I went to Amazon and bought three books on neuroscience:
- The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz
- Synaptic Self by Joseph LeDoux
- Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter
I swear, I would be dangerous if I had money, because then I would have gone over to the forensics section and bought a few there, too.
I got all fired up because I heard a lecture on Book-TV by Jeffrey Schwartz in which he talked about his theory of neuroplasticity and what he calls 'mindful awareness.' If you are 'mindfully aware' of your mental state, you can demonstrably control it with practice. He has been able to recreate in normal patients the brain activity of people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, simply by having such people get themselves into that mindset.
Apparently, there is considerable debate in the scientific community over the value and validity of this line of research. There are some neuroscientists (Schwartz called them 'materialists') who think this is impossible because they argue that the mind is part and parcel of the brain; it is purely a function of the brain and therefore cannot control it.
But I tell you, the more I listened to Schwartz, the more I thought he made perfect sense. Why? Because I am a writer, and I think I can do it, to a small degree, have been doing it for years.
Maybe I'm only fooling myself. Maybe what I feel when I write is only an illusion. But I feel different when I am writing my characters, especially when I am deeply immersed in writing something from their points of view--getting 'into their heads.'
I remember one time at DragonCon, during a character introduction thing, I 'became' Aerden for a split-second, meaning that I was acting--but I felt different. There was a definite moment of palpable 'switch' that I experienced. It surprised me. So yes, I think, if I ever became one of Schwartz' test subjects, I could do it.
Granted, what I do is imagine different emotional states--anger, joy, trying very desperately to not commit suicide--to the point where I was literally shaking at the keyboard because my character was so close to killing himself. That is not the same thing as imagining various states of mental illness, but I think it comes close.
I think the difficult part for a patient would be imagining mental health--though Schwartz seemed to have simple strategies for handling that problem, as well. He would phrase it instead as, "Then, we told the patients to look at the thing objectively and not allow themselves to become excited by it." That makes it a lot more graspable. Instead of asking them to imagine something that might have different meanings for different people, he was asking them to control their level of response, therefore getting them all to strive for the same result--and it worked.
I look forward to reading these books, once they get here. The whole subject is deeply fascinating to me.