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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 April 2009 10:02:14PM 1 point [-]

What happened to "Shut up and do the impossible"? ;-)

You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it does.

Comment author: sprocket 27 April 2009 09:33:39PM 2 points [-]

The phrase makes some kind of sense to me (although not in that particular case), so in case you're not just trying to drop a geeky reference, let me try to explain what I make of this phrase.

Assume members of alien species X have two reasoning modes A and B which account for all their thinking. In my mind, I model these "modes" as logical calculi, but I guess you could translate this to two distinct points in the "space of possible minds".

An Xian is at any one time instance either in mode A or B, but under certain conditions the mode can flip. Except for these two reasoning modes, there is a heuristic faculty, which guides the application of specific rules in A and B. Some conclusions can be reached in mode A but not in B, and vice versa, so ideally, an Xian would master performing switches between them.

Now here's the problem: Switching between A and B can only happen if a certain sequence of seemingly nonsensical reasoning steps is taken. Since the sequence is nonsensical, an Xian with a finely tuned heuristic for either A or B will be unlikely to encounter it in the course of normal reasoning.

Now, say that Bloob, an accomplished Xian A-thinker, finds out how to do the switch to B and thus manages to prove a theorem of high-value. Bloob will now have major problems communicating his results to his A-thinking peers. They will look at a couple of his proof steps, conclude that they are nonsensical and label him a crackpot.

Bloob might instead decide (whatever that word means in my story) to target people who are familiar with the switch from A to B. He can show them one of the proof steps, and hope that their heuristic "remembers" that they lead to something good down the road. Such a nonsensical proof step may be saying "Shut up and to the impossible".

So, I suspect that humans do have something like those reasoning modes. They are not necessarily just two, it might not be appropriate to call all of them reasoning, but the main point is that thinking a thought might change the rules of thinking.

I think this idea is very close to the whole area of NLP, hypnosis, and some new-age ideas, e.g., Carlos Castaneda explicitly wants to "teach" you how to shift your mind-state around in the space of possible minds (which is egg-shaped incidentally). Not that any of these have ever done anything for me, but I also haven't tried following them.

From self-experimentation (sorry), Buddhist meditation seems to be a kind of thinking that can change the rules of thinking, and I think there is some evidence that it actually changes the brain structurally.

Given the possibility of certain thoughts changing the rules of thinking, what is the rational thing to do? If there's a good answer to this I'm grateful for a link.

Comment author: eris 27 April 2009 12:07:21AM *  4 points [-]

I also thought of this, yes. But it was more along the lines of psychedelics being extremely hit or miss. The only drug I know of that is ritually mass-prescribed for spiritual insight is ayahuasca, which I understand is also rather unreliable.

If I were to suggest a drug for denial-busting, it would be MDMA, hands down; it removes fear barriers. (I have no idea why people decided to use it for dancing, of all things.)

Comment author: sprocket 27 April 2009 05:26:40PM *  7 points [-]

I think if you make sure that there is no adverse "set and setting", the hit-chances might be pretty good.

Two quotes from an article describing a study.

"Twenty-two out of the 36 volunteers described a so-called mystical experience, or one that included feelings of unity with all things, transcendence of time and space as well as deep and abiding joy."

and

"In follow-up interviews conducted two months later 67 percent of the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as among the most meaningful of their lives, comparing it to the birth of a first child or the death of a parent, and 79 percent reported that it had moderately or greatly increased their overall sense of well-being or life satisfaction. Independent interviews of family members, friends and co-workers confirmed small but significant positive changes in the subject's behavior and more follow-ups are currently being conducted to determine if the effects persist a year later. "

This is from a study where drug-naive participants received psilocybin. I think its the same study I linked to earlier.

Comment author: sprocket 26 April 2009 07:27:57PM *  14 points [-]

First of all: Hi all.

I've been thinking about Ramachandran's theory a lot since reading first about it. One of the things it does very neatly, is offer a possible explanation of why psychedelics work the way they do.

Let me explain what I mean. One of the things that has always baffled me about psychedelics such as LSD, LSA or psilocybin (the active ingredient of "magic mushrooms") is that their actions seem far too specific to be caused by a simple substance.

The effect I am referring to is that for some people and in some contexts, they cause what is often called a spiritual experience, i.e., experience that is deeply meaningful to the user and possibly long-term world-view (and behaviour) altering.

Look for example at this study

There's also this active study which is the object of a 12 minute report available on Youtube

From my limited experience, and from what I observed in friends, I would say that psychedelics can be used to increase rationality, specifically by eliminating those sources of irrationality stemming from self-deception. They seem to allow the reexamination of deeply ingrained beliefs about the self and the world, that are beyond everyday reach.

I've always wondered about how the actions of such drugs could be so specific. Of course, this specific action is less suprising when you take for granted that simple "ear-flushing" can have similar effects, even if this applies only in connection with brain damage. The main idea of my post can be summed up as follows:

Maybe psychedelics tap into the same mechanisms that are involved in Anosognosia.

Did anybody else follow this train of thought? Or maybe a related idea concerning meditation (which is associated with a similar realm of experience as psychedelics)?