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Is Autism a product of Natural Selection?

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cripes
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cripes
Posted 10/23/09 - 5:46 PM:
Subject: Is Autism a product of Natural Selection?
While reading the origin of species by Charles Darwin I began to wonder whether or not certain conditions we humans "suffer", Autism in particular were due to natural selection. I was intrigued by Autism because I have two offspring heavily involved with the condition: a daughter (clinical psychologist) who counsels families of autistic children and a son who cares for 2 autistic people. Those of course are extreme cases of Autism. The majority of autistic people are more like me and you, in fact you or I may indeed be autistic to some degree.

Thirty years ago, its estimated that one in every five thousand children born were autistic and today its down to one in one hundred fifty. In the UK its one in fifty, and Japan is even lower. Its an interesting phenomena.

I've been reading the research of the ARC headed by Simone Baron-Cohen and find this subject so interesting.

Baron-Cohen believes Autism may be due to females choosing mates that are less aggressive and more geeky (if you will).

If its so that Autism is evolution in progress we are privileged to be living at such a time when we are conscious and aware of this. Its like a child watching itself grow and understanding whats its witnessing.

What are your thoughts?
libertygrl
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Posted 10/23/09 - 7:57 PM:

i do believe that everyone is autistic to some degree. we all have our mechanisms for shutting out the world. i also believe that everyone is schizophrenic to some degree, everyone is bipolar to some degree, and so on. it's only when these conditions reach into certain levels that people see fit to stick a label on it.

are there evolutionary advantages to being autistic? yes, i definitely believe so. as for where it comes from or rather, what encourages its prevalence, i don't think i could guess. i once theorized that it may be a self-preservation mechanism that was passed on to children as a result of some form of depression in the parents. i don't know enough about evolutionary psychology (or biology) though to know how sound this theory is.

Edited by libertygrl on 10/23/09 - 8:03 PM
cripes
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Posted 10/23/09 - 8:45 PM:

I've had the same inclinations as you regarding so called diseases.

As I understand Darwin's theory it would seem that these are mostly simple mutations apparently occurring or at least manifesting themselves in the brain and being revealed through behavior. Extreme cases have little or no opportunity to mate in order to pass on the given form of the conditions and therefore remain of low incidence.

But like you, I'm not well versed in the subject. Though I can tell you that becoming even just a little familiar with this subject has made life seem more coherent.

I have reservations about any philosophy or medical findings that neglects to recognize or has had not the opportunity to understand evolution.

I believe it to be the single most important subject for all capable human beings to study.
Nihil Loc
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Posted 10/23/09 - 9:44 PM:

cripes wrote:
Is Autism a product of Natural Selection?


Natural Selection encompasses both intrinsic and extrinsic genetic forces, i.e. simple mutations or inherited complexes of genes or any of the environmental factors that impact which of these genes are passed on.

My counter question: what isn't a product of natural selection? I don't understand your intent.

Evolution should not suggest "progress" of any kind. As far as I know, there are many autistic individuals who have been at a severe disadvantage because of what they have inherited (either due to prenatal, perinatal, or postnatal care or a chance combination of genes -- I do not know the causes of autism). Many of the autistic cannot care for themselves.

cripes
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Posted 10/23/09 - 10:01 PM:

Mainly simply sharing thoughts and raising a conversation. I agree with your counter question of "what is not a product of natural selection?" Probably nothing.

I didn't intend to suggest that I saw any of it as progress, though my counter question is: What isn't progress (generically speaking)?

Most think of autism as a disease to be cured caused by vaccinations or poisons such as mercury or pesticides in our foods. What ARC (Autistic Research Center) at Cambridge University has found is very interesting. I linked ARC in the OP.

Thanks for the response.
Thinker13
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Posted 10/24/09 - 3:31 AM:


I believe it to be the single most important subject for all capable human beings to study.



