Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, March 25, 2011


I noticed a couple of things today .... a new movie, Limitless .... and the latest Question at CIF Belief, Did the drugs work at all? .... both are about the brain on drugs; smart drugs and psychedelic drugs.

The Question asks (and there are a couple of answers at the link) ...

The death of Owsley Augustus Stanley III, high priest of psychedelia, prompts an interesting question: did anyone learn anything about reality from LSD? Unlike most other drugs, the psychedelics were meant to bring us closer to the real world, and not just to blot it out. But as we approach the half-centenary of the summer of love this claim looks rather threadbare. The acid casualty, mumbling and droning about spirituality, is a much more typical reminder of the period than anyone genuinely kinder and wiser as a result. And yet ... among the kind and decent people who took these drugs, it's hard to find anyone who did not feel that they learned something important as a result. So, was it all a delusion, or was it a glimpse – however inadequate – of something real and standing beyond our everyday lives?

Here's a bit about the movie Limitless from Wikipedia ....

Limitless is a 2011 American techno-thriller film directed by Neil Burger and starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro. It is based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn with the screenplay by Leslie Dixon ..... Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a writer who lives in New York City and has recently been dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) in addition to failing to meet the deadline to turn in his new book, which he hasn't written yet. One day, Eddie comes across Vernon Gant (Johnny Whitworth), the brother of his ex-wife Melissa Gant (Anna Friel). Vernon is a drug dealer who offers Eddie a sample of a new drug, NZT-48. Eddie accepts and, much to his surprise, the drug increases his intelligence and improves his focus .....

I thought it would be interesting to see if Jonah Lehrer had written anything about psychedelic drugs or smart drugs in the past, and he had. He has a post on LSD, and below here's just the beginning of his post on smart drugs .....


The Hidden Cost of Smart Drugs

Johann Hari decides to take Provigil (aka viagra for the brain) and reports back on the results:


I sat down and took one 200mg tablet with a glass of water. Then I pottered about the flat for an hour, listening to music and tidying up, before sitting down on the settee. I picked up a book about quantum physics and super-string theory I have been meaning to read for ages, for a column I'm thinking of writing. It had been hanging over me, daring me to read it. Five hours later, I realised I had hit the last page. I looked up. It was getting dark outside. I was hungry. I hadn't noticed anything, except the words I was reading, and they came in cool, clear passages; I didn't stop or stumble once.

Perplexed, I got up, made a sandwich - and I was overcome with the urge to write an article that had been kicking around my subconscious for months. It rushed out of me in a few hours, and it was better than usual. My mood wasn't any different; I wasn't high. My heart wasn't beating any faster. I was just able to glide into a state of concentration - deep, cool, effortless concentration. It was like I had opened a window in my brain and all the stuffy air had seeped out, to be replaced by a calm breeze.

Once that article was finished, I wanted to do more. I wrote another article, all of it springing out of my mind effortlessly. Then I go to dinner with a few friends, and I decide not to tell them, to see if they notice anything. At the end of the dinner, my mate Jess turns to me and says, "You seem very thoughtful tonight."


If only intelligence were so easy. Before you run out a get an illicit supply of Provigil, let me remind you that the brain is a precisely equilibrated machine. Even drugs that don't appear to have any negative side-effects - who wouldn't want a more focused brain? - can actually have deleterious consequences.

In this case, the tradeoff involves creativity. Some of my friends who relied on crushed Ritalin during college used to joke about how the drugs were great for late-night cramming sessions, but that they seemed to suppress any kind of originality. In other words, increased focus came at the expense of the imagination. It makes perfect sense that such a cognitive trade-off would exist. Paying attention to a particular task - like writing an article - requires the brain to ignore all sorts of seemingly unrelated thoughts and stimuli bubbling up from below. (The unconscious brain is full of potential distractions.) However, the same thoughts that can be such annoying interruptions are also the engine of creativity, since they allow us to come up with new connections between previously unrelated ideas. (This might be why schizotypal subjects score higher on tests of creativity. They are less able to ignore those distracting thoughts, which largely arise from the right hemisphere.) ...........



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