Tag: psychology

Iowa Considering Magic Mushrooms & MDMA for Medical Use

Spencer Kellogg | @Spencer_Kellogg

Magic Mushrooms are having their legislative moment. Last month in Denver, a proposal to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms was given the green light for a vote in May. Today, citizens caught in possession of psilocybin are likely to receive lengthy jail sentences and permanent criminal records. The “Mile High City” would become the first in the nation to decriminalize what is now a Schedule 1 drug. Moreover, in Oregon, advocacy groups are organizing to put psilocybin legalization on the ballot in 2020.

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Epistemocracy: If Leaders Knew the Limitations of Their Knowledge

By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial

The human mind is a powerful machine. Its capabilities for knowledge has given us the wonders of modern medicine, ever-advancing technology, and beautiful arts that we admire almost constantly. Its cognitive abilities dwarf those of nearly every animal on Earth. The capabilities for creativity and individualized abstract thinking set humanity apart even from our most advanced machines.

Yet despite the unbelievable complexity of our brains, it tends to fall victim to many traps – set by itself. Cognitive biases and fallacious modes of thought plague the minds of even the smartest among us. One can be blinded by their own knowledge; lack of humility and high hubris can lead one to make very serious mistakes, and this has very serious implication when it comes to putting individuals in positions of power. Those who occupy authority positions in academia, business, and especially government are responsible when it comes to being aware and working against the traps of the brain.

In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb talks about how history is mainly driven by Black Swans: completely unpredictable events that have a profound impact. These include events such as 9/11, the 2008 financial crash, and the discovery of the new world. Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes, so we tend to embed these events into a narrative that make them seem completely predictable. In fact, though, events occur in a completely unpredictable manner. It is impossible to see a Black Swan coming.

This lack of ability to predict the results of an action calls into question the viability of having a technocrat make economic/political decisions for an entire country. Top-down approaches to governance can prove to do more harm than good. Making decisions for others may not be the best way to organize and socio-political order.

Taleb introduces the reader to a mathematician named Henri Poincaré. Poincaré is a scientific thinker that Taleb believes does not get the credit he deserves. Some believe that he came up with the theory of relativity before Einstein, yet dismissed it as unimportant. This scientific one-upsmanship is beside the point, though. What Taleb (and I) would like to focus on is Poincaré “three body problem.”

The underrated scientist argued that mathematics can easily show us its own limitations. Taleb explains that Poincaré “introduced nonlinearities, small effects that can lead to severe consequences.” He discovered that when making predictions, precision is key because these tiny nonlinear errors can compound the overall error of the prediction quite rapidly. Poincaré then introduces the three body problem.

If we were to organize a solar-style system with only two planets and no other factors, we would be able to “indefinitely predict the behavior of these planets, no sweat.” Yet our capabilities to predict are completely decimated when we add a seemingly inconsequential comet into the mix. Initially, its effect will be essentially nothing, but over time it will have a large impact, making the ability to predict the movement of 3 rocks governed only by gravity practically impossible. And I do not use “practically” just because it is a nice word. I use it because, in practice, humans cannot make such a forecast.

Now, look at the real world. Your own life is infinitely more complicated than three rocks floating in space. We can barely predict the events in our own lives because we all face our own Black Swans. There are many events that come straight out of left field, leaving us completely dumbfounded and uncertain about the future. No human can make perfect predictions in their own life. While some may be more competent than others, we are not as good as we think when it comes to making plans.

I wrote on this once before, but I focused mostly on political opinions. I failed to see that the problem of not recognizing the unknowns that create most of reality (in relation to ourselves) goes much further than having a political opinion. We are far more incompetent when it comes to prediction than we believe. This is because we are surrounded by humans as complex and dynamic as ourselves. We can barely keep an accurate representation of ourselves in mind, so how are we supposed to do the same with others?

If we move forward to political leaders, the impact of this problem becomes much more pressing. Friederich Hayek, the libertarian economist and philosopher, explained the problem of knowledge when it comes to central planning. Taleb goes on to say that the planner “cannot aggregate knowledge… But society as a whole will be able to integrate into its functioning these multiple pieces of information.” It is better when smaller institutions are in “control” (whatever form that may take) because they are more capable of being aware of the information that is pertinent to the organization.

