Are We Bags of Chemicals or More Than the Sum of our Parts?

It’s obvious to me that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts with the human brain or any “thought engine.” Take something as simple as the three body problem. With two masses (say the Earth and the Sun), only exerting gravitational forces on each other, the equations of motion are a simple calculation. Add one more body, say the moon, and the equations of motion are nearly impossibility to calculate. That’s only three bodies under the influence of one force, and it already breaks into a chaos system. In the case of the human brain, it would be glib to not say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Otherwise you could use F=ma to solve for what action I undertake next, or even what thought I have next. Now in the instance that one’s brain is abnormal, a new question arises. Is this abnormal brain a new sum of the same parts that make up normal brains, or is it the same sum with different parts than those found in normal brains?
Now drugs can only help with the latter, if you think about it. Medication only controls the level of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. SSRIs treat depression by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter thought to be responsible for pleasure. Adderall works by increasing the concentration of norepinephrine and dopamine in synapses. Anti-psych drugs work by decreasing dopamine’s ability to “dock” with neurons.
Basically, neurotransmitters are used for interneuronal communication. A high enough concentration of a given neurotransmitter outside of a certain neuron can cause it to fire a given message again encoded in neurotransmitter concentration to the next neuron. Now each neuron has a complex connection system to other neurons. Any given neuron can be connected to all or some of the other neurons in the brain. Incoming messages come to a neuron through axons, and outgoing messages travel from the neuron through dendrites to other neurons that are connected to that given neuron. The messages are transmitted by electro-chemical means but are encoded in the concentration of different neurotransmitters outside a given neuron. Now here the neurotransmitters are the parts and the brain is the whole. We can consider the neurons and other infrastructure parts as well, but we have no way to affect them medically except through altering the concentration of neurotransmitters to stimulate neuroplasticity. Aside from neuroplasticity, most experts hold that this infrastructure is fixed anyway. So let’s simplify out model and consider the neurotransmitters the building blocks here.
Now it would be fascinating to know if a given psychological disorder was due to the (1) the abnormal brain performing the same “summation” of neurotransmitters that would occur in a normal brain, but having abnormal levels or types of neurotransmitters being “summed over.” or (2) the abnormal brain having the same neurotransmitter level and types as a normal brain, but simply “summing” them up in a different way. I would argue that depression is a case of (1) and autism is a case of (2). Now this is not a scientifically sound argument, as neurobiology is not my field, but is still interesting none the less. The fact is, drugs are useful in treating depression but not autism. As I stated earlier, medication works principally by changing concentrations of neurotransmitters. Thus if it treats depression, depression is likely a case of (1). The fact that drugs are useless in treating autism points to it being a case of (2). I think autism is a good example of a brain that “sums” differently, and depression is a good example of a brain that just has different parts to sum over.
Either way it didn’t make my life more or less miserable. Arguably I don’t really have chemical depression, its just that my life is a depressing one. That is, a normal non-depressed rational person would just feel constant sadness living my life. I definitely do have autism though, no one ever let me forget that. The teachers were worse than the kids actually. Dimwitted disgruntled specters haunting every creative thought that ever ran through my head. So what if I don’t follow the instructions, I still know the answers. Maybe I should be teaching you, how high is your IQ? Yeah you can see why they didn’t like me. Add to that the inability to communicate properly that autism brings and some serious teacher bullying is coming your way. People with autism have the same emotions as any other person, we just feel them in different contexts than a normal person would. This often leads to not knowing whether an autistic individual is being sarcastic or not, whether they are joking or not, whether they are being hostile, etc. Every year, I was the only kid banned from the end of the year field trip. I wasn’t allowed to eat lunch with the other children. Higher end autism is mostly about misinterpretation, I had no idea what I was doing that was upsetting the teachers. The worst part of it is that the teachers knew I had autism and that I had no idea what I was doing that was wrong, and yet they were no less cruel. I’m not sure why I should be punished because you are too stupid to understand what I meant and misinterpreted me. But young Kyle didn’t know that he wasn’t to blame. For all he knew the teachers, kids, and even his parent were right that he was just a bad kid that should be constantly ashamed. The mathematical savantism that came from the autism just made things worse socially. People hated that I was more intelligent than them and understood me even less when I attempted to apply my gifts. Many autistic people are introverted, but not me. I was an extrovert who was forced to be shy. Every expression of affection I could think of only made people scared or angry. Every time I saw a look of fear I became more and more introverted. It never got any easier. They assigned us this project in second grade to make a model and information piece of the emperor penguin. I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly and assumed that it could be any penguin. I thought “Hey, every kid is going to be doing a project on the emperor penguin, I should do a different one.” Of course my project was much more informative and creative than the others but it was on the macaroni penguin so I was just given a zero and reprimanded. I was yelled at and humiliated in front of the entire class by the teacher, my parents were called in (they didn’t see any problem with my reasoning but the teacher had the power so she could force her will on me), I was forced to eat lunch in a different room, lots of great constructive things. They knew I was autistic and sometimes had trouble interpreting the subtleties of instruction prompts. If they would have just explained it properly and let me redo the project everything would have been fine and a lesson would have been learned. Nothing constructive came out of such draconian sadistic measures. They probably knew as much, they weren’t that dumb. Of course the kids did what kids will do, I don’t really blame them. The stuff they said about me was actually kind of funny from an objective perspective, and they were just kids. It wasn’t a big deal until later in life when pubrity made me actually give a shit what people thought about me. Still not such a big deal because certain childhood experiences made me not so keen on sexuality, but there was the occasional crush. The world was not kind to me, even by autism standards. I think any rational person, depressed or not, forced to live my life would feel at least very frequent bouts of depression. If we dissolved me into my component chemicals, could we recover these qualia? I’m not sure we could or should.


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