Depression. Real or immaterial?


The BBC ran a piece recently about depression (All in the Mind: Radio 4). Researchers have found that when depressed people find it almost impossible to call to mind any positive memories. They selectively remember dark events only. Even when specifically reminded about real happiness, depressed people recall this in monochrome and in distance, rather than the glorious technicolour happy memories of upbeat people. Which, though is cause and which effect? Who wouldn’t be chained to a black dog if their whole memory landscape was dark, fearful and painful?

I connect this with a piece from Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Working out of quantum physics and relativity he shows that “reality” is in fact a process, of becoming and not the “material” so beloved of atheists. He argues for a philosophy of organism where reality is eternally spun in the present out of crystallised past memories using the stuff of limitless potential that is the uncrystallised future. (Shocking paraphrase of course). In any event in his model, the fundamental atom of reality is an “actual entity” or “actual occasion” which inherits only a selective part of the past, and in that selection alters the path of the future, a process he calls “concrescence” ( the process of making concrete).

Is it in the selection of memory (or feelings as Whitehead describes it) that lies the mechanism of free will?

In any event, how sensible it seems that selective negative memories create depression – a state in which we can only remember negative experience. A seemingly unbreakable loop. Conversely, remembering joy, leads to joy and creates joyfulness. Perhaps a parent’s real job is simply to fix their child in a happy positively reinforcing mental rut? However, in absence of a childhood filled with love, what then? Well, according to theBBC, the researchers have found techniques that work to jolt people into remembering light rather than dark events, and that in turn works to set a new upward path. In all compassion for those of us who he been in the prison of depression- let’s keep reminding each other of all that’s good, loving and hopeful…