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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sapolsky Religion Lecture Dissected Part 1/6

The Biology of Religion:
"Looking at Some Biological Underpinnings of Religiosity"

Sapolsky on Religion Lecture Dissected 

Sapolsky admits that this brilliant lecture is often met with considerable resistance by some religious types.  Here, my goal is to dissect his lecture and provide adequate scholarly references to clarify and validate his argument; to reaffirm that his lecture is based on unbiased science.

This is the beginning a 6 part video lecture.  Timestamps have been created for your convenience.  Academic references follow the notes. 


Time: 00:00
I. Some opening caveats, disclaimers and fine print

II. Religion and belief

Time: 01:37
    1. A return to the final question of the schizophrenia lecture  

    2. Genes and the advantages of intermediate penetrance: sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis....and schizophrenia?


Wright, P., Gill, M., & Murray, R. (1993). Schizophrenia: Genetics and the maternal immune response to viral infection American Journal of Medical Genetics, 48 (1), 40-46 DOI: 10.1002/ajmg.1320480110

From the abstract:
"Thirty years ago, Eliot Slater suggested that the reason schizophrenia was not progressively eliminated from the population was that the responsible gene also conveyed a compensatory advantage in terms of increased resistance to infection. If this selective advantage lies in the antibody response to certain viral infections, this could explain recent studies suggesting that exposure to influenza in the second trimester of gestation increases the risk of later schizophrenia."

Time: 05:54  
    3. The Kety schizophrenia adoption studies: their second discovery, and the continuum of traits.

Time: 07:14
    4. Schizotypal personality disorder: social withdrawal, odd perceptual experiences, a tendency towards concreteness, metamagical belief.

Time: 10:26   
    5. Who are the traditional schizotypals?


On the Kety studies and schizotypals: Verifying the schizotypal personality disorder.  Commentary on inadequacy of diagnosis using the then current DSMIII: 

Torgersen, Svenn (1985). Relationship of Schizotypal Personality Disorder to Schizophrenia: Genetics Schizophrenia Bulletin , 11 (4)

From the abstract:
"The adoptive, family, and twin studies show that schizotypal personality features are found among the relatives of schizophrenics. However it has not been shown that there is a higher risk of schizophrenia among the relatives of schizotypals. An explanation may be that the current DSM-III criteria of schizotypal personality disorder do not adequately define schizotypals genetically related to schizophrenia. While some of the cases that meet DSM-III criteria are within the schizophrenia spectrum, others are unrelated to schizophrenia. There is reason to believe that schizotypals characterized by distant relationship to others, suspiciousness, eccentricity, peculiar communication, and dysfunctional school and work performance are within the schizophrenic sphere with psychotic-like symptoms phenomenologically similar to schizophrenia and diagnosed as schizotypal personality disorders in DSM-III represent decompensation of other personality disorders"

Time: 10:48
                  a. Paul Radin,

Ref. provided by Sapolsky:
"The psychopathology of shamanism is discussed in a number of places. Paul Radin and his thinking are considered in S. Diamond, "Paul Radin," in S. Silverman, ed., Totems and Teachers: Perspectives on the History of Anthropology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981)"

Time: 12:02
[added] Erwin Ackerknecht and Paul Devereux: hearing voices at the right time

Ref. provided by Sapolsky:
"see E. Ackerknecht, "Psychopathology, Primitive M edicine and Primitive Culture," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 14 (1946): 30; J. Silverman, "Shamans and Acute Schizophrenia," American Anthropologist 69 1967)"

Ref. provided by Sapolsky:
"G. Devereux, 'A Sociological Theory of Schizophrenia,' 'Psychoanalytical Review 26 (1939)'"

                b. Alfred Kroeber’s elaboration: “Psychosis or Social Sanction.” The common roots of ‘sanction’ and ‘sanctuary.’

Ref. provided by Sapolsky
"S. Kroeber, "Psychosis or Social Sanction?" Char acter and Personality 8 ( 1940)"

Time: 12:39   
        c. Western cultures and schizotypalism

Time: 13:20-13:47
        [added] revisit: Paul Devereux: hearing voices at the right time

Part of the foundation of Sapolsky's argument insists that schizophrenia and schitzotypal disorders are hereditary.  

