Science Speculates: Schizophrenia Still Very Confusing: Hm, Demons, Maybe? Can You Prove It Isn't True?


Real Clear Science reports from the field of schizophrenia research and speculation (which, if you've dug into it, you'll maybe understand why this sort of explanation seems as valid as many others):

IS SCHIZOPHRENIA CAUSED by demons? A Turkish researcher seems to think so, and his article on the topic was just published in the Journal of Religion and Health, a scientific journal owned by Springer, a German-based publishing company.

The first two-thirds of M. Kemal Irmak's paper, "Schizophrenia or Possession?", read normally enough….And then you arrive at this little doozy:

"One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world."

…..You're first treated to a background on all things demonic (boldness added to emphasize the absurdity):

In our region, demons are believed to be intelligent and unseen creatures that occupy a parallel world to that of mankind. In many aspects of their world, they are very similar to us. They marry, have children, and die. The life span, however, is far greater than ours (Ashour 1989). Through their powers of flying and invisibility, they are the chief component in occult activities. The ability to possess and take over the minds and bodies of humans is also a power which the demons have utilized greatly over the centuries (Littlewood 2004; Gadit and Callanan 2006; Ally and Laher 2008). Most scholars accept that demons can possess people and can take up physical space within a human's body (Asch 1985). They possess people for many reasons. Sometimes it is because they have been hurt accidentally, but possession may also occur because of love (Ashour 1989; Philips 1997). When the demon enters the human body, they settle in the control center of the body–brain.

Once the groundwork for demons is laid, Irmak expounds on the link between schizophrenia and possession:

There exist similarities between the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia and demonic possession. Common symptoms in schizophrenia and demonic possession such as hallucinations and delusions may be a result of the fact that demons in the vicinity of the brain may form the symptoms of schizophrenia… 

Those similarities do exist! Real Clear Science asked the editor of the journal about this curious article; Dr. Curtis Hart responded, "The article was published in hopes that it would provoke discussion," he said. "The Journal does not agree that demons are a real entity."

The same publisher, Springer, as Real Clear Science points out, "recently made headlines by withdrawing 16 gibberish papers spotted by an independent computer scientist. The nonsense papers were created with a computer program, SciGen."

I wrote on how the science of mental illness isn't quite advanced enough to be of much use in court back in 2007, in "You Can't See Why on an fMRI."

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  1. I often wonder if Kennedy’s interviewing technique on < i The Independents is caused be demons.

  2. I am reminded of one of my favorite stores in the New Testament:

    11 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We[a] exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.

    15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I have heard of; but who are you?”

    16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered[b] them, and prevailed against them,[c] so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

  3. We laugh at this but it makes an important point. Demons is no more falsifiable or provable of a cause of mental illness than any of the other explanations science has come up with. The fact is that we don’t understand what consciousness is and no one has yet been able to link consciousness to specific psychological functions in the brain. We know as much about the causes of mental illness as we knew about the causes of physical aliments before the discovery of germs. Demons is no less of a plausible explanation for this as bad humors were for pneumonia.

    1. Are you trying to be ridiculous with that comment?

      1. No. You just think so because you apparently can’t grasp what I am saying. The point is not that demons are the cause of mental illness. The point is that it is no less valid of an explanation than the various explanations currently offered by psychiatry. And that is a comment on the poor state of psychiatry not on the promise of treating mental illness with exorcism.

        1. John, your comment ‘Demons is no more falsifiable or provable of a cause of mental illness than any of the other explanations science has come up with’
          is without a doubt one of the craziest things I’ve ever read here. PB could not match it.

          1. Explain to me how the various explanations given for the causes of mental illness are falsifiable. The entire field is conjecture. You can’t test an explanation when you don’t understand what consciousness is or what process in the brain causes it.

            You think it is crazy because you have never thought about the subject and are too dogmatic and literal minded to understand it now.

            1. I just gave you one, right off the top of my head below.

      2. You really are amazingly literal minded.

        1. It’s not that, I took your statement to mean exactly how you restated it: “The point is that it is no less valid of an explanation than the various explanations currently offered by psychiatry. ”

          It’s ludicrous. Take, for example, the theory that deficiencies in serotonin cause depression. That’s easily falsifiable and infinitely more logical than demons. And that’s just one of many, many examples.

          1. None of those explanation are valid. Zero always equals zero. That point went right over your head. Humans have spent over a hundred years working in the field of mental illness and they are for all practical purposes no better off than if they had been attributing them to demons.

