Re: Antidepressants: Happiness is only a drug?

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Tue Mar 27 2001 - 23:42:13 MST

Is happiness "just a drug"? I think this question shows the widespread
romantic and slightly dualist assumption that there exists "authentic"
emotions and other mental states, and then there are "fake" emotions
which are in one way or another inferior to the authentic ones. When
you start looking for it, you quickly see that the search for
authenticity in our culture is widely lauded, often to the extent of
ignoring the quality of the results since the assumption many people
start with is just that authentic stuff always is better than
artifice. This is of course one reason why we get so much opposition
when it comes to our environmental and morphological views - they are
not "authentic".

In reality, our mental processes seem to be "just" a very complex
pattern of biochemical interactions. Happiness is just as much a
chemical signal as my thoughts when I am writing this or the
production of ACTH in my hypothalamus - but they are vastly different
interactions, and differ in complexity to an enormous degree.

I don't see this as bad, or removing the basic value of human life and
emotion. This is just how things are. The complexity and magnificient
results of these interaction give rise to endless wonderment for me -
in fact, a dualist explanation would be a let-down compated to this
one, since it is so much less elegant.

If I affect my brain with some drug, it can at present only do a crude
change in some part of the chemical network, like blocking or
activating a family of receptors, increasing/decreasing re-uptake of
some neurotransmittor etc. This is of course most effective when
trying to affect a simple subsystem. But information is information;
there is no reason to regard equivalent changes in our mindstate
brought about by drugs or an emotional experience to be subjectively
different. If I become happy through a drug, someone stimulates my
right frontal lobe or because I hear a joke, I am still happy. That is
what matters.

Of course, given the simplicity of current drugs they have serious
limitations and will often not provide much "depth" to the mood
change. Mood and emotion have complex cognitive aspects, and this is
something current drugs cannot achieve yet. This is why cognitive
therapy plus medication works better than just medication (or therapy)
on its own - you get out of the depression, and learn coping
strategies to retain your newfound better mood.

There is no inherent reason why one method should be viewed as better
or worse than any other, empirical studies and practical applications
will determine that, not any views on authenticity versus
artifice. But we still live in a culture that views a antidepressant
pill as something deeply suspicious while respecting meditation.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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