Why and how so?


cripes wrote:
Mainly simply sharing thoughts and raising a conversation. I agree with your counter question of "what is not a product of natural selection?" Probably nothing.



I do not know. Consciousness is not a result of natural selection.




Thank you.
cripes
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Posted 10/24/09 - 4:07 AM:

Its where we come from and who we are which uniquely qualifies evolution as the single most important subject for conscious beings. Consciousness is certainly a part of the evolutionary process of the human species.
smokinpristiformis
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Posted 10/24/09 - 7:54 AM:

The short answer is yes.

The fact that autism occurs with the frequency that it does, strongly suggests that there is an evolutionary imperative that keeps making it occur. Or, alternatively, that there used to be such an imperative and it hasn't been evolved 'away' yet. (I'm actually not sure that this is realistic. It seems to me that if there were any time that you could have a meaningful life as an autist, this is it. But that just me.)
This imperative might not be very obvious. I'm not a specialist in genetics but, for example, there might be a number of certain gene variations that in themselves are very useful, but when combined in some specific ways result in autism. Although you can't put it all down to genes.. there probably are environmental factors involved as well.

Isn't autism a form of hypersensitivity? A sort of chronic brain overload that makes autists often very good at a mathematical manner of problem solving but not at dealing with the world? Anyway, I'm just wondering because thorough understanding autism could point us in the direction of some answers.

___

Welcome to the couch, cripes.

Settle down, grab a cushion, I hope you'll feel at home here.

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Willem

Edited by smokinpristiformis on 10/24/09 - 7:59 AM
smokinpristiformis
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Posted 10/24/09 - 8:39 AM:

And, for the record, consciousness (and the many forms of consciousness such as autism) has everything to do with the structure of our brains, which in turn has a genetic origin.
Genes are the architects drawings of our brains/consciousness. Of course, like any household you're state of mind is dependant a combination of other - external (wear/tear) and internal (cleanup/maintenance/excercise) - factors.
The Hanged Man
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Posted 11/22/09 - 12:58 AM:

libertygrl wrote:
i do believe that everyone is autistic to some degree. we all have our mechanisms for shutting out the world. i also believe that everyone is schizophrenic to some degree, everyone is bipolar to some degree, and so on. it's only when these conditions reach into certain levels that people see fit to stick a label on it.
hmm

So long as 0 is a degree, I agree. Otherwise, I would point out that disorders like autism, schizophrenia, and manic depression are defined in terms of behavioral thresholds. Even if a behavior is present in every human being, it doesn't count as a disorder until -- as you say -- it reaches a certain level. This is because it doesn't make sense to call something a disorder until it starts deviating sufficiently from the normal order so as to cause one difficulty.

smokinpristiformis wrote:
The fact that autism occurs with the frequency that it does, strongly suggests that there is an evolutionary imperative that keeps making it occur.
Not at all. It only suggests that there is no evolutionary imperative to weed it out. Compare the frequency of such trivial things as translucent fingernails: we all have them, but it doesn't affect our reproductive success; it's just something that happened and has no reason to go away.
smokinpristiformis
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Posted 11/23/09 - 3:17 AM:

Not at all. It only suggests that there is no evolutionary imperative to weed it out. Compare the frequency of such trivial things as translucent fingernails: we all have them, but it doesn't affect our reproductive success; it's just something that happened and has no reason to go away.


I did say (note the additional sentence);
The fact that autism occurs with the frequency that it does, strongly suggests that there is an evolutionary imperative that keeps making it occur. Or, alternatively, that there used to be such an imperative and it hasn't been evolved 'away' yet.



Depends how you look at it, really. Evolution is a race. Standing still is falling behind. If the genes don't provide any advantage, they'll go away or mutate in the long term. Certainly if they don't provide an advantage, their occurance will always be extremely marginal - a rare fluke, basicly. To become a noticable pattern in a population, you need to have some evolutionary drive. If the genes occur frequently, that means that these (genes responsible for autism) have or had something to say for them that is at least as strong as its competitors.

