A journey through schizophrenia science

BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific recently profiled psychiatrist, schizophrenia researcher and stand-up chap, Robin Murray, who talks about how his understanding of the condition has drastically changed over the years.

It’s a fascinating journey through how our theories about the mental illness, most associated with having delusions and hallucinations, has evolved through time – taking in everything from the anti-psychiatry of R.D. Laing to modern neurogenetic studies.

As a young man, Murray lived in an Asylum in Glasgow for two years, mainly because it offered free accommodation to medical students. Struck by how people’s minds could play tricks on them and the lack of proper research into the condition, he resolved to put the study of schizophrenia on a more scientific footing. Fifteen years ago he believed schizophrenia was a brain disease. Now, he’s not so sure.

Despite decades of research, the biological basis of this often distressing condition remains elusive. Just living in a city significantly increases your risk (the bigger the city the greater the risk); and, as Murray discovered, migrants are six times more likely to develop the condition than long term residents. He’s also outspoken about the mental health risks of smoking cannabis, based both on his scientific research and direct experience working at the Maudsley Hospital in South London.

You can listen to the streamed version on the programme page but to download the podcast you have to go to a completely different page and search through the list. Why? No-one knows.

Link to page with streaming audio.
Link to podcast page.

4 thoughts on “A journey through schizophrenia science”

  1. Worth mentioning is Julian Jaynes notion of the so-called “Bi-Cameral Mind”, and the idea that conscious self-awareness might be a relatively new phenomenon in human evolution, emerging from each hemisphere of the brain becoming “compartmentalized” into separate, more discrete processing functions, which in turn communicate via the corpus collosum, the nerve bundle connecting them. Jaynes believed there was historical written evidence that at some point self awareness arose in the now-dominant left (aka “conscious”) hemisphere, overtaking the problem-solving abilities of “pre-conscious” humans, who literally were directed by the voices of “the gods” (aka, schizophrenia). In other words, Jaynes has suggested that schizophrenia may actually be just a throwback to an earlier stage in our development. BTW, there’s a somewhat similar theory that autism, instead of being a “disease”, may also be simply a throwback to our Neanderthal ancestors, who appear to have had markedly less social complexity than homo sapiens.

  2. Currently it seems that explanations of mind have moved toward the biological. I personally believe that, while of course the two most go hand in hand, a biological model of the mind leaves much to be desired compared to a symbolic explanation of mind (the psychoanalytic, object relations, intersubjective, or systems theories) when it comes to describing the human experience. I also believe that these symbolic models have never been either systematic enough (all the psychoanalytic theories) or deep enough (the systems or cognitive theories) to satisfy the common urge to understand psychology thoroughly (from inside out, or vice versa). Anyway, all of this is to say, I would like to invite those interested to read my own psychoanalytic/systems theory that I first published in my book “The Therapist’s Use of Self in Family Therapy” (Aronson, 2000), but have shortened and simplified (to make it more accessable) in my new book “The Emotional Toolbox: A Manual for Mental Health.” You can also take a look at my application of the theory to psychotic disorders and bipolar disorder. I have included the links to these articles below. I would love to start a conversation in this area – to be truthful, I believe my theory is a much needed unifying theory that is largely overlooked due to the fact that I am a clinician and spend little to no time in academia.

    Article on The Relational Systems Theory


    Article on Psychotic Disorders


    Article on Bipolar Disorder


    1. Dan I am a great believer that too much is placed on academia, yes knowledge of evidence based practice is highly acknowledged in academic life, however nothing compares with the hands on experience of working one to one with patients and their uniqueness

  3. Currently there is evidence that schizophrenia has biological causes. I think you should do research on the impact on a person to be named “schizophrenic.” In our society, that a person is “schizophrenic” is similar to saying that a “sick”. Therefore, when diagnosed with schizophrenia a person and this makes it public, society treats him as a patient. If society treats them as patients act sick.
    I think if you have a good medication that will eliminate the hallucinations, they should be treated as normal people, not sick. Sure and improve or feel better.
    Sorry for my English.

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