Why Do We Need Psychopathology? From the Brain’s Spontaneous Activity to “Spatiotemporal Psychopathology”

  • Georg NorthoffEmail author


The resurgence of biological psychiatry raises the question how and why we need psychopathology. Psychopathology has been well developed in the time where the brain was not yet explored; it has brought forth psychological approaches like cognitive psychopathology and experiential approaches like phenomenological psychopathology. Both psychological and experiential approaches suffer from a divide to the brain though, the divide between the brain and cognition as well as the divide between the brain and experience. I here suggest a novel form of psychopathology that focuses on spatiotemporal rather than cognitive or experiential features, i.e., spatiotemporal psychopathology. Thereby the brain’s spontaneous activity plays a central role since it provides and shows various kinds of spatial and temporal features which, as I suppose, are organized cognition and are transformed into experience. I illustrate such spatiotemporal approach to psychopathological symptoms by the examples of depression and mania in bipolar disorder. I conclude that spatiotemporal psychopathology holds the promise to bridge the gap between the brain and symptoms including the divides between the brain and cognition/experience. Taken in this sense, spatiotemporal psychopathology will also be able to trace both psychological and experiential approaches to psychopathology to a commonly underlying basis, i.e., the spatiotemporal structure and features of the brain’s spontaneous activity. Accordingly, we need psychopathology and, more specifically, “spatiotemporal psychopathology” to understand both the brain’s neural activity and psychopathological symptoms and how the former translates into the latter. This, in turn, opens a new understanding of psychodynamic mechanisms like defense mechanisms that can then be considered as different and specific “spatiotemporal configurations” as engineered on the basis of the brain’ spontaneous activity and its spatiotemporal structure.


Spatiotemporal psychopathology Spontaneous activity of the brain Phenomenology Schizophrenia Bipolar disorder 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mind, Brain Imaging, and Neuroethics, Institute of Mental Health ResearchUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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