Biomarkers and Dualism (after Nietzsche)

To criticise the dominant, bioreductionist paradigms in psychiatry and psychology risks is to invite to supposedly scandalous epithets –  ‘anti-psychiatrist’ and ‘Cartesian dualist’.

Yet to distinguish between disciplines – on the one hand, those with historical, discursively-constructed objects (such as linguistics, or history) as against the ‘hard’ sciences (such as mathematics, or physics) – implies nothing in the order of mind/body dualism. Notwithstanding any biological correlates, psychiatric phenomena fall clearly within the first category of disciplines.

The irony is that those who trumpet their materialism and monism with an emphasis on biological correlates – or, better yet, the search for elusive ‘biomarkers’ (neural or genetic) – are in fact far more dualistic than their allegedly anti-psychiatric opponents. What is the search for biomarkers other than an attempt to look beyond the materiality of discourse to invent a kind of ding an sich, that would serve as the truth of a subjective complaint?

Supposing this quest for a psychiatrist’s El Dorado came to fruition, and biomarkers were found by our closet dualists. The clinician could conceivably ignore a subject’s speech and history, and come straight to a diagnosis by way of a biological test. In this way, the biological test would serve as the subject’s supra-sensible ‘reality’, beyond any subjectivity.

Yet what could such a biomarker (eg. for depression, or anxiety) possibly mean in the absence of a corresponding complaint? To borrow from Nietzsche: such knowledge would be as inconsequential as a chemical analysis of water must be to a boatman facing a storm.