What are you? It’s a question asked since time immemorial. You’re not a list of atoms and their velocity. If you were, you’d have no free will. If you had no free will, you couldn’t be held responsible for anything you do. We can’t reduce you to pure matter that operates in a mathematically deterministic manner, because we can’t even accurately determine the position and velocity of your particles. You’re not a pure immaterial being either. Your genes create a framework within which you operate. In some cases, the right genetic mutation can lead to generations of men prone to outbursts of extreme violence. In other cases, the right mutation leads to hypersocial people who want to get along with everyone and trust anyone.
Your environment affects you, but you also affect your environment, which in turn ends up affecting you. If you drink alcohol, you temporarily change your personality. You become more extraverted, more honest, less inhibited. You feel more comfortable talking to strangers. If you drink coffee, you become more eager to work and better able to focus. If you’re exposed to lead as a child you’ll grow up to be more aggressive. The more we learn about how our bodies and the world function, the more difficult it becomes for us to imagine there might be such a thing as genuine free will. The choices you make are made within the genetic and environmental constraints within which you operate.
What few people realize, is that your own personality is influenced by factors in your environment that you happen to have control over. Human personality attributes are not set in stone. More importantly perhaps, different personality characteristics are not of equal value. It’s a mistake to assume that your personality is unique and should thus be cherished. Certain personality traits can set you up for a difficult life.
Let us take the personality dimension of introversion versus extraversion. One standard deviation increase in extraversion increases men’s lifetime income by half a million dollar. Mothers desire their children, particularly their sons, to be extraverted. They desire this even more than intelligence in their children. Extraversion isn’t so much genetic, or a product of natural selection, as it is a product of the conditions you grow up in.
Grow up with socially prominent well-connected parents, parents who work as college professors, artists, musicians journalists, lawyers etcetera, and you grow up to be extraverted yourself. Grow up among people who see themselves as marginalized (aka white trash), people who live at odds with society and move back and forth between welfare and dead-end jobs, and you grow up to be more introverted, spending your days in your parents basement, making memes for the people on /pol/. If you’re extraverted your reproductive success is higher, particularly for men. You’re more likely to marry and if necessary, remarry. You’ll even have more grandchildren.
Based on the evidence we have, there isn’t really any way men stand to gain from being introverted. Women might benefit from being introverted, in the sense that it allows them to better relate to men (who are more introverted on average than women) but other than that, there are very few benefits to it. There’s a backlash now, with articles and books proclaiming all sorts of benefits to be had from introversion, but that happens because introverted people are marginalized. We’re seeing a backlash from all sorts of people who deviate from what’s successful and healthy. Nobody with an extraverted son would want their son to become introverted. Instead of insisting that some deviation should be accepted by society (it won’t be), people who deviate would benefit more from learning how to fit in better.
This applies to the concept known as neuroticism too. Neuroticism is one of the big five personality traits, together with extraversion. Neuroticism is primarily associated with negative outcomes. Neurotic people are self-conscious and shy and tend to be moody and anxious. There isn’t really any benefit from being neurotic, it’s associated with mental illness. Fortunately, both neuroticism and extraversion can be affected. You can affect these traits negatively, through trauma. If you’re sexually or emotionally abused as a child, congratulations, you’ll be more neurotic and less extraverted as an adult. This illustrates that we’re not just dealing with normal human variation that needs to be “tolerated” and “accepted”. We’re dealing with symptoms of psychological wounds.
Changing your personality by healing your psychological wounds
If people end up with a very introverted or neurotic personality due to psychological wounds, it would make sense to expect that addressing this root cause would lead to personality changes too. This is in fact what we see. Psilocybe mushrooms are now increasingly used to treat depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, drug and alcohol addictions, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.
One study looked at personality changes three months after administration of Psilocybin mushrooms for treatment resistant depression. In these subjects, extraversion and neuroticism moved towards the levels seen in mentally healthy people, that is, extraversion increased and neuroticism decreased. These people also became more gregarious. The introversion and neuroticism were part of the depressive state and decreased as a consequence of the treatment with psilocybe mushrooms.
