Schizophrenia’s Enigmatic Roots
My insights into schizophrenia were dependent on an accumulation of insights that I had gained first as a prison psychiatrist. One would think that human nature would be grossly distorted by men selected for aggression and then jammed together into a small building.. What I learned was that the emotion of aggression, far from being distorted was greatly exaggerated, like placing it under a microscope. I learned about the protective function of groups, about hierarchy and the core relationship between dominance and submission. I even learned about slavery—about the exquisite sensitivity of the slave to his “master.”
When I began seriously studying my patients with severe types of depression and Panic disorder, informed by my prison experience, I viewed them as exaggerations of the other fundamental emotion, fear. Just as aspects of anger were magnified in prison, aspects of fear were magnified in depression and panic. I learned that there are two fundamental fears for humans. I learned that the two fundamental forms of anxiety are comprised of these two fears stretched out and constantly experienced over long periods of time—over an entire lifetime as part of who we experience ourselves to be. I learned that panic disorder occurs when these two fears reinforce each other (positive feedback loop) up to a screaming pitch, for short periods of time, but then it recurs and recurs and recurs sometimes for a lifetime. I learned that the two major types of depression are actually caused by each of these types of anxiety revved up into a screaming pitch for months upon months such that the remainder of the emotional system become frozen in response, and shuts down into depression.
So when I tried to understand the enigma of schizophrenia (which is in my family) I naturally approached it with the above insights in my mind. Schizophrenia is known as a “thought disorder,” but by then I was sure that, similar to other mental illnesses, it had to be a fundamental emotion that “escapes” its regulation into normal function, just as cancer cells escape from their normal regulation. Schizophrenia had to be an emotional condition like all other mental illnesses. The fundamental symptom of schizophrenia is the experience of an external intelligence communicating with the patient. This communication is mostly experienced in the form of thoughts, but also the hallucination of voices talking to the patient. I was sure that all these experiences were driven by a functioning emotion that had lost its regulation into screaming hyperactivity, which is the very definition of mental illness. But what emotion, and what central function did it have?
I finally concluded that it was the act of believing itself that was at the center of this disorder. I reckoned that the emotional component of believing is under-appreciated because we are so immersed in our belief behavior that we don’t see it, just as fish don’t see water. But our beliefs are certainly loaded with emotion—Republican and Democrat, Muslims and Christians. Large numbers of people kill each other for their beliefs. But what is the function of belief? This modern function of beliefs to bind large numbers of people together in competition with one another is a recent and derived phenomenon – perhaps 50,000 years old originating subsequent to the rise of languages that initiated this process. The phenomenon and root function of belief is much older, arising as a central ingredient of that which makes our hominid family unique, back to our origins six million years ago
I believe that emotional component of belief served as the motivation for communication in pre-human hominids. I believe that the small groups of our ancestors had evolved to coordinate their behavior such that they assumed the properties of single organisms. I believe that communication within these groups assumed the vital role exactly analogous to a neurological system of an organism. It coordinated the survival of the group. Accordingly, the source of minute-by-minute beliefs as how to coordinate behavior for the-good-of-small-groups derived from outside the individual and from the group itself. I believe that schizophrenia is an escape from regulation of motivations that, for six million years, were central to the survival of our own species’ ancestors’ group-organisms.
But, mind you, this is only my belief, and beliefs find their ancient roots in mere emotion.
Now go to this post to find out how this train of thought led to solving the mystery of why upright posture evolved in early hominids. And this post is and outline of my thinking on schizophrenia