On a tangent: Autism might cause some evolutionary disadvantage. Assuming that it does, it could still exist if the genes responsible are succesful enough seperately. Also, these genes might not actually cause autism (as frequently) in different environmental circumstances. It might be that as the environmental factors changed, autism started to occur where it, in the past, didn't .

Edited by smokinpristiformis on 11/23/09 - 3:26 AM
Monk2400
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Posted 11/23/09 - 3:55 PM:

How many people with severe autism have children? And how many of those children themselves are autistic?

If autism can't be linked directly to those that display autism, that is, if its causes are environmental or unknown or caused directly by human interference in the development process (vaccinations), then it can't be selected for, certainly not by females choosing to breed with geeks.

How many geeks produce perfectly healthy offspring?
Monk2400
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Posted 11/23/09 - 4:31 PM:

Speaking of autism, can cannabis provide relief from severe conditions?

Single mother gives pot brownies to child:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEuUAk7Ug1I&feature=player_embedded#

Boy's condition improves with use of hash:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0eesEwNhMA&feature=player_embedded#



The ultimate herbal remedy: Can cannabis improve autism?
Thursday, 5 November 2009

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-ultimate-herbal-remedy-can-cannabis-improve-autism-1814756.html

A month or so into the treatment, it was still too early to know if we could find a dose and mode of delivery that would give us consistent results. Even if J could learn to use the vaporiser, it costs $600 and would leave the house reeking of pot. And we didn't want to get too dependent, because of the inherent limitations. Though we'd love to calm J with pot so that he can visit his grandmother in Minnesota, bringing a controlled substance on the plane isn't the best idea. But since we started him on his "special tea," J's little face, which is sometimes a mask of pain, has softened. He's smiled more. For most of the last year, his individual education plan at his special-needs school was full of blanks, recording "no progress" because he spent his whole day an irritated, frustrated mess. But soon after starting on the tea, his reports began to show real progress, including "two community outings with the absence of aggressions".

My husband and I are both academics and writers (me, novelist and essayist; he, historian), given to close observation and note taking. It was these habits that finally helped us see our son's allergic sensitivity to certain foods and seek advice from a gastroenterologist for his behaviours – aggression and chronic diarrhoea – instead of the recommended psychiatrist. (Gut pain and digestive problems, coined as "autistic entercolitis", are now considered a common biological affliction of many autistic children).

At first we weren't sure if we were seeing results from the cannabis, but after about three months, which included weekly consultations with our grower as we experimented with different strains, we observed a much happier and outgoing child – who did not act or appear "stoned" in any way. Four months in, J came home from school and I noticed something different. Pre-pot, J ate the collars of his shirts, teasing his clothes apart and swallowing the threads. There's a name for this disorder – pica (pregnant women sometimes chew on chalk). It got so bad he ate his pyjamas and we had to start dressing him in organic cotton shirts. Then one day he came home from school wearing a whole shirt.

J's school reports improved too. At one parent meeting, his teacher produced the latest "aggression" chart, showing attempts or instances of hitting, kicking biting or pinching other people. For a year he had scored an average of 30 to 50 aggressions a day, with a high of 300. The latest data showed days, sometimes consecutive, with zero aggressions. And on the school bus, J has transformed from a child who has hit the driver in the face and bitten people into a sparkly eyed boy who says hi and quietly takes his seat.
***



http://www.doublex.com/section/health-science/why-i-give-my-9-year-old-pot

Question: why are we giving our nine-year-old a marijuana cookie?

Answer: because he can't figure out how to use a bong.

---

Marie Myung-Ok Lee teaches at Brown University and is the author of the novel Somebody's Daughter, and is a winner of the Richard Margolis award for social justice reporting.



Of course 'real research' still needs to be done, say doctors. But since there is virtually no $$ in investing in pot research for big pharma, this is going to take a while, if at all. People have been making claims for medicinal cannabis use for decades, yet no scientists are touching it with a ten foot bong. Anslinger rot in hell!!

