Thursday, 28 January 2016

My new book - The Genius Famine - is now published

Edward Dutton & Bruce G Charlton. The Genius Famine: Why we need geniuses, Why they're dying out, Why we must rescue them. University of Buckingham Press: Buckingham, England. 2016
- Kindle edition £2.02:
- Paperback edition £12.99:
- Kindle edition $2.88:
- Paperback edition $15.52:

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Tranquillizing drugs are deceptively non-specific - they reduce complaints of problems, impair thinking, but seldom cure

Tranquillizing drugs are psychiatry's aspirin. They leave patients calm and quiet so they do not feel like complaining.

While taking tranquillizers, the thought processes become simpler, new thoughts become rare, and complex thoughts are diminished.

Patients lose abilities and skills and they are not upset by this loss. Indeed, they are usually not even concerned or aware of the loss.

This should be no surprise because this is what 'tranquillization' means!

Therefore, giving tranquillizing drugs makes psychiatric symptoms of all types decrease...

But let us not believe or pretend that tranquillizers cure...

Edited from page 182 of Psychotic Depression by Conrad M Swartz and Edward Shorter - Cambridge University Press, 2007.


Tranquillizing drugs include antipsychotics (also known as neuroleptics and major tranquillizers), anxiolytics (also known as minor tranquillizers) and anticonvulsants, also lithium.

Most of the so-called 'mood stabilizers' are tranquillizers including anti-epileptic anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines and antipsychotics - including some of the most big-selling and mega-profitable drugs of recent years. 

These drugs are often given in 'cocktails' (multiple drug combinations) to patients with 'bipolar disorder' (currently diagnosed in about one in twenty people - including young children), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other psychoses, and hypomania/ mania.

Using many standard rating scales, these drugs will on average alleviate the severity of symptoms all of these disorders, because 'symptoms' are what the patient complains of - and these drugs reduce awareness of problems.

(This is how tranquillizing drugs got FDA approval and were licensed for treating a wide range of disorders.)

But they may make overall functioning and quality of life worse - because tranquillized patients are less aware of their problems or deny them.

For example, a boy with ADHD treated with tranquillizers would become more placid and less troublesome - which might look like effective treatment -- but he would lose mental abilities, self-awareness and motivation - and will almost-certainly function worse at life-in-general (including being academically impaired). 

When the patient has a severe psychotic disorder, such as psychotic melancholic depression, the depression will remain untouched - and so will the problems of severe depression, including high risk of suicide. If the problem is 'schizophrenia' (e.g. long term hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder) the patient may complain less, but function worse and exhibit poor judgment.

If the patient is being given tranquillizers for long periods in hope of prevention (which is happening increasingly); then these drugs are creating definite here-and-now and permanent psychological deficits and reduced functionality in hope of preventing a future disorder which probably would never happen (although drug withdrawal itself makes breakdowns much more likely).

In general, therefore, tranquillizers suppress psychiatric symptoms by suppressing awareness of symptoms - and not by curing them.


Note: An exception is mania or acute agitated psychosis, where tranquillizers may induce sleep and lead to a rapid improvement and indeed cure of the episode - allowing discharge from hospital in just a few days.

Background - When the early minor tranquillizers were discovered in the 1950s, their effect on animals was striking. Monkeys, and even lions and tigers were made tame. A mouse would become floppy and lie on its back apparently without distress and would not attempt to turn onto its feet. Mice would not attempt to avoid flashing lights or mild electric shocks. These findings vividly demonstrate the pros and cons of tranquillization.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Winnower - an inspiring model for science publishing

I have just published a small report in an online scientific journal called The Winnower

The great thing about the journal is that - like scientific publications in the golden days - is not peer reviewed, but uses an open access/ commentary/ archiving model somewhat like the online physics repository arXiv. You post a paper, invite comments and reviews - and when you are ready to finalize it, pay a modest 25 dollars administrative charge for permanent record with a DOI reference.

As a consequence, the journal has an appealing, idealistic, free-wheeling kind of atmosphere which is an antidote to the usual mainstream journal's mixture of misleading hype and spin with crushing bureaucratic conformity.

In sum - the journal is about communication and exchange between enthusiasts - and not about the peer review world of career building, brownie-point collecting and publishing for the sake of publications.

The journal has been going for a few years now, and its papers are now getting noticed and cited. Some of the more independent and radical intelligence research is finding its way there - including papers by young scientists such as Davide Piffer and Emil O. W. Kirkegaard.

I intend to write-up a few of my ideas there over the coming months - and thereby hope to contribute to what may be a livelier, more responsive, more enjoyable way of doing science.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Metaphysics = Default Hypotheses - what needs explaining depends on prior assumptions

The word metaphysics typically induces boredom or incomprehension, and most definitions seem unhelpful to most people - so what is it?

Metaphysics can be thought of as the default hypothesis.

