Split Brain Soup

Despite the title this isn't a recipe. My apologies to any incipient cannibals out there--that might include my ex-wife. I hope I'm not insulting cannibals by saying that. :-)

This is actually just a few random thoughts about schizophrenia. The title is derived from the latin root of schizo (meaning split or divide) and phrenos (mind). These days the term split mind brings up thoughts of multiple personality disorder like in that movie Sybil with Sally Field or the more recent movies Primal Fear (one of those cases of the movie being better than the book) and Fight Club and both of these starred Ed Norton, with Brad Pitt and Richard Gere adding interest for female viewers. Anyway...

Schizophrenia has long been controversial. Currently some people--including me--believe that it's not a single disease but a number of disorders that have similar symptoms but very different causes. Some schizophrenics seem to derive from a genetic predisposition, others from environmental factors like exposure to starvation at an early age, usually in utero, or even a virus like influenza. Still others have underlying physical abnormalities in the brain that might result in the schizophrenia. Few if any schizophrenics have all these traits. Usually it's just one per customer.

One of the things that I find most interesting about schizophrenia is that most people with the condition are fully aware they're sick. The stereotypical mentally ill person is not. One of the common taunts between people is that if you're crazy--how would you know? And that is bourne out in many conditions and syndrones but not schizophrenia. However, and it's a big however, since the hallmark of schizophrenia is that delusions and hallucinations are experienced--aural hallucinations especially. In fact hearing voices (that aren't there) is probably the symptom most well known by the lay public.

Unfortunately for schizophrenics, just knowing that you're having delusions isn't very helpful. Since our brains have no way to directly experience the outside world everything we say and do is based on our brain interpreting sense information from outside our bodies. How can you determine just what information is true or not once your brain starts hallucinating? If you start seeing and talking with a giant rabbit like in the play 'Harvey' it would be pretty obvious but often the hallucinations are of a much more routine mode. Imagine how hard it would be to live a normal life if just one thing was off--like say, seeing cars that aren't there. How could you drive? Or even cross the street safely by foot?

Fortunately the medications that we currently have for schizophrenia are many many times better than anything that was available before the 1970s when the atypical antipsychotics like clozapine began to be prescribed. Since they work better and have a lot less side effects they're much more likely to be taken by schizophrenics that live on their own--which the majority do. More recently olanzapine, risperidone, and quetiapine have been introduced, with ziprasidone and aripiprazole following in the early 2000s. These have even fewer side effects.

Schizophrenia is a disease that fascinates and frustrates because it offers clues to what is going on in the mind/body interaction but doesn't really answer any questions--but just generates lots of new ones. I'll address my fascination with the mind/body problem later on--it was a pivotal point for my philosophy thesis though the actual subject was Berkeley's theory of vision not anything directly Cartesian.


Lora said…
Have you seen the movie "Beautiful Mind"?

I admit that I don't have an incredible amount of knowledge about schizophernia, but I think in many ways this movie helped explain many things about it in terms that were easier to understand. Of course Mr. Nash managed his disease in a manner that is not possible for most.
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Tim said…
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Nukapai said…
This was an excellent post (and "Usually it's just one per customer." made me smile).

A friend of mine is diagnosed; she admitted herself to hospital many years ago. She is absolutely fine now because she has the right medication. It also seems that her case was fairly mild and/or has improved with time and a removal of various stress-factors from her life.

My mother's sister - I'd call her an aunt, except that I didn't have any kind of relationship with her - may have had an undiagnosed case. She really was a frightening woman.

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