The work of anti-psychiatrists such as David Cooper and R.D. Laing has popularised the view that the complex syndrome known as schizophrenia is similar, in many ways to a mystic journey, with close links to the inner journeys undertaken by shamans and heroes in cultural myths worldwide. However, one point is very clear, that while the shaman or initiate is the active agent - the fearless one - this is rarely true of the individual in the throes of schizophrenia.
Like the descending 'initiate', schizophrenics often report feelings of a loss of agency over their environment, loss of ego boundary, and a sense of somehow being "different" or set apart in some way. Many cannot, it seems, sort out what is meaningful stimuli in their environment, and report feelings of being overwhelmed by what is happening around them. There is a wide range of speculative theories regarding the 'causes' of schizophrenia, ranging from a purely genetic to a purely environmentalist perspective.
From the neurological perspective, a form of therapy known as Sensory Integration has led to some interesting speculation about the nature of trancedental experience. research in the last decade has indicated that some of the problems that
Phil Hine schizophrenics experience, relate to the process of information selection: sorting out which input is important. This is due to the abnormal functioning of a region of the brain stem known as the Vestibular Nuclei, which is again, related to the Reticular Formation. The Vestibular Nuclei integrates information from the different senses, and so if there is a problem at this level of sub-cortical processing, it will manifest as "confusion" of one sort or another at the conscious level of awareness. The neurological defecit could be due to genetic anomalies, leading to atypical brain development, or due to stress reactions.
Activity at the subcortical level, that guides the information that becomes the content of conscious experience, is thought by some neuroscientists to be the key to ASCs. Some have postulated that such experiences may be programmed at the genetic level, but that individual experiences determine whether or not the program manifests as an evolutionary experience (leading to enhanced survival capacity) or a "systems crash".
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