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Erik Davis'
August 9, 2009 5:55 AM   Subscribe


 
Expanding? Or exploded?

Crazies on all sides these days.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:45 AM on August 9, 2009


(Which is not to say this isn't an interesting and well-put-together post, as much as I find its topic pushes my buttons for the way it romanticizes and commodifies indigenous knowledge, often of a ritual character.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:37 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I appreciate indigenous, "old", knowledge. Thanks for the post. I was just remarking that new synthetic knowledge often betrays the intentions of one promulgating it. A sort of psycho-sexual fingerprint.

At least 'natural' knowledge (for instance, chinese medicine) has the benefit of a long winnowing process. Thanks for the post.
posted by kuatto at 8:37 AM on August 9, 2009


See also the Shulgins, previously.
posted by exogenous at 8:46 AM on August 9, 2009


Terence McKenna shifted my scientific interest from meteorology to pharmacology when I was in college. Before the first of many stumbles in my life due to health issues, I took an interest in the psychological/neurological effects of chemicals present in everyday herbs and spices. Many of them contain precursors for substituted phenethylamines, which can become those chemicals after processes that the body frequently uses to metabolize other substances.
posted by artsygeek at 8:46 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dennis went nuts out there.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:45 AM on August 9, 2009


At least 'natural' knowledge (for instance, chinese medicine) has the benefit of a long winnowing process.

Ack. Ground up animal parts as aphrodisiacs may have survived a "long winnowing process", but they don't work. I can understand the use of herbs and such having survived across the centuries, although many of the recipes are not well-grounded in anything other than Chi philosophy. The only person I know who ever went to the chinese pharmacist regarded the medicines as being more symbolic than having actual chemical medicinal qualities. Are there studies which show any efficacy at all for a lot of these compounds?

posted by hippybear at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


hippybear,

Not to derail this thread...but I would like say that your characterization of Chinese medicine is completely off the mark. That's like saying western medicine is a just a bunch of old dudes taking Viagra, an off-base remark and showing a casual disregard for a larger picture. What's at stake here is the critical appraisal of an incredibly vast domain of knowledge, both in Western and Chinese medicine.

But back to the matter at hand. This thread is about claiming access to a special, direct, form of knowledge. This delves into a kind of hermeneutics, a form of personal and spiritual knowledge.
posted by kuatto at 10:21 AM on August 9, 2009


kuatto: No, that was one example I was using, and I was not making myself clear about that. I apologize for being unclear in my statement. I would welcome a more critical appraisal of Chinese medicine. When I went with my friend to the pharmacy, he was not purchasing rhino horn or tiger paws or whatever. He was picking up things for a cough or cold or something, and he explained to me quite a bit about why different plants were selected by the pharmacist for use in the compound, and most of the reasoning he offered was not based on what was in the plant, but rather based on mystical knowledge about the shape of the leaves or where the plants grew and such. Perhaps I was misinformed. I would welcome better information.

Viagra != aphrodisiac, in any case. /derail

posted by hippybear at 10:30 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


All the muddling confusion and poor communication about "ethnogens" is why after having a series of totally amazing and permanent perception shifts, I chose to be quiet about them and just get busy trying to have a good life for myself and those in my sphere.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:41 AM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


So maybe this is not so much a derail as I thought, as it seems to come down to a singular question: What is your basis of knowledge? What about a 'spiritual' basis of understanding?

This question of 'spiritual transformation' speaks to a radical shift in your basis of understanding. I believe that the physical basis of our conceptions represents a totality of sorts, in the same way these chemicals represent some form of truth. In that way, our conceptions, as they manifest, outstrip any potential to formally, scientifically, represent them.
posted by kuatto at 11:06 AM on August 9, 2009


"This question of 'spiritual transformation' speaks to a radical shift in your basis of understanding. I believe that the physical basis of our conceptions represents a totality of sorts, in the same way these chemicals represent some form of truth. In that way, our conceptions, as they manifest, outstrip any potential to formally, scientifically, represent them."

what

If you're talking about metaphysics, then it's based on logic but that logic is tautological and created by the initial choice of axioms. If you're talking about knowledge by revelation then that's religious...which is fine, but we don't generally accept 'it works because God told me so' as equivalent to clinical trials.

And if you don't believe in mind/soul duality, then any experience can be represented by your neuron state. Which is quite grounded in scientific laws, thanks. But you aren't quite clear enough to drill down to which possibility you're referring to.
posted by jaduncan at 11:16 AM on August 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh, well, certainly. When we are talking about psychoactive chemicals and the role they can play in exploration of mystic spaces, I don't think there is any quality way to communicate the experience to others. It is truly one of those "if you haven't been there, you can't relate" experiences.

