Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Mindscape explains life, mind, consciousness and happiness

Conflict of interest: ABN, NJS and DRS are scientific co-founders of Mindscape Diagnostics, Inc.

Special review article!

What are mind, consciousness and happiness, in the fundamental context of life? We propose a convergent perspective (coupling evolutionary biology, genomics, neurobiology and clinical medicine) that could help us better understand what life, mind, consciousness and happiness are, as well as provides empirically testable practical implications.
Well. So a speculative, flaky, and pretentious journal article1 (Niculesc et al., 2010) proposed a grandiose theoretical framework for understanding "life" et cetera, et cetera. I was amused.
We propose that the mind can be viewed as a composite of mechanisms that have evolved to achieve GuU [genes (G), proximal umbrella (u), general umbrella (U)] objectives. The latest genetic, neurobiological and clinical evidence suggest that normal mental functioning and psychiatric disorders can be classified in three broad and overlapping domains: the anxiety domain, the mood domain and the cognitive domain (Niculescu, 2006), somewhat paralleling the archaic Freudian constructs of id, ego and super-ego.
Each section of the paper (n=8) is introduced by a scientific quote or aphorism, such as...
“It is always advisable to perceive clearly our ignorance”.

-Charles Darwin

“For a scientist, it is a unique experience to live through a period in which his field of endeavour comes to bloom — to be witness to those rare moments when the dawn of understanding finally descends upon what appeared to be confusion only a while ago — to listen to the sound of darkness crumbling.”

- George E. Palade

Here are the main bullet points, followed by a Venn diagram lacking in explanatory value:
  • Anxiety is about reactivity in the face of uncertainty and potential danger
  • Mood is about trophicity
  • Cognition is about connectivity and congruence—within the organism, and with the environment
  • Consciousness is about monitoring the environment through the mind (anxiety, mood and cognition)
  • Happiness is about achieving GuU objectives

Fig. 1 (Niculesc et al., 2010). Overlap and interdependence: Venn diagram.

In my view this general framework is comparable to horoscopes and fortune telling: so vague that almost anything could fit. However, the authors do get more specific when they speculate on the testable therapeutic implications of "whole organism effects" (see Table 1 below, in the Appendix). Some are radical (anti-cancer medications to treat mood disorders; mood meds to treat cancer); others are mundane (anti-hypertensive medication to treat anxiety [yeah, beta blockers, how novel]; anti-anxiety meds to treat hypertension).

But it gets better!
The above ideas and paradigms can be modeled using a three-dimensional spatial representation of the life landscape–Lifescape, and of the mental landscape–Mindscape. The three dimensions for the Lifescape are G, u, U. The three dimensions for the Mindscape are mood, cognition and anxiety. The axes are not orthogonal, to reflect the interdependence of the three domains. Thus, changes in one dimension translate into changes in the other two dimensions.

Fig. 2 (Niculesc et al., 2010). Mindscape 3D modelling of anxiety, mood and cognition. At each moment in time, an individual is represented by a point with (x, y, and z) coordinates in this tri-dimensional space. The sum of points over time is distributed as a cloud, unique to each individual.

What a coincidence that the name of the authors' company is Mindscape Diagnostics! Hence we have Mindscape psychiatry, Mindscape therapeutics, Mindscape addictions, et cetera, et cetera. Looks like they're really on cloud 9...


1 No, the article was not in Medical Hypotheses. Presumably the Journal of Affective Disorders requires some sort of peer review for special review articles.


Niculescu AB 3rd (2006). Polypharmacy in oligopopulations: what psychiatric genetics can teach biological psychiatry. Psychiatr Genet. 16:241-4.

Niculescu AB 3rd, Schork N, Salomon D. (2010). Mindscape: A convergent perspective on life, mind, consciousness and happiness. Journal of Affective Disorders, 123 (1-3), 1-8 DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2009.06.022

Appendix (click on image for larger view)

Table 1 (Niculesc et al., 2010). Mind disorders, whole-organism co-morbidities and testable potential therapeutic implications.

From Bacteria to Society: Mind, Consciousness, and Happiness Explained
We propose that mind, consciousness and happiness, readily recognizable at a human organism level as functions of the brain, may hold true in a more rudimentary form at an organ and cellular level. As such, we postulate that they are not restricted to humans or primates, but exist in some form starting with unicellular organisms, and evolve in complexity along with the organism...

...this systems-level view can also be extended to the macro realm of social sciences, by looking at efforts to achieve GuU at a family level, societal level and national level.

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At May 05, 2010 6:35 AM, Blogger John Gale said...

Is it me or is it just a tiny bit reductive - and depressing - to try and reduce the whole wealth and variety of human experience to a few diagrams and a dodgy formula? Sometimes the sum is greater than the parts - not everything can be broken down into bite-sized chunks and analysed by a statistics package!
Best Wishes,
John Gale,
Mental Health Update

At May 05, 2010 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, now they can market whatever Mindscape is selling as "research-based". How lovely.

At May 05, 2010 12:51 PM, Blogger Dirk Hanson said...


At May 05, 2010 5:55 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Yes, it's puzzling indeed. Seems like it could almost be a spoof (see the BMJ Christmas issue). But then I did a PubMed search for the second author (Schork N), and it became even more inexplicable. He has a total of 278 publications in journals like PNAS, Nature Genetics, Molecular Psychiatry, J Neurosci. He's had 16 papers published already this year!

At May 09, 2010 1:50 AM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

So they're basically saying "imagine a single cell could be mentally ill, what would that look like... now let's extrapolate that back to humans, hmm, anti-cancer drugs for depression!"

Hmm. I am not convinced.


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