In Loucamente the public can experience symptoms of mental disorders (e.g., listening to voices, fear of heights) in a safe environment, self-assess their knowledge about the working of the brain, mental disease and mental well-being, listen to the testimonies of patients about their ailments and how they cope with them, and know a bit about how mental disease was perceived and treated through the times.
Loucamente intent is to start an open dialogue on the frontier between mental disease and sanity, ultimately showing the thin line that separates the two and reflecting on the discrimination that people with mental disorders often face. Interestingly, even if it focuses on mental health and mental therapies the exhibition reinstates important issues about neuro-enhancement that arose in many of NERRI mutual learning exercises (MLE).
First, the very definition of mental disease and mental health. Treating mental health is restoring the normal emotional and cognitive capacities of the brain; but what “normal” means depends on historical and cultural contexts, as well as on the stage of life of specific individuals. In many NERRI mutual learning events the definition of the normal brain was also at stake: enhancing the human brain means extending its capacities beyond the normal; but normal for whom, when and comparing to what? For instance, what is the normal baseline attention span of a kid? Will it be the same for European and North-American kids? What about that of kids seriously addicted to videogames, or from poor backgrounds?
Secondly, Loucamente shows how fluid the classification of interventions to address mental disorders is. Given the contextual definition of normality, and considering that the frontiers between mental disease and mental sanity are so thin, the classification of these interventions depends on context as well. Many medical interventions aim at preventing the effects of normal processes — e.g. ageing — or even at reversing them. But how should these interventions be defined? Are they preventive, therapeutic, cosmetic? In the case of neuro-enhancement, as participants in NERRI MLEs pointed out, the difficulty is not merely of definition, but especially of regulation. Again, the example of using pharmaceuticals for ADHD in kids is pertinent: is this treating a disease, or merely addressing parent’s highest hopes and aspirations for their children? Who, among doctors, parents and children can decide what to do under what terms? The nature of neuro-enhancement interventions is thus connected to medical and parental authority, and to children’s autonomy. It also has implications for the regulatory framework, in terms of safety, equality of access, funding, etc.
Finally, there’s the idea that not all that has to do with mental health is of clinical nature. Loucamente features many solutions that fall outside the medical scope. The exhibition recalls how mental well-being can be promoted by daily considerations like diet and physical activity, hobbies and creative tasks, relationships and a rich social life, sleep and proper rest, and even training and incremental exposure to difficult situations. Likewise, participants in NERRI exercises reminded that diverse methods for enhancement of the human mind were tried in the course of history including formal education, brain training techniques, meditation, and all sorts of drugs and devices, besides those mentioned above.
Pavillion of Knowledge - Ciência Viva is preparing guided tours, photography contests, theater plays and late night events to dig deeper into the relation between mental well-being and cognitive performance, exploring topics and dilemmas related to both. Experts and the public will debate such issues as the connection between art, creativity, mental health and the improvement of mental capacities; how does experience influence memory and how can memory be manipulated, deleted or augmented; and the role of emotions in our well-being and in cognitive performance, thus approaching mental health, mental well-being and neuro-enhancement as both personal and social concerns.
You can visit the exhibition until September 2015.