            1. What are you even talking about?

              If deficiencies in, say, serotonin, cause depression then that is plainly falisifiable (either people with it are more prone to depression or they are not, both are measurable) and with knowledge of how neurotransmitters work eminently logical.

              1. And none of those things have resulted in any kind of effective treatment for depression. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. Why they work in one case and not another remains a mystery. Again, we are about where other medicine was back when they knew moss sometimes prevented infection but had no idea why.

                1. First of all, you’re ‘moving the goalposts’ from ‘no less valid and falisiable’ than an exorcism to ‘result in effective treatment for depression.’

                  Secondly, you are wrong about the effectiveness of therapies derived from current understandings of serotonin.

                  Lastly, you are flatly wrong about our understanding of how they work and don’t work.

                  1. Also, genotyping can point to response/non-response and the risk of side effects.

    2. Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?

    3. Well, I’m no fan of psychology, but that might be overstating the case. I mean, at least some of the theories have some arguable basis in reality, even if they are wrong. Not so much demons, though I’m willing to entertain proof of them.

      On second thought, if there are actual demons, perhaps Episiarch should entertain them. He’s more of an evil foodie than I am, anyway.

      1. “but that might be overstating the case”

        You are more charitable than Mother Theresa there.

        1. It’s less about the demons and more about the “science” that is psychology. Not that it’s all bad or all wrong, but it’s another soft science that’s gotten softer for nonscientific reasons.

          1. John said psychiatry, not psychology (of course it’s not true for the latter either, a great deal of current psychology is based on neurology and other physical sciences).

            1. This is true – I taught at UC Davis for many years, with many psych students. Neither psychology nor psychiatry have much truck with the “soft” stuff anymore. It’s all neurochemistry and bio-mechanical stuff. That’s why now behaviorial/mood problems are addressed with drugs or other means involving physical force instead talking/performing exorcisms.

              My problem with that approach at the time was similar to what John is saying now, although John is overstating his point. The idea of understanding consciousness and what we might term “the health of the soul” fell by the wayside long ago. Now its all about clinical trials for pharmaceuticals.

              1. Yes. We can give people drugs that will suppress the symptoms but we have no idea how to “cure” them in any meaningful way. And the drugs don’t even reliably suppress the symptoms.

                1. This is again a ludicrous statement.

                  Giving someone a herb was a hit or miss thing, the people had no larger, valid theory about what the herb was addressing in creating its effect.

                  That is a far, far cry from what goes on today. When a doctor prescribes something to increase serotonin delivery they are working on theories that have been derived from and largely verified by laboratory testing involving chemicals, brain scans, dissection, and many other methods.

                  1. The guy using moss is acting on theory too. He just doesn’t understand the mechanics of why it works. The doctor today is no different. In fact he is worse off. The medieval doctor at least knew the moss would always do some good even if he didn’t know why. The doctor today can’t even make that statement. Sometimes these treatments work and sometimes they don’t. And no one knows why.

                    1. Again, that is all incorrect.

                      The doctor today relies on clinical trials done on actual human beings following the scientific method, but more than that, they have an understanding of the structure, biology and chemistry of the brain. The idea that serotonin, to keep the example, causes depression is rooted in this knowledge. It’s many levels above conjecturing about humours or demons, and not that it is plainly falsifiable.

                    2. ‘note’ that it is plainly falsifiable

                  2. Giving someone a herb was a hit or miss thing, the people had no larger, valid theory about what the herb was addressing in creating its effect.

                    They did have a larger theory (typically about humors or balancing essences or something equally wrong). How you make a claim that mental sciences are any different right now is confusing. Psychiatry has become exactly the same thing, they’re chasing balances of chemicals in the brain that they know very little about. “Oh, serotonin levels look to be low in depressed patients, let’s give them serotonin boosters!” Nevermind the fact that they have no clue why the serotonin is suppressed, nor whether boosting the serotonin will resolve the underlying issue.

                    1. Of course they have ideas on why serotonin seems to play the role it does. The ideas are based on how we know neurotransmitters in human and animal brains work, and those ideas were all derived from falsifiable research. John said they were working without falsifiable ideas, that’s flatly wrong. The entire difference between the kind of ‘research’ that looks to things like demons and the kind that looks to naturalistic causes is that the latter is demonstrably falsifiable and the former is not.

                    2. And those ideas are all just guesses that have no basis in clinical reality. See Goldwater’s post below. No one has any idea how any of this works. They are no better than exorcists. Hell, exorcism worked sometimes, if for no other reason than the placebo effect.

