The mind controls the body, not the other way around.

Today I received an email from a reader simply titled “Brain Scans”. Like so many readers before them, they sought to prove that our brain is an organ which, like other bodily organs, gets sick. But unlike other organs, when the brain gets sick it can lead to as many as 450 ‘involuntary’ mental disorders. Here are the images they sent me:

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My belief has always been that the mind causes a shift in the brain’s chemistry, not the other way around. The habitual way we think, and our perspective on the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ that happen to us, result in observably different physical states. We mistakenly think that the physical shift comes first, but science can come to no such conclusion. Fortunately science often lives up to its claim of objectivity, and a 5 minute Google search was all I needed to come up with this:

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We are in control of our own body. How we feel, and what we do with ourselves, is completely up to us. Change will not come until we accept this truth.

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  • Reply Jeff Kelly March 6, 2015 at 11:59 PM

    Excellent point. Excellent!

  • Reply Diane March 7, 2015 at 12:12 AM

    Well stated, thank you

  • Reply Susan Lea Rudd March 7, 2015 at 2:26 PM

    Still believe that just because you say it, its true, don’t you?. From your posts, you are a perfect example of a deluded mind.

    • Reply Toma March 7, 2015 at 2:29 PM

      It’s not true because I say it. I say it, because it’s true. But hey, if I am delusional, I can always blame uncontrollable brain chemistry.

      • Reply Jjjjjjj June 4, 2015 at 6:54 PM

        Well blame it then you express all signs of narcosistic personality disorder

  • Reply Arby March 7, 2015 at 9:54 PM

    Glad to see you back at it!

    You may like this physician’s perspective.

    I’m not opposed to his take but I generally lean toward the following as the explanation for the majority of mental health issues.

  • Reply Nick March 12, 2015 at 7:34 AM

    Good article, as always.
    One thing I’d like to comment on regarding the first slide show (I like how your website has been upgraded, by the way) is that the Alzheimer’s example is totally out of place in the set. The other examples, generally regarded as “mental disorders” (OCD, depression, PTSD, etc.) reflect changes that are still within the spectrum of normal in the human population; ie, there is no identifiable pathological change in those brains. That is to say, if one were to examine their brains blindly, one would never be able to determine that that individual suffered from “OCD” or “depression.” The same is not true for Alzheimer’s.
    Whoever put those images together is, knowingly or unknowingly, setting up a false equivalency in an attempt to give his argument legitimacy, and I just wanted to point that out.

  • Reply Toma March 16, 2015 at 7:08 PM

    “Scientists can now tell if you’re in love by scanning your brain”

  • Reply Brian March 30, 2015 at 1:54 AM

    I’ve been perusing your blog and am consistently astounded by the astonishing amount of ignorance you openly display. Nowhere in any of your not-even-pseudoscientific rambling do you provide any evidence to substantiate your claims. You just say “I believe this” simply because you believe it. No actual consideration is given to the data, nor do you give any indication that you’ve even looked at any substantial amount of the literature on the topics you so pontifically address.

    Mental disorders are caused by the people who have them? Does this apply to people with schizophrenia? Bipolar disorder? Have you ever known a severely mentally ill person? How exactly does one give themselves hallucinations?

    In regards to this post, you give no reason to believe that the question of the mind controlling the body or vice versa is a black and white issue (i.e. either the mind controls the brain or the brain controls the mind.) Apparently, you’ve never considered the possibility that it’s a two way street. Your brain is an organ and just like other organs in your body, you can affect them, but they can also affect you. You can make your heart healthier by exercise and right eating, but your heart can have problems through no fault of your own if you have a genetically inherited heart condition or disease. On the other hand, if you eat a lot of junk and never exercise, you can create the problems yourself. You can have a very hard time managing your weight if you have an underactive thyroid.

    The same applies to your brain. If something is out of whack, it’s going to affect your thinking, moods, etc. Did you know that if a brain tumor applies pressure to just the right spot on the brain, it can cause formerly peaceful and subdued people to become very aggressive and violent? There are a whole host of factors to be taken into consideration in these matters, and you have demonstrated your complete ignorance of them multiple times over.

    I see elsewhere you talk about being mad at the new atheists, but you know what? It’s anti-intellectual religious blowhards who spout nonsense about matters in which they have absolutely no authority who have created the new atheists. Do us all a favor, get over your messiah complex and quit pretending to be some kind of spiritual guru. You’re making the anti-theists case for them.