Hayek indicated that this root of this problem was something called “scientism.” Because of the continued explosion of knowledge available to the human race, we have become blind. As we learn more, the Dunning-Kruger effect takes hold. We begin to think that because we know more, we can do more, plan more, and control more. This is ultimately false because the human mind has a very limited capacity when compared to the totality of all human knowledge. Taleb continues that “owing to the growth of scientific knowledge, we overestimate our ability to understand the subtle changes that constitute the world, and what weight needs to be imparted to each such change.”

So how do we solve such a problem? If we cannot expect the world’s foremost experts in physics and mathematics to make long-term predictions of the behavior of 3 floating rocks, how can we expect a democratically elected leader to make plans that accurately account for the future problems of nearly 400 million individuals? Clearly, the current system of government we have is a joke. The idea that just because 51% of humans chose the leader does not mean that the leader has perfect knowledge. This is because no one short of an angel (or possibly even God) will be able to make the most fair and predictably accurate decisions when governing.

Taleb’s solution lays in something called Epistemocracy. This is not as much of a revamping of the structure of the political organization, but rather a change in the attitude of those in power. Anyone holding a position of rank must be an epistemocrat – someone that recognizes the extreme limitations of their knowledge. They need to realize that they cannot plan because they cannot fully understand. They must put their trust in the spontaneous order created by the interacting aggregate knowledge of society.

This, paired with a further decentralized governmental structure, could prove to be phenomenally beneficial for the human race. Fewer pompous leaders that think they know everything will only help us. And fewer people under the jurisdiction of each leader will create a decentralized society that would allow for accurate knowledge to win out in the formation of society and politics.

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The Importance of the Individual in Life

By Nickolas Roberson | United States

The individual has been prominent throughout the entirety of human history, both in reality and mythology. In almost every instance of ancient culture, and even modern culture, there is the story of the hero facing the dragon. The hero isn’t represented by any group or collective, he represents Himself, the Individual. He is the culmination of domination and human will, the innate force to strive for achievement. This achievement could be happiness, freedom, or any other personal means. This hero’s goal is to slay the dragon and retrieve the lost gold or save the princess and kingdom. The dragon obviously represents evil, but what kind of evil? The answer is incredibly subjective. The abomination that is said dragon could be the collective that wishes to extinguish the flame of individuality, and it could very well be the flaws of human nature; in the Christian world, the dragon represents Satan, wickedness, or sin.

Ancient, archetypal stories that provide symbols and guidelines to living life beg the question: why is the individual important? Why should I, an ordinary human being, care about individuality? Without individuality, the core foundations of your life fall apart and your life loses its meaning. You become a lost soul without any personal guiding force in your life. Unfortunately, this has happened to quite a number of people in society today. They begin to lose their individuality and sense of Self, and adopt disgusting and weak, yet tantalizing, views of nihilism—they deem that life is meaningless, the void will consume all, and the wild, passionate flame of the Individual has been extinguished with no hope of coming to light again. In their eyes life is only, and will ever be, suffering.

Indeed, life is suffering. It’s full of poverty, sickness, sorrow, tyranny, and death. Yet we, the human race, prevail; we’ve been doing so for over a millennium. How? Through determination, willpower, and individuality. We steeled and fortified ourselves against the howling winds of extreme chaos and suffering. Through innovation, order, and freedom we established a foothold and prosperous society in the world. That is what these followers of nihilistic principles need to realize: yes, life is suffering, but it is your responsibility to find meaning in life. That meaning is found in being an individual, being determined, having willpower and by allowing human nature to run its course.

Discover and establish a balance of chaos and order in your life; be innovative, free, and find happiness. Allow your individuality to burn bright and run free, like a stallion running through a dew-filled prairie in the early morn. Fight against the endless suffering of life and defeat the dragons of evil.

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The Nature of the High School Hierarchy

By James Sweet III | United States

Hierarchies are naturally occurring, but the values that determine an individual’s placement in that hierarchy varies. The most peculiar of social structures is the one formed by the youth, whose brain is still developing. In high schools, students are often associated with groups, and those groups are placed above another group. These social structures vary according to location, like most social structures. Unlike other social hierarchies, this one is not reliant on wealth, race, or gender. Rather, the high school social hierarchy focuses on the acceptance of others.

The Structure

PBS compiled and analyzed research to determine what a high school social hierarchy typically looks like. The following is what they believe the average high school social structure looks like.

