Healing the Sick Person: an Existential Approach to the Art and Science of Psychiatry: The Person as Matter

We should perhaps at this point briefly review what science tells us about the physical dimension of the psychophysiological unity which we are. We can speak of ourselves as being essentially matter undergoing the four interactions of nature which are weak and strong intranuclear, gravitational and electromagnetic forces within relative space-time frames of reference.

From this basis, the Carbon atom is possible. Because of the Carbon atom, biochemistry is possible and hence biology. Within the basic structure of the universe lies the possibility of evolution and hence ourselves. Wether this is interpreted to mean that life is a chance occurance, or the converse, that there is a meaning, destination which was set at the beginning of time, it remains a valid fact that the structure of Carbon makes possible the process by which increasingly complex molecules combined in a primordial soup covering the earth and formed the first cells.

The double-helix DNA structure makes possible the production of cellular proteins in addition to its own self-replication. Cells, complex collections of biochemical reactions, reproduce as long as they can incorporate new material within themselves and overcome destructive elements. With increasing specialization of cell function , increasingly sophisticated organisms were possible and we ourselves emerged.

This diagram describing some of what is known of the physiology of inter-neuronal communication, illustrates the complexity that has been achieved in the evolutionary process.

We can imagine one-celled creatures meeting and avoiding physical elements in the environment by undergoing membrane and intracelluar changes on contact. Just as the single cell “feels” its surroundings, we “feel” our’s, though with infinitely more sophisticated and specialized means. We are able to react to a greater range of stimuli and with a greater repertoire of behaviour.

Looking at behaviour patterns, we note greater malleability as we progress through the evolutionary hierarchy. Fish, for example, are able to move in unison probably because they perceive and react to the same stimulus in the exact same manner. Anything more than the most basic kind of learning in these schools would be disasterous for the group as each fish would go its own way based on its own experience. With us it is our families, our culture which directs what is to be perceived and how we are to react. Our perceptions and behaviours are malleable and must be learned. Because of this, we are more adaptable an more in need of one another than other animals. Here we see again the psychophysiological unity of the person: culture is possible because of biology and biology is possible because of culture.

The experience of this paper, for example, would appear to include the paper and an infinitely complex array of neurological events. All these elements are inherent in the experience which constitutes a unity.

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