From Jonah Lehrer’s fascinating article in last week’s NY Times magazine entitled “Depression’s Upside” which traces the research currently being done on depression from an evolutionary perspective, i.e. the attempt to answer the question, “Is there an evolutionary purpose to depression and if so what is it?”. Shaky ground… Most of the article outlines the so-called “analytic rumination hypothesis” which boils down to the following:
“If depression didn’t exist — if we didn’t react to stress and trauma with endless ruminations — then we would be less likely to solve our predicaments. Wisdom isn’t cheap, and we pay for it with pain.“
Hmmm. The article also touches on the increasing prevalence of anti-depressants (also touched upon in last week’s episode of Big Love):
“I remember one patient who came in and said she needed to reduce her dosage,” he says. “I asked her if the antidepressants were working, and she said something I’ll never forget. ‘Yes, they’re working great,’ she told me. ‘I feel so much better. But I’m still married to the same alcoholic son of a bitch. It’s just now he’s tolerable.’ ”The point is the woman was depressed for a reason; her pain was about something. While the drugs made her feel better, no real progress was ever made.
Whatever you make of the claims put forth in the article, the conclusion is powerful:
To say that depression has a purpose or that sadness makes us smarter says nothing about its awfulness. A fever, after all, might have benefits, but we still take pills to make it go away. This is the paradox of evolution: even if our pain is useful, the urge to escape from the pain remains the most powerful instinct of all.
If you’re wondering what David Foster Wallace would say, read the article, as they reference him at length… Though I’m not convinced they fully capture his perspective. But perhaps more importantly, what would Dave Chapelle say?! Probably something like this. [Warning: Very, very coarse language. Seriously, if expletives offend you, do not watch it. But similar to, say, the final scene in Gran Torino, the clip is simply too amazing not to share, especially with those of you who are interested in the subject of depression (ht TB)].