Sudoku and Neurotransmission

There’s nothing that can convince me that this life is meant to be as complicated as we make it. There’s nothing that can convince me that we will ever find all of the answers, and to think that we have some already is naive and wishful. These are the things I think about as I backtrack in my Sudoku game, something I used to hate doing as a child because I could never get it right the first time. I have once in my life, but that was in a bout of mania. As much as I like to think it was my own brain power, it was really just a flood of neurotransmitters doing all the work.

250px-sudoku_puzzle_by_l2g-20050714_solution_standardized_layout-svgI was thinking about this the other day, about neurotransmission and Sudoku, and how they both have algorithms to describe their process. We have more neural connections in our brain than we have estimated stars in our galaxy. 1000 times more, to be exact. Sudoku has a bunch of different number possibilities, but only one answer. I fear neurotransmission is not as simple.

We have an algorithm for the probability of neural transmission: when certain neurons will fire and the chance of that happening, essentially. I believe if we do wish to describe the processes that happen in our brain, math will be the catalyst for success in that field. There are too many connections, too many variables, to settle on an explanation as simple as, say, a chemical imbalance.

I came across an essay in PLOS medicine titled “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the Scientific Literature.” This is a big deal. Although published in 2005, their words are still very relevent today. I’m sure you have heard in commercials about psychiatric medication that “so and so disorder is a chemical imbalance, and [insert drug] works to correct that balance”. Notice they will never explain how or why, because they simply don’t know. We don’t know.

And that’s where my area of study will be, once I do graduate: let’s explore this idea of chemical imbalance and what it may mean. My ultimate goal? Disprove the theory.

That’s a long way off, and it may only be a pipe dream, but I believe I can catalyst a different type of thought in the mental health community by proving, scientifically, mathematically, whatever you want to call it, that something like a chemical imbalance cannot possibly exist. Why?

As the essay says:

Attempts were also made to induce depression by depleting serotonin levels, but these experiments reaped no consistent results [9]. Likewise, researchers found that huge increases in brain serotonin, arrived at by administering high-dose L-tryptophan, were ineffective at relieving depression.

As it also says:

Contemporary neuroscience research has failed to confirm any serotonergic lesion in any mental disorder, and has in fact provided significant counterevidence to the explanation of a simple neurotransmitter deficiency. Modern neuroscience has instead shown that the brain is vastly complex and poorly understood.

And of course, let’s not forget:

There is no scientifically established ideal “chemical balance” of serotonin, let alone an identifiable pathological imbalance. To equate the impressive recent achievements of neuroscience with support for the serotonin hypothesis is a mistake.

comic-bubble-hmm_1609021If there is no established balance, there, logically, cannot be an imbalance. This article focuses purely on serotonin and depression, but this in fact relates as well to the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia and any other neurotransmitter they claim causes certain mental health issues. These studies are indeed correlational and not experiments. What does this mean for us that struggle mentally?

It means the door is open again. It means we can find a different explanation. It means we can focus on genes. We can focus on environment. We can focus on the way society structures thought–how we’re taught to think about ourselves in the first place. We can focus on things we can change, rather than this pipe dream that a little pill that may or may not cause more harm to our bodies/brains than good, can cure anything at all.

To deny that there is a biological component would be ignorant of me. To accept the propaganda that pharmaceutical companies place in front of my eyes would be even more ignorant of me.

There could be a chance that neurotransmission is just like Sudoku, and that perhaps there is one single answer and we just have to back track and back track and back track until we find the right numerical composition. But more than likely that isn’t the case. This isn’t a pattern devised by a computer. This is a pattern devised by universal chaos and quantum processes. What is there to correct? What’s created by nature is created by nature, and for us to label that right or wrong, normal or abnormal, is rather selfish and egotistical.

