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Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Mind versus Brain | Summary



Susanna contemplates the difference between "brain" and "mind," wondering what it is that creates consciousness from the complex chemical processes manipulating neurons. She likens the mind to a complex system of communication between interpreters processing and interpreting the data collected by sensory perception. In other words, she imagines that a rational interpreter tries to make sense of the neurological events in the body. Madness, she explains, ensues if the interpreter's analysis of sensory perception does not prevail. Likewise, treatable mental illness is characterized by the patient's ability to doubt what he or she sees, hears, or imagines. Schizophrenics, therefore, cannot be cured by therapists, but only by psychiatrists who dispense drugs to manage symptoms.


The author once again discusses the nature of madness. The brain, its processes governed by chemicals, and the mind, a consciousness formed by an elusive analysis of and reaction to data collected by sensory perception, must interact to establish a sense of self firmly grounded in reality. If the chain of interpretations of sensory stimuli is broken, empirical reality turns into the world of madness, where the pattern in a curtain might very well be a mountain range. A patient can be analyzed only if she doubts her own perception of reality (i.e., if she is willing to accept that the way she interprets reality is false). By extension, treatment is successful only if the patient can reach a level of conformity.

Susanna comments on the ready availability of heavy medication in modern psychiatric practice with alarm. She urges cooperation between therapy and neurochemistry.

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