Gerin Oil Addiction

An unrecognized public health hazard, by Richard Dawkins (via crasch). The article begins:

Gerin oil (or Geriniol to give it its scientific name) is a powerful drug which acts directly on the central nervous system to produce a range of characteristic symptoms, often of an antisocial or self- damaging nature. If administered chronically in childhood, Gerin oil can permanently modify the brain to produce adult disorders, including dangerous delusions which have proved very hard to treat. The four doomed flights of 11th September were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time. Historically, Geriniol intoxication was responsible for atrocities such as the Salem witch hunts and the massacres of native South Americans by conquistadores. Gerin oil fuelled most of the wars of the European middle ages and, in more recent times, the carnage that attended the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent and, on a smaller scale, Ireland.

Amusing, yes, but I think this sort of characterization is rather unfair. By looking at the negative affects without the positive ones, we get a distorted view of the whole. I have a great distate for gerin oil myself, but in order to truly analyze whether it was good or bad, you would have to somehow calculate the net effect, perhaps through some kind of "randomized trial" where you took a population of individuals and randomly assigned them to gerin oil or no gerin oil, and looked at long-term differences in those populations.

Because I think that dissociation from reality is a bad thing, my suspicion is that gerin oil is a net negative. That most people have relatively small effects, but that a few susceptible individuals go crazy 9/11 style. And that this is especially true if you compared it to some alternative mechanism which achieved the social networking part, without all the crazy nuthouse making stuff up part. But I fully acknowledge that this is a handwavy, unscientific claim, and I think its a bit disappointing that scientists like Dawkins, who know all about controlled, randomized trials, and the importance of balancing good against harm, make these sorts of arguments. Pointing out only the downside to X is not a legitimate scientific argument that X is bad.

On the other hand, it is true that the effects of gerin oil can seem much more shocking when pointed out in this sort of format, and satire can be an effective technique in getting people to realize how truly strange some of their regular habits are.

UPDATE: co-blogger Brian Doss and my friend Robbb both make my point more succintly. As Robbb says: "If he judges religion based on the Crusades, do we get to judge atheism based on the Soviet Union?"

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"A weaker and more general

"A weaker and more general claim is this- that ‘Rationalism’ (of the modern, capitalized sort) as a way of thinking has led to so many elementary errors about reality in so short a time leads me to believe that it is (a) not the most productive way to approach the world and (b) a handicap to progress in society. I.E. exactly what you’ve claimed about religion."

This is crazy. The proliferation of rational, scientific rigorous thinking has been the best thing to ever happen to humanity. To deny this is simply wishful thinking.


Thanks for letting me post

Thanks for letting me post and sorry for the multi-posting, was a little bit groggy when I wrote this.

Joe Miller, If I may

Joe Miller,

If I may interject here, regarding your question:

Brian (again),
I’ve seen the bolded text said and asserted a lot. This puzzles me given that climate scientists believe in versions of “the Butterfly Effect” and other theories where small events have impacts far out of scale and proportion; but when it comes to the brain and cognition, quantum effects are “swamped out” and have no effect.
I’m getting way out of my field here, so this is pretty speculative. But hey, I’m an academic philosopher; we all speculate in all sorts of fields. Since no one takes us seriously anyway, what’s the harm, eh?
Anyway, is the butterfly effect really the same thing as Heisenberg? The latter says that quantum events are inherently unpredictable. I’m not sure about what the math says, but is the thesis of chaos theory really that everything is inherently unpredictable or is it rather that things are practically unpredictable? The butterfly problem seems to boil down to the issue that we’ll never have enough relevant data points to make 100% accurate predictions.
But that’s a practical rather than a theoretical problem. Given enough information and enough computing power, couldn’t I still make predictions that were perfectly accurate? Getting enough information may be impossible for humans, but unless one postulates that there is an infinite amount of information out there, then the impossibility is only practical. Heisenberg, on the other hand, points out that some information is essentially unknowable. If that is true, then even an omniscient being couldn’t predict quantum events. Is there a parallel claim about chaos theory?

It's not my field either and I will try to keep it brief. Chaos theory does in fact rule out perfectly accurate predictions for certain types of systems. More specifically, you may be able to predict the general behavior of the chaotic system, but not its particular state for a given point in time.

Here's a basic thought experiment that brings it back to Heisenberg. If I want to perfectly predict the future state of the system, I need to identify all the variables in the system, identify all the interactions among them, and then pick an initial state of the system (the initial value for each of the variables). Heisenberg says that I cannot precisely measure the state of the variables. So even if one were to accept that one could identify all the variables and model all the interactions, one would be introducing slight variations into the initial state values of the model. Chaotic systems are characterized as having "sensitive dependence upon initial conditions." Therefore my predictive model is theoretically as well as practically flawed.

I may not have this precisely right but I suspect that you get the idea.

well, ok, Richard , love

well, ok, Richard , love your logic but your sense of humour is not well developed
It is a fact that of any given number of people half of them are below average intelligence.....right? and the overwhelming number of them would be of some religious bent....that is , the ones below average intelligence. (Bent? yes that is probably the best word). And why do i have authority to say that? Because, well the arguments have been put forward a thousand, ten thousand times.....the "oil" is there to smoothe their passage through life, believe in Christ, Muhammad, Siva or the greatest god of all, N'gombi and all will be well.

I just can't understand why adherents to any belief can continue to support it entirely a matter of fear????

I would prefer not to have a reply, I do not suffer fools gladly