  • The “Very Popular Kids”: The athletic “alpha males” and the “queen bees”. They often have social skills and looks that make others more attracted to them. They are usually physically stronger than other students of their respective gender and may be more aggressive.
  • The “Accepted Kids”: The majority of high school students fall into this group. They are considered well known or popular and are smart and outgoing.
  • The “Average or Ambiguous Kids”: While not popular, they are also not unpopular. They are very common in friend groups.
  • The “Neglected Kids”: These students are often well-behaved students and achieve good or average grades, causing teachers to not give them special or extra attention. However, it does take them much longer to make friends, and they often do require or wish for some kind of attention from parents and teachers.
  • The “Controversial Kids”: They often have a mixed, mostly negative, reputation to their name. They may be nice with some weird habits or be bullies to kids while making others laugh with their sense of humor.
  • The “Rejected Kids”: These students are at the highest social risk. “Rejected Kids” are either submissive, meaning they withdraw themselves from social activities so as to not receive any attention, or aggressive, meaning they purposely act up or emotionally blow up if they are teased too much.

The Line of Acceptance

A student that belongs in any of the first three groups finds themselves above the “line of acceptance”. They are mostly accepted by their peers or are at least not considered unaccepted. Any students one of the last three groups are below the line. They are mostly not accepted by the majority of their peers.

The line is drawn between the “Average Kids” and the “Neglected Kids”. If you are on that line, you are, theoretically, perfectly balanced between acceptance and its opposite. The line is the halfway point towards total acceptance and domination of your school as well as complete isolation and “undesirable” status. One question arises from this: What causes one to rise or fall in this social structure?

The Aggressive Social Climb

As previously stated, the students at the top of the high school social hierarchy are likely to be more aggressive than their counterparts. In fact, a student is more likely to be aggressive if they above the line of acceptance and submissive if they are below the line of acceptance.

While you can have bullies that are beneath the line of acceptance, they are often found above the line. Some students below the line of acceptance undeniably are victims of bullying by either students in their same social status or by those above them. Those at the top of the social structure, however, face bullying and/or aggressive actions more commonly than one typically thinks.

In schools, students are taught that bullies are insecure or are mimicking their home life. This isn’t entirely true for all bullies. It may apply for the kids that are in the “Controversial” social status, but it likely isn’t the case for bullies that are on the top. Researchers from the University of California at Davis and Pennsylvania State sought to uncover the motives of bullying and found a possible answer.

Students at the top of the social hierarchy are aggressive and competing to become the king or queen of the school. In a conflict that occurs over the social climb, neither student is willing to back down. Students at the top of the social structure have more to lose than the average student. After all, a group of friends may revolve around one person, and they are very likely to defend that status as the center of their group, meaning that conflicts are usually started by those in the center and that the friends in the circle back up their “leader”.

Assuming you fit the social norms, the risk of victimization increases with your social status. Being at the top makes you a target. If you’re taken down or outdone and do nothing about it, that’s a guarantee that you are going to lose social status and your rival will gain your former place. If you continue to fall down the social ladder, there is less of a reason for those wishing to climb up to bully you.

Once a student is threatened, they are likely to undergo radical personal changes, either to prepare for the fall to the bottom or to prepare their retaliation. This conflict at the top does spill out to the social groups below them. If an aggressive alpha male drastically drops in social status, they may take their anger out on some submissive, lower status student who wishes no harm. There is little to gain from this, but it serves as an emotional vent for the fallen.

The Lesson

High school has a very tense environment. Students compete for grades and social status. So how does one ensure that they are not trampled during the stampede for the top?

One thing should be clear: do not change who you are as a person. You are a unique individual, and trying to conform yourself to the masses is a way to erode your identity.

It comes down to being able and willing to fight back. Do not initiate conflict, but do not avoid it if it comes your way. If you are willing to defend your own status, not only are you ensuring that you will stay at your current place in the hierarchy, you are also making it possible to shut an aggressive bully down and climb the ladder yourself. As Dr. Jordan B. Peterson said: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”

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No, You Can’t Think Outside of the Box

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms  

Try to think of a new color, one that you have never experienced before. It’s purple, but without all of the purple, or green, with a greater amount of intensity. Having trouble yet? Now, attempt the exercise again, but this time, describe it without using any other colors as a reference point to go from. Rather than speaking relatively, imagine the creation of a color outside of our spectrum, and describe it absolutely. You can’t, because you can’t think outside of the box.

Surely, the human brain is not capable of such a task. For that matter, it is also not able to even do so for a color within the existing spectrum. Try, for example, to describe the color green without merely echoing how your individual brain processes the light. Initially, some ideas may include “a cool color”, “the color of the trees in the forest”, or even “light waves that reflect a wavelength of about 550 nm”.