8)
Monk2400
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Posted 11/23/09 - 4:33 PM:

A child with severe autism would be dead in the wild in short order. They require extensive care by caregivers. This doesn't seem to be any kind of evolutionary advantage. And as soon as we say things like 'we're all autistic in some way' the classification looses all meaning. Imbalance is imbalance, no matter what is gained on the lop-side.
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Posted 11/23/09 - 8:34 PM:

smokinpristiformis wrote:
I did say (note the additional sentence);
The fact that autism occurs with the frequency that it does, strongly suggests that there is an evolutionary imperative that keeps making it occur. Or, alternatively, that there used to be such an imperative and it hasn't been evolved 'away' yet.
Yes, but that doesn't exactly address my concerns. The example I gave, translucent fingernails, is something has neither a current or former evolutionary imperative other than perhaps being related to something important (like I said, some features -- particularly incidental ones -- come along with other features).

I am also unconvinced that the frequency of autism (0.2% of the population) or even autism spectrum disorders (0.6% of the population) is particularly significant. For one thing, they are on par with polydactylism, which we know for certain has been selected against. Autism has become quite visible thanks to advocacy efforts on behalf of ASD awareness and research. But hey, polydactylism had it's day, too, after The Princess Bride came out.

Monk2400 wrote:
And as soon as we say things like 'we're all autistic in some way' the classification looses all meaning.
Indeed. nod
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Posted 11/23/09 - 8:45 PM:

hi hanged man, welcome.

Monk2400 wrote:
And as soon as we say things like 'we're all autistic in some way' the classification looses all meaning.

i strongly disagree.

we can say things like "everyone dies", but this doesn't mean that death has no meaning.

it is certainly by means of the tendency to an extreme that we are able to clearly identify certain traits. autistic traits, for example, or schizophrenic traits. but people who are more or less balanced, healthy, and "normal" may also identify these same traits in themselves to a lesser degree. this, i believe, is an important fact of human behavior that is right to be acknowledged. furthermore, i think that the ability to distinguish a phenomenon in terms of degrees demonstrates a finer sensitivity to subtlety. rather than dissolving the value of the classification, it has the great potential to enhance one's understanding of it, thereby promoting empathy.

Monk2400 wrote:
A child with severe autism would be dead in the wild in short order. They require extensive care by caregivers. This doesn't seem to be any kind of evolutionary advantage.

that doesn't mean that there are no other evolutionary advantages.

smokinpristiformis
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Posted 11/24/09 - 8:59 AM:

Yes, but that doesn't exactly address my concerns. The example I gave, translucent fingernails, is something has neither a current or former evolutionary imperative other than perhaps being related to something important (like I said, some features -- particularly incidental ones -- come along with other features).

I am also unconvinced that the frequency of autism (0.2% of the population) or even autism spectrum disorders (0.6% of the population) is particularly significant. For one thing, they are on par with polydactylism, which we know for certain has been selected against. Autism has become quite visible thanks to advocacy efforts on behalf of ASD awareness and research. But hey, polydactylism had it's day, too, after The Princess Bride came out.


I said something along the lines of the fingernail part earlier. It probably has to do with something more profound: The pluses and minuses of genes, rather than traits.

Good point about the polydactylism, assuming that polydactylism is selected against. There seems to be a five finger optimum, but I wonder why. Sexual selection might be involved, perhaps? Anyway, that's besides the issue.

I still feel that 2 and 6 per thousand is a bit big for a simple coïncidence. I looked it up and it appears that polydactylism can be caused by a variety of mutations. Perhaps the same is true for autism? Or is it an allele prone to mutation? That is, if autism has always been selected against and that it is not something that came about in recent years because of caused by a recent change in circumstances. Or maybe it's all of the above..

