Current Peyote Reference

Continuing the thread on psychedelics place in the study of consciousness, here is a bang up to date “scientific” study on the use of Peyote – OK so it’s from the media school of “Today US researchers announced …”, but it’s current and credible. [BeliefNet via Scott over at MoQ Discuss.]

Damned by faint praise in the headline …

“Peyote Doesn’t Damage Brain”

… the article acutally focusses on

“Quite the contrary, these individuals [Sacramental Peyote Users] scored higher on several indicators of mental health … etc … “

Twas ever thus.

Post Note : This blog is about knowledge, not “drugs”.

My opening remark, about the school of journalistic scientific reporting ….
is the same school as “lies, damn lies and statistics”, geddit yet ?

Nowhere in my post, nor in the article actually, are there any positive assertions of causality, reason or responsibility, though there are some disclaimer (truism) negative assertions in the interests of political correctness – well don’t blame us, we didn’t say xxxx was the cause, etc.

Causality (how and why) is a whole other ball game;
Beyond journalism, and most of science for that matter.

25 thoughts on “Current Peyote Reference”

  1. Hi Ian,

    The group with the higher scores for mental health were all members of a Church. The others, who scored lower, one third of them alcoholics, were not. At the very most this trial shows that religion is good for you – or perhaps that mentally healthy people are attracted to at least one certain form of religion.

    It certainly doesn’t indicate that peyote is a good thing which is what those whose brains are addled by hallucinogens might think after reading your blog.

    But you know this, for the article states:

    “We do not pretend that peyote is the reason for the higher mental health score, but that it’s a much tighter community, and group support and all of the other positive values account for it.”

    Twas ever thus.

    Struan Hellier

  2. Thanks Struan,
    Of course being “addled” with anything is hardly productive.

    Actually I didn’t notice the significance of the sentence you quote, so there are are two separate summary conclusions. I have no doubt “group” support re-inforces positive (as well as negative) values. That’s memes for you. I’ll re-read and re-consider, if there is any valid conclusion re peyote, independent of the community issue.

  3. I would be genuinely interested to see if you can find a valid conclusion from that article regarding peyote. It seems to me that they could just have easily concluded that people who sit on pews or sing hymns have better mental health. Indeed, I wonder why they felt the need to bring peyote into it at all.

    A better experiment might be to take a group of people with equal scores in mental health checks and no experience of hallucinogens, then expose half of them to peyote in a double blind experiment. From my observation of the disastrous effect (biologically, socially and intellectually) hallucinogens have had on a number of people I know (and knew), I suspect that the results would be very different.


  4. Sorry Struan, but your prejudices (against drug use) are showing.

    I’ve re-read it, and whilst there are several “don’t try this at home” disclaimers (to enable publication), the signficance is clear – the group picked out as significant (given any credibility in the survey behind the story) are Native-American-Church-Peyote-Users,

    Nothing to do with “a” church, but this specific church with sacramental use of peyote.

    We mustn’t generalise about “hallucinogens” and the circumstances of use, but recognise specific evidence.

  5. Sorry Ian but, with respect, ‘prejudice’ means to pre-judge. My opinion that a double blind experiment would lead to a very different and negative picture derives from strong first-hand empirical evidence and not from prejudice. It is, equally, a call for a scientific experiment to confirm that view, with the obvious possibility that I might be wrong. How forming an initial hypothesis based upon direct empirical evidence, then suggesting that the hypothesis should be tested scientifically can be construed as prejudice I am at a loss to understand.

    My initial reply also included in the sentence right after I wrote ‘a Church’ (which can be read as specific or general) the phrase, ‘at least one certain form of religion’, so you will understand that I realise this is a specific Church – and yes I realise they use peyote too. That was clear from the article.

    You are certainly correct that the group picked out as significant are Native-American-Church-Peyote-Users. What you do not have any legitimate grounds for is concluding from that specific evidence that peyote is beneficial to mental health. One might just as well conclude (if the evidence showed they had a greater well-being) that Methodists can attribute their greater well-being to drinking communion wine from very small cups. Yes, of course all Methodists do this, but nobody without an agenda (a small cup salesman perhaps) would attempt to claim that drinking from small cups improves mental health. This is a fallacious argument and not even a subtly fallacious argument.

    Your initial posting where you selected the quotation, “Peyote Doesn’t Damage Brain”, then followed it with, “Quite the contrary. . . .” is therefore misleading as this article gives no sensible evidence whatsoever to support the conclusion that peyote is good (or bad). Hence my objection and hence why your plea to recognise ‘specific evidence’ is pointless. There isn’t any.

    Incidentally, I am certainly not against drug use ‘per se’ and for all I know peyote might be fantastic stuff – perhaps even something I would want to alternate each night with my best cognac. I do know that many of the people I have come across who have taken hallucinogenic drugs have been seriously diminished by them and I would rather that those people I care for didn’t use them for that reason. My objection is to poor reasoning, not to drugs.

  6. Clearly all our views of this story depend on some assumptions about the credibility of the test and data itself, which doesn’t get exposed in detail in the article.

