Category Archives: Ubi dubium…

Ubi Dubium… | Toward a Better Understanding of the Schizophrenias


 

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Welp, this is an interesting development. We now have a considerably clearer understanding of one of the mechanisms behind schizophrenia, as a recent study published in Nature reveals. The authors of this large-scale study bringing together several lines of research, have identified a set of genes, particularly a variant of gene C4, C4A, involved in the culling, or pruning, of synaptic connections in the brain, and the findings were remarkable.

Particularly between the late teens and early twenties, the development of a normal brain involves some level of synaptic pruning as a means of increasing the efficiency of the brain’s operation, especially those neuronal connections that are seldom used.

I find this research particularly interesting because of my own personal history of schizophrenia. Anything that improves my understanding of this disorder, or more accurately, this class of disorders, is in my view a good thing. Insight and understanding have been two of the main tools in my ongoing recovery.

So, back to the study.

This particular gene variant results in an extraordinary rate of pruning of neuronal connections, in which synapses are so heavily deleted that many of the necessary connections in the adult brain are simply never established, resulting not just in delusional thinking and (in my case) hallucinations, but the cognitive issues many of us with the disorder experience.

I’m eager to see what direction further research will take.

It’s a monumental step nonetheless in understanding the process by which the illness develops. Schizophrenia is a complex family of disorders involving a interplay of mechanisms, with a strong genetic component, and it is highly heritable. It’s a class of illnesses that we now have a clearer understanding of. But I’m not pinning any (likely false) hopes on a cure from this.

To quote one of the collaborators of the study, neurology professor Beth Stevens of Boston Children’s Hospital,

“Now we have a path forward. We want to better understand how it’s working.”

 Ubi Dubium… gets its title from a Latin proverb, and the current tagline for this blog. It is a limited series of posts dealing with science, scientific skepticism, and the unruly twin dragons of pseudoscience and antiscience. Join me, if you will, on an exploration of science and reason, their borderlands, wastelands, and why a good understanding of both is crucial to living in this age of science and technology.

Ubi dubium… | Inaugural Installment: Consoling Atheists


A map of the world, showing the major religion...
A map of the world, showing the major religions distributed in the world as of today. A different type of map which views only the religion as a whole excluding denominations or sects of the religions, and is colored by how the religions are distributed not by main religion of country etc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m an atheist, of course, though not particularly anti-religion. Let others believe as they will, so long as what they believe does not negatively affect me or mine. I do criticise the excesses of Fundamentalist sects, as with the excesses of any ideology. I believe that no idea is or ought to be beyond critique, though I recognize that religion, like any human enterprise, can lead others to do great good as well as great harm. I find religion fascinating, though I do not believe in mysticism or in any religious doctrines. Of particular interest to me are the great religions of India.

In two recent episodes of the podcast The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Ep. 536, and Ep. 537, the issue came up of what to say to religious nonbelievers when they lose a loved one or friend, what sort of condolences one should and shouldn’t offer to those who do not practice or believe in a religion.

To those interested in the sorts of consolation appropriate for atheists, there’s the book Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God, by Greta Christina.

Why mention that? Well…

Being immersed in a religious culture can make it difficult to recognize that immersion, and hinder empathy to those of not part of it or part of some other religious culture. So some religious consolations can seem awkward to nonbelievers, or believers of other religions, even empty. Being told that my loved one is in a better place, or residing, say, with Jesus, or in Paradise, or in Valhalla, or in the fields of Elysium, brings no comfort to me.

But I have no objections to being sincerely told that I or mine are being prayed for, or being offered blessings and other well-wishes from a believer, as it’s the caring that counts.

So, it is best not to assume that others necessarily share your beliefs, especially in a pluralistic society with those of many religions and of none, and to be aware of and understand the beliefs or non-belief of others outside of your particular religious culture or faith group.

We all grieve, we all lose someone close to us, and for most of us, it hurts like nothing else. In considering the belief-systems of others and their particular approach to existential questions at the end of life, the grief you console may be that of your closest friend or dearest loved one.

Ubi dubium… gets its title from a Latin proverb, and the current tagline for this blog. It is a limited series of posts of 160 installments dealing with science, secular issues, scientific skepticism, atheism, and the unruly twin dragons of pseudoscience and antiscience. Join me, if you will, on an exploration of science and reason, their borderlands, and why a good understanding of both is crucial to living in this age so dependent on science and technology.