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Hi Doctor,

Our discussion about Game theory, fight-or-flight theory, Wittgenstein and depression was extremely interesting and made me see some ideas that could maybe be helpful for your further researches; well, at least I hope. I remember you said that in a fight-or-flight game, a repeated patter of flight response could lead to developing a depression. After I thought about it, I found out that I totally agree with your hypothesis. But let’s suppose that the hypothesis is true, so what do you do with that? I can observe two main paths of therapy: one is about having a closer look in the brain involved in the fight-or-flight response; and the other path is a psychological path aiming to have a closer look at the nature of the game played and what it means to win or to loose.

The idea I would like to present is the connection between language, fight-or-flight response and psychiatry (depression).

First of all, I have to tell you that I don’t like the way psychiatry as a science describes its observations. And I think that a deeper understanding of language and philosophy of language can help psychiatrists to produce a better description of their observations. For example, I don’t like the fact that the word “depression” is connected to something bad or negative. If as a scientist one believes that depression is a sickness to heal, then everything will be built on a fragile basis. But if what we call “depression” produces within the patient a feeling of sufferance, then yes, as a doctor you can say that there is a health issue or a problem. But where is the problem exactly? Does it come from the brain of the patient himself or does it come from the relation in his mind between himself and himself or between himself and the others?
This is why your idea about making some experiments on this lonely animal (the lonely badger) and to see if they can have depression is interesting. But then, how can you make a serious research if you don’t know exactly what “depression” is? This is a very big problem in science in general. You can always define the concept you are looking for in a way that you will be almost sure to find or not to find it. It is like scientists looking for life on exoplanets but they do not know exactly what the word “life” means!

Let’s have another view on the same topic. You said that everyday life is full of game scenarios, and that we are confronted since early ages with the fight-or-flight mechanism. Okay. Now I will introduce language into your theory of depression. What do you mean exactly by game scenarios or game theory?

I suggest that you mean exactly the same thing Wittgenstein says about the use of language; that we are always playing a certain game and that identifying the game can help us to a better understanding of the words.

Now, if we take the fight-or-flight response and observe it in human societies, we notice that most of the time this game does not only happen like between a lion and a zebra but most of the time through the use of language and non-verbal language. This is just what everybody is doing almost all the time: talking and communicating. The game is there, and the fight-or-flight mechanism is also there. A repeated flight behavioural pattern could be in that case a problem of misunderstanding or misusage of language. If the daily game is a language game, then the “looser” was neither able to deal with what he heard, nor to communicate what he feels. It is then this repetitive chaos of misunderstanding and not feeling understood that leads to what psychiatrists diagnose as a depression or other disorders.

If this theory make sense, it would mean that we can observe those problematic relations with language and communications since the early ages of the development of the child. If the child associates language with violence for example or with mockery, then the pattern of flight can develop. Feeling misunderstood is also a problem of interaction with others. If the child or the adult does not have the communicational tools to feel safe, respected and understood, then once again the mechanism of the flight response will be activated.

The example of Wittgenstein himself is interesting. Because if Wittgenstein suffered from what we call “depression” after publishing the Tractatusit could be interpreted as his failure in making himself understood. His relation with language was “problematic” and the society did not have the level to understand him; and himself, did not have the right tools to explain himself.

If what I say here makes sense, then to prevent depression and other psychiatric “disorders”, we have to empower the people with more literature (words and their meanings) and encourage them to use other means of communication like theatre, painting, music, dance, etc. But because the priority of our societies are mainly about producing science and techniques, it can lead many kids to have no books and not necessarily encouraged to read, write, paint or to develop forward their artistic skills. Finding themselves afterwards in a continual environment filled with fight-or-flight games using language and theatre (non verbal) can lead for sure to several problems. The research in psychiatry should then have a look into that, and see if depression and other “disorders” are not also related to a failure in misunderstanding the game and communicating within it. For example, we have to see what are the chemicals involved in the brain when we do not communicate our feelings, or when we communicate them but in a way that is not understandable by others. Someone who has the appropriate education and skills to externalize his feelings through words and other artistic techniques can probably avoid this scenario of loosing a “game” and not to be able to express his feelings or understand on a deeper level the communication of the people he perceives as the winners. To summarize: what happens in the brain when we fail to communicate or to understand and is that similar to what we call a depression or a flight response?

This is an email sent to a friend who is a Doctor interested in research in psychiatry, and with whom I had talks about therapeutical possibilities and fundamental research.