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Where does mental illness reside?

Where does mental illness reside?

Suppose we understand the human mental system as emerging property that arises on the top of interactions between various extensions (phenotypes), cerebral, body, memes and extended phenotypes like mobile phones. In that case, we can not locate mental illness in brains only. Brains represent a prime location to detect functions and malfunctions of human mental activity, but not the only one. If your mental activity relates to an extended phenotype (Dawkins 1999), like a mobile couple of hours each day, then your cognitive functions and malfunctions should be observed in your mobile as much as they are in your brain. The same goes for any other part of your body.

The acceptance of the above thesis forces us to take introspection in an entirely new way. You do not find yourself in your body only and even less in your brains only, but in all extended phenotypes, especially in such important ones as smartphones. It might soon be easier to find oneself in extended digital phenotypes, and we could partially fix our inner self not by a psychiatrist but by an Apple software repair unit. I suggest psychiatrists extend their profession to digital tools as soon as possible.

I hope this post will be understood as something other than a negative utopia; it is far away from that. Our mental capacities have evolved tremendously over millennia of our existence. As Jakob Pietschnig & Martin Voracek concluded in their article One Century of Global IQ Gains, humans gave gained IQ scoring on average in the last century. Steven Pinker (Pinker 2018) goes even further and finds evidence that IQ and all other human mental abilities constantly upgrade due to more “free time« and the invention of new tools that engage our cognitive skills. Should Pinker take memetics seriously, or should he connect his insights with those of early Dawkins (Dawkins 1976)? He would no doubt start to see mental abilities also outside our brains. It is so apparent! The only number out of around 4000 that I have on my smartphone that is located in my mind is my phone number. All other numbers, part of what my mental capacity disposes of, are located in iCloud. I know how to retrieve them even if I do not store them in my brain. Not only are my brains a decentralised structure, but all clouds are also part of my decentralised mental ability.

The conclusion is straightforward. Suppose that traditionally we tried to improve our cognitive abilities with all possible tricks to train our brains. In that case, we now have the task of enhancing cooperation between all clouds and not only between neurons of our brains. We should soon need specialised doctors combining neurology with IT technology to help us gain and retain our mental abilities.




Dawkins, Richard. 1976. The Selfish Gene. New ed. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 1999. The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene. Rev. ed. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Pinker, Steven. 2018. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. 1st edition. Penguin.

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