The 21st century is frequently experiencing intellectual challenges to several established theories in science. Lately, seasoned Australian psychiatrist Dr. Niall McLaren has put the practice of psychiatry to a hard challenge by showing its lack of any sound theory of mind. In his book Humanizing Madness (Future Psychiatry Press, Michigan, 2007), Dr. McLaren criticizes the arbitrariness of psychiatrc treatments based on a crude reductionist view that fails to satisfy the criteria of scientific accuracy and exists more of a convention than a scientifically legitimate practice. He also attempts to fill the void of understanding that surrounds mental activity, its biologic overlap, and its relation to psychiatric problems, by proposing his biocognitive theory of mind.
The need for sound theoretical foundations in psychiatry has been around since the very start of psychiatric practice. The main problem has not only been the absence of a reliable model of how the mind works but also of a reification of personal beliefs that closed the doors of progress in psychiatry by authoritatively dictating whatever felt like intellectually (and personally) rewarding; a case of easing off at the expense of the self-correcting approach in science. Thus Watson’s behaviorist approach in explaining all human behavior is as immune to objective analysis as a zealot’s fideism. Dr. McLaren raises serious doubts about any/all hardwired demarcations of scientific concepts, illustrating through his autopsy of the psychiatric system with the lancet of logic.
Humanizing Madness covers more than one aspect of the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of psychiatry. It is a brief history of the evolution of psychiatry, a critique of the mainstream psychiatric practice and its social/philosophical implications, a critical assessment of the treatment approaches toward mental disorders, and also a thought-provoking analysis of the possibilities that lie in the way of mental health’s future as a genuine science. Dr. McLaren’s genius shows in his out-of-the box approach to redefine scientific concepts more flexibly without compromising major scientific paradigms, rules of logic, and common sense all at once. As he proceeds with his analysis of mental theories, some of the presumably well-defined concepts like consciousness, self, and (above all) mind appear to be no more than loosely nucleated layers around a mere void.
Dr. McLaren’s writing is clear, nearly free of jargon, and easy-to-understand. Nevertheless, Humanizing Madness is not likely to amuse the lay reader. It is a work of scholarly caliber, particularly focused on psychiatry and befitting the reading interest of those interested in psychiatry in particular and in the philosophy of science at large.