The Naturalistic Fallacy and Consciousness-Altering Drugs

A great and famous observation in philosophy is known as Hume’s guillotine, and it can be found “In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with” (Hume’s words). This observation is that people aren’t very good at describing reality as it is, but rather seem to prefer to describe it as it ought to be.

This general confusion of how things are and how they ought to be has led to all manner of incorrect thinking. One assumption, when applied to drugs in general (not just drug law in particular) seems to be that the human mind works most rationally and correctly when not under the influence of any external drugs – which is, as this reasoning glibly assumes, its ‘natural’ state.

An implication of this assumption is that any person under the influence of a psychoactive drug is ‘high’ or ‘intoxicated’ and thus cannot be trusted to do anything at all competently, perhaps not even verbally describe reality or their own will.

As any psychonaut can tell you, this is complete shit.

For one thing, we are almost always under the effects of one psychoactive drug or another. At any one point in time, close to half of us are either somewhat drunk or somewhat hungover, most of us have a least a buzz going from a solid dose of caffeine at some point in the morning or a haze going from a sleeping pill at some point in the evening, about a quarter of us smoke tobacco, and over a third of us are under the effects of psychoactive medicine prescribed by a doctor.

We’re never clean – so how do we know it’s better?

Secondly, there are already powerful psychoactives that are natural, and our brains are full of them. Our brains are naturally a store of psychoactive chemicals called neurotransmitters, of which there are over 100 known.

Some of them are well known, such as adrenaline. Yes, the rush you get from fighting or from nearly being killed is literally just a drug rush: adrenaline binds to adrenergic receptors, which causes the blood flow to heart and lungs to increase and the muscles to surge with energy in preparation for possible mortal combat.

Few would argue that this burst of manic energy, which often brings with it cerebral haemorrhages and heart attacks, could possibly be more healthy than smoking some Northern Lights and relaxing for the evening. But some will.

Thirdly, there are many ways of altering consciousness that don’t even involve psychoactive drugs. There is music, meditation, physical exercise, and if one has never altered consciousness from making love one simply hasn’t done it right.

If it’s possible to significantly alter consciousness by ‘natural’ means then it can hardly be argued that sobriety is itself natural. Indeed, the idea that humanity’s natural state is to wallow in mind-rotting tedium is probably a masochistic artifact of Abrahamic influence or a consequence of the brainwashing that was done to condition people to industrial era labour.

A fourth and final point is that in some cases the human mind demonstrably works better when influenced from the outside. When a child is born, the act of nursing and being nursed releases oxytocin in both mother and baby.

Oxytocin is known as the “love drug.” Large doses of it in the brains of females while making love will induce them to favour a monogamous pair bond with their partner. This neurotransmitter appears to play a role in all kinds of emotional bonding and interpersonal solidarity, as it is released by pleasant physical contact like being caressed or stroked and brings with it a reduction in anxiety and fear.

The baby needs this release of oxytocin in order to be healthy, because, without it, they tend to develop to be suspicious and cold, probably because they have internalised a moral value that the world is a place where no-one really cares about each other.

Thus it can be seen that, in some cases, a drug that requires an external influence is a natural part of the human experience as a consequence of humans evolving as a mammalian, and thus social, species.

All of these arguments taken together suggest that the received wisdom of “Drugs bad no drugs good” is not only far from the truth but could be dangerously counterproductive.

There is actually a lot of merit to the counterargument. Looking at the drug intake of most of our greatest cultural icons demonstrates clearly that the unique and original thoughts common to many drug experiences is a powerful facilitator of creative achievement.

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