What else could it be, if not a chemical imbalance then? We could brainstorm ideas for hours. Genetics–if your mother has what we label as schizophrenia, there’s a greater chance you will too. But stop. It also depends on: Environment. There’s a striking number of people who receive this label who have been through some type of sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe emotional abuse, and often voices and delusions reflect this pain. What does that tell us? That deep pain that isn’t processed properly leaves a lasting stamp on our neural connections, and turns something on and off in our genetics. Socio-economic status plays a role: think of all the homeless people you see wandering the street talking to themselves. Assume they are not on drugs, and you’re dealing with a mental health issue. You think it’s easy to get well in poverty? You think there isn’t trauma in poverty? What effect does trauma have on the brain? There are studies on this, but what does it mean for neural connections? What does any of the things I just mentioned mean?

That’s what I plan to study in my life. I’ve given up the fight against these pharmaceutical people. I can’t fight a corporation. But I can fight their bullshit research with real research.

Ironic, considering Research Methods is my LEAST favorite class.

And that’s today’s Mental Truth.

 

 

Genetics and a Book Recommendation

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I woke up feeling blank as usual and lay in bed in this robe that, honestly, I’m getting sick of feeling on my skin. I spent twenty minutes . . . a half hour . .  . an hour staring at the wall listening to thoughts pass behind my eyes that made no sense at all and then, because I’m terrified of spiders and always wonder about them, put my ear to my wall wondering if I could hear them scurrying around in the wood. No such luck.

After that charade was over I figured I’d trudge out into the kitchen and get some food before my stomach killed me.

It’s two in the afternoon.

I sat at this computer with my food, purposefully avoiding the second email from my previous employer, and got prepared to stare at a screen for another twenty hours.

5231811-a-bowl-of-spilled-neopolitan-ice-cream-on-white-carpet-that-is-melting-stock-photoDays mesh together like strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate in a bowl in 100 degree weather, and I’m sure I’ve mastered the art of existing, regardless of the circular philosophy you send yourself in at an attempt at defining it.

That being said, thank you to those of you sending encouraging words. I know sometimes it doesn’t seem like much to just send a positive word to someone but just reading them reminds me I’ve been through this before and can make it out alive yet again. What I will do after that I have no idea. For now, I’ll ride the wave until it crashes on the shore. Whenever that may be.

All of THAT being said, I opened my flipboard in hopes for some juicy content, something I could maybe thrust some sarcasm in, twist, and rip a few organs to shred.

I found a gem but not one to mock, one to bring attention to.

I wish it were longer. But I suppose keeping it short these days guarantees more people will take the time to read. I know it helped me get through the few paragraphs with this fucked attention span of mine. I used to be able to read, I don’t know what happened.

This article has to do with genes. It has to do with genes in relation to mental disorders, specifically schizophrenia, one disorder I feel we often attribute heritability to more often than any other. Is that because those of us in the psychiatric research world have no idea what goes on in the process of this disorder? You can bet your bottom dollar.

Do people still say that anymore?

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That reminds me, there is a book I would recommend for anyone interested. It’s called “Of Spirits and Madness: An American Psychiatrist in Africa”. By Paul Linde M.D. He discusses the lives of 9 patients he treated while in Africa, the majority of whom were suffering psychosis, mania, schizophrenia, or a combination of the three. He speaks of getting accustomed to 1) greeting everyone in the hospital every morning as a cultural requirement, 2) learning their customs 3) realizing how absent spirituality is in western medicine these days. He often asked him self “is there a possibility this person is cursed/possessed by his ancestors as the African healers suggest?” He often found the healers methods worked at times.

In Africa going to a Psychiatrist is a last resort. 

In Africa their go-to medication was Thorazine.

In Africa they don’t care about “how” an illness came about, they care about “why”.

750825-_uy400_ss400_It’s an interesting read. I’ve been going to the library and reading a chapter or two because I still owe them 50 cents and I don’t want to pay it.

Anyway, the article I read today had nothing to do with Africa. The article I read, which you can also read here is entitled “There are no ‘schizophrenia genes’ and here’s why”. Written by a couple of professors.