    • Reply Toma March 30, 2015 at 10:15 AM

      Hi Brian. You’re very pompous in your writing, but that doesn’t make you wrong.

      If someone has a brain tumour, it is a clearly identifiable medical illness that will carry with it variable consequences. There is no comparison between that, and brain scans showing chemistry that science has itself discovered can be altered by thoughts and events, but with no identifiable, objective, provable, medical cause.

      When I was in uni, I knew a lot of people who did drugs. Some would do LSD and think they were ninjas. Was that not the body controlling the brain? Yes, and in the way you described. Doing certain material things can effect our mood, but they do not have absolute control. The mind does.

      I also knew several people who thought they wanted to experiment with drugs, and each time they did, while their friends were next to them dancing like crazy bastards, they themselves felt no high, only anxiety. While I didn’t conduct controlled experiments on them, I feel comfortable saying their mind, not being sincere about experimenting, would not allow their body to take over.

      I’ve written about the balance between the mind, body, and spirit in the past. We must take care of all three, as they are connected and can effect each other, but I believe the body to be the least powerful, and certainly the least enduring, of the three.

  • Reply Brian April 1, 2015 at 3:35 AM

    “If someone has a brain tumour, it is a clearly identifiable medical illness that will carry with it variable consequences. There is no comparison between that, and brain scans showing chemistry that science has itself discovered can be altered by thoughts and events, but with no identifiable, objective, provable, medical cause.”

    Yes, there is a comparison. The brain tumor causes changes in mood and temperament because it alters the physical structure of the brain. Other mental illnesses such as depression HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO CORRELATE TO PHYSICAL/CHEMICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN.

    Your distinction is completely arbitrary. The fact that certain mental activities such as prayer can be shown to have an effect on these processes is no more a refutation of that reality than the fact that exercise has an effect on your heart disproves the reality of genetic heart conditions. They both stimulate their target organs, but things can happen to those organs regardless of one’s active influence upon them.

    Have a look at some REAL science on the matter:

    You are talking to someone with a long family history of ADD, anxiety disorders and depression, all of which have skipped generations and affected individuals who grew up in households without the influence of other relatives similarly afflicted. Explain that. I have both suffered and observed it all my life, and your trivialization and denigration of myself and others like me as “selfish” is offensive, arrogant, ignorant, asinine and a million adjectives I don’t have the energy to muster. Me, pompous? Pot, meet kettle.

    In any case, the evidence on my side is overwhelming, whereas all you can provide is “I believe because… well, because I believe.” You offer no arguments, only assertions and anecdotes without any train of logic to back them up, all to support whatever half-baked spiritual philosophy you’ve developed, seemingly based on an outmoded Cartesian dualism. Might I recommend you do some reading on hylemorphism? It’s a much more cogent philosophy of mind which eliminates the need for the kind of condescending, self-righteous bile you spew. Of course, I’m sure that’s not your intent. But regardless of your presumably good intentions, all you manage to do is a) belittle and blame sick people for their illness, and b) give ammunition to the people who think religion/spirituality is anti-scientific and harmful.

    • Reply Nick April 6, 2015 at 3:59 AM

      Yes, brain tumors can cause alterations in mood and behavior – but guess what? There’s a cause for those changes: THE BRAIN TUMOR IMPINGING ON SURROUNDING AREAS OF NORMAL BRAIN.
      With “mental illnesses” like “depression” and “ADHD” there is absolutely no identifiable organic brain lesion – so while these “illnesses” may be associated with non-specific changes to the brain, there is absolutely no reason to think that those non-specific changes “cause” depression and not the other way around (and that constant depressive thinking is what is causing those changes.) CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION. And considering the amount of time and money that has been thrown into identifying the “pathophysiology” of “depression,” the lack of a discovery of a viable mechanism at this point is rather telling.
      Do you know how criteria for mental illnesses are created? A bunch of psychiatrists literally sit in a room every few years and vote based on what they think – it is totally arbitrary and there is little to no science behind it. This is in stark contrast to literally every other field of medicine. There is a reason why many consider psychiatry pseudoscience and a reason why there is a stigma against the field – that stigma is earned.
      I have no doubt that genetic and environmental factors may predispose certain individuals to negative modes of thinking. That does not mean that those individuals are medically “sick” in any way, shape or form – it just means they have negative characteristics to their personalities that they may have a harder time overcoming than the average person, and it seems to me that changing the way they’re thinking would be a first step in doing that.