Other psychedelics are likely to have similar effects. Studies find that MDMA (Ecstasy) combined with psychotherapy leads to significant reductions in social anxiety in autistic adults up to at least six months after administration. MDMA is also succesfully used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
I can’t give proper advice on whether you should take MDMA or not if you wish to be more extraverted and socially competent, but my overall personal experience is that any positive context seems to work relatively well for MDMA to have these desired long-term effects. One thing I can note is that you should avoid the pills and instead go for the powder. If you get the pills, you’re likely to end up with a mix that can contain all sorts of stuff and tends to be far stronger than necessary. The powder on the other hand, is simply licked from your finger. It’s sold on the darkweb.
In case of Ayahuasca use, I haven’t found studies specifically using the extraversion construct, instead there’s a study that suggested Ayahuasca is linked to significantly reduced shyness in regular Brazilian participants in Ayahuasca ceremonies. Reduces shyness is not quite the same thing as reduced introversion, in fact, I’d argue reduces shyness is preferable over reduced introversion.
Another psychedelic that needs to be noted here is mescaline. Mescaline has been studied in the context of consumption of Peyote by Native Americans. Increased Peyote consumption is associated with reduced anxiety and mental distress among the members of the Native American church. The effects of mescaline are likely to be similar to those of the Psilocybe mushrooms, but with some subtle differences. Cactuses create a cognitive state that is somewhat similar to psilocybe mushrooms but also shares some aspects of ecstasy, with an apparent increase in extraversion and social competence.
“The single most important psychedelic that would benefit from additional research is mescaline. Mescaline has an incredible medicinal and spiritual value. The only reason it is not being researched is the lack of funding. It is not widely used recreationally because it often requires 400 mg for a full experience. The lack of research into mescaline is the single biggest missing hole in psychedelic research.”
-Rick Doblin, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
Personality rejuvenation from psychedelics.
Let’s return to the study on personality changes from Psilocybe mushrooms. In the study group, the patients with treatment resistant depression, the T-score for Extraversion increased by 6.5 points, from 31.1 to 37.6, over a period of three months. Openness to experience increased from 52.7 points, to 57.6 points, an increase of 4.9 points. For comparison, the decrease in extraversion in a regular sample of British elderly compared to British youth is 7.6 points, the decrease in openness to experience is 8.02 points. For German elderly, the decrease in extraversion with age is just around 3.6 points, for openness, the decrease is 6.2 points. In other words, through psychedelics your personality seems to be rejuvenated by decades.
Please answer some questions for me:
1 Who wants to think like an old person?
2 Who wants to be hesitant to interact with other people?
3 Who wants to be afraid when the world around them changes?
You’ll find that most people don’t want this, it just happens to them because it is how their personality evolves over time. As the study of psychedelics increases, the makeup of people’s personalities will become increasingly subject to their own control.
Other lines of evidence that suggest psychedelics increase extraversion
We know that the traditional psychedelics function specifically as agonists of the serotonin receptor type 2a. If it’s true that psychedelics increase extraversion and this is not a mere artifact of the studies, we would expect that variation in the receptor type might be found to be related to differences in extraversion between people too. This is in fact what we encounter, as two SNP’s in the 5ht2a receptor gene have been found that are linked to increased extraversion.
What if you don’t have time?
Some people end up in more severe situations, that require immediate interventions. NMDA antagonists are known to work as immediately effective antidepressants. The easiest to find with the least side-effects is nitrous oxide, which is typically inhaled through a balloon and readily available to growing numbers of people. Nitrous oxide can give people immediate relief from severe depression. I should note that nitrous oxide shouldn’t be seen as a long-term solution or treated as such. If used regularly there is a risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency. Nitrous oxide gives people immediate relief that lasts for a few days, which then allows them to work on more effective and sustainable solutions. An example of solutions with long-term effect are Psilocybe mushrooms, which have an effective anti-depressant effect that lasts for months.
Other methods that appear to work
The human body synthesizes vitamin D, a nutrient more akin to a hormone, that allows our body to have a clue as to what sort of weather it is exposed to. As you might have guessed, our body wants to save energy and do little in winter, when vitamin D levels in your body are low. To avoid spreading disease, we also become less gregarious in winter. Vitamin D levels in blood explain roughly 20% of the difference in extraversion between people. Some will insist on repeating the old cliche that correlation does not equal causation, but there are causative mechanisms that are likely to play a role here. If you wish to take vitamin D, keep in mind that the standard dose of 400 IU per day is almost worthless, it will take you months of consistent consumption until you would notice any difference. I would recommend taking 4000 IU per day.
