A report in The Lancet last week (The Indian Express, September 21) found that India is among the more than half the world’s countries that are unlikely to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030 to reduce, by one-third, premature deaths due to four major non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. The study, led by Imperial College London researchers, found that the probability of death of one of these four NCDs between the ages of 30 and 70, in India, was 20% for women and 27% for men. In 2016, 1 million women and 1.46 million men in that age group died due to NCDs in India.
Worldwide, there were 1.7 million such deaths before the age of 70. Women in South Korea and Japan, and men in Iceland and Switzerland, were least likely to die prematurely from these NCDs. These graphs compare the numbers for India, its neighbours, and the two countries with the lowest risk for men and women:
How Unusual Minds Work
Eric R Kandel was born in Vienna, and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1939 to escape the Nazis. He studied history and literature at Harvard, and then took up psychoanalysis, learning and memory. He researched the biological basis of the mind, essentially, how memories are stored by the nerve cells of the brain. In 2000, Prof Kandel was awarded, along with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system”.
Prof Kandel has written extensively on neural science and behaviour (1987, 1995) the biology of the mind (2005), memory (2007) and on the history and context of the relationship between art and brain science (2012, 2016). Now, at age 88, he has published his latest, The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves. It is a book that explores “how the processes of the brain that give rise to our mind can become disordered, resulting in devastating diseases that haunt humankind: autism, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder”, and explains how learning about these helps to both improve the understanding of the normal workings of the brain and to find new treatments for these disorders. The book also looks at “how the biological approach to mind is beginning to unravel the mysteries of creativity and of consciousness”, pointing to “remarkable instances of creativity in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder”, and the fact that “their creativity arises from the same connections between brain, mind, and behaviour present in everyone”.
A review of the book in The New York Times points out that disorders of the mind have meant different things to different people at different times, and that “according to Kandel, mental illnesses are simply brain disorders, and all variations in behaviour ‘arise from individual variations in our brains’.” Prof Kandel’s understanding, the review says, is “permeated” by the ideas of the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, who was a staunch critic of psychoanalysis and “a passionate advocate for understanding mental phenomena in strictly biological terms — attitudes now also ascendant in psychiatric biomedicine”. While praising The Disordered Mind as an “excellent” book, the review treats this understanding with scepticism, pointing out that its “exuberant verdict, that ‘decoding the human genome has shown us how genes dictate the organisation of the brain and how changes in genes influence disorders’, is extraordinarily premature”.