      • Reply Brian April 9, 2015 at 7:19 AM

        Your perspective is so narrow it boggles the mind. I used the example of the tumor simply to provide a more tangible case to be considered. To think that there has to be some identifiable foreign physical interference to cause changes in brain chemistry and function is just plain illogical. Any number of other organs can have functional or chemical disorders without there being an identifiable outside influence, but I’d be willing to wager you wouldn’t say those conditions “don’t exist.” Hell, the tumor itself could be entirely genetic. And contrary to your assertion, there is plenty of reason to think that, in many cases, changes in the brain cause depression, but you would know that if you had done any serious amount of study on the matter.

        And on that note, I find it telling that both you and Toma seem to want to limit the conversation to depression. Are you prepared to make the same preposterous suggestions about conditions like schizophrenia or autism? Do people who suffer hallucinations and/or delusions just “think their way into it”? Does the individual with a paralyzing phobia have themselves to blame? The man who suffers so much anxiety that he can’t even step out of his house without having a panic attack?

        To deny the existence of mental illness is a denial of reality so severe that I dare say it almost borders on mental illness itself. And your use of misplaced jargon like “non-specific changes in the brain” in reference to depression (depression and other mental conditions have been linked to very specific changes and/or variations in brain structure) only serves to underscore your ignorance.

        As to your laughable simplification of the nature of the psychiatric enterprise, I implore you to read this simple article:

        As straw men go, yours is incredibly wispy.

        It’s painfully obvious that neither you or Toma have ever suffered a mental illness or even known anyone affected by one, and it’s equally obvious that neither of you are interested in learning anything about them. Far better to stay in denial and repeat your baseless pseudointellectual babble than risk shattering your self-serving, self-congratulatory ideologies. You would much rather listen to yourselves blather on about matters in which you have neither personal nor professional experience (and I have both) than listen to people who have dealt with it all of their lives. Shame on you both.

        • Reply Toma April 9, 2015 at 7:22 AM

          What’s hilarious to me is how Brian has no idea that Nick is an actual doctor with actual medical training.

          • Brian April 9, 2015 at 8:09 AM

            Assuming, as I will, that his field of study/expertise is completely unrelated, I fail to see how that has any bearing on the conversation.

          • Toma April 9, 2015 at 8:11 AM

            Maybe it doesn’t. But it serves to reduce your condescension.

        • Reply Nick April 9, 2015 at 8:27 AM

          I am currently a resident physician training in Pathology. Pathology is a medical specialty that deals with the definitive diagnosis of diseases through the microscopic and laboratory analysis of tissues and fluids. It is also the medical specialty that traditionally performs autopsies to determine cause of death. While I have not currently finished training in this field, I do have several years’ direct professional experience with the topics that we are now discussing. Though I am not a psychiatrist, I am familiar with the general “principles” of psychiatry, how it is practiced (at least in the United States), and the “theories” behind it through medical school.
          When I say that any changes that sufferers of “depression” might have in their brains are non-specific, I mean exactly that. I mean that there are no changes to the brain specific to the diagnosis of “depression” in the way that a sufferer of Alzheimer’s disease would have amyloid plaques and intracellular fibrillary tangles if you took a section of his brain, fixed it in formalin, cut a slice, stained it, then looked at it under a microscope.
          Someone can look at a person’s brain, examine it histologically, and say with reasonable certainty that that person had a stroke, or a brain tumor, or suffered from Parkinsonian symptoms. Find me any medical doctor who can do the same for depression or ADHD and I will admit I am totally wrong. Actually, find me any currently used medical or laboratory test for which a positive result is diagnostic for any “mental illness” and I will admit I am totally wrong.
          And while it’s certainly true that there are medical diseases for which the exact pathophysiology is not understood, even in those cases, there are almost certainly some kind of objective, if not quantifiable, signs, laboratory results, or biopsy findings which can support those diagnoses. That is, the disease is in some way reflected in some legitimate, organic/physical manifestations which, when taken together, are diagnostic of the disease. The same cannot be said about “mental illness.”
          No one is denying “mental illness” exists in the sense that no one is saying that people aren’t suffering. What we are challenging is the spurious, totally non-scientific foundations upon which psychiatry as it is currently practiced is based.
          Obviously, we’re each going to find literature that supports our own side. But while we’re at it, I implore you to read the following, written by a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine:


          Maybe it’ll help you understand why the article you linked to is BS. The fact that the article finds it necessary to wax on about the actual definition of “science” as part of its argument/defense of the field ought to be a red flag.
          And for the record, even though the specificity of PSA as a marker for screening prostate cancer may be questionable, what is not are the cancer cells that are clearly visible if you looked at the prostate of a person with prostate cancer under a microscope.