    If you keep the peyote-church together, and don’t try to generalise about either churches or drugs separately, then the conclusion is clear. (To say any more we need different data.)

    I doubt your quip about the generality of cognac and peyote is remotely true. (Refer previous comment about addled brains.) 🙂

  7. Ian, it doesn’t matter one jot how credible the test was or what the data itself was. The researchers themselves are quoted as saying:

    “We do not pretend that peyote is the reason for the higher mental health score. . . ”

    How much more plain do you want it? Your claim to the contrary in your initial message was dead wrong.

    I will try for a final time. Now that you have, ‘considered if there is any valid conclusion re peyote, independent of the community issue’, and not back-tracked on your initial claim. Can you tell me what it is? If you can’t perhaps you should make it public that you can’t instead of trying to wriggle out of an obviously fallacious position by questioning my motives.

  8. Struan, I already acknowledged that the sentence you quote is one amongst several politically correct disclaimer sentences.

    My conclusion is based on the whole article, not just one sentence. Whereas you are generalising about drugs and alcohol, my conclusion is specific to “peyote church” people scoring higher than … etc.

  9. Excellent, so having ‘considered if there is any valid conclusion re peyote, independent of the community issue’ you have concluded there isn’t and we can go back to my original objection as being partially vindicated.

    To claim that the sentence in question is simply a ‘disclaimer’ is, I think, actually quite offensive. Essentially, you are claiming that the researchers lied about the reaons for the greater mental health in order to get their story published. Either that or they are too stupid to recognise the various possible conclusions from their results. Or perhaps the journalists misreported the researchers so the editor would let it through. I suggest that you are quite willing to accept the researchers views without all the specific data if it backs up your prejudices but not if it doesn’t. If it doesn’t you write it off as some sort of deception.

    I can’t possibly agree to that a being rational approach and so it would seem proper to trust the researchers when they say that there is a valid conclusion re the community issue, independent of the peyote, even if the opposite does not hold.

    Thus my initial abjection is fully vindicated.

    Struan Hellier

  10. OK, my last try Struhan.

    I’m not talking about “why” the results, causality if you like that concept, but the facts …

    People of the [Peyote Church] scored higher [than whoever] – for whatever “reason”. End of.

    I couldn’t give a sh*t if you or I is “vindicated”. Utterly irrelevant.

    Not a question of who is “lying” or “stupid” – it’s you bringing all these pejorative terms into the conversation. I didn’t say “independent of” anything – you did.

  11. Ok, my last try iahn.

    That fact is plainly obvious. What seems to evade you utterly is that this fact does not justify the spin you placed upon it in your original message.

    The vindication is not of you or I, it is of precisely that point.

    Next, you brought the pejorative terms into the conversation first by calling me prejudiced. I am not.

    Finally, you, not I, brought ‘independent’ into it by writing, “I’ll re-read and re-consider, if there is any valid conclusion re peyote, independent of the community issue” (see No. 2 above). Now that you have obviously failed in your self-allotted task you can’t even (or perhaps decide not to) recall it, despite it being there in front of you in black and white.

    *Now* do you see what I mean about addled brains!!

  12. Ian states:
    “Clearly all our views of this story depend on some assumptions about the credibility of the test and data itself, which doesn’t get exposed in detail in the article.”

    That’s agreeable, but one detail that does get exposed is that enlisting the support and cooperation of the Navajo tribe was ‘profoundly difficult’ and another is that the 61 NAC members were ‘recruited’. Necessary attempts to win over such a group will cause the scientists to lose some of their objectivity, and worse, the NAC members weren’t picked at random.

    Ian says that “the sentence you quote is one amongst several politically correct disclaimer sentences.” This is the crux of the disagreement. Apparently Ian thinks this sentence is provided for the same kind of reason that small print warnings below drug adverts are provided, the ones admitting symptoms of diahrea and mouth dryness in 3% of people tested. But Pope’s disclaimer is much more important. Struan’s comparison with methodists and small cups drives home that point. The study could make the tentative claim of the article’s title, “Peyote Doesn’t Damage Brain”, but it doesn’t justify the conclusion that peyote is responsible for the *higher* mental health scores.

    Glenn Bradford

  13. (Having read Ian’s ‘post note’)

    Ah, now I ‘geddit’. I have been under a misapprehension.

    When Ian wrote:

    “Peyote Doesn’t Damage Brain . . . . Quite the contrary”

    I took that to mean that Ian was suggesting that the contrary of peyote damaging the brain pertains.

    Then when the researcher stated:

    “We do not pretend that peyote is the reason for the higher mental health score”

    I thought that was a negative assertion that peyote is not the reason.

    And when Ian introduced his post with the words, ‘Continuing the thread on psychedelics place in the study of consciousness’, I thought the blog would be about psychedelic drugs, when actually it was Ian forwarding his musings on epistemology.

    How foolish of me. The first bit didn’t happen, the second was not true and forwarded only in the interests of political correctness and the whole thing had nothing to do with drugs anyway. Silly me!

