Saturday, December 6, 2008

Better Life Through Chemistry?

A current article on MSN written by Rich Maloof poses the question if chocolate or good deeds, either of which lead to a good feeling, are processed differently by the mind or does it make a difference chemically? If there is no difference chemically, then is morality somehow influenced by the resultant chemical reaction in the brain?

It is a very good question, but it points out more about what we do not know about the chemical nature of the brain than what we can pretend to know about the nature of existence and morality or theology. The act of human thought or consciousness confounds us with its seeming simplicity yet profound nature.

Those of us who are involved with mental health issues with family members or loved ones cry out for understanding of the processes that effect mental wellness. We study neurotransmitters and genetics trying to find answers that will bring relief to those who suffer from abnormalities of thought or mood processes. Biology and Chemistry have given us such wonderful scientific models of things like the glucose energy process and the effects of dietary and exercise regimens that can be used to control the effects of unregulated blood glucose levels brought on by the various forms of diabetes. Unlike the blood transport system, the neurotransmitter and mental functions are far less easy to define in their exact chemical nature. Much is known about the areas of the brain that control various functions such as vision and speech, but mental functions and how they affect behavior still pose difficult research problems due to the physical nature of the operations themselves.

If we were to look at the brain as a chemical processor, which it most certainly is, we could simply ask science to continue to further refine and understand the chemical processes and theoretically end up with a model that would explain everything that we want to understand. That however, ends up with a rather "simplistic" reduction of life as a series of chemical processes. Unlike the blood sugar model, there are many times more neurotransmitters and receptors to categorize and explain and that does not begin to account for variations in message transmissions that are encoded in languages that are learned.

For now it might be easier to hope for some explanation of the gross malfunctions of mental disease and hope for better therapies. If chocolate and good deeds lead to a better feeling of wellness, perhaps we can simply be comforted with that thought. The reason why that is does not need immediate attention. Some things my be better left as accepted and wait for an explanation later.

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