          • Brian April 14, 2015 at 5:04 AM

            “When I say that any changes that sufferers of “depression” might have in their brains are non-specific, I mean exactly that. I mean that there are no changes to the brain specific to the diagnosis of “depression””
            “Find me any medical doctor who can do the same for depression or ADHD and I will admit I am totally wrong. Actually, find me any currently used medical or laboratory test for which a positive result is diagnostic for any “mental illness” and I will admit I am totally wrong.”
            Before you even say it, yes, I realize these technologies are still in their infancy, but the point is that A LOT of progress is being made in these areas.
            “The same cannot be said about “mental illness.” No one is denying “mental illness” exists in the sense that no one is saying that people aren’t suffering. What we are challenging is the spurious, totally non-scientific foundations upon which psychiatry as it is currently practiced is based.”
            If this poorly defined “we” you speak of includes the author of this blog, then that is an outright lie. He denies that there ever could be a scientific basis for psychiatry because the mind trumps the body, period (an assertion which, you will note, bears a lack of scientific foundation at least a hundredfold [and that’s being generous] of that of psychiatry itself.)
            I will grant you that psychiatry is (currently) the least scientific field of medicine, though this ought to be expected when dealing with an element of human life that, by its very nature, cannot be reduced to the purely physical, but to suggest that psychiatrists as a whole (there are rotten apples in every crowd, of course) just throw out arbitrary diagnoses without the use of any rigorous diagnostic methodology is ignorant at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.
            The fact is that psychiatric medicine helps a lot of people. I have witnessed it firsthand, both with family and friends (and myself) as well as in my time working in a psychiatric hospital. Does the field have problems? Yes. Does it have a long way to go? Certainly. Should it be completely discredited and thrown out with the bathwater? Absolutely not. Yet that is exactly what Mr. Toma suggests. All the schizophrenic, bipolar, autistic, etc. individuals in the world should just quit being babies and think themselves back into psychological balance. It’s ignorant. Full stop.

            P.S. to Toma. I had a good chuckle at your remark about my being condescending. Your penchant for psychological projection never ceases to amuse.

          • Toma April 14, 2015 at 7:37 AM

            Haha. You could be right there Brian. Competitiveness aside, I really appreciate your contribution. You fit the true spirit of this site.

            It’s one thing to recognise common traits in people and to devise common ways to deal with them based on those traits. That is simply good psychology, and I respect its application. It’s completely something else to tell that group that because of those traits, which they CAN control, they should consider themselves ill, take medication indefinitely, and alleviate themselves of all personal responsibility for their own actions. They’re not sick or abnormal, as the definitions of both continue to be flexible. 100 years ago gays were sick and abnormal, yet today they are just different. But, 100 years ago a cancer was a cancer, same as it is today.

            You’re clearly into this on an intellectual level, so you may find a book called “Psychiatry. The Science of Lies.” to be of interest.

