From: Susan Squier
Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2007 19:24:58 -0500
I want to pick up on Andrew's wonderful discussion of the ways that colorful fMRIs condense and fictionalize numerical data. Andrew, you suggest that "physicality is an alternative vocabulary for psychodynamic processes, which are always brain-based." While I agree that these images can give us another way to represent and discuss brain-based processes, I worry that the vocabulary they offer is an insidiously limiting one. The images omit, or to be more accurate they black-box, the factor of time. If they don't actually do so in the way the images are made (they can be taken over a span of time, or at a number of different instances), they certainly do so in the way the images are usually shown to the public as part of a persuasive presentation.
Seems to me that the rhetorical power of fMRIs also smuggles in a pressure to replace the slow, unseen intervention that is talk therapy with the instantaneous intervention of deep brain stimulation, in part precisely because it can be captured by the 'snapshot' visualization of this new technology. In its turn to evidence-based treatment, psychotherapy is finding ways to use the power of fMRI imagery to express its own ability to produce change. Presumably that will give psychology some leverage to argue for longer term interventions. If there's anyone in this conference (Brad Lewis?) who can chip in here, I'd love to hear from them.
However, in the interim seems to me we also need to mark the power such images have to shift not only the modes of psychiatric treatment, but the time-frame in which medical treatments are expected (permitted) to occur. This is emphatically not to argue that talk therapy is the only or even a preferable option in cases of intractable depression. But it is to encourage awareness of the fact that such images may also have powerful secondary rhetorical effects, such as catalyzing our gradual reorientation from a temporal to a spatial model of biomedical treatment. Or, to put it in other words, they may give more impetus to the institutional medical tendency to cut down treatment time.
Brill Professor of Women's Studies, English, and STS
The Pennsylvania State University
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