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Letter to Jordan Peterson on Antidepressants and Rational Discussion

I like your videos, e.g. about identity politics, university, insight into human life, and the value of skill at thinking, writing, speaking, arguing, and reading. Let's have discussions to advance human knowledge and find truth.

I believe you're mistaken about antidepressants. Logically, at least one of us is mistaken. It'd be good to resolve this and find the truth.

You say [1] that if an antidepressant works, you'll know in a month. But how would you know? If your life improves in a month, it could have been for an unrelated reason, due to trying more, or due to placebo. The correlation between taking the antidepressant and then getting better doesn't imply causation. To know causation you have to figure out explanations of how antidepressants work.

You suggest that antidepressants either work or don't work, and are harmless. You suggest this by saying there's no good reason for people to resist trying antidepressants when they're "depressed". But antidepressants are harmful.

The explanation of how antidepressants "work" is they're brain-disabling [2]. That's what they do, not a side effect. That makes it harder for people to think about or complain about their problems, and harder to fight with others. It also motivates some people to lie that they're better in order to get off the drugs.

Peter Breggin explains [3]:

... except for the brain dysfunction and biochemical imbalances caused by psychiatric drugs, there are no known abnormalities in the brains of people who routinely seek help from psychia­trists ... All biopsychiatric treatments share a common mode of action: the disruption of normal brain function. ... all the major categories of psychiatric drugs—antidepressants, stimulants, tranquilizers (antianxiety drugs), mood stabilizers, and anti­psychotics​—​are neuro­toxic. They poison neurons, and sometimes destroy them. ... The currently available biopsychiatric treatments are not specific for any known disorder of the brain. ... they disrupt normal brain function, without correcting any brain abnormality.

I can elaborate on this, and on the additional issue that "depression" and "mental illness" are myths [4].

I searched for information refuting this position, particularly by you or referenced by you. I was unable to find it. E.g., I checked the six neuroscience books you recommend [5], searched your Quora, and listened to Rethinking Depression [6]. I also looked at other criticism of Breggin [7].

In Rethinking Depression, you say you disregard human antidepressant trials because of human complexity. It's too hard to measure the results, control all the factors like other drugs being taken, and prevent bias. I agree. But the same issues apply to judging whether a drug works in one individual's life.

You positively bring up animal trials. But human complexity also poses a problem for extrapolating from animals. Can you link a detailed, written explanation, citing animal studies, that you think should change my mind?

You say critics of antidepressants have unrepresentative experiences and don't appreciate the depths of human misery. You're right about some critics, but Thomas Szasz and I agree with you about human tragedy. I have nothing against people getting help (it's not a crutch), as long as that help is compatible with science and liberalism. I'm not denying the reality and severity of "depression" and suffering, I only deny that it's a medical problem and that antidepressants can medically cure it. Note that being a non-medical and non-genetic problem doesn't mean it's easy to solve, I actually think that means it's harder to solve. (Memes are more fearsome adversaries than genes.)

This is similar to identity politics in two ways. First, saying people lack appropriate lived experience, perspective, etc, isn't a good answer to critics. If they don't know something, it can be explained. Second, people have assumed that, since you object to trans pronoun laws, you deny the reality of bigotry against trans people and are unfamiliar with their suffering. Critics like that exist, but that isn't your reasoning.

Do you have additional arguments which address my points about antidepressants?

I like much of what you have to say, and don't think it depends on these claims about antidepressants.

Below I discuss objections to discussion and methods of rational discussion, then provide references.


You may have some objections to discussion like:

  • You're busy.

  • You're skeptical that I'm smart and knowledgeable enough.

  • You expect discussions of this nature usually don't reach conclusions with anyone changing their mind, ever, let alone in a timely manner.

  • If it turns out you're correct and I learn something, where's the value for you?

There are solutions to these problems which don't require giving up on addressing criticism and disagreement from the general public.

Today people get flooded with incoming ideas. People normally filter by prestige, popularity, gatekeeping authorities, social circle, subculture, and proxies for those. These filters are bad at finding the truth. Great new ideas often start off unpopular and look just like bad new ideas to the filters.

One of the solutions is a public, online, discussion forum where other people answer questions and arguments, so you don't have to personally defend everything. (For this, it's necessary to have competent supporters – without those, it's kinda only fair and reasonable that a serious intellectual must do a lot of work explaining stuff himself.)

Another solution is reusing ideas with links and references. If something has already been answered, simply provide the link. And take personal responsibility for any mistakes in that answer, even if someone else wrote it, since you're using it for your own position. Or if no one on your side of the debate has ever created an adequate answer to the criticism, then it's worth some time and attention.

This link reuse approach means only a new argument requires a new reply. And one can write general answers which address an entire category of arguments at once, and then only a different category of argument requires a new answer. Writing quality, canonical answers, and then reusing them, also helps avoid making ad hoc arguments for a position one has a bias about. It also builds up human knowledge.

Methods like these address the question: "If I'm mistaken, and you know it ... how will I find out?"

Answering all critical arguments is important because you could be mistaken. It's also a good way to learn. And providing answers allows for your critics to learn why you're right, or to give follow up arguments you haven't addressed.

People don't do this well. They go through life having inconclusive discussions, using filters to ignore some arguments, and staying mistaken about issues where better ideas are already known. There's a better way [8], which I can elaborate on.


References:

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuQgJxYriYI

[2] http://www.wayneramsay.com/drugs.htm

[3] Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, 2nd edition, Peter R. Breggin. pp. xxiii, 2, 7

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Mental-Illness-Foundations-Personal/dp/0061771228/

http://www.wayneramsay.com/depression.htm

[5] https://jordanbpeterson.com/2017/03/great-books/

[6] http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/rethinking-depression-part-1-1.2913549

[7] E.g. this criticism of Breggin is bad. I can provide details. http://quackwatch.com/11Ind/breggin.html

[8] http://fallibleideas.com/paths-forward


Elliot Temple on May 30, 2017

Comments (5)

I was unable to download the 3 hours of Rethinking Depression episodes, or speed them up in my browser. So I bought Audio Hijack which can record any audio your computer plays. Then I played in VLC at higher speed!

Audio Hijack is awesome. It was very easy to use. A+++

curi at 10:12 AM on May 30, 2017 | #8694
Jordan Peterson on reddit:

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/615e3z/i_am_dr_jordan_b_peterson_u_of_t_professor/dfbv5sh/

> Go see a mental health professional. Don't delay. There are effective treatments for such conditions. Anti-depressants are very useful for some people. You'd know within a month if they were helpful. They'll be plenty to suffer about in your life. If you can help yourself with a medication, thank your luck stars and do it. It's not a cop-out, particularly if you try to put your life together while you're trying the medication.

This idea that you will know if it works in a month is completely unscientific.

It's exactly how people "know" that homeopathy works for them. They try it and in some way it appears to them to work. And they go with bias instead of science.

curi at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2017 | #8709
He has read myth of mental illness

ff at 5:17 AM on September 19, 2017 | #9040
> He has read myth of mental illness

yes but he apparently didn't understand it very well

Anonymous at 9:33 AM on September 19, 2017 | #9042

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)