Sorry, Virginia, But I Have Bad News

S orry, Virginia, but I have bad news. There is no Santa Claus and there is no cure for A.D.D./A.D.H.D. At a later time we can examine the Santa Claus issue but, for now, I would like to examine the “Cure for A.D.D.” issue.

1. There is no cure for A.D.D. because there is nothing to cure. This is the crux of the A.D.D. deniers argument. There is no A.D.D. to cure because there is no A.D.D. The underlying problem here is really the word “cure.”Commonly, when we think of the word “cure” we think in terms of eliminating “something,” that something being a germ. A.D.D. is not caused by a germ, therefore, A.D.D. cannot be cured. For those few who still deny the existence of A.D.D., they are looking for a cause – a germ – that does not exist. [note 1]

2.  There is no cure for A.D.D. because A.D.D. is a brain “wiring” problem. This is why A.D.D. is so difficult to “cure” because it is not a simple, straightforward medical problem. There is nothing to see under a microscope. There is no obvious point of entry. There is no singular cause. (We know that there is a genetic component but we also know that there are additional risk factors involved.) Compare it, for the moment, to cancer. We have the means of curing  cancer or, to be more precise, we have the means to greatly diminish, if not eliminate, its existence in the body for long periods of time. It is entirely possible to be rid of cancer for a period of time. Unfortunately for A.D.D.ers, there is no such thing as getting rid of it for a period of time. We can ameliorate its effects but it is always present.

3. We Are Getting Close But Don’t Break Out the Cigars Just Yet. We are on the cusp of learning – in depth – about the “wiring” of the brain. We understand about the plasticity of the brain; we understand how chemicals are acting at the inter- and intra-cellular level within the brain (and the body in general); we understand there are “functions” that are localized within particular areas of the brain; we understand that some functions must exist in order for other functions to exist and also the inverse, that the absence of some functions means the absence – or diminution – of other functions. However, our understanding of the brain is still at an early stage and, therefore, it is still very much a black box. Therefore, therapies to “treat” A.D.D. (it’s difficult not to use metaphors that imply a disease to be treated) such as Cognitive Therapy (see this recent comment to the blog) may have a beneficial effect but the effectiveness is limited – in part because there are degrees of A.D.D.ness – and also because we don’t know exactly how (at least, not yet and certainly not in the minutest detail) this therapy “translates” into alterations in the brain “wiring.” We know that for some people it works and that there are discernible changes. (These changes may be visible through various brain scan technologies.) We also know that biofeedback works and we even know that having a positive outlook can work. (Note that I am not making any statement about the long term effectiveness of these techniques.) We know that the brain does, indeed, respond and change as a result of many things.

4. Mission Control, We Still Have A Terminology Problem. In the previous paragraph I referred numerous times to the “wiring” of the brain. Further, I always put the word “wiring” in double quotes. The problem is that the term “wiring” reduces the complexity of the brain to a metaphor we can (currently) comprehend. However, take all the spools of wire you want and create all the complex wiring you want and you still will not have a brain and, most importantly, you won’t have a mind. Here lies another dimension of the terminology problem. The “brain” and the “mind” are not really synonymous. You need to have a brain to have a mind and having a mind assumes the existence of a brain. However, no matter how you physically dissect the brain you will never find the mind. The brain must exist within a living body in order for there to be a mind but, also, the body must have a minimal level of functioning for there to be a mind.

5. The “Cure” For A.D.D. Will Be Found Once We Have A Paradigm Shift. We do not have the words, the concepts, the terminology for describing the mind. We can, it seems, only reduce it to things that it is not in order to be able to understand it (or, at least, fool ourselves into thinking we understand it). At one time we used the steam engine as the metaphor for understanding the mind; the Id, Ego and Superego; various forms of behaviorism and existentialism; and currently, the computer. [note 2] Once we have figured out how to understand and describe a phenomenon – the mind – that is not reducible to a brain then we will be able to truly understand A.D.D. and how it might be “cured.”

