Correlations

If two things (A and B) are correlated with each other, there are four possibilities:

1)  A leads to B.

2)  B leads to A.

3)  A and B are both related to some other factor C.

4)  A and B are unrelated; their correlation is an accident.

If we observe that some great accomplishments in science were achieved by people who used psychedelic drugs, we might wonder whether the drugs helped.  But we should also note that intelligent, curious, novelty-seeking people are likely to be the ones behind discoveries… as well as likely to experiment with perception-altering drugs.

If there’s an obvious property C that we might rationally expect A and B to be related to, and it’s present, we have no reason to presume a correlation between A and B implies causality between them.

I have no idea precisely how dangerous drugs like LSD are (and are not)… but I don’t think they have much potential for furthering scientific discovery.

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2 Responses to “Correlations”

  1. I think the obvious thing to do is to randomly dose scientists with psychotropic drugs and compare the output of those dosed with ones receiving placebos.

  2. michael vassar Says:

    I think that scientists are also rule abiding and somewhat atypically cautious, which tends to limit their drug consumption. That said, outside of psychological insight, the set of discoveries attributed to psychedelics seems fairly small. The social benefits of alcohol consumption, by contrast, are quite economically valuable as demonstrated in numerous economic analyses with relevant variables controlled for. They probably also boost the careers of scientists who drink. Social connections are very unlikely not to improve career output in most fields.

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