Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

The Dirt on Depression

4 pjeby 15 July 2009 05:58PM

(From the "humans are crazy" and "truth is stranger than fiction" departments...)

Want to be happy?  Try eating dirt... or at least dirty plants.


From an article in Discover magazine, "Is Dirt The New Prozac?":

The results so far suggest that simply inhaling M. vaccae—you get a dose just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden—could help elicit a jolly state of mind. “You can also ingest mycobacteria either through water sources or through eating plants—lettuce that you pick from the garden, or carrots,” Lowry says.

Graham Rook, an immunologist at University College London and a coauthor of the paper, adds that depression itself may be in part an inflammatory disorder. By triggering the production of immune cells that curb the inflammatory reaction typical of allergies, M. vaccae may ease that inflammation and hence depression. Therapy with M. vaccae—or with drugs based on the bacterium’s molecular components—might someday be used to treat depression. “It’s not clear to me whether the way ahead will be drugs that circumvent the use of these bugs,” Rook says, “or whether it will be easier to say, ‘The hell with it, let’s use the bugs.’”

Given the way the industry works, we'll probably either see drugs, or somebody will patent the bacteria.  But that's sort of secondary.  The real point is that to the extent our current environment doesn't match our ancestral one, there are likely to be "bugs", no pun intended.

(The original study: “Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28 in Neuroscience.)

Existential Angst Factory

45 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 19 July 2008 06:55AM

Followup toThe Moral Void

A widespread excuse for avoiding rationality is the widespread belief that it is "rational" to believe life is meaningless, and thus suffer existential angst.  This is one of the secondary reasons why it is worth discussing the nature of morality.  But it's also worth attacking existential angst directly.

I suspect that most existential angst is not really existential.  I think that most of what is labeled "existential angst" comes from trying to solve the wrong problem.

Let's say you're trapped in an unsatisfying relationship, so you're unhappy.  You consider going on a skiing trip, or you actually go on a skiing trip, and you're still unhappy.  You eat some chocolate, but you're still unhappy.  You do some volunteer work at a charity (or better yet, work the same hours professionally and donate the money, thus applying the Law of Comparative Advantage) and you're still unhappy because you're in an unsatisfying relationship.

So you say something like:  "Skiing is meaningless, chocolate is meaningless, charity is meaningless, life is doomed to be an endless stream of woe."  And you blame this on the universe being a mere dance of atoms, empty of meaning.  Not necessarily because of some kind of subconsciously deliberate Freudian substitution to avoid acknowledging your real problem, but because you've stopped hoping that your real problem is solvable.  And so, as a sheer unexplained background fact, you observe that you're always unhappy.

continue reading »

View more: Next