Proposes that mental illness is not caused by the chemical imbalances and other reasons put forward by modern medicine, but that these are themselves symptoms of a misalignment of some type between the spirit and the brain. Based on my personal understanding from things said by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regarding the mind, the soul and the body. I strongly encourage a reading of the Works of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for His own explanations and for further related material
These concepts are not original, they are drawn from the Writings and Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and are here to demonstrate the theory propounded below. Though ‘Abdu’l-Bahá may not be considered as authoritative to the scientist, His statements, thought through logically and reasonably, will be seen to be sensible, at least in the theory propounded below, and in other aspects.
First, to define the concept of 'spirit'. Once defined, then later statements should be viewed under this definition, not the common abstract and/or superstitious manners.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes things as sensible and non-sensible. In this respect, sensible is those things sensible to the five sense. Non-sensible are those things not sensible to the five senses. Non-sensible realities are perceived by their action in this world. So, for example, I think. Proof of that thought is the actions it produces, whether spoken, written or acted. The purpose of thought is result/action, and without result/action, thought becomes merely idle imagination.
It is these non-sensible things which fall under the category of spirit.
Life itself is a non-sensible reality. It cannot be touched by the five senses, though these same senses see the results of life. Life can therefore be taken to be in the category of spirit. Without spirit, a thing will die, for it becomes without life.
At the mineral degree, it is the spirit of existence or being. A thing that is dead cannot support life, yet this supposed dead earth supports a multitude of life-forms. In itself it is alive, in relation to the degrees above it it appears dead, for it lacks the degrees necessary for the expression of these higher degrees, even if forming their material base.
At the vegetable degree, it is the spirit of existence or being, plus the spirit of growth. The vegetable spirit is thus greater than the mineral spirit, encapsulating as it does the mineral, then with an extra degree of spirit.
At the animal degree, it is the spirit of existence or being, it is the spirit of growth, plus it is the spirit of movement. Movement requires the physical senses. The animal can thus be seen as superior to the mineral and the vegetable, as it encapsulates both, and as well has that extra degree of spirit.
At the human level, it is all the previous degrees of spirit, plus it is the spirit of the rational faculty. This faculty does not exist in the mineral, the vegetable not the animal degrees. It exists solely in the human degree. The human can thus be seen as superior to the mineral, vegetable and animal degrees, encapsulating as it does all these degrees, but having a degree of spirit higher again.
It is this which we regard as the spirit (or spiritual) in humankind.
This rational faculty consists of many facets. Thought is just one example. The spiritual qualities and attributes are likewise part of this rational faculty. So too is our power of discovery, and the processes of science. Though we may function through and via an animal body, the fact of our rational faculty proves us separate and different from the animal. Through the rational faculty, the human spirit discovers the hidden laws of nature, and turns them to his own benefit. This alone is proof of our superiority over nature, and further conclusive evidence that we are more and greater than our animal body, for the animal is bound unyieldingly by the laws of nature, unable to break free one iota. Without our rational faculty, we too would be bound in that unyielding vice. We are therefore, in our spiritual nature, not a part of nature.
It is this rational faculty, or at least a part of it, that is the subject of the science of psychiatry and psychology. It is thus a very small step to understand these sciences, and their resultant activities, to be a spiritual activity, and the trained practitioners of these fields to be the spiritual doctors of the species. The science is still young, and has yet to break through the barrier between materiality and spirituality, but already it deals wholly with that which is spiritual in the human race, even though regarding it in material terms.
This spiritual part of the human can be proved to not be part of the animal body, by the simple exercise of the surgeons knife. No matter where one cuts, no trace of it will be found for our five senses. The body can be mutilated and the means of expression to this plane lost, yet the few experiments done to date have shown that this rational capacity continues, for through modern techniques, brainwave patterns can be distinguished, and a degree of rational communication carried out. But kill the brain, and bye-bye rational capacity. The person is then regarded as dead, and artificial means must be used to give the remaining animal body the appearance of life. But as a human, they are dead. The attempt to keep the body alive is evidence of the sensible understanding of life, disregarding the non-sensible, one which regards brain activity as a material function, rather than a cooperative function between the animal body and the spirit, through the brain.
