Notable Links and Miscellanea - Dec 31, 2023
Happy 2024! Thank you all for your readership and support. Here is a list of notable links and readings that caught my eye since the last installment, plus any news and announcements.
I recently highlighted a selection of posts from Psychiatry at the Margins on its first anniversary in November, which, for all intents and purposes, also serves as an end-of-year review. Readers may also have noted that the newsletter has a new custom domain now: https://www.psychiatrymargins.com
December 2023 issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology is out. A noteworthy thing in this issue is an article by Justin Garson, Madness and Idiocy: Reframing a Basic Problem of Philosophy of Psychiatry, which discusses the historical contrast between madness and idiocy, and Garson outlines how he thinks this is relevant to contemporary notions of mental illness. The article is accompanied by a series of commentaries (including one by yours truly, On the Importance of Conceptual Contrasts: Madness, Reason, and Mad Pride) and Garson’s response. More on this later.
- interviewed me for his Substack — you can check it out here:
I’m giving an online talk on Jan 17, 2024, titled “Beyond Biopsychosocial Psychiatry,” arranged by the Institute of Applied Psychology, Poland. For details and registration, see.
Nicole Rust for the Transmitter — Is the brain uncontrollable, like the weather?
- — Have we been doing neuroimaging wrong?
The 2023 book Free Agents: How Evolution Gave Us Free Will by the neuroscientist Kevin J. Mitchell is probably the best scientific discussion of free will and agency that I’ve read so far. It’s an excellent and persuasive book. I may write about Mitchell’s take on free will, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it. It so happens that Robert Sapolsky also published a book (Determined) on the same topic around the same time, but took a position nearly opposite to that of Mitchell’s. Mitchell has been writing a response to Sapolsky on his blog, see part 1 and part 2.
C. Thi Nguyen, Value Capture — “Value capture occurs when an agent’s values are rich and subtle; they enter a social environment that presents simplified — typically quantified — versions of those values; and those simplified articulations come to dominate their practical reasoning.”
“Daniel Williams argues that misinformation is often a symptom of a deeper public malaise — and that debunking and censorship won't be the magic bullet that we're hoping for.”
Song, et al. in Nature Reviews Neuroscience:
“There exists no simple one-to-one relationship between a structural MRI signal and the underlying ‘true’ brain structure. MRI signals reflect mixed contributions from various structural components within a voxel, and some of these components affect brain functions in markedly different ways. For example, an increase in a quantitative T1 MRI signal can result from decreased myelination or increased axon diameter (Fig. 1a), which affect signal conduction speed in opposite directions. The gap between the MRI signal and the underlying brain structure poses a considerable challenge to brain structure–behaviour mapping.”
Miriam Forbes, et al. — Reconstructing Psychopathology: A data-driven reorganization of the symptoms in DSM-5.
Inaugural editorial by Aidan Wright, the new editor-in-chief of the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.
“Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and International Classification of Disease (ICD) retain fieldwide importance in various ways, they no longer stimulate innovative or transformational psychopathology science. Instead, efforts to understand psychopathology as emerging from the interplay among basic domains of psychology, biology, and social context have captured the intellectual high ground and now serve as the guiding beacons for the field with innovative conceptualizations of mental disorder… Ideal submissions would involve research that is transdiagnostic, spans conceptual and methodological levels, is longitudinally informed, or directly tests the generalizability and applicability of our models in diverse samples. By prioritizing these areas at a premier journal in the field of psychopathology, I believe it will focus our field’s efforts on its most pressing questions and motivate researchers to think more ambitiously about how they can contribute to accelerate our knowledge in each of these areas.”
P vs NP — The Most Important Unsolved Problem in Computer Science. Scientific American
The problem-ladenness of theory — “We advance a problem-centric, or pragmatic, account by which theoretical virtues are heuristics we use to estimate the degree to which a theory increases the problem-solving efficacy of a field's body of knowledge.”
“One may be able to recognize good science as it happens, but significant science can only be viewed in the rearview mirror. To pretend otherwise distorts science. DNA restriction enzymes, once the province of obscure microbiological investigation, ultimately enabled the entire recombinant DNA revolution. Measurement of the ratios of heavy and light isotopes of oxygen, once a limited area of geochemistry, eventually allowed the interpretation of prior climate change. What is now promoted as high-impact science is usually a narrow extension of existing experimental designs in a program focused on a set of feasible goals. Fuzzy new directions that might fail, but could open up major new questions, are often dismissed as too speculative and considered low-impact.”
PNAS — “Dimensionality reduction optimizes for specific statistical features of the data and doesn’t always agree with the most intuitive explanation.”
@xphilosopher — see twitter thread — “For some thought experiments, there’s an ongoing philosophical debate between two positions, X and Y One striking trend in experimental philosophy research is that ordinary people often endorse a response of the form: In one sense, it’s X, but in another sense, it’s Y”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Electroconvulsive Therapy Accreditation Service (ECTAS) has published one of the largest and most complete ECT datasets in the world. Of those who received acute ECT, 68% were found to be ‘much improved’ or ‘very much improved’ following the treatment. Nine out of ten patients said their memory had improved or stayed the same following the therapy.
“This, to me, is clearly the top of the psychiatric license: to know how to integrate psychotherapy and medications in ways that enhance outcomes and to know which patients are most likely to benefit from combined treatment.” David Mintz in Psychiatric News.
- — Taylor Swift does not exist. This has to be one of the wildest things I’ve read recently (in a good way).