                    3. You’ve missed the entire point and seem to not understand the concept of ‘falsifiable’ at all.

                    4. You’re confusing ‘has been proven’ with ‘is not falsifiable.’

                      The idea that serotonin deficiencies cause depression in some way is demonstrably falsifiable. If people with such deficincies are no more likely to be depressed, the theory is false. In fact, you are relying on research which has not found the connection to try to undercut the theory!

                      That’s different than ‘an invisible, intangible demon is at work here,’ which can not be proven false.

                    5. If SSRI’s work better than prayer, then that’s what science would call evidence (there is no proof in science; that’s for logic and math).

                    6. So true – I would always make my students read William of Ockham and Michel Foucault side by side and point out that careful thinkers realized long ago that deductive reasoning, while a fun game, is quite useless for proving anything about the actual world.

                      Trial and error is the only way.

                2. On of my all-time favorite observations came from TH Huxley regarding the debate over whether chemical changes in the brain caused emotional changes or vice-versa.

                  He said he thought science would ultimately find that they are the same thing.

              2. My experience with psychology is admittedly limited, but I knew quite a few psych majors, and sat in on a few upper level classes. I found two big things. First, there is a super easy track to your BA in Psychology that involves taking the minimal in quantitative learning, and was the equivalent to reading a bunch of AP news stories on the latest studies. Second, there are classes and tracks available that increase the exposure to quantitative learning, such as statistics and neurology, but students could only take a few of those because the bullshit required courses for the degree were hogging all the schedule space.

                1. For example, Purdue offered meth modeling in psych, psychobiology, neuropsych, genetic psych. Lots of fun.

                  1. Yep, that’s where I went, back when the psych department was still part of the lib arts school. My smart psych friends were constantly loading their schedules over 20 credit hours just to take the good psych courses. They were consistently pissed off that they had to take 80+ hours in courses completely unrelated to their field of study.

                    It worked great for the kids who wanted to party for 4 years and still walk across the stage, but you were nearly forced to go to graduate school if you were interested in research.

                    I remember sitting in on a 300 level child psych class, watching the professor lecture on the study about how facial expressions are cross-cultural, thinking that besides a tidbit here or there the intro to psych coverage of this same study was at the same depth.

                    However, in shooting the breeze with some professors and grad students, it became clear that many of the courses were more intensive than that, and that Purdue was working on bolstering their psych program (they moved it into the health sciences college around the time I graduated).

              3. Well, you have to admit exorcisms have a pageantry that isn’t quite captured in a bottle of pills. Besides, you’ve never heard of a hit movie called “The Pharmacist”, have you?

                1. Tribal shamans have always known that there is far, far more to the placebo effect than modern science fully appreciates.

      2. I would argue they don’t. The actual track record of treating people with mental illness is no better today than it was a hundred years ago. At best we can give them powerful drugs that suppress some of the symptoms of the illness. But we still have no idea of its causes or how to actually cure people.

        Before we understood bacteria, we still could give people herbs and such to suppress fever or other symptoms. That is about what we can do today with psychiatric drugs.

      3. Evil foodie? Have you even tried the rice yet?

      4. Demons are chaotic evil, ProL. I’m more of a neutral evil with chaotic tendencies.

        1. That would make you a daemon or a yugoloth.

          I knew keeping that nerd card current would come in handy.

          1. I tend to think of myself as more of a demilich.

            1. You’re not old enough to be a demilich, at best you’ve barely started your lichdom.

        2. What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?

          1. All I know is my gut says “maybe”.

            1. With enemies you know where they stand but with neutrals? Who knows! It sickens me.

          2. I think some men are just born to apathy. Apathy is never thrust upon us.

    4. We know as much about the causes of mental illness as we knew about the causes of physical aliments before the discovery of germs.

      Science is getting better at it all the time; and chemical imbalances in the brain are the cause of some illnesses, including schizophrenia.

      Other recent studies suggest that schizophrenia may result in part when a certain gene that is key to making important brain chemicals malfunctions.

      Psychiatry may not figure out mental illness, but neuroscience will.

      1. It might. But it hasn’t yet. When it does and we can actually cure people or hell even come up with an agreed upon definition of what constitutes mental illness, it will have advanced beyond the level of exorcism. Until then, not so much.

        1. John is right here. The precise minute a behavioral disorder is found to have an identifiable physical cause, the patient is yanked out of the hands of the psychiatrist (modern day shaman) and sent to the neurologist (actual doctor).

      2. Science is getting better at it all the time; and chemical imbalances in the brain are the cause of some illnesses, including schizophrenia.

        No it hasn’t.