For myself, I had a particularly strong mushroom / san pedro cactus tea once. I'd already been on my own fair share of psychedelic experiences, so I wasn't walking into new territory. But as I lay on the bed watching the paisleys crawl across the ceiling, suddenly the background of everything fell away and there was a very bright (mostly obscured) light shining through from behind the still-present curlicues. There was a period of time wherein I had a very long conversation with the Great White Light of the Universe, many questions were asked (by it) and answered (by me). Other experiences with the Numinous I had previously experienced were not nearly as vivid or personal or as deeply affecting. It was not an encounter with the Great Cloud of Unknowing. It was something else entirely.

Later in that same evening, after the peak had passed, the experience turned into something more familiar with mushrooms -- odd Asian wyrm/dragon things swarming in the ceiling and making vaguely threatening and disquieting faces and motions toward me. I get that just about every time I've used shrooms, never with lsd, and my experience with peyote took place outdoors and was something else entirely.

So, yes. I didn't mean to derail, was more thinking about the whole realm of chinese medicine as I've personally witnessed it practiced and not specifically about enthogens. I do believe there is great value in applied pharmacology for many things, and the herbs and tree bark and other which can open Huxley's doorway in our minds are among the most important, least understood of them all.
posted by hippybear at 11:19 AM on August 9, 2009


jaduncan, Metaphysics is not 'based on logic', rather it is based on rationality.
posted by kuatto at 11:58 AM on August 9, 2009


I must admit I found the previous post much more enticing: We will talk about how much more kinky, crazy, and mystically inclined we are than we think we are. Still haven't had time to listen to the podcasts though.
posted by localroger at 12:34 PM on August 9, 2009


Properly speaking, logic is a subdomain of metaphysics.

"..In that way, our conceptions, as they manifest, outstrip any potential to formally, scientifically, represent them."

Utter bullshit. A 'spiritual' basis of understanding is a mythopoeic artifact of an age of ignorance. Science: It works, bitches.
posted by signalnine at 2:57 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


A 'spiritual' basis of understanding is a mythopoeic artifact of an age of ignorance. Science: It works, bitches.

Yet Oppenheimer immediately went looking to "mythopoetics" to understand what he had wrought through Science "working" (, bitches).

Science, beyond the purely abstract scientific method - ie., the actual pursuit of technological advances through practical application of scientific reasoning - isn't objective. The very idea of what is and isn't reasonable to pursue (like the idea that the existence of an atomic bomb is anything but insanity) is informed by social myths - some good, some bad, all residing at least partially, if not primarily, in the spiritual.

Modern medicine now pretty much implicitly accepts that a person's intentions, rational or not, can have a real impact on their health. Just because someone doesn't want to refer to that by saying 'spiritual' doesn't mean that isn't what others mean when they do say it.

Through history "Science" has anointed all sorts of bullshit rationalizations for utter falsehoods as Truth, and probably still does in spite of itself. Those falsehoods are, given a long enough arc, undone by pure rationality, but without the arguably spiritual desire on the part of the inquisitive to see that truth win out above all - even if that requires they challenge very real, very mythical-seeming all-knowing power structures at times - I don't know if that would keep happening.

Facts alone haven't apparently been enough to get a majority of people caring about climate change. As the science becomes vernacular, the real appeal begins on the spiritual level: what kind of world do you want? How do you want to live? How would your life improve if you felt a lived connection to the Earth?

The history of science is partially a history of poets.
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:20 PM on August 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


"This question of 'spiritual transformation' speaks to a radical shift in your basis of understanding. I believe that the physical basis of our conceptions represents a totality of sorts, in the same way these chemicals represent some form of truth. In that way, our conceptions, as they manifest, outstrip any potential to formally, scientifically, represent them."

We can chew on the nature of reality/epistemology/ontology all we want with sublime theories of the interconnectedness manifold in every self-expanding lotus that creates the world every second while simultaneously perceiving that creation blah blah blah.

However, if you actually want medicine that works, show me some data from double-blinded, correctly controlled, independent, repeated trials for either a 'spiritual', 'chinese', 'western', 'natural' or 'artificial' remedy.....

.......or STFU because otherwise your unverifiable, unfalsifiable philosophical ramblings are not helping.
posted by lalochezia at 3:22 PM on August 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


The placebo effect is more or less a verifiable, falsifiable phenomenon. And I've always seen it as something of a scientific trap door, right within science: things make sense... except in certain cases when they don't and someone just believes strongly enough.

The idea that we understand enough about the human mind(!) to rule out its having influence over the healing process is, from a rational standpoint, absurd.
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:32 PM on August 9, 2009


Indeed regicide, so the question remains: is woo-woo a necessary and indispensible precursor to the effective operation of a placebo?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:36 PM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you ask me to choose between only the benefits of a rational positivist-empiricist world-view, or only the benefits of a holistic spiritual one, I definitely know my answer. Luckily nobody will ever be able to force me to make that decision.