Alas, none of these descriptions are at all meaningful in saying what exactly the color green is. In order to determine what is and is not meaningful, it is best to introduce the situation of a blind man.  If he who cannot see on his own can understand a concept of sight, then that concept must be sound. As the blind man has no bias, he cannot have any pre-existing ideas as to what the color green is.

Suppose the man has a wife and daughter, and both have normal vision. The child goes to a movie with some friends and eagerly comes home after, telling her parents what she saw. The wife can see and the husband cannot, but neither of them has watched the movie. So, neither of them will receive a completely accurate recounting of it. However, by using sensory details, the daughter can convey information that both the wife and husband will understand.

For example, if the movie had a grotesque alien, the girl may say that it had slimy skin, eight legs, and large teeth. Though blind, the man’s other senses compensate, allowing for both he and the wife to get a rough idea of the creature. But what if the daughter only described the alien as green? Even if she called it the forest’s color or remarked about frequency, the blind man would have absolutely no idea what this strange, foreign concept was.

As a person without sight could not understand this aspect of it, then it is safe to say that the description of green is not objective. That is to say, the definition alone holds no absolute truth; the senses are also required in order to understand it. 

Could, on the other hand, the senses alone be a useful tool in determining what the building blocks of the world really are? Though an interesting thought, this appears to be even more difficult to maintain. By looking at forest leaves alone, a person would have no true concept of what makes them green.

What is to say that the way I perceive green is not that way someone else perceives red? Think outside of the box. When looking at a Christmas tree, it is entirely possible that someone may see what I believe to be red. I cannot disprove it, nor can anyone, as that would involve being in everyone else’s minds. The thought, in addition to impossible, is not even slightly appealing and would not be useful in this context.

Clearly, a sense of sight is necessary in order to understand things based on sight alone. The blind man’s assumptions on the movie, referring back, most likely came from information his other senses provided. But just as convincingly, the sense of sight alone is not adequate to bring about objective truth.

Now, a bit of a paradox begins to form. It is obvious that the sense of sight is absolutely necessary to understand the objective quality of sight. However, the sense of sight is also meaningless at determining any objectivity of sight. So, if both statements are true, how can we be sure of anything at all concerning the properties of sight? 

Ultimately, the answer boils down to a level of societal consistency. I, of course, have no idea how anybody else perceives the so-called “green” of a Christmas tree. In fact, there is mounting evidence to suggest different people are able to see and identify different colors. 

One study, done by Debi Roberson of the University of Essex, looks at this phenomenon. The Himba tribe in Namibia has multiple words for green, but not one distinguishing blue from green. So, when trying to pick out different shades of green, they excelled. But, they were often unable to determine the difference between the common green and cyan, even though the distinction is so obvious to native English speakers.

The northwest square is a different color, which the Himba saw immediately. Source: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2012/09/04/magazine/046thfl-green-color-ring/046thfl-green-color-ring-blog480.jpg

I do know, however, that the idea of green is commonly accepted among all. It matters not whether we all perceive colors as the same, and in fact, is entirely possible that we each view them wildly uniquely.

What does matter, in this situation, is that we can communicate the existence of color. The above study all but proves the notion that color is different from language to language. But even within a single language, there is no guarantee that, as I previously said, someone does not think a Christmas tree matches my perception of red.

Color, then, if not objectively verifiable, cannot have inherent objective truths to it. Its only use is for communication, and thus, is nothing more than a human construct. This is where the idea of thinking outside of the box comes into play.

Before the cavemen were able to write, were they able to see color? If so, how many were they able to perceive? The Himba tribe study would suggest that the answer to this is no. If a word for a color is necessary in order to see it, how could cavemen existing before language possibly understand it? But if they did not understand it, how could they have possibly come up with words for it? What came first, the color or the idea of color? Either situation proves humanity’s inability to think outside of the box. 

The less likely of the two situations is that cavemen were unable to see color before conceptualizing color. Of course, the study would support this hypothesis, if carried to a full extension. But, it would be impossible for a human to come up with a word for something that he or she could not perceive.

In the modern day, it is safe to assume that the five senses shape our perception of reality. It is impossible for any human being to think of a world in which another sense exists that we do not have the organ to detect, or that our organ is not yet advanced enough to detect. The proof of this lies in the human inability to imagine a new color that does not entail a combination of existing colors or a relative assessment in comparison to them.

