Illness and Consciousness

Foucaultian Slip?

We were visiting one of the relatives who is gravely ill today. Since she sleeps nearly all the time now, I brought my books along to to some reading and writing. I have been reading Foucault’s book, Madness, The Invention of an Idea, and posting my thoughts on this subject, which is very important to me (Introduction to Madness, Mental and Physical Illness). I was just getting to the part where Foucault rejected the idea that mental illness (and I believe also, physical illness) are discrete entities that can be classified and described in the same way that species are placed on the phylogenetic tree.

Toward the latter part of our visit, the cousins arrived and we all had a nice talk, quietly, so we wouldn’t awaken our aunt. When we left I couldn’t wait to get back to Foucault. When I got home, however, I realized that I did not have my book.


I’ll finish up my thoughts on Foucault based on what I’ve read so far, in this post and, when I get my book back, I will be able to make some further progress.

Foucault’s ideas sound familiar

The idea that a pathological condition must be considered in light of the entire body, and cannot be teased away from it reminded me of discussions I posted about consciousness. In A New Take on Consciousness, I reported on an intriguing book, Out of Our Heads, which posited that consciousness could not be discussed only in light of parts of the brain, but that the body and brain must be considered. (Other discussions of this book may be found in these posts: Negative Space and Applied Whitman.) My favorite quote from this book is “consciousness is more like dancing than digestion.” (Noë, A. Out of Our Heads. New York: Hill and Wang 2009)

On the surface, at least, it appears that Foucault’s and Noë’s ideas are congruent. Foucault states that illnesses are not entities in and of themselves; Noë states that states of consciousness cannot be localized or characterized as a process equivalent to the process of digestion.


Is it possible to combine Noë’s and Foucault’s notions and consider illnesses in the same manner as states of consciousness? If so, is the converse true: can states of consciousness be considered in the same manner as illnesses? If consciousness is like dancing, not everyone dances to the same music in the same way; some people even dance to their own music or to no music at all.

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