How does one have a rational (not to mention normative) discussion of things one only knows by intuition or revelation, that are by definition outside the scope of rationality? The idea seems wholly absurd to me. And if we can't discuss something rationally, there are much more interesting kinds of gibberish to be spending one's time on. I have my private irrationalities, as I am sure you have yours, just like we have dreams and bathroom habits and sexual fantasies. We have good reason not to want to hear about the ones other people have, most of the time.
posted by idiopath at 5:49 PM on August 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Science, beyond the purely abstract scientific method - ie., the actual pursuit of technological advances through practical application of scientific reasoning - isn't objective. The very idea of what is and isn't reasonable to pursue (like the idea that the existence of an atomic bomb is anything but insanity) is informed by social myths - some good, some bad, all residing at least partially, if not primarily, in the spiritual.


That's a lovely argument about ethics. If you'll recall, though, we're not actually talking about ethics, we're discussing epistemology.
posted by signalnine at 6:09 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


jaduncan - And if you don't believe in mind/soul duality, then any experience can be represented by your neuron state. Which is quite grounded in scientific laws, thanks. But you aren't quite clear enough to drill down to which possibility you're referring to.

I'd go "compatibilist" on mind/brain duality. I was a total determinist for a while, but these days it just doesn't seem like a sensible choice. Surely the most valid, fundamental part of our knowledge of the world is our self-knowledge of consciousness. And determinism goes a long way towards denying any explanation for why such an internal experience would exist or have evolved, it being useless

Instead I'd say, sure on some level maybe our bodies/brains are deterministic, but in practical terms we have interactions going down to the molecular, atomic, even quantum level such that it would be truly impossible to use some sort of simulation to precisely predict our thoughts and actions - the most efficient such simulation is in fact the physical manifestation we each consider ourselves to be. And consciousness, as we experience it, is that strange center of the countless interactions that occur inside and outside our body. Those interactions, and our macro-scale control of them, is the reality we make for ourselves
posted by crayz at 6:37 PM on August 9, 2009


regicide: I don't see why the placebo effect implies any sort of spirituality. My mind is able to affect my body in other ways— I can move my limbs, for example; less directly, my mental state can cause my pupils to dilate or cause me to blush— and those well-known and, as far as I know, uncontroversial mind-body connections aren't usually considered to be a “trap door right within science”. Why is the ability of my mind to alter (say) inflammation or immune response any less compatible with a reductionist rationalist worldview?

(This is a longer-winded way of saying the same thing that aeschenkarnos did.)
posted by hattifattener at 6:45 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


is woo-woo a necessary and indispensible precursor to the effective operation of a placebo?

From the perspective of the 'inner' rationality of science, all placebos are represented equivalently. That is to say, they are represented as things that science cannot represent. So to your question, is "woo-woo" necessary and sufficient for the placebo to work? That question is irrelevant in the eyes of science. In fact, science says nothing except that the placebo effect exists and is correlated to 'woo-woo'.

hattifattener: The answer to your question is it's not incompatible. These sorts of scenarios work out quite well in some reductionist idealism. Just imagine your brain is composed of untold numbers of billiard balls, each one following a course of cause and effect.

I would like to point out that we cannot, by reductionist techniques, calculate even simple tasks. In other words, it is impossible to synchronize our reductionist conceptions with reality. What do I mean? It's the roundoff, the tacit assumptions that throw the calculations off. So we are left with a situation where I claim that I can reduce the problem to a set of principles that then can be used to fully describe the truth of the system, however much to our chagrin we can never actualize those rules in a manner which precisely yields the system in question. In some ways it's a question of measurement: How precisely can I measure the mass of the billiard ball? How many sig figs can I add to pi? Of course, this is where engineering comes into play. But as scientists, we are not playing at engineering right? This is the point where our conceptions wander back to the comforting vision of the billiard balls dancing around in our heads, yielding motions like raising up a cup of coffee. But now knowing that we can never truely instantiate that vision, it exists only as a pure philosophy.

Reductive and inductive reasoning, together a kind of Atomism, is comforting at first. But it only takes a moment to scratch the surface to see there are a bunch of ambiguities underneath.
posted by kuatto at 12:20 AM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm going to extend what I said earlier. There is a paradox here: Reductive reasoning, that bastion of scientific comforts, is ultimately hamstrung by those elements that give one most comfort , namely measurability and predictability.

So here is a question then, if what I've said is not acceptable. What is inductive reasoning defined over a relativistic conception of space and time? What are the discursive subjects through which induction plays out? And what decomposes space such that measurability is real?
posted by kuatto at 3:37 PM on August 11, 2009


kuatto: Reductionist techniques reproduce simple tasks. It is called automation. Anti-reductionist techniques have never reproduced anything (I am classifying human mimicry of other humans as another thing entirely here).

