Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #99: “The Noonday Demon” by Andrew Solomon

Dear kids,

None one, it seems, knows about The Noonday Demon: An Atlas Of Depression by Andrew Solomon. I mean, psychologists and therapists, do, but the general population, not so much. This is a shame. Solomon’s work is extremely long and a bit detailed at times, but the collection of information he presents is second to none on the subject. (I also appreciated the memoir sections of the book in which he discusses how depression feels to him.)

My Highlights:

  • It is too often the quality of happiness that you feel at every moment its fragility, while depression seems when you are in it to be a state that will never pass.
  • A recent study has listed two hundred factors that may contribute to high blood pressure. “At a biological level,” says Sameroff, “blood pressure is really pretty simple. If there are two hundred factors influencing it, think how many factors must influence a complex experience such as depression!”
  • Is depression a derangement, like cancer, or can it be defensive, like nausea? Evolutionists argue that it occurs much too often to be a simple dysfunction. It seems likely that the capacity for depression entails mechanisms that at some stage served a reproductive advantage. Four possibilities can be adduced from this. Each is at least partially true. The first is that depression served a purpose in evolution’s prehuman times that it no longer serves. The second is that the stresses of modern life are incompatible with the brains we have evolved, and that depression is the consequence of our doing what we did not evolve to do. The third is that depression serves a useful function unto itself in human societies, that it’s sometimes a good thing for people to be depressed. The last is that the genes and consequent biological structures that are implicated in depression are also implicated in other, more useful behaviors or feelings—that depression is a secondary result of a useful variant in brain physiology.
  • It may also be that the very structure of consciousness opens the pathway to depression. Contemporary evolutionists work with the idea of the triune (or three-layer) brain. The innermost part of the brain, the reptilian, which is similar to that found in lower animals, is the seat of instinct. The middle layer, the limbic, which exists in more advanced animals, is the seat of emotion. The top layer, found only in higher mammals such as primates and people, is the cognitive and is involved in reasoning and advanced forms of thought, as well as in language. Most human acts involve all three layers of the brain. Depression, in the view of the prominent evolutionist Paul MacLean, is a distinctly human concern. It is the result of disjunctions of processing at these three levels . . .
  • In fact, no essential self lies pure as a vein of gold under the chaos of experience and chemistry. The human organism is a sequence of selves that succumb to or choose one another.



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