Physicality

The traditional diagnostic system construes a person as a complex biological machine the controlling mechanisms of which are the neurochemical patterns of the brain. Information processing is seen as the central function of the brain, a conception that extends from neural transmissions to perceptions of the environment. This information is selected for its relevance to a given stimulus situation. Such selection is not always without error. The result of acting on mistaken perceptions is conduct that may violate social norms, leading to a psychiatric diagnosis.

Observing a person confounding imaginings, rememberings, and current perceptions, a clinician would invoke the diagnostic label "hallucinating schizophrenic.'' Or, observing a person confounding irrelevant sad feelings with nonpresent situations, the clinician might entertain the diagnosis "depression." In these instances, information appears to be scrambled, and there is a strong presumption that the brain, as the organ of information processing, is malfunctioning and the unwanted behaviors are thus believed to be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

Information, however, is not merely physical. To be sure, information can be reduced to a "signal" that can be described in the vocabulary of physics, but the signal never embodies meaning. In this sense, meaning is not physical but is constructed—the achievement of human beings who have acquired linguistic and epistemic skills. To sustain the premise that abnormal behavior is

Classifying Mental Disorders: Nontraditional Approaches the product of exclusively physical processes would be like saying that the science of acoustics can reveal to us the meanings carried by human speech. The concepts and theory of sound waves and temporal patterns can tell us about human speech in their own terms, and that is hardly trivial. But scientists who do such work make no claims that their instruments can tell us anything about the meanings of words and sentences, the logic of theory, or the motives of actors who try to communicate with one another. To extend physical science into realms of meanings and motives is to claim too much. It is to persevere in a metaphysical belief that the only reality is the reality of the physical world, a belief that ignores the arguments and demonstrations that realities are social constructions.

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