For centuries mental disorders such as schizophrenia and epilepsy were a total mystery. Witnessing someone experiencing the then unknown effects of these disorders led to lots of confusion.
People were not just perplexed, they were afraid, and assumptions were made. As a result, in a lot of cultures people with epilepsy or schizophrenia were shunned and sometimes even thrown in prison. It was believed to be a sign of attack by demons or in other cases just witchcraft, an accusation that often lead to execution.
Perhaps worst among all the remedies occurred during Medieval times when it was believed that evil spirits were trapped inside the head of one of these innocent victims. In extreme instances the head was cut open and a portion of the brain was removed.
We’re fortunate to live at a time when neural disorders are much better understood. We know things about the inner-workings of the brain that weren’t even conceivable a few generations back in history.
I’m always grounded in humility when I think about the notion that young children today know more about the inner workings of the human body (and the world around us) than anyone did a millennium ago.
There’s still plenty to go. Science has barely begun to understand human consciousness. Yet many people today are just as fast and willing to fill in the gaps of knowledge with assumptions about consciousness and human awareness.
Our history in dealing with mental disorders prior to understanding the brain raises some captivating questions about our assumptions today.
What might we discover about consciousness in the future that seems unreachable today?
What current actions do we take as a society that future generations might look back on with disgust due to our faulty assumptions?
How confident should any of us be about our current views regarding the brain and mind?
How far into the future must we project to reach a state when our current understanding is beneath that of the average child?