I am the author of Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/autopilot/ which explores the psychological and neural benefits of idleness. The book makes a serious neuroscientific argument that our wage-slave society and busyness obsession cause brain damage. There is a game about the book too! http://www.orbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/autopilot/autopilot.html I have degrees in cognitive science from Lund University in Sweden. I am currently working on a new book about machine consciousness and LSD.


Hey everyone thanks for the great questions. I've got to go let my brain rest now, but this was great! Thanks very much, and be sure to check out my book "Autopilot" if you want to know more.

Ok I am back, thank you for all the great questions! Will try to keep answering.

Comments: 108 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

LookOutMoon17 karma

Does creative work such as making art and performing music tax the brain the same way that mindless, repetitive work does?

andrewthesmart25 karma

I think this is very interesting question. The great psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about the flow state. Very crudely, this is achieved when cognitive demand and your skill level are optimally balanced and you can enter the zone so to speak. I think creative people seek this flow state while working. And it can be immensely rewarding. There is evidence that writing for example, even just keeping a journal reduces your risk for depression. But our brains run on glucose which our brains use to make electricity, which is used by our neurons to communicate with each other, and of course there are limits to our brains metabolism - just from an energy consumption standpoint. So even when you are in a zone writing a song or painting a masterpiece your brain will run out of energy eventually. Then it is necessary to rest. And I write about in my book how a few famous artists and scientists, like the poet Rilke and Newton, seemed to have their greatest insights while sitting around doing nothing. This is perhaps because part of the brain which is involved with creativity becomes much more active while we are resting. And so I make the argument that to have really great insights you should be idle more often.

But for sure, chronic stress damages the brain. And I think that mindless repetitive work that you don't want to do causes stress. In fact, in general probably, work that you don't want to do in the first place probably causes you stress just by the mere fact of having to do it. Then when you have a lot of work that you don't like doing I would bet that this increases your stress level to really dangerous levels, where it starts affecting your cardiovascular system for example.

ClassicalGuitarGirl5 karma

I'm currently a music major in college and practice 8-12 hours a day. Anytime I feel myself losing concentration, I switch to a new song or practice a different set of skills. Is this potentially damaging?

andrewthesmart9 karma

No I wouldn't think so - unless you are stressed by practicing 8-12 hours a day. In fact playing music is I think one of the best things you can do for your brain. Musicians have all kinds of cognitive benefits, and your brain does physically change from musical training - but I think in a good way! And I think if you feel better after practicing that much then it is not damaging at all, but rather enhancing. To me, it all comes down to the stress level involved.

urban_sketcher16 karma

Can you give a summary of the damaging effects of work? What is the theory, in a nutshell?

andrewthesmart27 karma

There is mounting clinical and neuroscientific evidence that chronic work-related stress causes negative changes to our brains. Your ability to manage negative emotions is reduced, which leads to more stress, and eventually can cause depression. Some of the changes that chronic occupational stress causes may even be irreversible. Especially working long hours increases your risk of coronary heart disease by 40% for example. That is almost as dangerous as smoking. There are many studies and they are all converging on a pretty similar conclusion - no matter how you look at it work is bad for you.

urban_sketcher14 karma

But - what if you love your work? For instance, I'm an artist. If I do 80 hours of painting in a week, generally I'm tired, but in a warm fuzzy zone where I love everyone and the world is great. Could it be that your studies are only seeing the downside of wage-slavery, not of work itself?

andrewthesmart17 karma

Yes I agree. In my book I was very much focused on wage-slavery and busyness. In some of the other answers I tried to disentangle the aspects of creative work versus sort of externally induced work that you don't necessarily like. In my opinion, and like many philosophers have talked about since Von Humboldt, any work that you do that is not coming from your own intrinsic desire to do it will feel, to use Marx's word, alien to you. And in some sense, we might be discovering now that Marx had a point about this. The word alienation in the Marxist sense might really have a physiological basis. Alienation could be caused by chronic work-related stress, and this stress is likely caused by the excessive cognitive demands we place on our brains everyday. But if you are an artist and able to follow your intuitions and ideas however you want - then I agree working 80 hours a week is probably not unhealthy - especially if you feel better after doing it! I don't know anyone who work at a company that feels better after working an 80 hour week. Most of them feel like shooting themselves.

iFappster8 karma

Can this be applied to school too? For people that spend tons of hours on homework. This is when our brains are actually growing, wouldn't that be so much worse?

andrewthesmart10 karma

There is evidence that overworked students suffer from emotional problems and even physical problems. In my book I talk about "superhero" undergrads in the Ivy League who pride themselves on working and doing so much that they are constantly sick. If there are no scheduled activities that can be written on a CV the parents call the school. I think this obsession with constant activity and being always productive (however that is defined) is very dangerous to our emotional and physical well-being.

Iliketopoot5 karma

Is it so much the work they do, or how they feel about doing it? Was there an experiment that tested people working long hours at jobs they truly enjoy as if it's 100% playtime vs people at jobs they absolutely do not like?

Say that I'm programming a videogame, drawing, practicing guitar, weight lifting, mountain climbing, etc, tasks that are either mentally or physically challenging, but I love every minute I'm doing them. Does that mean I'm not really stressing myself, but just exercising it?

