Fugitive Minds: On Madness, Sleep and other Twilight Afflictions by Antonia Melechi - review by Chandak Sengoopta

Chandak Sengoopta

Passions of the Mind

Fugitive Minds: On Madness, Sleep and other Twilight Afflictions


William Heinemann 348pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

ALL MENTAL DISORDERS, declared the nineteenth-century psychiatrist Wilhelm Griesinger, are actually disorders of the brain. Griesinger's materialist faith was stronger than his evidence, but today his faith seems to have been fully justified. Armed with potent new drugs, clinical psychiatrists can now offer reasonably good treatments for many mental disorders, and few psychologists would think of investigating the remaining mysteries of the mind with tools other than neuroscientific. This biological revolution has also had its casualties. A hundred years ago, the great psychologist William James could investigate mysticism and the 'varieties of religious experience' in purely mental and cultural terms. The experimental psychologist of our time, however, must proceed very differently. 'By stimulating parts of the temporal lobe [of the brain], one Canadian neuroscientist', remarks Antonio Melechi in this book, 'claims to have located the centre of the "God Experience".' The science of the mind is now a division of neurobiology.

This rampant biologism, Melechi suggests, has impoverished psychology. 'The maps that brain science continues to generate, the diagnoses that modern-day medicine and pathology arrive at, should not', he asserts, 'be allowed the last word on any mental state, mystical or otherwise.'

One of his chief objectives is to show us how

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