We all know there’s a big uproar about this, about finding a single gene to link to a mental disorder so we can finally have that biological cause that absolutely means . . .

literally, nothing.

But we want it anyway. So we spend millions on trying to find that gene rather than improving treatment standards and training professionals to help those with the disorder live the life they want to.

Logic.

These professors pinpoint the real issues about these genetic studies.

The “Rosetta Stone” gene that got published last year? The one I remember hearing about? On Flipboard?

Studied on mice and had already not been linked to schizophrenia in a 2012 study.

Harvard, good old Ivy League Donate-To-Us-And-We’ll-Give-You-A-Full-Ride-Scholarship-Especially-If-You’re-ethnic-Unless-You’re-Asian, University claimed they produced “a landmark study that provides the first rigorously tested insight into the biology behind any common psychiatric disorder”. Now if that doesn’t already sound ridiculous (it should), the findings which showed the genetic link incredibly tiny, minuscule even, got exaggerated. As usual.

sn-genetransferThere are hundreds of genes that have found to have a tiny effect, a tiny link, to all psychiatric disorders. Including Anxiety. Including depression. Including things like Autism.

This paragraph explains these warped views better than I could have summarized. I couldn’t taint this perfection with my sloppy vocabulary:

The high heritability estimates reported in earlier quantitative genetic studies don’t rule out environmental influences, but have discouraged researchers from taking social causes seriously. But we now know that there are proven strong associations between psychosis and a range of social risk factors, such as exposure to impoverished and urban environments, migration, childhood traumas (sexual or physical abuse and bullying by peers), and recent adverse experiences in adulthood. So why does the genetic story about mental illness continue to appeal?

What’s funny is that a link to an article below is entitled “Study reveals genetic secrets behind Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder”.

Give me a fucking break here, you guys. Really.

Why does the genetic story about mental illness continue to appeal? Quick fix possibility? Kill the baby before it’s born so it doesn’t suffer? An obsession with the “how” and nothing more? Another reason to call yourself defective maybe? Another reason to prove you’re not part of the average population?

What do you think?

 

 

 

College and Knowledge

question

As our first assignment, my philosophy professor published a question online in which we could comment on. She asked us “what do you expect out of this class?”

I’m not new to philosophy. I read it as a high schooler (particularly Kant for some reason) and I’ve taken the college courses in it. I feel I’ve had a metaphysical mind since birth; the concepts of reality and our perceptions and the nature of reality are things I get weird looks for when I talk about them. Some people just have a hard time wrapping their head around something that isn’t tangible.

As a child, I lived outside of this physical world and inside of my mental world. I have no problem with fantasy, theorizing, hypotheticals or thought experiments. I don’t take very many things seriously, meaning I don’t believe what I see or what I hear, because my perception of it could always be wrong. Not in a hallucination way, but in a reality way. You know, the color of the desk is only that color because your optical nerves can only receive specific types of light. Were you a Mantis Shrimp, you’d see a whole new world.

Our brains, as complex and as sophisticated as we like to think of them as, couldn’t handle absolute reality. It restricts us from certain perceptions for a reason.

half-life-of-learning-3So I thought for a day on what I expected out of this Ethics course. It made me think about what I want and what I expect out of all my classes. It made me think about the reality of education in general.

There are core reasons people take Calculus and Linear Algebra and Differentials: it fits their major. Physics majors, math majors, engineers, computer scientists, some chemistry majors, e.t.c. In my mathematics based classes, I’m surrounded by those people. They’re all going into the “hard” sciences, and when I say I’m a psychology major they give me that look. 

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Confusion, essentially. Perhaps a little pity.

It’s as if people have forgotten majors are not the only thing you’re allowed to study.

I could have stopped at Trigonometry if I wanted to, and transferred to a school that didn’t care whether or not Calculus existed. I could have stopped at first and second semester calculus because the university I’m transferring to only requires the first semester. But I keep on going. Why? What am I expecting?

