Archive for the ‘The Mentally Challenged’ Category
Blogging my thoughts: Lighting up the Thoughts of the Mind by Peter Krey
Reading about optogenetics in the New York Science Times for today (April 22, 2014) I read an article entitled, “Brain Control in a Flash of Light” by James Gorman. Reading it I had to think of the lightning flash of that preceded Luther’s entry into the monastery. (The incident took place before the Reformation on July 2, 1505 near the village of Stotternheim in Germany.)
Dr. Karl Dreisseroth and his team devised a practical way to turn neurons in the brain on and off with light. Is it far-fetched to think that the lightning strike that came so close to Luther that it knocked him down, also affected Luther, in this case, turning his mind on to ultimate questions? I’ve read how Karl Marx thought that that lightning flash began a change of mind not only in Luther but in all of Europe and I have somehow felt myself, that Luther’s whole Reformation came out of one flash of insight, that was not only intellectual but went way down to the enlightenment of his affects as well.
Dreisseroth talks of people with psychoses having a different reality from our own (New York Science Times, page D4). He describes bipolar disorder as “’exuberance, charisma, love of life, and yet how destructive’; of depression, [so] ‘crushing – it can’t be reasoned with.’” (D4) But what about on the positive side, that is, a brain that reaches a new level of integration and insight through an encounter with God? A Psalm speaks of God in terms of “the Light in which we see light.” (Psalm 36:9) Often we are locked with our thinking in the pathological, while we remain oblivious to the wholesome, the wonderful level of a new maturity in life. St. Paul on the road to Damascus and perhaps Luther, on his way back from home to Erfurt, experienced something along these lines.
Now to delve more deeply into the article: various laboratories experimented with using light to control brain cells. Needed in that process are proteins they call “opsins.” “When light shines on an opsin, it absorbs a photon and changes.” (D4) Smuggling opsin genes into nerve cells caused no harm. (D5) They found that one particular opsin called channelrhodopsin-2 “could be used to turn on mammalian neurons with blue light.” (D5) Dreisseroth used microbial opsins to get those neurons to respond strongly to light. With that Dreisseroth’s team could switch the neurons on and off.
Then working in his laboratory they took a step beyond optogenetics making the whole brain transparent in a method they have called “Clarity.” It cannot be used for living brains because a chemical called hydrogel has to be infused into the brain tissue, “which leaves the brain not only transparent, but also still available for bio-chemical tests.” (D5)
Dreisseroth’s aim continues to be helping people with severe mental illness or brain diseases “and he recently proposed ways that optogenetics, Clarity, and other techniques may be turned to this aim.” D5) It turns out that optogenetics is a crucial tool in understanding brain functions. “Clarity, on the other hand, is an aid to anatomical studies, basic mapping of structure, which, he says, is as important to understand as activity.” (D5) When as a psychiatrist he administered electro convulsive therapy (electric shock therapy) a general seizure results, in which the whole brain is disrupted. “’Within a few minutes the whole person comes back. Where does it come back from? From the structure,’ he said.” (D5)
It is interesting the way Dreisseroth speaks of the whole person coming back but then uses the pronoun “it” for merely the structure of the brain. Perhaps the mind envelopes the whole person, while the brain is just the seat of that source.
When Dreisseroth speaks of encountering a whole different reality in a person experiencing a psychosis then he needs to be completely cognizant that we all agree on a conventional, everyday level of reality which we call normal. This kind of scientific work, however, shows how there are deeper realities that go far beyond the everyday level of reality we accept as normalcy.
When a St. Paul or Luther experience the source of light, then perhaps they were treated to a shock therapy for a more wholesome reality through and after which the reality of the presence of the Divine has to be proclaimed. This ultimate reality, filled with healing love and compassion can also fill a psychotic person with healing light.
“Clarity” now for a live brain may provide a physical analogy to enlightenment, say of the Buddha, or the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. The transfiguration of the person or mind, if “mind” is understood as enveloping the whole person and the whole person’s intellect and affects as well are taken to be in the mind. When that mind becomes transparent, then perhaps the source of light can shine through a person.
Recently I wrote about the light of the eyes, as it was understood in Biblical times. The light of the eyes, but really the light of the mind and all its wonderful functioning cannot hold a candle to “the Light in which we see light.” The whole verse from Psalm 36 also includes affects and more: “For with you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.” That living light is the source of our being (structure) and consciousness (functioning and activity).
