Our Symbolic Universe
While mood disorders are not the exclusive property of humans, madness is. Animals can be driven crazy in the laboratory, but it is not a condition that occurs in the wild. Madness involves cognitive disturbances—confusion about the meaning of symbols—and that is, for the most part, a uniquely human ability. While we share with the nonhuman primates the potential for depression—and possibly mania—the causes are usually vastly more complex because man is primarily a symbolic and a social animal. What makes us vulnerable to madness, as well as to greatness, renders us capable of committing suicide and of composing symphonies, is the fact that we do not have a species-specific environment, one in which the biological blueprint determines its actualization, meanings, motives, or mood regulation.
The human animal is born several years prematurely, a fact which has many far-reaching consequences. It gave the brain, particularly the cortex—the thinking part of the brain— additional time to grow. The dependency of the immature human organism on a primary caretaker means that the young develop attachments of a much more profound nature, which