Background on the disorders:

Paper specifically on schizotypal disorder:  Here's the complete abstract:

Laguerre A, Leboyer M, & Schürhoff F (2008). [The schizotypal personality disorder: historical origins and current status]. L'Encephale, 34 (1), 17-22 PMID: 18514146

"The schizotypal personality disorder is a recent psychiatric nosological concept developed by Spitzer at the end of the 1970s, based on the analysis of the characteristics of relatives of schizophrenic subjects included in the adoption studies carried out in the same decade by Kety, Wender and Rosenthal.
However, this entity is based on older observations, at the beginning of the past century, showing common behavioural characteristics in relatives of schizophrenics. Its status within our current nosography remains dubious, sometimes classified among personality disorders, sometimes in the schizophrenia spectrum disorders. It is interesting to present the origins of this concept that stem from two complementary approaches: a family approach and a clinical approach of sporadic cases and then to redefine the framework within which the diagnostic approach was based and its continuity, up until our current classifications, the DSM and CIM.
The historical origins cannot summarize the disorder and it appears important to redefine the multidimensional characteristics of the schizotypal personality disorder, generally a three-factor model. Indeed, dimensional models of psychosis are becoming established as conceptually and clinically useful. Recent studies on the dimensionality of psychosis show an evolution of the schizotypal concept, initially defined as being part of the schizophrenia spectrum and which now appears to be more broadly linked to a concept of unitary psychosis, including the bipolar disorder.
Dimensions of psychosis seem to be associated with different familial aggregation and risk of psychosis, suggesting that they are underlined by different physiopathological processes. Hence, the dimensional approach can help to disentangle the genetic heterogeneity of the disease.

Work supporting the hereditary nature of schizophrenia specifically:

Owen, M., Williams, H., & O’Donovan, M. (2009). Schizophrenia genetics: advancing on two fronts Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, 19 (3), 266-270 DOI: 10.1016/j.gde.2009.02.008

From the abstract:
"Recent studies have supported the hypothesis that the high heritability of schizophrenia reflects a combination of relatively common alleles of small effect and some rare alleles with relatively large effects."

Ongoing work to single out schizophrenia/schizotypal genes:

Torgersen, Svenn (2011). Where are the missing pieces of the schizophrenia genetics puzzle? Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, 21 (3), 310-316

From the abstract:
"On the basis of recent data from candidate region/gene and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and their follow-up investigations, the number of genes potentially implicated in schizophrenia has been estimated to be over 1000. However, with regard to the identified odds ratio, it is likely that genetic variants with more definitive effect on schizophrenia phenotype are still missing. The hunt therefore remains open for the genetic variants that would explain the majority of the missing heritability of schizophrenia."

A more recent study:

Kurotaki, N., Tasaki, S., Mishima, H., Ono, S., Imamura, A., Kikuchi, T., Nishida, N., Tokunaga, K., Yoshiura, K., & Ozawa, H. (2011). Identification of Novel Schizophrenia Loci by Homozygosity Mapping Using DNA Microarray Analysis PLoS ONE, 6 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020589

From the abstract:
"An analysis of patients whose parents were first cousins enables the search for autozygous segments in their offspring."



Lecture by Prof. Robert Sapolsky:
Course: Bio 150/250, Spring 2002 Human Behavioral Biology at Stanford University

Robert Sapolsky is a Professor of Biology, Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University. He also works in Neurobiology, Biological Anthropology, and Primatology.
He has released over 180 academic publications.  He recieved his B.A. in Biological Anthropology summa cum laude from Harvard University, then went on to get his PHD in Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University.

Sapolsky's Recommendations:
Some further readings: Mark Saltzman, Lying Awake (a superb novel about the religious implications of temporal lobe epilepsy). David S Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral. 2002 Univ. Chicago Press. Religious groups as units of selection. Sapolsky. “Circling the blanket for God.” In: The Trouble With Testosterone’ and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament.

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  1. Would like to read the rest of your thoughts (part 2 through 6). Useful info so far :)

  2. Thankyou! It is great to see that you have spent the time to share such quality information. In this age it is most important that we keep an open mind and heart and question our views and beleifs that we do not just follow our teachers, religons, or science dogmas. That we strive to use the information avaible to help eachother to be more questioning, understanding and wise. And a crucial part of this is listening to and looking at availble research and ideas surrounding asumptions and norms, that personal truth can arise more agnostic and unbias base, that means we can grow, change and challenge our ideas and norms. Thus people like yourself and Robert Sapolsky are worthy of our appreciation for bringing clear information to the tips of our minds and hearts.

    thanks again! monk k


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