So, it is safe to assume that the study has some limitations. Though it is fascinating how language shapes existing color perceptions, it cannot create new ones entirely. Given the scope of human knowledge now, compared to the times of the Neanderthals, it is highly unlikely that they were any more able to do so.

This, by process of elimination, implies that color itself predated the idea of color. So, an ancient human being, deductively, must have looked at his or her own perception of color and given it words. With those words, the ancient could begin showing others this new property, which they had already observed, but not named.

Time passes by. The words red, blue, green, and others fly across the globe, but when we use them today, what are we actually saying? Is there anything true about them, or we are just unable to think outside of the box?

We cannot possibly imagine another term for color, and if we did, we would not be able to explain it. Language has already set aside certain words that denote color, but they are all subjective. So, when seeing green, one is not seeing anything that has any intrinsic green properties, as green itself does not exist. Science tries to approximate it, but even then, it only uses someone else’s definition, someone else’s box. You can’t think outside of the box, because language is in the box. Without language, what is a coherent thought?

The box encompasses all things commonly accepted as human knowledge, given the pattern of perception and storytelling that is knowledge itself. Rather than physical, it is metaphorical, but nonetheless very real. It is a collection of natural occurrences that humans snared with language, conceptualizing them in ways that allow for their understanding. Color, of course, is in the box, as is language. Neither of those is anything more than social constructs used to further communications.

What else can we place into the box of possible thought? Measurements of time, for one. Though time objectively moves, there is nothing intrinsic to say that a second is really a second at all. We merely invent and use the measurements to better understand each other. Try to describe one second without mentioning any words that denote an interval or direction. That means, no “minute”, “year”, or even “forward”. All of them are constructs used to quantify things we cannot otherwise understand. You cannot think in any other terms because you cannot think outside of the box.

Numbers, too, fit into the box. Ask any schoolchild and they will tell you with absolute certainty that 1+1=2. But what is two, and what is one? Again, you cannot describe two without using another human construct for quantity. 3-1, two things, doubled one, the second number after zero. They all are in the box, and you cannot think outside of the box. We can add many more things to it, such as shape, size, and texture. Though they definitely all exist, we cannot describe the concepts without merely giving circular examples of them.

The logic behind the box is not unlike that of a Nigerian prince’s email, offering you his billion dollar fortune. All he asks is for your social security number so that he may complete the transaction. In it, the fake prince says that you can trust the email because he is a trustworthy prince. How do you know he is a trustworthy prince? Well, the email says so, so it has to be true. 

The same reasoning applies to anything in the box. The forest is green because green is found in the forest. Two is more than one because one is less than two. A second is a duration of time because one second goes by for one second to pass. All of these things are very real, but all are also very logically invalid. Each of these resides on a different concept. But in order for any of them to be objectively true, the concept can’t be its own catalyst.

So, what lies beyond the box? We cannot know, because we cannot think outside of the box. But in so many ways, we likewise cannot think inside of the box. So, in a sense, we cannot wrap our heads around the things that lie inside of the box, and we cannot comprehend things that fall outside of it. 

Is this a contradiction? It would appear that this very logic falls within the same category of circular reasoning as many things in the box. Does the box exist at all? If we cannot understand the things inside or outside of it, where can the line fall?

The exact location appears nearly impossible to ascertain. Though individuals can have limitations, they are always in flux. Some evidence suggests that we did not see the color blue until recently. Does this mean that there are other things which we have the capacity to perceive, but simply do not? Surely I cannot rule this idea out, and thus, these things too would fall in the box. If more is in the box than we can see, then we cannot possibly see the edge of the box. 

Where would such a box come from? What kind of limitations exist on the human capacity to know and perceive? The origins of a box may lead back to a Creator, or a scientific guideline, or perhaps some fusion. Maybe all of these possibilities are moot, and are only products of the box.

Being unable to think fully inside or outside of the box, I cannot begin to fathom where it may have come from. With certainty, though, I can state its existence. But in order to investigate its origin, I must first know what it is. And to know what it is, I must know of the boundary between in and out of the box.

The line must exist, for without it, there is no distinction. Without distinction, there is nothing. But with distinction, there is only circular reasoning, which leads itself down a road free of knowledge. The box must exist, but for it to exist, it must have a place to fall. But, without knowledge of the inside or outside, how can such a place exist? Perhaps, if I was able to think outside of the box, it would be more imaginable. Perhaps not. In a world of circular reasoning, the prospect of an answer appears as dark and unclear as is the box itself, turned over on top of humanity.

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