What is a myth? A myth is a traditional story consisting of events that are ostensibly historical, though often supernatural, explaining the origins of a cultural practice or natural phenomenon. The word “myth” is derived from the Greek word mythos (μῦθος), which simply means “story”. Mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. Myth can mean ‘sacred story’, ‘traditional narrative’ or ‘tale of the gods’. A myth can also be a story to explain why something exists. (From the Wikipedia article on Myth)
Myths exist in science as they do in other aspects of human culture. It may seem that science and mythical belief cannot co-exist. However, the beliefs in human ability and in understanding the nature of the real, physical world have brought unforeseen results. The pursuits of science that have made possible the journey to the moon and mechanical developments have also spawned the drug-culture. Slowly, but surely, human thinking has become more fixated on the physical. This has developed a culture of treating humans as nothing more than flesh, bones, and blood.
Can good health be achieved through medical drugs?
Good health is possible; perfect health is not. And yet, when we think of health, what are we thinking of? To many people, health has come to mean, the appearance of being in good health. It is overly focused on physical well-being, and that too, in how the body appears to others or in a mirror. There is hardly a focus on the inner functions of organs unless there is a troubling sign. Other important aspects of health such as thinking, feeling, speech, friendship, community, food, water, air, cleanliness, family, spirituality, morality etc. are disregarded as though those were of no consequence at all. If one were to consider all those things, one would find that health is far more comprehensive than just a good-looking body. A positive, continual, meaningful attention to self would seem necessary.
A lot of what we consider today as taking care of health is, compensating for the harms we have ourselves caused by polluting our environment, food, and bodies.
How the belief started and firmly took root, that drugs are the way to health is a mystery by itself. An overconfidence in science, excessive leaning toward the physical world, the desire to have easy and instant answers, and a fundamental misunderstanding of human beings and our world seem to have worked together to consolidate the medical myths. The resulting culture has firmly gripped the way people approach and understand health.
The incompetence of science in understanding mental health
The first mistake is to completely isolate the mind from the rest of the human being. Why think in such a way? It is a wrong start! However, since the present reality of the health of the mind is seen in such isolation, it is an existing fact of medical science. This fact is myth-based!
One can readily trace back this fascination with the mind-brain connection in a pseudo-scientific, discredited field of study like phrenology. If some ongoing faith in phrenology had not existed, then fields like neuroscience and psychiatry would not even have had an initiation. The fact that these fields burgeoned out of control and were subsequently hijacked by enormous pharmaceutical companies, goes to show that myths are very much a part of human existence. Where we do not have exact sciences or the possibility of a scientific inquiry, we must compensate through a belief in some myth. The fact of the matter is, science finds a limitation in regard to understanding the mind, thoughts, emotions, behavior and how these relate to intangible factors.
The deeper human beings look at the brain, even in isolation from the rest of the body, the less we seem to know. However, to make a connection with chemicals that need to be externally and artificially introduced to treat ideas, beliefs, and views is an imperfect connection. It will always remain an imperfect connection. It is an underestimation of human potential and complexity.
The culture based on ideas of survival, continuity, and certainty
All these – survival, continuity, and certainty – are ideas that science reaches for; religion often claims to have already reached those aspirations, or the impossibility of human success. When it disregards ethics and legitimate concerns over the health and life of other humans or animals, science can be as ruthless as the religions it accuses. By acceptance and promotion of the idea of evolution its adjoined philosophy of survival has also grown with it. By belief in experimentation and reproducing results, objectivity is encouraged to a level of cold stoicism. We do find certainty about many physical things, but to include living beings in the same category as thought of the inanimate elements of the periodic table, is a mistake of medical science.
The culture has developed as society embraced such philosophies at the level of its healthcare, its insurance businesses, its government, education, and also in its day-to-day interactions. Gradually it has come so far – especially in Western lands like the US – that many members of the culture find it impractical and difficult to see the flaws that have developed in their own ways of thinking. Would it be wise to discard all the human achievements through scientific, or even pseudo-scientific methods? Would it be wiser to fully embrace the teachings of ancient religions with the belief that they were right and perfect because they originated from a divine source?
Finding the balance between old and new ways of thinking
Where we find ourselves today is, in an almost unsustainable mixture of old and new ways of thinking. Basically, these are distinguished as ways of thinking advocated by science or by religion. Repeatedly, it has been the case that one has intervened in the realm of the other. Religion has made claims of absolute understanding which, science was later able to prove to be false. Science has made claims about matters it should not have commented on, and it has done irreversible harm to innocent individuals.
If it is possible to survive this time of frustration with failures of both science and religion, then there is the possibility of finding some balance. That would be a significant cultural achievement. However, it is often the case, that some faith is required by both science and religion to even find a listening ear. Demonstrable evidence of either is incomplete at present when it comes to suitably addressing the health of the human mind and body. There is the possibility of balance, at least on a personal level, if one can accept that human sciences and divine religion are not guarantors of human or mental health. They are rather guides and sources of information that are open to personal investigation.