        There have been a rash of drugs which operate on brain chemicals by suppressing this or increasing that, and in use, by self-reporting, those drugs seem to have benefited users.

        But that is 100% correlation and nothing more – much like “good climate” wrt climate change is never really explained or defined, we don’t know what percentage what chemicals should be in which brains or why, or when they should nominally be released, etc, etc, etc.

        I mean it’s possible right, that these drugs are just synthetic versions of getting high or drunk or other things that humans have used to release stress over all of human history?

        & not to answer my own question – but yes. & the reason it’s possible it could be, is because we don’t know what is really going on.

        Please don’t misunderstand – I love psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience a great deal – and we do know more now than we ever have – we just need to be up front that we still know next to nothing about the brain itself, chemicals, why this or that, etc, etc, etc.

        & while I love FMRI technology – it hasn’t and will not be able to prove anything ever – it is only another data point (an important one) as it doesn’t help any more than giving some old guy testosterone and asking him if he feels better helps to understand hormones of an adult male.

        1. Or from the Simpons:

          Homer Simpson:Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

          Lisa Simpson: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

          Homer: Thank you, dear.

          Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

          Homer: Oh, how does it work?

          Lisa: It doesn’t work.

          Homer: Uh-huh.

          Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

          Homer: Uh-huh.

          Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

          Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

    5. The scientific method is no more valid than religious explanation. So saith John.

  4. You mock, Mr. Doherty, but even the comment section of H&R has been visited by demon squirrels. Can you prove it’s not true?

    1. Have you read the posts Shreek puts on here? Or worse, Mary Stack? Demons possess a lot more around here than just the server squirrels.

  5. In many aspects of their world, they are very similar to us. They marry, have children, and die. The life span, however, is far greater than ours (Ashour 1989).

    Abe Vigoda is a demon?!

    1. You may have a point…

      *reaches for Bible*

    2. Hmmm, do they have gay marriage?

  6. “Can You Prove It Isn’t True?”

    Sort of.

    My brother is schizophrenic.

    He’s catholic (well, Christmas and Easter). I went to church with him. I suggested he do the holy water thing just to check in case the demons had him. When no one was looking he freshened up his whole face and did the “Irish Spring” commercial routine. (‘dont forget under the arms’, i said)

    so = Demons nixed as potential cause.

    My mom is still convinced the one time he took mushrooms had something to do with it. I keep explaining to her that it actually had onset before he did that. Whatever. People don’t like the genetic explanation but the fact is, its completely validated. We identified people going back 4 generations on my moms side who had been similarly affected. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to do that.

    1. That is a horrible story. Of course genes are a possible cause but no one seems to be able to explain how. They can just point to this sort of thing running in families.

      And maybe you went to a heretic church and the holy water wasn’t any good. Did you go to one of those evil Roman churches? 😉

      1. Why is that a horrible story?

        And what do you mean, “Of course”-genes are a ‘probable’ cause?

        Wherever they’ve looked close enough for a genetic link, they find one. The problem is that the data is pretty poor on many people past 1st generation, and people tended not to report ‘crazy aunt goofytits’ in the family trees like one might expect.

        I’m not sure what the point is behind claiming, ‘we have imperfect knowledge, therefore we know nothing’.

        I mean – try that with ‘Gravity’

  7. They possess people for many reasons. Sometimes it is because they have been hurt accidentally, but possession may also occur because of love

    No, silly. Demons possess you (and your friends) if you go to a cabin in the woods and read from the Book of the Dead. So don’t read from the Book of the Dead!

    1. But it has such a great cover!

      1. Look, guy. There’s a reason the book was wrapped in barbed wire and had all the incantations scribbled out. Jesus with glasses should have known better.

        1. 1: you can’t reference the 2013 remake and keep.and.credibility

          2: holy.shit a

          1. Congrats on looking like somebody sort of famous, Mister Frequent Periods, but I’ll reference the 2013 version whenever I feel like it. Because it is excellent.

        2. Mitch Hedberg was in that movie?

    2. Also, don’t watch the video. Definitely don’t watch it.


      1. I liked Bruce Campbell was before it was cool.

        1. *way

  8. Why the hell would a demon get married?

    1. Tax purposes, I imagine.

      1. It doesn’t work for me. I pay more taxes because I am married. Maybe I should summon a demon to do my taxes.
        /runs off the find goat sacrifice.

    2. Tax benefits. You think you can escape taxes in hell?

    3. It was a crazy night in Vegas.

    4. Talk to my friends about their ex wives sometime. They seem to have a few ideas.

    5. Why the hell would a demon get married?

      To keep track of breeding partners with complementary genitalia. Duh.

