Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
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Hidden Valley Road: R. Kolker > Day 3 - author post

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message 1: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobkolker) One of the exciting parts of researching the science of schizophrenia for HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD was the chance to travel back in time and see just how little we’ve always known about this illness, and how wrong we’ve often been. And the more I read, the more I saw how the same arguments about what schizophrenia was and what caused it kept coming back again, generation after generation — even today.

For those looking even a little carefully over the years, it was plain to see that madness sometimes ran in families (the most conspicuous examples involving royalty). But the precise genetic pattern of schizophrenia has defied detection; its existence announces itself, but fleetingly, like flickering shadows on the wall of a cave. The paradox is that schizophrenia does not appear to be passed directly from parent to child. It took until the turn of the 20th century for scientists and doctors to start talking about insanity as something biological. Then came Sigmund Freud, who proclaimed that the illness wasn’t biological at all, but something acquired from one’s childhood — not nature, but nurture.

In the century since then, there have remained two separate camps in psychiatry: Those who see schizophrenia as an intractable biological illness, and those who, like Freud, see it as a manifestation of a tortured mind. For the length of the twentieth century — through the years that six sons of Don and Mimi Galvin took ill — the biologists preaching nature and the therapists extolling nurture were at loggerheads, going after one another at conferences and hospitals and the pages of academic journals. By the time the Galvin boys came of age, the field was splitting open and dividing and subdividing almost like a cell. Some said the problem was biochemical, others neurological, others genetic, still others environmental or viral or bacterial.

“Schizophrenia is a disease of theories,” the Toronto-based psychiatric historian Edward Shorter has said — and the twentieth century produced easily hundreds of them.

All the while, the truth about what schizophrenia was — what caused it, and what might alleviate it — has remained locked away, inside the people with the condition. Much of HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD is about how some bold researchers tried to find those secrets in the biology of the Galvin family.

Is there a great debate that fueled the area of history you love the most? Please share in the comments.

message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments Oooh, the role of bystanders of the Nazi regime. Both fascinating and troubling.

message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobkolker) Wow, yes, such a fascinating subject.

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