we feel comfortable in thinking “the mind is mysterious, there’s free will involved”. But if we resign ourselves to accept a mind with free will - a mind that is free - we resign ourselves to a psychiatric specialty that does not attempt to fully understand the underpinnings of mental illness.

The blog post is here.