In blogging my thoughts here, I go all the way into opsins, photons, optogenetics, and “Clarity,” because Luther said that we cannot go into the flesh deeply enough. I first interpreted his sense of the word “flesh” to mean that we cannot go into everything concerning what it means to be human being deeply enough. In the words of Cicero, “I am a human being and I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” But here I interpret “flesh” as delving into this completely physical and natural study of the brain as a foray into theology.
Now Dreisseroth maintains that one cannot reason with depression. (D5) Of course not. But we should not discount the talking cure, because insights enlighten the brain with optogenetic potential. And the encounter with the omniscient, compassionate, and wholly loving God, can bring a healthy person back from a “divine structure” into the wholeness of a new maturity, a fully functioning and fulfilling life. But God also has to encounter those like Dr. Dreisseroth, who go into a mind completely transparent or enlightened by the living Light of God to heal not only people with psychoses, but also as many of us who are walking around in an everyday reality unenlightened by the real presence of the One who “created the sun, moon, and the shining stars; for God commanded and these lights were created.” (Psalm 148:3 and 5)
 Check out Ira Steinman’s book Treating the Untreatable. I relate a story from it in my Sermon of Feb. 8, 2009 called, “Not just the Healthy, the sick are saved too.” Here of course, I take the neuroscientific approach of this article.
My Lecture for for Reformation Day 2008 at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg entitled “Luther’s In Depth Theology and Theological Therapy: (Using Self Psychology and a Little Jung)” has been published in that seminary’s journal, Seminary Ridge Review vol. 11 No. 1-2 (Autumn 2008-Spring 2009): 97-115.
I take a rather great risk by presenting Luther’s theology as in depth and I project that therapy can issue from it. In Luther’s day psychology and sociology had not yet separated from theology in an intellectual “division of labor.” We have always known the personal and psychological strength of Luther’s theology, but I go farther and try to work out an in depth personality theory and therapy from it. Instead of intra-psychic ego states like the super ego, ego, and id; I posit internal relational stances before God, others, oneself, and the world. I associated Luther’s continually placing opposites together with Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of opposites, which have to be transcended for growth. This theory also helped me analyze Luther’s episodes of spiritual conflict. I also correlate Self Psychology with Luther’s theology to bring out Luther’s depth dimension. Check out the rapturous ascent in faith and descent in love (falling in love). I would covet a critique of what I here distill out of Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian.”
My brother Philip also has a lecture in this issue and I recommend acquiring it. Write to
Seminary Ridge Review
Lutheran Theological Seminary
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Gettysburg, PA 17325-1795
Subscriptions are free. Extra copies cost $10 each plus postage and handling.
Vincent van Gogh also had to deal with episodes of Mental Distress.
In St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Coney Island, New York, we had a ministry to the homeless and mentally challenged for many years. South Beach Psychiatric Center from Statin Island rented our social hall and the rooms of our facility. My bible study in the church became a therapy session, where the suffering mentally challenged members would bring up their delusions and I would try to understand and be helpful to them in the really difficult situations they found themselves in. Many were beyond the “talking cure,” but they really felt whether or not you were empathic, even if they were in an episode. I had to be careful not to talk against medications, because there are certainly two sides to the issue involving their use and I could have easily caused a revolt against the regimen of their daily dose of psychotropic medications. I could not stop their smoking. They seemed to medicate themselves by puffing away and they would have smoked two at a time if they could have. There’s a contradiction there: they are all upset about being medicated and they are medicating themselves with cigarettes! The roughest part would be hospitalizing someone beginning to experience an episode of their mental distress. I was doing some pretty difficult ministry in Coney Island, but the ministry to the mentally challenged was by far the hardest of all. I know that I finally succeeded in getting an inner-city ministry conference in Manhattan to deal with the issue and sitting between two mentally challenged persons, who were telling their story to all the pastors, nearly gave me a mental breakdown. I couldn’t believe what they said! (They brought up topics that were way out of bounds and there was nothing I could do about it.) Still, what remains with me was their plea not to give the psychiatric community the last word over them. Why should the church shirk ministering to them? After all the Gospel story includes Jesus’ healing what they called the “demon possessed” in those days.
Here is a reaction to an article about this subject in Christianity and Crisis that I wrote back in the middle of 1992. Psychology can be separated from sociology and politics for academic purposes, but these forces are all involved in the injuring of the psyche of people, and our trying to ascribe all this injury to biological predispositions is not realisitic. It is wishful thinking that medication will be the solution to the mental distress and suffering of the many casualties produced by our society, with its violent, unwholesome conditions, and extremely destructive tensions. Read thoughts about the mentally challenged: