On the neurobiological redefinition of psychiatric symptoms: elimination, reduction, or what?

Abstract

Because biologization of psychiatric constructs does not involve derivation of laws, or reduce the number of entities involved, the traditional term of ‘reduction’ should be replaced. This paper describes biologization in terms of redefinition, which involves changing the definition of terms sharing the same extension. Redefinition obtains through triangulation and calibration, that is, respectively, detection of an object from two different spots, and tweaking parameters of detection in order to optimize the picture. The unity of the different views of the same object does not occur through derivation from one of them, as reduction suggests, nor does it obtain through mechanistic unity or the goal of explaining one mechanism, as the phrase ‘mosaic unity’ suggests. Instead, it depends on finding a specific angle of observation, from which linguistic consistency matches sound localization in the brain, so that all observations make sense together, just as an anamorphic picture makes clear sense only when observed from the right spot.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Thanks to an anonymous referee for the argument and example.

  2. 2.

    This account relies on a very clear, albeit partisan, historical presentation in Berridge (2004).

Abbreviations

AMG:

Amygdala

DA:

Dopamine

NAc:

Nucleus accumbens

VTA:

Ventral tegmental area

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Acknowledgements

Team 4 of Unit 930 (Imagery and the Brain) of the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) welcomed me and integrated my own work into theirs. Thanks in particular to Samuel Leman, Catherine Belzung, Wissam El Hage and Vincent Camus. The University of Tours provided for a sabbatical leave that helped a great deal in writing this paper. The Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh invited me to present a draft at the ‘Mind–Brain Dualism in Psychiatry’ Conference. Serife Tekin and Kathryn Tabb created the friendly environment needed for the ideas presented here to mature. Participants provided benevolent and useful feedback. Ken Schaffner challenged an earlier draft of the paper, which helped improve it. Katie discussed the final written version. This article is dedicated to Peter Machamer, in regret for a second missed opportunity (the third shall be the right one).

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Correspondence to Maël Lemoine.

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Lemoine, M. On the neurobiological redefinition of psychiatric symptoms: elimination, reduction, or what?. Synthese 196, 2117–2133 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-016-1270-2

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Keywords

  • Reduction
  • Elimination
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry
  • Mosaic unity