But more fundamentally, there is the question of the mind. What is the mind? The commonly held materialist position seems to be that the mind can be reduced to physical and chemical events happening in the brain. If you think something, feel something, intuit something, this is really a very complex set of ultimately physical occurrences happening in the brain. This idea is often some consolation to people with mental health issues, as it suggest that, for instance, your depression is down to a lack of serotonin and not to there being something fundamentally wrong with you as a person. It puts you in the same camp as the person with the broken leg. It is not that you are bad, weak, or a failure; it is just a chemical imbalance.
But what are the implications of such a view? What, for instance, about love? Is love similarly really a set of chemical reactions in your brain? Can such a fundamental human virtue be reduced to an (admittedly complex) array of neurological impulses? If it can, what does that mean about the value of love, even of life itself? This is something of a skeleton in the closet of mental health. If one were to be sold on the conventional materialist view of human life, of the mind, of the self, it seems to me not unlikely that one would be depressed. Or anxious. Or somehow less than happily human.
For where could there be meaning in one’s life? Meaning that could not be reduced to, even explained away by, a series of neuro-chemical interactions? Is that all that you are?
This is one of the reasons why I practice Chinese Medicine, because its view of the human being is not reductionist. To the question, what is a human being? – or, what am I? – it answers that it, or I, am something between heaven and earth, something which bridges the gap between heaven and earth. It answers in terms of soul and spirit, Qi and Blood, Yin and Yang. It answers, in fact, poetically and metaphorically. The trouble with materialism is that it has, by definition, no soul. It is soulless. In a culture dominated by such a philosophy, it is entirely unsurprising that there are lots of people with mental health problems; such problems are almost the healthy response to such a philosophy!
A Buddhist teacher once remarked that there are no psychological solutions to psychological problems, only spiritual ones. Which I take to mean, amongst other things, that we need, both individually and collectively, to respond to mental health issues with fundamental changes. It is not just a matter of taking a pill. It is not just a matter of the wrong kind of neurotransmitter. It is about how we think of life and what we consider it is to be a human being.