    A double act? We are both fascinated by how Pirsigians think. This is a superb example so I passed it to Glenn for his amusement.

  14. Jeez Struan,
    You are a pain in the ass.
    Worse even.

    The first bit did indeed not happen. I didn’t say “Peyote Doesn’t Damage Brain . . . . Quite the contrary”.

    I quoted the article as saying exactly that … after my caveat about the “journalistic reporting of science” nature of the subject matter.

    I did not deny any of the negative assertions in the article. I have frequently acknowledged them in this dialogue – they are unassailable truisms – they could claim no other given the nature of the article (and presumably the research).

    I am amazed that you are so closed to see this as significant for epistemology. You assumed the article says something about the truth of drugs not improving mental well-being. You assumed I inferred the opposite. I simply pointed out the infererences, and the interest, given that psychedelics are a recurring subject in the study of what the mind thinks is true. Something about which it would be interesting to know the truth, and yet an article which purports to be about exactly that – seems to add no weight. What a surprise.

    As I predicted in my opening remark.

    Anyway, proving the negative, denying proof positive is child’s-play Struan, even you can do it, but it gets knowledge nowhere.

    Interesting don’t you think ?
    It seems Pirsigians with open minds notice these epistemological problems.

  15. But wait, lets make it even easier for you.

    Ian Wrote most recently:
    “I inferred the opposite [about the truth of drugs not improving mental well-being].”

    You inferred (arrived at a conclusion from the premises) that drugs (your generalisation) do improve mental well-being. That is, after all and beyond dispute, the opposite of the assumption that drugs do not improve mental well-being, which you falsely ascribe to me.

    *Ian, you were not entitled to draw that inference from the evidence given!!*

    You admit that yourself time and time again. You berate me for, in your eyes, not recognising this and yet you still clearly and plainly state your inference in your latest post. Why can you not be consistent, or at least recognise that you are inconsistent?

    Your position is nothing less than: ‘The research does not give grounds for believing that drugs promote or demote mental well-being, yet I infer from the research that drugs promote mental well-being’.

    This objection is so straightforwardly clear it astounds me that anyone capable of dressing themselves in the morning could deny it’s truth.

    I SAID,

    You assumed (appeared to assume) I’d inferred the opposite – opposite to your generalised view that drugs addle brains.

    I drew no inferences from the evidence given, other than that there was no evidence given. (But that was nevertheless interesting, given the report.)

    End of.

  17. I know, I know, Struan and I are pests. But we’re still not satisfied with your responses. It sounds to me like you’re backpedaling and changing your story.

    Ian said:
    “I drew no inferences from the evidence given, other than that there was no evidence given. (But that was nevertheless interesting, given the report.)”

    Just interesting? Your opening says it is ‘credible’.

    You say that you drew no inferences, but in your opening you chose to show only one (the one that says “Peyote Doesn’t Damage Brain
    …Quite the contrary”) of the two opinions offered by the article, and then follow it up by saying “twas ever thus”, which cements your agreement.

    Why don’t you change your opening, if that’s not what you mean or the impression you want to leave?

    Re. your post note. The bit about your post really being about knowledge instead of drugs comes out of left field. Who would think that? If that’s really what it was about, you need to edit your opening to make it so.

    You also say in your post note that there are no positive assertions (opinions) in the article about the causes for the improved mental health scores of NAC members. That’s certainly not true. The journalist implies that the peyote is responsible. One of the researchers says that they’re due to “a much tighter community, and group support and all of the other positive values” of a church.

    Glenn Bradford

  18. Apologies, I misread it – my fault, though your removal of capital letters doesn’t help make this blog user friendly – so my latest post was misplaced and inaccurate.

    I go back to referring you to my previous reply.

  19. Struan, Glenn,

    Being nosey.

    I see all the hits on this post from a Mistral link at Shrewsbury School, but is it you Glenn, hitting me from a Comcast link in Navesink, New Jersey ? Spooky location ?

    Just curious ?

  20. You stop to look. Poison ivy like you’ve never seen. Blueberry bushes dot white dunes. Barren cracked asphalt. Some gulls alight from the unseen beach under a grey winter sky. Upheaved cement blocks slowly erode. An abandoned fort. Ceaseless surf. A biting wind pools your eyes. And what’s this? You blink the wetness down your cheek to look hard. A naked baby hangs upside down in the thicket, it’s plastic hair blowing in the gusts. A wave of discomfiting warmth comes under your coat. You kick a loose stone. Time to move on.

    b. r. loggins

  21. Paranoia and conspiracy theory rule :-0

    A couple of private communications suggest I need to clarify my reference to Glenn’s (Loggins’) Navesink location.

    I have absolutely no interest in people’s physical locations or IP’s. I monitor my site activity to find links to subjects and web-pages of interest to me and my research.

    “The Highlands of Navesink” (Glenn’s location) is a subject of interest to me, as one of the locations mentioned at the end of Pirsig’s Lila trip down the Hudson River, past Manhattan and through New Jersey. [See October 1975 in the Pirsig Timeline.]

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