This demonstrates that this rational faculty, the spiritual part of a human, though not part of the body, yet communicates with it through the brain. In a manner that science will one day discover, this manner of connection will be discovered. But that for the future.
My argument is that the things that modern science, in the forms of psychiatry and psychology, treat as the causes of mental illness and nervous afflictions, are not themselves causes, but are symptoms; that through some misalignment of the spirit with its proper places in the brain, there is produced these visible and measurable effects, both material (as in chemicals etc.), and in actions and behaviours. Recall earlier, it was stated that the non-sensible could be detected and proven by its effects at the sensible level – actions, behaviours, attitudes, qualities and so on.
This does not decry in any way the current treatments available. Though treating only the symptoms, they aid many to live and lead a more normal life. However, they are not a lasting cure, as they do not treat the causes, and often reduce only the severity rather than affecting a complete reduction of symptoms. And this is understandable, if the issue is a misalignment of the spirit with the brain; no matter how much the symptoms are reduced, the cause is still in place, generating constantly further symptoms.
Differing mental illnesses, under this theory (and scientifically, it must at this time be regarded only as such till quantitative and qualitative research has been done), become logically merely the same issue, but with the misalignment to differing areas of connection with the brain. Finding and identifying those areas will be simple, if it has not been done already; no imagination is required to see how this could be done.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes the mind as both separate and identified with the spirit, and states:
“But the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit and is its essential quality, as the sun's rays are the essential necessity of the sun.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 208)
In another place He states in this regard:
“Like the animal, man possesses the faculties of the senses, is subject to heat, cold, hunger, thirst, etc.; unlike the animal, man has a rational soul, the human intelligence.
“This intelligence of man is the intermediary between his body and his spirit.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.96)
Viewed in these analogous terms, mental illness can be seen to be a lessening of the light, or a shining of this light slightly off-kilter. Obviously, light has symbolic reference to demonstrate the manner of interaction. Light has also been proven as able to carry data, which example also translates into this symbolic reference. Through this failure to connect exactly to the correct part of the brain, we obtain an altered output from the original impulse, in the same way as if a light fibre carrying information is misplaced to a lesser or greater degree, the transmission of data becomes flawed to a greater or lesser degree. These same analogous terms also demonstrate that the spirit is not a part of the body, but acts through the body via the agency of the brain.
Another thing stated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could also be seen to be part of this same theory. He said:
“Sometimes if the nervous system is paralyzed through fear, a spiritual remedy is necessary. Madness, incurable otherwise, can be cured through prayer. It often happens that sorrow makes one ill, this can be cured by spiritual means.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 65)
Just in regard to the concepts of worship and prayer, I would like to add this quote:
“...arts, sciences and all crafts are counted as worship. The man who makes a piece of note-paper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, is giving praise.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 79)
At this point, I have stated my theory to the best of my capacity, with the arguments needed to support it. If that theory is correct, that mental illness is the result of the misalignment of the spirit with the brain, then the science of psychiatry and psychology will have a great transformation in its way of thinking and perceiving. There are many unanswered questions. What spiritual means can be understood, learned and applied to help the person afflicted be fully cured? Even the terms 'spirit' and 'spiritual' will need to be scientifically determined, beyond the simplistic explanation given at the start of this document. In practical terms, what is meant by prayer beyond the perception of one talking to empty space? And more.
Then, as this infant science finds its feet, and grows in knowledge, wisdom and understanding, in the same way as the doctors of our material bodies grew in knowledge, wisdom and understanding, the people of the future will have doctors for almost every circumstance, both in their physical and their spiritual natures, their sensible and their non-sensible natures, and functioning in the elimination of causes, rather than the treatment of symptoms as is the case in much of current medical practice. And this is why I also say that psychologists and psychiatrists are the spiritual doctors of the human species.