I thought this was an interesting book and better on the science than many of its critics suggest. That said, it does nothing whatsoever to address the question of where consciousness comes from and so leads down an ultimately unsatisfying path. The authors attempt to dance around the topic at the end but to little avail. Also, little or no effort is given to pursuing whether and how alternative "observers" can cause waveform collapse. It's my understanding that a photon can count as an observer because it would be affected by the collapse. Ignoring alternative explanations is prime sign of bad science.
I tried to read this on paper twice and finally got through it because of the clearly talented narrator for this audiobook. Perhaps reading this book in 2011 is the same as watching Citizen Kane. If you know why it was so amazing in its day, you can take some pleasure in it. But now that every unique piece of both works has been done and overdone, they seem grim, outdated, and tiresome. That said, the notion that our best and worst natures will manifest despite ourselves is a worthy idea; and this book (if nothing else) captures that beautifully.
This is an outstanding work of science journalism and it is likely to surprise the vast majority of its readers. Plus, Ken Kliban is a great narrator. As a both a scientist and a mental health clinician, I support the methods and the conclusions of this book strongly. The irony, though, is that I'm probably not alone. Many, if not most, scientists at the top of NIMH and major universities wouldn't disagree with two of the most important ideas; first, that the "chemical imbalance" hypothesis is basically nonsense, and second, that the outcomes literature for psych drugs are poor. I saw a talk given by Thomas Insel, Director of NIMH, in April (2010, that is) and he said two things that are consistent with Whitaker's conclusions. First a direct quote: "Current treatments help too few people get better and very few get well." Second, he advocated for research focused on the "connectome," that is, a developing understanding of how a typically functioning brain's circuits are interconnected and how disruptions in those connections "cause" mental illness. I think understanding the connectome is important but unlikely to reveal anything about "mental illness" for various empirical reasons I won't go into here.
Of course, what most clinical psychiatrists won't agree with is that the drugs are part of the problem. But I suspect the current generation of psych drugs are going to go the way of tobacco (which used to be promoted for its health benefits). Eventually there's just going to be too much evidence against them. Hopefully Whitaker's work will help accelerate that.
I'm going to recommend this book to everyone I possibly can. I'm also going to teach it to psychiatry residents. Well, to be honest, I'll probably teach the primary sources rather than the book itself because, if Whitaker is right, teaching the book could be bad for my career...
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