Siri Hustvedt

The Three Souls in the History of Medicine and Philosophy
06 Oct 2018

Columbia University Global Center

The Three Souls in the History of Medicine and Philosophy

Siri Hustvedt is the Keynote Speaker at the Columbia University Global Center conference “The Three Souls in the History of Medicine and Philosophy", in Paris, October 6, 2018.

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Siri Hustvedt: Never Mind; or, Plato, Placebo, Placenta

The philosophical problem of soul or psyche has bedeviled thought in the West since ancient times. Contemporary debates about consciousness inevitably echo old debates about the soul and its parts. Drawing from Pythagorean, Platonic, Aristotelian and Neoplatonic traditions, I will explore the vital importance of framing the psyche/soma question for medical practice. This is particularly urgent for psychiatry with its wobbling concepts of mental illness, but also true for neurology that treats “organic” problems of the nervous system, but which is nevertheless faced with countless patients whose functional disorders blur the line between psychological and physiological and remain marginal in both psychiatry and neurology. Neuroscience data has burgeoned without a consensual comprehensive model for how the brain-mind works and, despite years of producing huge amounts of data, has made very little progress in illuminating the “neural coordinates” of psychiatric illness, at least in part because the implicit neo-Cartesian model still widely applied isolates mind from body and is seriously flawed. I will discuss placebo as an excellent vehicle for rethinking the role of the symbolic as a property of all bodily systems and propose an intercorporeal, intersubjective model of the psyche that reincorporates what philosophy and medicine have mostly overlooked: human origin, in which the placenta, literally an intercorporeal organ, prefigures human social interdependence.

Columbia Global Center, 4, rue de Chevreuse, 75006 Paris.