The Null Hypothesis
One well known default hypothesis is the null hypothesis in Frequentist (Fisherian) statistics - this is the assumption that two samples being compared are drawn from the same population. In everyday practise, the null hypothesis assumes that there is no difference between two groups unless proven otherwise, or there is no correlation between two variables unless proven otherwise, or that nothing has changed unless proven otherwise.

Many people assume that this assumption is merely 'rigorous' scientific practice, and has been proven to be correct by vast amounts of observation and experiment. But it is nothing of the sort - the Null Hypothesis is an assumption, it is a metaphysical framework for research, and it cannot be proven, or disproven, by any amount of empirical research - because the Null Hypothesis itself frames the conduct and interpretation of empirical research.

Natural Selection as the cause of evolution
Evolution by Natural Selection is another such default hypothesis. Natural selection frames biology as the primary assumption which is the basis for the definition and coherence of biology; such that biology can neither prove nor disprove natural selection.

Whatever happens in biology is either explained as due to natural selection or not-explained and instead put down to some 'random'/ undirected factor (examples of such 'random' non-explanations would be 'genetic drift' or the stochastic extinction of small populations by the spontaneous oscillations of population size).

Although there is no biological reason for this; the assumption in 'modern' biological reasoning (i.e. since the Neo-Darwinian synthesis of the mid-twentieth century) is therefore that the default hypothesis for evolution is that we can take-for-granted (for instance) selfishness, short-termism and competition (which are intrinsic to the metaphysics of natural selection) - and what needs to be explained (using natural selection) is altruism, long-termism and cooperation.

An alternative default hypothesis for evolution
To illustrate how natural selection operates as a default hypothesis, imagine for a moment that evolution was seen as a developmental process ('ontogeny') resembling the differentiation and growth of an organism.

With development as the null hypothesis - and if we think of the growth of a human from the fertilized cell (zygote) - the assumption is that we will normally see a process of division, differentiation (specialisation), and coordinated growth - this is how development proceeds.

When looking at development, altruism, long-termism and cooperation are normal, expected, they are the processes by which development operates. It is the failure of these processes which disrupt development and which need explaining.

So, if the basic mechanism (the metaphysical foundations, the default hypothesis) of evolution were developmental instead of selectional; then we would expect to find (for instance) altruism and cooperation - and we would need to explain selfishness and competition.

In other words, one default hypothesis takes for granted what the other needs to explain - and vice versa.

The metaphysical foundations of biology are assumptions, not discoveries; they operate as a set of default hypotheses - and switching a different metaphysical basis will have profound effects on the nature of biology - by changing what is assumed, and thereby what needs to be explained in terms of what is assumed.

Monday, 11 January 2016

How did Darwin know that evolution by natural selection was the real and only origin of species? Answer: He imagined it

The answer is that he imagined it - obviously! He could not perceive it, therefore he must have imagined it - or, if you like, inferred it.

Darwin did know that selection could adapt organisms, because artificial selection was well established among animal breeders. Artificial selection could adapt a species - such as horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, fancy pigeons - to the requirements of the animal breeder. Darwin saw that the natural world could do something very similar - adapt a species to the requirements of its environment.

Darwin then imagined that a continuation of this process over many generations could join-up the taxonomy of living things established by Linnaeus and others - or rather, could join up the inferred ancestors (common ancestors) of currently alive (or known from fossils) living thing which had since then been adapted to their later environments.

In sum, Darwin imagined that the qualitative difference's between living things on earth could be reconceptualised as quantitative differences - especially in what were also inferred to be homologous features (such as the mammalian arm and the birds wing, or the mammalian hand and the bat's wing).

(Note I don't doubt that these features are homologous  but note that there is no objective method for detecting homologous features - the nature of structures assumed to be homologous is itself a thing imaginatively grasped.)

Given that Darwin's scheme was imaginative, and involved a great deal of inference and interpolation, why did it become regarded as the only valid explanation of the evolution of species and the only valid description of the history of life on earth? (And any significant gaps, or unsatisfactory parts, of the complete validity of the theory of evolution by natural selection, are regarded as merely being 'not-yet-discovered' - awaiting future developments.)

The answer is not that there emerged overwhelming evidence to support evolution by natural selection as the only explanation of the origin of species - because there is not more evidence to support this idea now than the was when Darwin first proposed it.

Thus, the decision to adopt evolution by natural selection as the sole officially accepted explanation for all life origins was arbitrary from a biological perspective.

(Implying that the reason it was adopted was not biological - but presumably psychological, social, political - or something of that sort.)

But having adopted it, biology then operated within the theory of natural selection - the theory controlled the conduct of biology, what counted as evidence, and permissible ways to interpret evidence. The theory became un-disprovable - as are all metaphysical assumptions.

This did not seem to have harmed the development of biology as a domain for professional careers; however, when evolution by natural selection was considered to be The Truth about life, and abut Human life, then its socio-cultural effect has been extreme and pervasive.

My point here is not to discredit the theory of natural selection as having been imagined - but rather to point out that what Darwin imagined may legitimately be re-imagined, and differently.