  9. Now Doherty’s refusal to embrace alt-text makes sense. He’s literally demonic.

  10. I will say, as someone who deals with depression and anxiety so I’ve done some research on this, that even the neurotransmitter explanation isn’t fully satisfying.

    Take, for instance, the “low serotonin=depression” thing. Well, that tells you how to treat depression. What it doesn’t explain, and I’ve asked doctors about this, is WHY low serotonin would have the effect of depression. Serotonin helps with signalling in the brain. The expected effect would not, per say, be depression. It would seemingly be slowness of speech or thought, maybe movement. But jerky movement and speech are associated with dopamine in the case of Parkinson’s Disease, which is generally thought of as the brain’s pleasure neurotransmitter.

    I mean, hell, the doctor’s told me that my anxiety is related to my brain being dopaminergic ie too much dopamine. I should be wandering around happy as fuck and semi-high all the time, but it instead apparently causes anxiety (something related to the brain’s fight or flight mechanism).

    Beyond that, medication is a crap shoot. For “depression” some people take SSRIs(just serotonin), others SSNRIs(Serotonin and norepinephrine), and still others, like me, take mood stabilizers (stuff like Wellbutrin, which also does dopamine). So the same condition has three different neurotransmitter medications to work for it.

    1. Are you saying the field does not currently involve falsifiable, naturalistic ideas about why serotonin has the predicted effect, or just that they have not been sufficiently proven? Because there’s a big difference there.

      1. Even the MAOI hypothesis has a lot of parts to explain. There are at the moment multiple theories as to why low serotonin would cause depression: it effects the brain’s reward system, but it also may regulate other neurotransmitters following times of stress… and we’re just talking serotonin there.

        I mean, just take a gander:

        There is probably no single cause for depression. We’re talking a variety of genetic and environmental factors. There’s a reason why a lot of people with depression also should/need to do cognitive behavioral therapy and therapy in general- their lives often involve shit that trigger the genetics, etc.

        Plus, I can say anecdotally that sleep plays a HUGE role in this stuff.

        Basically, it is something in the brain. Neurotransmitters are probably part of it. But past that, science is still trying to understand what all of it means.

        And that’s just depression. There are a bunch of others out there.

  11. There exist similarities between the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia and demonic possession.

    It’s almost like pre-scientific churches came up with one as a way of explaining the other before we had the knowledge necessary to propose more materialist explanations.

  12. “Most scholars accept that demons can possess people and can take up physical space within a human’s body”

    Oh yeah, citation needed!

    ” (Asch 1985).”

    Oh, ok.

    1. Citations? You want citations? Here are some good ones from the references:

      Ashour, M. (1989). The jinn in the Qur’an and the Sunna. London: Dar Al-Taqwa.

      Gadit, A. A. M., & Callanan, T. S. (2006). Jinni possession: a clinical enigma in mental health. The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, 56, 476?478.

      Philips, A. A. B. (1997). Ibn Taymeeyah’s essay on the jinn (demons). Abridged, annotated and translated by A. A. B. Philips (4th ed.). Riyadh: International Islamic Publishing House.

      Another complete waste of time from the dupes who want to believe in revealed truth.

      1. The sad thing is that they don’t know that djinn aren’t demons. The two come from different places.

        Demons are from a universe with arrested expansion(hence all that ‘underground’ nonsense), while djinn come from a universe not too unlike this one.

  13. The line about Springer journals withdrawing articles is dumb. Springer is just the publisher. They don’t vet content. It’s like blogspot for journals, except they can extort libraries. Moreover, they work with hundreds, if not thousands, of journals.

  14. In our region, demons are believed to be intelligent and unseen creatures that occupy a parallel world to that of mankind.

    In our region. And elsewhere demons are believed to be something else entirely. Or maybe not. It’s a matter of where you are, and what you believe. You shouldn’t judge.

    And at the end of this junk-science ramble we read:

    Similarly, B. Erdem is a local faith healer in Ankara who expels the evil demons from many psychiatric patients with the help of good ones. B. Erdem contends that on occasions, the manifestation of psychiatric symptoms may be due to demonic possession. An important indicator of his primary suspicions about the possession is that, if someone has auditory hallucinations, he would remain alert to the possibility that he might be demonically possessed. His method of treatment seems to be successful because his patients become symptom free after 3 months.

    Ah, yes, the squalor of religious thinking: speculative, anecdotal, undisciplined, unreproducible, and ? when confronted by science and the test of reality ? ultimately an excuse for moral relativism.

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