There is some evidence to suggest that iron plays a role in extraversion too, because iron plays a role in the dopaminergic processes that make us extraverted. Finally, lack of exercise seems to cause a decrease in extraversion as people age. Extraverted people exercise more than introverted people, but you can debate whether exercise causes extraversion or the other way around. If you were to ask me personally, the ideal form of exercise for the human body is endurance exercise. I need to mention the obvious fact, that alcohol is used for this purpose too. However, alcohol causes temporary cognitive impairment and is thus only well fitted to a very specific context.
The childhood interventions of the future
Sometimes people get sick, then wait with seeking treatment until it´s too late to reverse course. When you catch a problem early, it´s usually much easier to address it. This is how it works with mental illness too. A lot of people are born into conditions where mental illness is a likely outcome. People may grow up in poverty, in abusive household, or be born with subtly abnormal personalities. As an example, let us take some recent cases of school shooters. In many cases, we were dealing with people who suffered from a form of autism. Adam Lanza was autistic, Cho Seung Hui suffered major depressive disorder and selective mutism.
In a well-functioning society, these problems would be recognized at an early age and adequately addressed. In the case of these guys, the problem was recognized, but nothing was done with it. Cho went to school where he didn´t find any friends, Adam Lanza lived in house with his mother and spent his time browsing school-shooter forums and reading anarcho-primitivist literature. Eventually he became an efilist and set out to murder children. These people are wounded at a young age, the wound is ignored and they are left to spend their days by themselves, isolated from society. This leads them to accumulate more wounds, leads them to read all sorts of nonsense on their computer that leaves them feeling even more miserable, until they completely lose their minds and start killing other people.
Now here´s what´s going to happen in the future. Studies in mice and rats are going to be used to judge which substances are dangerous for developing brains and which ones aren´t. THC may be damaging to developing brains, but in all likelihood THC is less damaging than ethanol and we know that teenagers with problems tend to binge drink. Psilocybin, nitrous oxide and MDMA appear to be substances that are even less damaging than THC. We have available to us, a broad range of substances that can be used at a young age in children, to put their developing minds back on a healthy trajectory. These substances were broadly investigated in the 60´s and 70´s, but then the research stopped. Why is that?
On the one hand, these substances were made illegal. This however, is not sufficient reason to prevent research. What took place simultaneously however was the rise of an enormous pharmaceutical cartel, that needs to make a profit. If you can patent a newly discovered substance, you´re the only one allowed to sell it. This gives you a monopoly and thus the potential for enormous profit. Pharmaceutical companies thus ended up with an incentive to encourage doctors to prescribe substances that can be patented and need to be regularly administered. Substances that can treat a disease but can´t be patented are thus now a threat to the bottom line of pharmaceutical companies.
Look at the United States and you´re faced with a nation with low life expectancies and high rates of mental illness, in spite of huge healthcare expenses. This happens because the capitalist system we live in does not align what is profitable with what is good for patients. It´s not a conspiracy, the problem is simply that the current system leads to perverse incentives. If something can´t be patented, there will be very little scientific research done into it. The things that work are not profitable, so we never heared about them. The main reason we´re seeing a turnabout happening now is because of the Internet. People talk to each other without facing censorship and everyone becomes aware of the fact that psychedelics seem to reduce mental illness. Simultaneously, billionaires end up with sufficient wealth to fund organizations that study substances that can´t be patented but do manage to book enormous results. Peter Thiel, Vitalik Buterin, the guy who set up the Pineapple fund and others now donate millions of dollars to Aubrey de Grey´s SENS protocol and to psychedelic research.
The consensus shift is occurring as we watch. In the sixties, psychedelics were given to mentally ill children, many of these children showed significant improvement, although the studies were not of the quality we see today. In the future, we will see this occur more often. Young brains are still more flexible than older brains, so children who have gone through traumatic experiences can receive interventions at a young age, that now have to wait until they are adults. It´s well known that psychedelics can be used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the future, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will be cured at a much younger age, while the brain is still developing and every opportunity in life is still available to children. We are now even capable of recognizing symptoms of depression in children who are too young to be capable of properly articulating their emotions. As a consequence, there is a vast ocean of lost human potential that will soon be recovered.