We keep looking to the stars, but should we be looking inside instead?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
I dare say that most anybody who views the new images of outer space coming out of the Webb Telescope will be filled with a sense of awe. And, yet, I am filled with a bit of sadness, too. Where are the comparable images and advances in our inner space—in our brain—and where are our leaders to take us there?
CNN on July 15th provided an initial summary in the article “NASA reveals Webb Telescope’s new images of stars, galaxies, and an exoplanet.”1 I could not help but translate them to what might eventually come out in our inner space.
Outer Space: “The telescope will also look at every phase of cosmic history, including the first glows after the big bang that created our universe and the formation of the galaxies, stars, and planets that fill it today.”
Inner Space: The exploration of our brain can show the neuronal developments at birth that bloom into the connections that make us human in all our variety, like the stars in the skies.
Outer Space: “These will be just the first of many images to come from Webb over the next 2 decades, which promises to fundamentally alter the way we understand the cosmos.”
Inner Space: The new probings into the brain are fundamentally changing how we think of consciousness, the unconscious, and mental strengths and weaknesses.
Outer Space: “We do not know what we do not know yet”.
Inner Space: We will find out what new therapeutic possibilities will be possible as we better understand our brains.
If you were—or are—a fan of the Star Trek science fiction series for television that began in 1966, you have heard the introductory speech spoken by Captain Kirk to start each episode:
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. . . To bold go where no man has gone before!”
I would debate that outer space is not our final frontier. I would claim that it is our inner space, the same inner space that has allowed us this increasing exploration of outer space. I am not sure what technology will be needed. One obstacle is how well the brain is protected, thankfully. Perhaps we are getting teased with some of the renewed exploration of psychedelics, as in the July 15th New York Times article: “With ‘How to Change Your Mind,’ Taking a Trip With Michael Pollan.”2 He stated that a prominent developmental psychiatrist in her 60s said that her experience with LSD provided a taste of what child consciousness might be like.
Some say this outer space exploration makes us seem small. I would say it makes us larger since we put it together. I would also predict that if we become as successful in exploring our inner space, that in the long run it will become more important to the future of humanity, and certainly to the future of psychiatry.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.
1. Strickland A. NASA reveals Webb telescope's new images of stars, galaxies and an exoplanet. CNN. July 15, 2022. Accessed July 18, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/12/world/james-webb-space-telescope-new-images-scn/index.html
2. Vognar C. With ‘How to Change Your Mind,’ taking a trip with Michael Pollan. The New York Times. July 15, 2022. Accessed July 18, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/15/arts/television/how-to-change-your-mind-netflix-michael-pollan.html