Addiction and the Self: Perspectives from neuroscience and philosophy
Addiction is a medical, legal, ethical and personal problem. How we deal with it depends on how we understand the relationship between neurobiology and human agency. Unfortunately there is no consensus about the best way to understand that relationship. Addiction is characterized in different ways, each of which suggests a different response: moral failure, symptom of social disadvantage, brain disease, pathological lack of self-control, enactment of a social role, rational pursuit of pleasure, a drug-induced rewiring of the brain’s incentive system, a natural response to distressing life events.
On thing we often forget in discussing addiction is that the majority of habitual drug users give up on their own without medical assistance. They "age out" of addiction. Professor Gerrans will suggest that they do so when (i) their self-model (representation) no longer fits their situation (ii) they have the resources to revise their model or their situation. This can arise in different ways. For example they find their addiction incompatible with parenthood, work or study, new location or social group. Addicts are in the minority of drug users who cannot revise or discard a self-model that has become maladaptive.
Most discussion of addiction is based around the neuroscience of habit formation and reinforcement. Professor Gerrans believes we need to connect that evidence to the social neuroscience (as well as the lived experience) of self-representation.
About Professor Philip Gerrans
Phil Gerrans is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide, and is interested in the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and psychology. He started out working on autism and theory of mind and issues in developmental psychology, then became interested in psychiatry, especially delusions, writing a book, Measure of Madness, about the relationship between fundamental neuroscience and psychology and philosophy.
Professor Gerrans works with researchers at the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences on the connections between emotional processes and self representation. Depersonalisation disorder and personality disorders are a focus of this research, which links up with much earlier work he did on the Cotard delusion (in which people say they have disappeared or no longer exist). Gerrans thinks that the project will lead back to developmental psychology, since it seems many disorders have a source in the developmental relationship between emotional regulation and other aspects of cognition.
Refreshments from 5.30pm.