{ ====== //\ ====== }


- We don’t really have the vocabulary for describing the mind which is a spatio-temporal-(self)conscious phenomenon that is not reducible to its components. Was it the brain or the mind that said Cogito Ergo Sum?

- The etymology of the word “metaphor”: Middle English methaphor, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French metaphore, from Latin metaphora, from Greek, from metapherein to transfer, from meta- + pherein to bear. Source: The danger is that we tend to forget that metaphor implies “transfer” and, instead, move from “transfer” to “is.” See this recent post on “like” and “is.”

  1. I wonder if these same people deny we landed on the moon. For a good chuckle see this.
  2. Here is a  review of “Why the Mind Is Not A Computer”. The major point of the entire book can be summarized and, admittedly, reduced and bastardized to “Beware (and be wary of) metaphors because you may confuse the metaphor for the thing it stands for and begin to believe that the metaphor IS the thing it stands for.”
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  • Dr Charles Parker

    Weighty subjects, well mapped. The effort to codify ADHD issues with only descriptive tags is without a doubt the greatest challenge to precise targeting for treatment options. As you so well point out – ADHD is so much more, and often not appreciated as a functional phenomenon, present on various contexts of reality.

    Thanks for this excellent post!

  • Jeff

    Doc Parker,

    If YOU think the post is good, well, then I know I hit all the right buttons!

    The problem with describing A.D.H.D. is akin to the problem of negative space. When we view objects we normally just “view the objects.” But an artist sees what isn’t there, namely, that space between objects. So in trying to describe the workings of the mind by looking at the brain, in a sense, it is like trying to describe negative space.

  • Gina Pera

    This has poor implications for the Easter Bunny.

    Nice piece, Jeff.


  • Jeff


    There’s also the Tooth Fairy; the troll that lives under the bridge; Smith’s “Invisible Hand” and more! ;)

    And thank you…glad you liked the piece. I’m waiting for Hallowell himself to chime in.

  • betsy davenport, phd

    Your piece is — among many other things — a clear discussion of some of the limits that language (a product of both Brain and Mind) places on how we can understand AD/HD and other things.

    I find it fascinating to consider how the inextricable relationship between language and thought both enhances and diminishes the potential of each.

    The reason people remember only so far back into childhood is that without symbolic language in the form of words, there is no way not just to report a memory, but to codify it for storage. This makes me wonder about the leaky memory of people with AD/HD; is there sufficient “distraction” that something is not really codified/labeled/filed at all?

    A related phenomenon is this: after starting medication years ago, I found it a revelation that when I did not remember doing something (e.g., moving clothes from washer to dryer), I could safely conclude I had not done it. This led me to open the washer, and not the dryer, first. Prior to that, I had no reliable clue about what I did or didn’t do. (Not all the time, not everything, I wasn’t amnestic, etcetera.)

  • Scott Hutson


    Good description about amnesia. I wish I could find a way to induce amnesia, for scheduled moments, as a way of clearing the 100′s of “Things I Need to do.” I would call it..”Amnesia Serenity”.


  • betsy davenport, phd

    That sounds lovely. But my first reading of it was “Ambrosia Serenity.”

    You often mock yourself about how you use words, but I am here to tell you, things like your “Amnesia Serentiy” are brilliant. Unusual, yes — that’s part of what makes them brilliant.

  • Scott Hutson

    Thank you, Betsy!

    I am flattered. I have always definded the words “Brilliant Scott” as an oxymoron. Thats another subject though, relating to self confidence. I am in a moment of serenity right now! Thanks again for this!


  • Pingback: Mapping Clinical Manifestations of Psychiatric Disorders to the Underlying Neurophysiological Lattice: Towards a Vocabulary of the Ecology of Mind | Jeff's A.D.D. Mind

  • Michele N

    What about Dr Amen? Great work but hard to understand how he believes that it can be healed.

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      “Healed” — yeah…kinda hard to believe that one.

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