You seem to be reifying truth into some sort of concrete object, as if it were some rare substance, vulnerable to contamination, that is only usable in its unadulterated form. Truth is a quality of a relationship between observations and statements about those observations, not a theological state of grace. I suspect I could go my entire life never knowing anything that is true by the standards you presume (and I furthermore suspect I am actually living out this particular thought experiment), without suffering ill effects from it.

We have ample evidence that we are capable of figuring things out about that world, that we can presume that things will tend to happen the same way twice, and that we can build upon cumulative understanding and investigation of what we already know. That you find this disheartening or depressing hardly counts as evidence to the contrary.

To attempt to answer your last three questions:
  • We know that space and time are relativistic thanks to inductive reasoning. Specific instances of counterintuitive phenomena do not invalidate the ability to predict outcomes.
  • Induction is a technique in the process of attempting to make predictions that are accurate. We use it because it tends to help us make accurate predictions. If I understand your phrase "discursive subjects", I would say all of rational human thought, and most of the irrational as well.
  • I don't have to prove that measurability is "real", only that it tends to work. I have never heard of immeasurability working. Immeasurability is just a name for the rare situations where measurement fails.
To paraphrase signal9 above: science never has to be true, it only has to work. It doesn't even have to work 100% of the time, often enough to be helpful is enough. Most physics is Newtonian, even after Einstein, because in most cases, his equations are good enough. We can use our computers to have this argument, even if even if the position and velocity of quantum particles constituting the transistors inside are uncertain and unknowable. We can write words that mostly make sense to one another despite pervasive ambiguity of the language that we speak and fallible reading comprehension.
posted by idiopath at 5:43 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


science never has to be true, it only has to work

this.
posted by lalochezia at 9:47 PM on August 11, 2009


science never has to be true, it only has to work. It doesn't even have to work 100% of the time

What is science here as you describe it, a golem? The eyeless mechanism that runs unfettered, trampling truth at the margins, simply because it works *most* of the time?

As for my original questions, you have supplied bullet points but you have not answered them. I shall try to clear up some confusion by bullet-pointing.
  • What is [reductive/inductive] reasoning defined over a relativistic conception of space and time? Here I'm not trying to suggest reasons for why we have a relativistic conception of space and time (Though you've made some claim there that appears to be completely unsubstantiated). What I'm asking is: what *is* this relativistic conception of a reductive/inductive regime in Science
  • What are the discursive subjects through which induction plays out? You constrain your conception of 'discursive subject' too much. What I'm talking about here is everything that one may talk about. But importantly, the question addresses a philosophical basis for your understanding. I presume that you believe in a reductive basis for physical phenomena, things work because they can be reduced. So to clarify the question: In a relativistic conception of space and time how does one arrive at a 'singular basis' in the chain of reduction? That is to say, how can we construct a context for that 'singular basis' which does not disturb it?
  • And what decomposes space such that measurability is real? Again, I think you have missed the mark on my question. You said, "Immeasurability is just a name for the rare situations where measurement fails". I am shocked! My dear fellow, measurability fails in *all* situations, not just some. But again this comes down to your 'good-enough' argument. I think you mistake category for philosophy!
Of all your arguments, I believe this one to be the most terrible: I suspect I could go my entire life never knowing anything that is true by the standards you presume (and I furthermore suspect I am actually living out this particular thought experiment), without suffering ill effects from it.

My dear friend, Science bequeathed us the notion of a pathology, and I have to say that there are many among us, insane, damaged, sociopathic, etc who live their whole lives to 'no ill effect'. I must say that this is a fundamentally conservative position to take. It has the effect of obliterating any consequences of your thoughts and behavior. I know science doesn't yield much in the way of morality, but c'mon!
posted by kuatto at 10:21 PM on August 11, 2009


Here is my major beef. I have no problem with science as such. My problem is with people who suggest that the boundary of rational, true, conception ends with science.

Here is another question for you Science ideologues: When is the march of science over, when will scientific progress end? And if the answer is 'never', then what does that say about the larger domain that science rushes to fill?
posted by kuatto at 10:29 PM on August 11, 2009


measurability fails in *all* situations

That excerpt of your statement has one e in it, five instances of the letter a, and two uses of the symbol * used to indicate emphasis. If I am wrong in this claim, someone will be able to meaningfully correct me and suggest an alternate description, and after deliberation we will be able to come to a meaningful consensus. I can know this without even knowing what your statement means.
posted by idiopath at 12:56 AM on August 12, 2009


Ahh idiopath, have you begun to channel the golem? Point well taken. I should modify my statement slightly:

Insofar as measurability succeeds in all situations, it fails ultimately. So if you dwell purely within the abstractions of science, you live in a pale, paltry universe indeed. One where we cannot be certain of even the slightest thing.

Question, do believe it is possible to know anything? In other words, do you deny meaning?
posted by kuatto at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2009


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