Re: Risk, Reward, and Human Enhancement

From: Mike Dougherty (
Date: Fri Jan 04 2008 - 07:47:42 MST

On Jan 4, 2008 8:23 AM, Stathis Papaioannou <> wrote:
> On 04/01/2008, Robin Gane-McCalla <> wrote:
> > Does anybody think that psychedelics might be the drug that acts
> > randomly upon intelligence, either increasing it or decreasing it?
> > Some people go crazy and others have great insights.
> I know it is sometimes claimed that psychedelics provide artistic
> inspiration, but I am not aware of any claims that they have brought
> about significant scientific insights. I'd be happy to be contradicted
> if anyone knows of any trippy science stories.

I was going to suggest that "set and setting" are so important with
psychedelics that it is very difficult to scientifically control for
study. We can say with high confidence that perception will be
affected, but due to a lifetime of prior conditioning, there is too
much uncertainty how anyone will react to a given situation. If
enough cases are statistically averaged, there might be a 'normal'
expectation - but there is no guarantee that the next test case will
be close enough to the statistical norm to have an expected

I would also suggest that psychedelics is not "the" drug, but a class
of drugs. The effects of a specific drug on a particular person can
vary widely. For example; while Echinacea is generally regarded as a
safe immunostimulant to help reduce/prevent the common cold, I have
adverse reaction to it - probably an allergic response. I also react
negatively to ibuprofen and penicillin. Does that make their effect
"random"? I imagine different brain chemistries could have similar
incompatible (or allergic) reactions to the individual members of the
psychedelic class of drugs.

> if anyone knows of any trippy science stories

Maybe that depends on your notion of science. For example - While
under the influence, a scientifically minded individual becomes
enthralled with dust particles floating in a beam of sunlight coming
through the blinds. By a great leap of imagination, that perspective
leads to new insight about reference frames and the speed of light.
Is this experiential rediscovery of General Relativity equally
"scientific" than formulas written on a University blackboard? I can
understand either perspective: No; the experience itself was neutral
of either art or science. The description of the experience after the
fact uses either artistic or scientific expression. Yes; an
understanding of nature is achieved through careful observation.
Describing this knowledge is a separate communication problem.

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