Sunday, February 6, 2011

Biological Determinism

This is a bit off topic, but as it relates to addiction, I suppose it falls within the scope of this site.

Whenever discussing mental illness, including addiction, with those who favor a biological explanation, it is almost inevtiable that someone will bring up the fact that this or that mental illness causes chemical, or electro-chemical, changes in the brain, and then use this to argue that only chemical intervention can cure the disorder.

I just don't see how that follows.

First of all, thought itself is nothing but an electrochemical process in the brain. Thoughts cause electrochemical changes. So why could not those electrochemical changes counteract the changes caused by a mental disorder?

But even if we assume that the electrochemical changes caused by thought for some reason could not correct the changes caused by illness, then why could thought not overcome the impulses caused by those problems. For example, if I touch an open flame, a strong biochemical signal tells me to withdraw my hand, yet I can force myself to keep my hand there. So there is nothing absolute about a biological urge. We can still overcome it.

This is not to say chemicals can be of no help. Obviously a healthy dose of morphine would make it easier to ignore the impulse telling me to take my hand out of the flame. And perhaps various psychiatric medications can be of help. I just don't see how anyone can argue that they are the sole possible cure.

But, as I said,  this is a bit off topic. I only mention it as people sometimes argue that addiction is also uncontrollable, and for the reasons mentioned above, I cannot agree with that position either. However, we are drifting a bit far afield form my declared topic, so I will cut things short.

As a final thought I will simply offer this, that were addiction utterly incurable without pharmaceutical assistance, how did we ever have any former addicts before pharmaceuticals were developed?


Note that my final sentence also applies to those on the other end of the spectrum who are extreme proponents of 12 step programs. Most are quite modest in their claims, but I have met a few who claim there is no recovery without a 12 step program. To which, again, I must reply, then how did we ever have former addicts before the 12 step program was developed?

Originally Posted in Examining the War on Drugs on 2008/05/30.


  1. Your post shows a profound ignorance of Biological Determinism. Isn't that the title, yet the comments have zero to do with an accurate view of addiction or biological determinism!

    You can't think your way into recovery, are you kidding me? You can't hold your hand over flame by shear will, LOL, try it smart guy.

    We live in a godless, Deterministic universe. We're 100% automated with ZERO free will. We do not choose out thoughts, philosophy, breakfast, mates, clothes etc... We are the product of Genes and Memes in TOTAL, period. Everything that orchestrates us are Genes, Memes and weather (gravity).

    Addicts are Powerless. We are all Powerless, this is what biological determinism is. The 12 steps are religious delusion in total, 12 steps to conversion to servitude Crustianity.
    If we're powerless, why are we at fault and need an anthropomorphic deity to remove the short comings "it" tortures us with. Why do we need to amend for the powerless behavior, our "creator" endowed us with?
    The only thing the 12 steps gets right is Powerlessness. The rest is a delusional design to make you feel like a sinner. But again the plot doesnt make sense. How can I be at fault and need to make amends and seek forgiveness and freedom when the 1st step is to admit Im powerless?

    LOL All the people are idiots, I hope they die from their automated and incurable addictions. Stupid people deserve to die with their stupid ideology.

  2. I am not exactly sure what you are saying, the sarcastic tone makes it difficult to figure out if you are saying we can "think our way into recovery" or not. And I can't tell if you understand what I was saying or not either.

    As someone who has used opiates for a prolonged period (medically) and then quit "cold turkey", even when offered the option to "taper off", and done it more than once, who also voluntarily stopped drinking after a long period of excessive and destructive drinking, I have to say I don't have a problem believing in the ability to quit via will. It may be difficult for some, maybe most, I can't say, all I can say is first hand experience shows it is possible.

    I do not agree that we are nothing but "genes and memes", whatever that is supposed to mean. Even if I discount the possibility of any spiritual aspect to life, the way in which humans behave definitely indicates human volitional behavior is far more complex than Skinner and company believe, or than the biological determinists do.

    Why is the same people who espouse the validity of indeterminacy in quantum physics are unwilling to believe that human thought is not deterministic? If elementary particles can not be defined by mechanistic rules, why not the much more complex activity of the human mind?

    But then again, as your sarcasm makes it hard to tell what you are saying, maybe you agree with that. I can't really tell.