Form Follows Function

From this OB thread:

Or even: can we manufacture new drugs, that have heightened psychedelic effects, while minimizing harmful side effects?

The psychedelic effects ARE harmful side effects. The price is acceptance of what you’re seeking to purchase.If you change the course of a river, the new ground it flows across begins to erode. You cannot cause the brain to malfunction without causing it harm, if only because the wiring of the brain is part of a feedback mechanism. Alter its functioning and you alter its structure. Trip on LSD, cause the activity of one subsystem to spill into another, and you’ve sensitized the connections between them, potentiated a new set of relationships. Divert the river and you carve a new course.

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13 Responses to “Form Follows Function”

  1. Either you have never used psychedelics (in which case you have no experience to base your assertions on, so why should anyone listen to you), or you have, in which case according to you your brain is damaged and again, why should anyone listen to you?

    Also, see here.

  2. michael vassar Says:

    The explanation is in terms of a necessary consequence of how the brain works and isn’t specific to psychedelics, so he doesn’t need to take them to reach the conclusion. He should however be worried by the realization that the claim applies equally well to ordinary consciousness, especially new concept formation and long-term memory formation but also every-day pattern recognition and perception.

  3. He should however be worried by the realization that the claim applies equally well to ordinary consciousness,

    Can the river, in the normal flow of events, damage its own bed?

    To the degree that ordinary consciousness is not harmful, the effects it has on the structure of the brain are not harmful. Distinguish between thinking that is common, and thinking that is correct, and the question eliminates itself.

    Normal (that is proper, as opposed to common) thinking cannot be harmful.

  4. m.v. — you are right, that is a better counterargument, and one I was going to make before I saw you beat me to it.

    Every experience you have changes your consciousness. The river is constantly shifting its banks. You (meledwyr) are assuming what you are trying to prove (that the particular changes wrought by psychedelics constitute “damage”).

    It is of course plausible that changes due to chemical manipulation are more fundamental and more potentially harmful than other kinds. But plausibility is not proof.

    It is also plausible that psychedelic drugs played a fundamental role in the development of human consciousness and western culture.

  5. “You (meledwyr) are assuming what you are trying to prove (that the particular changes wrought by psychedelics constitute “damage”).”

    The brain is as physically and chemically isolated as our fragile physiology permits. Why do you think that is?

    The natural world tends to settle into equilibria between multiple competing fitness curves. Any shift away from those equilibria tends to produce a net decrease in fitness. All else being equal, forcing things to function in a way nature did not design them to is far more likely to cause harm than benefit.

    If you picked three substances at random from a pharmacy, combined and consumed them, do you really think the result would be as likely to be beneficial or neutral as harmful? Harm, of some kind, is far more probable.

  6. Nature designed our brain for iiving in small hunter/gatherer bands. We do a great many things that aren’t “natural”. Being a rationalist is not natural; people evolved to be religious. And to ingest psychotropic drugs, an activity which mammals have evolved to do over millions of years.

  7. “Being a rationalist is not natural; people evolved to be religious.”

    Yes? And?

    “an activity which mammals have evolved to do over millions of years.”

    Umm… no. There are plenty of plants that mimic mammalian biochemistry as a form of biowarfare, a defense mechanism. Soybeans producing phytoestrogens does not constitute evidence of humans evolving to use them as menopause buffers. Nor did humans evolve to drink the urine of reindeer that had ingested fly agaric mushrooms.

    Consuming alcohol is reinforcing for mammals and avians, with rats and birds gorging themselves on spoiled fruits to the point of inebriation. It tends to get them killed by predators. What evolutionary principle’s functioning there?

  8. You made a bad argument from naturalness: “All else being equal, forcing things to function in a way nature did not design them to is far more likely to cause harm than benefit.” The article I cited, which you apparently didn’t bother to read, suggests that in fact nature designed us to function under a wide range of external chemical stimuli.

    A much better argument for your position is that rationality is not something we were particularly designed to have, that it’s a relatively recent, fragile, and thus not particularly natural mode of operation, and that drugs disturb this. This is more or less true, and fits in with your excessive devotion to a narrow concept of rationality. However, I’m not a member of that cult. Rationality is indeed valuable but it’s hardly the only value. A temporary derangement of rationality doesn’t bother me at all. If psychedelics caused permanent damage to rationality, which I think was your original point, that would be a problem, but it’s a point that requires some evidence. There is plenty of ancecdotal evidence available to show harm and good for psychedelics. On the pro side, my favorites is the fact that two of the most important Nobel prizes in biology in the 20th century seem to have been fueled with LSD: Kary Mullis and Francis Crick.

  9. “You made a bad argument from naturalness”

    You’ve completely misunderstood the argument, then. I am not surprised.

    “which you apparently didn’t bother to read”

    See, this is why I really shouldn’t communicate with people much less intelligent than I am. When I produce a very different understanding despite possessing the same data they derived their conclusions from, they assume I must have simply ignored the evidence, failed to read the text. Obviously I didn’t read it, because they don’t understand my point. I must be speaking gibberish.

    “On the pro side, my favorites is the fact that two of the most important Nobel prizes in biology in the 20th century seem to have been fueled with LSD”

    Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the closest natural equivalent to LSD is: rye ergot. It’s produced by a fungus that grows on rye grain. It results in violent hallucinations, impaired circulation, necrosis of the extremities, and brain damage.

    What evolutionary relationship do you think we have with that substance?

  10. Oy, he’s touting his enormous brain again. Despite your obvious superiority, you clearly either failed to read or failed to understand the article I cited. It is possible of course to disagree with it — it seems fairly speculative — but it would be nice to give some indication you had understood its basic point first, which is that plant alkaloids and mammalian neurotransmitters and metabolic capabilities have been co-evolving for millions of years. This involves some arms-race dynamics (so it is no surprise or counterargument at all that in some cases, like ergot, the plants have won), but also may have allowed the animals to find beneficial uses for the plant products.

    Here, I’ll quote you a passage since your awesomely powerful thinking apparatus can’t be bothered to read the whole thing:

    Over the approximately 200 million-year evolutionary history of Mammalia, plants have evolved chemical defenses—neurotransmitter substitutes—that interfere with CNS-signaling processes in plant predators. In turn, mammals have evolved ‘counter adaptations’ to manage plant chemicals—functional mechanisms that have been interpreted conventionally as performing a defensive role against toxins… Is it logical to assume that this relationship has resulted in purely defensive mechanisms in mammals? Or is it reasonable to posit that over millions of years mammals, including behaviorally sophisticated hominids, may have evolved adaptations to counter-exploit the potential benefits of psychotropic allelochemicals?

    I’m kind of surprised at your attitude, actually. Most gardeners I have known tended to be serious drug fiends.

  11. “you clearly either failed to read or failed to understand the article I cited”

    Or, I read it and rejected your representation of its position.

    Possibilities, possibilities…

    Those aren’t arguments you quoted, those are questions. Their answers do not support the position you’re espousing. Some of them have generally recognized answers that *still* don’t support your position.

  12. I’ve cited a scholarly article and some telling anecdotal observations in favor of my “position”; all you’ve done is make a singularly poor argument based on a metaphor and tell me how wrong I am (with no particulars) and how smart you are. Extremely tedious; and it’s a damn interesting issue. Oh well, I thank you for motivating me to find that article.

  13. Blindly citing academics is a poor strategy – especially when their articles have nothing to do with the points being argued.

    Elevating this exchange to the level of ‘argument’ would be inappropriate.

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