Philosophical Journey – Discovering the Mystery of Creation in the Mind – a memoir; #6: Schizophrenia, Group Beliefs, and the Chasm of Politics
Schizophrenia is the most mysterious major illness in all of medicine, made all the more fascinating to me because my own family’s secret was an afflicted aunt who had been banished to a sanatorium for her entire life. In a small room in the mortuary, I spend a half hour with her corpse meditating upon her life, and elements of her illness that are manifested in myself. This experience deepens my sense of mission.
After contemplating this enigmatic illness for most of my career in consultation with many close relationships with patients afflicted with it, I came to the conclusion that the emotion that is submitted to feedback reverberation in schizophrenia is belief. The most characteristic symptom of schizophrenia is the unshakable belief that an external agency (the CIA, the hearing of voices) is directly communicating with the patient. I reasoned that the normal function of the emotions gone awry in schizophrenia is the process whereby the beliefs of one’s nested groups are communicated to the individual. The more partisan cable news channels make ample use of this kind of communication, constantly feeding a worldview to its receptive viewers. This insight only strengthened my view of hominid groups exerting influences on their constituent individuals as if they were organisms. I had slowly become an advocate of group selection in human evolution even though I had become aware that the whole concept had been discredited in academic circles during this time, understandably so because of its association with the philosophy Social Darwinism leading to Nazism and continuing to lurk implicitly in current views of human nature.
My working hypothesis was that political alliances, mainly in males, between dominant and submissive individuals that were able to coordinate their behavior most effectively were selected. It was actually the relationships between the dominance and submissive mentalities within individuals that became naturally selected in hominids. I began to realize that it was possible through a process of accelerated mutual selection inclusion (selection for the ability to select traits) that a super-dominant genetic entity (authority) could arise within the thin ether of relationships; this purely relational and collective structure could acquire the ability to coordinate the self-interest of groups, and thereby evolve intentions transcending those of its constituents as separate individuals.
But there were problems with this conception. The main one was its reliance on politics and the evolution of political alliances to have blossomed into a super-dominance agency of a group. Primate politics are all about the individual. I could not figure out how the dominant partner in such a development could ever acquire the incentive to share the spoils of the pair’s mutual behavior with the submissive partner. It was a chasm that could not be crossed.