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Tomorrow’s world

A psychedelic cure for the blues

Anastasiia Cheprasova

Psychedelics could cure depression, says Tom Chivers in UnHerd. According to a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, two high doses of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) were as effective as six weeks on the best-performing antidepressant, escitalopram. Better still, psilocybin had a faster onset and less unpleasant side-effects.

It makes perfect sense, says Chivers. “In depression, our prior beliefs get stuck in a sort of ‘hole’ that is too deep for new information to shift it out of.” Meanwhile, psychedelics are mind-altering by design – their hallucinogenic qualities change our perspective and weaken any negative beliefs in the process.

Cary Grant’s good trips

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The actor Cary Grant was a fan of psychedelics. In 1959, the 55-year-old star was at the height of his career, but “in a fog”.  His marriage (by then his third) was in trouble, he hated being famous and he struggled with childhood trauma. Grant tried yoga, hypnosis and therapy, all to no avail. Then his wife, Betsy Drake, put him on to LSD. “The result was a rebirth,” he said. Grant, notoriously private, contacted Good Housekeeping magazine in excitement, begging them to interview him. “I want to tell the world about this,” he said. “It has changed my life. Everyone’s got to take it.”

AI would benefit from some self-doubt 

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Modern artificial intelligence can seem “stunningly intelligent”, says the neuroscientist Stephen Fleming in the Financial Times. Humans are “comprehensively outclassed” by machines in “traditional tests of intellect and ingenuity” such as chess. But unlike us, they don’t know how to doubt. Humans are self-aware: we can think about our thinking and assess whether our decisions are good or bad.

AI doesn’t have this “metacognition”, and it tends to be overconfident about its decisions. Research published in 2019 found that software trained to classify images got more confident about its answers when it was given types of images it hadn’t seen before. As “machines become part of the fabric of our daily lives”, the danger is that we over-estimate their abilities.

A future with “metacognitive machines” might mean self-driving cars that glow yellow if they’re uncertain about what to do next – a signal to the human passengers to take control. As Socrates believed, “being able to examine what we know and do not know” is the only true wisdom.