There are core reasons people take Physiology and Pharmacology: it’s a requirement if you want to be a certified nurse or social worker or an extra education requirement if you’re a drug counselor in this county apparently. Why am I taking it? What am I expecting? I’m not apart of the HSERV (Human Services) program. It doesn’t even transfer.

Besides the obvious “to get a degree so I’m not a lonely, loony bum under the bridge that smells like rotten urine and bad heroin”, what do I expect to get out of college?

student-debt

Hmm.

If there’s one thing that has bothered me before I even understood the power of knowledge was the fact that people abuse it.

I’m not talking about all those C.E.O’s I spit shit about all the time. They’re not abusing their knowledge of the system, they’re taking advantage of it to serve themselves.

I’m talking about the people who are capable of learning and understanding and acting who essentially do not. Some of those people are the reason those self-serving leaders get away with what they do. To hold your knowledge and understanding from the world is, in my eyes, an abuse of the aforementioned.

To never learn is an abuse of the self, in my eyes.

To take everything in life absolutely serious is an abuse of life, in my eyes. People who are offended by cursing and dark humor baffle me.

So what do I expect out of college besides crippling debt? Whatever I want. I take the classes that are relevant to my career interests and my personal interests. And money will never come in between me and my interests.

Stock PhotoI’m a firm believer that if you are going into a position which serves the people, the last thing you need to do is avoid classes and life experiences which teach you more about people.

So why am I taking so much math? I’m not going to be asking future clients to integrate equations with me, but the action of math on the brain has profound benefits. Depending on its applications, sometimes it’s black and white, sometimes you need a little creativity, sometimes you have to expand your mind and think of something you wouldn’t normally associate with the problem. That’s a good skill to master in a field where the majority of information is coming from ambiguous and sometimes warped sources.

People will come with different problems and different mindsets. Prescribing Ritalin to every single patient who might experience ADHD symptoms is like trying to make a U-Substitution to solve every integration problem imaginable. You can try, I guess, but you’ll be making life pretty difficult for yourself.

You’ll be scratching the surface, but you won’t ever hit the root. Sure, you could use a U-Sub, but you also might need to integrate by parts. There are a million things you might have to do and if you don’t consider them, you’re short changing the math and your brain. You’re also risking an F in the class.

And an F in life.

You short change math, math will short change you. It’s a ruthless bastard. Just when you think you’ll never have to do it again in your life, you have to do it and then some. And then suddenly you’re enjoying it and you find yourself questioning the meaning of life.

whatisthemeaningoflife

There’s a reason thought-experiments are fairly common with great scientists and mathematicians. Because the result makes a hypothetical into a reality. I think that’s what’s most beautiful about thoughts and knowledge and understanding.

Tangible items have bounds and limits. That’s why I don’t focus too much on what I perceive, I don’t like focusing on the physical world and instead have always, since I was a child, focused on what I thought and felt and understood. No one can bind those.

 

I enjoy knowledge for the sake of its application. I don’t care about being a know it all (that’s impossible anyway), even though I feel like I should be given the reputation I’ve created for myself with classmates and professors.

It’s healthy to think about something other than yourself every once in a while. It’s healthy to ask yourself a random question and spend some time hunting for the answer. It’s healthy to realize you’re not just an organism living under a roof with a job and a family, you’re also a living organism with the ability to wonder about your own existence, about space, about “time”, about the universe, about what’s happening out there in the vast blackness that you’ll never get to see in your physical lifetime.

I don’t know why people get freaked out thinking about it. I honestly enjoy the disconnect.

I don’t know what the point of this post was. I know I haven’t posted in a day or two and it’s been eating away at my soul. So I decided to return for a quick night, even though my hands are stumbling across the keyboard with exhaustion.

That’s right, exhaustion. Before midnight.

I might actually sleep tonight.