          • Nick April 14, 2015 at 10:06 AM

            I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway – those technologies are so early on in their “infancy” that they’re little more than speculation at this point, which is why no one is diagnosing depression by looking at astrocytes or hippocampus size or ADHD after an MRI scan, or even having serious discussions about doing such things in the anywhere near future.
            Granted, if they ever did pan out into specific diagnostic markers for their respective diseases, then you would be right – but as it stands, you still haven’t answered my challenge.
            Remember the whole serotonin-imbalance theory that was all the rage a little while ago? Depression is caused by an imbalance in serotonin, they said; people with depression have been shown to have lower levels of serotonin, etc, etc. And that may be true – but again, correlation does not imply causation. And as more research into the area has been done, it has become apparent that this explanation for depression is woefully inadequate, inadequate to the point of pseudoscience – and inadequate to the point that many psychiatrists are now doubling back, such as Dr. Ronald Pies, a prominent psychiatrist (just Google him) who has recently stated “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend- – never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” (According to Dr. Pies, you don’t actually need biological pathology to have an illness – which, by the way, is similar reasoning to the first article you linked me to in your previous post used.)
            “…to suggest that psychiatrists as a whole…just throw out arbitrary diagnoses without the use of any rigorous diagnostic methodology is ignorant at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.”
            I’m sorry, but this is quite literally, exactly what happens. Please read into the extensive controversy behind the creation of the most recent edition of the DSM (DSM5). There are legitimate reasons why even the NIMH withdrew its support from the latest edition, and why even Dr. Allen Frances, chairman of the DSM4, was vocal in his criticisms of it.
            For the third edition of the DSM, do you know how it was decided that five criteria/symptoms would be considered the minimum threshold for the diagnosis of depression? Here is a direct quote from the chairman of the committee of the DSM 3: “Because four just seemed like not enough. And six seemed like too much.”
            Again, that is a direct quote. I’m sorry, but that is absolutely not science by any definition of the term. It’s just not.
            Now, I will admit right now that just because a field isn’t based in science, doesn’t mean it’s not valid, or meaningful – and as I said already, it’s clear that people with mental illness are suffering, and they should get some kind of help.
            But fields that aren’t scientific should not masquerade as ones that are, and illnesses with no known biological origin should not be treated as if they have one, especially If you’re going to treat patients with agents that affect biology, i.e., psychiatric medications.
            How many children have gotten brain-altering medications for treatment of their “ADHD”? The idea that 10% of American children have a biological disease that has caused their behavior and that they therefore need medication to treat their “illness” is, quite frankly, ludicrous. And this is all made possible by the totally spurious, and yes, non-scientific diagnostic criteria upon which the diagnosis of the “disease” is based. Without legitimate criteria for diagnosis, you are suddenly able to pathologize that which is in the normal spectrum of human behavior. And it is continuing to happen; the next fad looks to be “slow cognitive tempo” (basically the opposite of ADHD) and if this magically becomes a “legitimate diagnosis” in the next edition of the DSM you can bet that it won’t be long before there are FDA approved drugs to “treat” this “illness.”
            How do you draw the line between someone with the medical illness of “depression” and between someone who has been extremely sad for the past year because his wife left him? Who are you, or anyone else, to say that his reaction to this life event is “normal” or “abnormal?” What if he’s like that for five years? Or ten? Where do you draw the line?
            No line can, in fact, be drawn, because biologically, there is no distinction. That doesn’t mean his suffering isn’t real – but it doesn’t mean the solution is medication.
            Finally, just because a treatment “works,” doesn’t mean it should be used. Lobotomy does, in fact, work to treat various psychiatric illness and has, in fact, been used in the past. That doesn’t make it right. Ecstasy would no doubt be helpful for a depressed person (at least temporarily). Extreme examples, to be sure, but when it comes down to it, the point I’ve been trying to make (and at least one of the points it seems to me that Toma has been trying to make) is that psychiatric illnesses are not biological in nature, and should not be treated as such.

  • Reply Chuck_BeWell April 21, 2015 at 8:13 PM

    Hi Toma, I have been reading through your website for a while now and found it very interesting. I do not consider myself an academic or intellectual person however I would consider myself strongly spiritual and aware of my mind, soul and body. I’ve been bumping into people who share the same kind of opinions you express on this website more and more often and I feel you and others who follow the same kind of formula are actually missing something in the spiritual aspect. Your self seems very concerned with issues regarding religion, sexuality and mental health. These happen to be extremely personal issues to anyone who holds an opinion on them and your attitude towards criticism or debate seems extremely passive aggressive. I think you’ll agree that people express themselves in different ways and sometimes are not the most articulate, if you had genuine goal of spiritual education it is your role to take responsibility for the reactions you have caused and engage with them as opposed to, with exceptional wit at times, rebut/disregard them for their thoughts and opinions, because after all thats all this is, a collection of opinions – including your own. Try and refrain from collecting a set of rules that excludes people for their and they will treat you with the same grace, after all if what you say is true the last thing people need if they consider themselves depressed is to be rejected by those around them, how then do you propose that they obtain a stronger spiritual state by purposefully trying to weaken the structures that they consider supportive. It is a very destructive pursuit and it comes across as quite predatory, it is not kind to pray on weakness. I am not discouraging you from having your opinion, I am just not sure I truly believe you, after all you are currently just a website, a brand, theres not actually much about who you really are exposed on here and I pray that you aren’t expecting that information to be made available with a purchase of your collected wisdom or a subscription to a self help service. If you are truly there tell us a little bit about more about yourself and what makes you happy and healthy.
    It’s very easy to pick on hot topics, it’s a lot harder to be truly honest – and honestly it’s precisely what others are doing when they’re expressing their opposing opinions towards you, just under a different brand. I hope you are well and that your mind can one day be free from whatever concerns you have with the subjects of religion, sexuality and mental health.

    Be Well,

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