02/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This Is Your Brain on Traumatic Stress: Remedial Neuroscience Lessons for the Pentagon

"The Pentagon has decided that it will not award the Purple Heart, the hallowed medal given to those wounded or killed in action, to war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because it is not a physical wound."
--The New York Times, January 8, 2009.

Lesson One: The mind is a property of the brain.

Lesson Two: The brain is located in the body.

Lesson Three: The hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for our ability to have a conscious history, is one of the neurological casualties of traumatic experiences. It is damaged to the point of shrinking when saturated with a toxic flood of stress hormones. This not only leads to impaired memory. It also prevents the hippocampus from putting the brakes on the hair-trigger emotional responses of one of the brain's more primitive structures, the amygdala.

Lesson Four: Traumatic stress is often the result when soldiers are required to risk mutilation or death, to inflict it on others, or witness the maiming or annihilation of friends and comrades.

Lesson Five: Trauma sufficient to cause PTSD is no less physical than a bullet to the head.

Homework: Discard Rene Descartes' disembodied mind. Reread Gray's Anatomy.

Extra Credit: Read The Brain and the Inner World by Mark Solms and Oliver Turnbull, and take it seriously enough to ground your policies in science.