To me, it does seem unlikely that autism as a trait is not selected against. I think there's something behind it that makes it happen more often than it would in a 'one bad gene/one bad trait'-situation. I'm guessing the genes in the background have some good qualities as well. Of course, that's an unscientific argument. I'm merely banking on the relatively high prevalence.


Edited by smokinpristiformis on 11/24/09 - 9:44 AM
cripes
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Posted 11/24/09 - 12:28 PM:

[Heres a very interesting site. Click on the autism link for some info regarding different idea's.

Neoteny is fun to read about too.
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Posted 11/24/09 - 1:31 PM:

cripes wrote:

Baron-Cohen believes Autism may be due to females choosing mates that are less aggressive and more geeky (if you will).


The obvious counter to this suggestion is that people with severe autism--by which all lesser degrees are identified as lesser--often display wild and random agressive acts due to a lack of empathy and understanding of social boundaries. So if women are choosing mates that are less agressive, it's a bit of a miss to get offspring that is MORE aggressive isn't it?

And why would we think that the selection is one-way, female-to-male? What traits are males selecting to make autistic babies?

libertygrl wrote:

i strongly disagree.

we can say things like "everyone dies", but this doesn't mean that death has no meaning.


If we make the argument that everyone is autistic, then we are no longer talking about a specific, classifiable condition. Autism, then, is the norm for all human beings. We must then refer to gradations within each individual's ability to process information and interact with others socially and empathically.

I mean, every disorder is based on the imbalanced functioning of some order, ie, something that is already there that has a specific raison d'etre. I don't see how anyone could regard a severely autistic person and say 'well they're normal enough, just a bit quirky perhaps'. I mean, it's clear that there is something wrong with those folks.

The endless debate is what the 'normal' range is and how to identify it. The difference between Joe Normal and Jim Autistic is pretty clear. The clarity dissolves along the boundaries.


libertygrl wrote:

that doesn't mean that there are no other evolutionary advantages.


You can't have an evolutionary advantage if you're dead long before you have a chance to reproduce. An imbalance that severely impacts social functioning for an otherwise social animal will not lead to any long-term selection advantages, unless suddenly the entire species becomes anti-social. Second, the question remains whether autistic people produce autistic offspring, if people are actively selecting autistic people to have offspring with, and whether autistic offspring come from only a specific sub-set of individuals with traits that are identifiable and selectable by potential mates. If they don't, if none of these are the case, there is no selection possible.

Anyways, all this talk of evolution in this context is nonsense. We cannot and will not see any 'evolutionary changes' happening in our, our parents, or our children's lifetimes. As a species we simply do not adapt that quickly. I mean, we are still having trouble coping with our grain-based diet due to the make-up of our intestines from way back in the cave man days.

And all this goes by the wayside if autism is caused by something we are doing to our environment--a product of our lifestyle, food (poison) choices, etc, which, if corrected, would eliminate the prevelance of the condition.

8)
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Posted 11/24/09 - 2:08 PM:

cripes wrote:
[Heres a very interesting site. Click on the autism link for some info regarding different idea's.

Neoteny is fun to read about too.

interesting site. on the neoteny essay, i'm curious as to the source of lehman's assertion that puberty begins at the age of 3 or 4 in the west. clearly this is not the norm; it would be useful for him to cite his sources in many places. nonetheless, an interesting blog. i admire his passion and creativity, and his theories do have the ring of sense to them, presuming that the premises are all sound.

what do you think about his assertion (as stated on the overview of his human evolution page) that it is necessary to understand the ontogeny of an idea in order to fully understand any theory which may follow?
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Posted 11/24/09 - 2:13 PM:

I'd have to disagree that evolution only occurs over extremely long periods of time. Take for example the story of Dmetry Belyaev and selective breeding. The changes in this Fox occurred fairly quickly. I think six Fox generations.

Some are saying that this may be similar to what is happening to humans in that for some reasons our maturation process has slowed and reproducing at a less mature stage is producing a rise in the Autistic population.

The fact is that in todays world, the body is not much more than a pedestal for the head. It's not unreasonable to think that changes quick and slow would occur there.


Edited by cripes on 11/24/09 - 2:31 PM
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Posted 11/24/09 - 2:24 PM:

libertygrl wrote:

what do you think about his assertion (as stated on the overview of his human evolution page) that it is necessary to understand the ontogeny of an idea in order to fully understand any theory which may follow?
I think many people who study evolution believe that, but I'm not one.

I prefer David Sloan Wilson's idea's as put forth in his book Evolution For Everyone that Darwinian principles can be applied to everything.

That only makes sense since evolution is the process by which life exists. If we've evolved through whatever selection, it would seem to be intuitive to us I think.
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Posted 11/24/09 - 2:33 PM:

cripes wrote:

I'd have to disagree that evolution only occurs over extremely long periods of time. Take for example the story of Dmetry Belyaev and selective breeding.



About the red fox (from whence the silver fox was domesticated):

An average litter size is five kits, but may be as large as 13.

The red fox reaches sexual maturity by ten months of age, and may live for 12 years in captivity but will usually only live three years in the wild.


Greater yeild for offspring, quicker sexual maturity, shorter lifespan, and entirely artificial breeding conditions.

Yes results can be improved by specific, directed, and enforced breeding programmes.

What evidence is there that human beings are doing this to themselves?


cripes wrote:

The fact is that in todays world, the body is not much more than a pedestal for the head.


LOL, that's a fairly ridiculous statement.

laughing
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Posted 11/24/09 - 2:45 PM:

Monk2400 wrote:






LOL, that's a fairly ridiculous statement.

laughing
Why, because you didn't say it first?

What are you doing at the moment?

I promise not to be offended though.

Take a look at what children are doing in school for what 7 hours. That process of sitting in a classroom continues for what, 13 years. Then going home to watch TV or play video games.

What about smoking marajuana or other recreational drugs -- what is affected? The head, no?
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Posted 11/24/09 - 3:38 PM:

Monk2400 wrote:
If we make the argument that everyone is autistic, then we are no longer talking about a specific, classifiable condition. Autism, then, is the norm for all human beings.

i'm really having trouble following your line of reasoning here. death is the norm for all human beings too, wouldn't you say? is death not a specific, classifiable condition?

Monk2400 wrote:
You can't have an evolutionary advantage if you're dead long before you have a chance to reproduce.

but you can have an evolutionary advantage if your species is not anywhere near the brink of extinction due to underpopulation, such as is the obvious case in our society today. autism may, for example, grant an evolutionary advantage such as a highly evolved understanding of mathematics, science, technology or medicine, such that you could easily pinpoint the solution to what could at some point be a life-threatening problem to the species.

Hanged Man wrote:
So long as 0 is a degree, I agree. Otherwise, I would point out that disorders like autism, schizophrenia, and manic depression are defined in terms of behavioral thresholds. Even if a behavior is present in every human being, it doesn't count as a disorder until -- as you say -- it reaches a certain level. This is because it doesn't make sense to call something a disorder until it starts deviating sufficiently from the normal order so as to cause one difficulty.

the boundaries at which the threshold are defined are determined for the sake of convenience for medical professionals who have to assess how well a person can care for themselves. if you look at the DSM-IV criteria for schizophrenia, for example, you will see one criterium that mentions the persistence of certain cognitive symptoms for greater than six months. so are we to believe that someone experiencing these same exact symptoms for only 5 months are not actually schizophrenic at all, whereas those who pass that arbitrary 6-month threshold actually are, fully so? of course not. the appearance of the phenomenon in terms of degrees is irrefutable, in my opinion.

hanged man, your assertion that 0 must be a degree is fair enough, although my intuition and experiences lead me to believe otherwise.




Edited by libertygrl on 11/24/09 - 4:20 PM. Reason: typos
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