Is there a chemical difference, or does it look the same way when you a scan a person's brain whether they love it or hate it?

andrewthesmart8 karma

There is for sure a difference. Rewarding activities produce an entirely different pattern of brain activity and chemical responses than stressful activities. What I have been writing about are the effects of occupational stress - long hours in a professional jobs which involves multitasking or switching between many externally induced tasks on an externally controlled schedule - that produces the stress response. And stress is good in intermittent doses - it enhances attention and focus - but long periods in between stress events are needed. Chronic levels of stress are dangerous. But again I do think that doing rewarding things that you yourself have decided to do are not likely damaging or dangerous - well except mountain climbing if you're not careful.

iammrhellohowareyou2 karma

Another important thing to look at is what's before work... school. Are there similar results to a stressful school enviroment?

andrewthesmart7 karma

In my book I talk about a very interesting paper called "Rest is Not Idleness" by the psychologists Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Joanna A. Christodoulou and Vanessa Singh (you can get the PDF here http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~immordin/papers/Immordino-YangetalRESTISNOTIDLENESSPPS2012.pdf ). They hypothesize that the constant environmental demands we place on children disrupts their emotional development because the default mode network activity is suppressed by all the homework, activities, lessons, clubs etc that we force our children to take part in. They reason that especially during childhood it is important to allow children a lot of time for free form daydreaming because this is when their sense of self is being developed the most. This is when they develop emotional and moral reflection, for which a health default mode network seem critical. In fact default mode network disorganization or abnormality is known to underlie many psychiatric disorders and even Alzheimer's. There is a study which shows that teenagers who text extremely often score lower on tests of moral reflection.

milagrojones10 karma

What kinds of work does the most damage, both short term and long term?

andrewthesmart14 karma

This is a complicated question. But I think what I am most interested in are the effects of modern office work. We are at once mentally and psychologically very stressed, but we are physically totally inactive. It seems like this is the worst possible combination. For most of our evolution we were moving around all the time, walking or migrating, carrying stuff, running from people or predators, and nowadays we just sit sometimes for more than 12 hours a day getting very stressed out by emails, Outlook calendars, and hundreds of small requests that we can't possibly handle. To me it's clear that modern office work is probably the most damaging to our long term health.

Jpvicente10 karma

What are the primary effects of "workaholism" on our brains? Does it actually make you , less intelligent? Is there a optimal point where we can dedicate ourselfs to work without having a negative impact on our cognition? Great theme btw, very interesting stuff

andrewthesmart20 karma

Thank you! Thanks for AingMA. My book talks about what is called the brain's default mode network. This was discovered about 15 years ago by accident. When subjects were laying in the brain scanner just daydreaming, researchers noticed a spike in activity in a brain network that actually deactivated during demanding cognitive tasks. Since then hundreds of papers have published about the default mode network. It turns out that our brains need to be allowed to space out to process memories, and maintain emotional health. Working all the time suppresses activity in the default mode network, and over time this leads to all kinds of negative effects - poor concentration, memory loss, forgetfulness, and less creativity.

There was a study that showed checking your email 30-40 times an hour leads to a 10 point loss in IQ. There are now many studies that show multitasking and long working hours severely reduce cognitive performance on all kinds of tasks.

I don't know about an optimal point where we do not have negative cognitive and emotional effects from work. But one thing is clear - we work far too much. And in fact I would argue it makes us much less productive!

BernardWillis10 karma

What inspired you to study the effects of work on the brain? And how do you apply your findings in your everyday life?

andrewthesmart17 karma

It was when I moved from academia to industry and I was shocked by the amount of mindless bureaucratic tasks that I had to do AND keep up with my scientific work. I found that I really struggled to keep up. So, based on some not so subtle feedback from my manager, I started reading Getting Things Done and similar types of books. And to be really honest I just found them horrible. I thought why do we have to do all these silly tricks just to get through our day without being accused of under-performing? So I had the idea - wouldn't it be funny to write an anti-time management book? A whole book about doing nothing just as an antidote to all the time-management literature out there? Then I started reading Bertrand Russell's classic essay "In Praise of Idleness" and I discovered writers like Tom Hodgkinson - who wrote "How To Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto" and I discovered there were many many thinkers who actually embraced idleness as a lifestyle and yet produced great books. I then started looking into the recent research on the default mode network, like I mentioned in another reply, and realized a really serious case can be made that our culture of obsessive productivity and workaholism is bad for our brains.

I admit I am really bad at doing nothing. Mostly because I have small kids and a serious job, and I try to write in my nonexistent spare time.

Ganondorf210 karma

What would you say to someone like me, who is willing to work as hard as I possibly can to succeed in life? I obviously don't want to do any harm to my brain, but I would like to know how to healthily be as productive as I can be.

andrewthesmart10 karma

I would say that you should allow for breaks BEFORE you feel stressed or fatigued. I think a good analogy can be drawn to advice for running a marathon - once you are thirsty or hungry it is too late to drink or eat. I think similarly with working a lot, once you are tired or stressed your brain has already increased its cortisol production. Cortisol is very good in large amounts for a few minutes - it helps us get ready to fight for example. But at increased levels over hours, days, months, years it is deadly. It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis.

WombleCat3 karma

Recently I've been going through a lot of stress at work, and have decided to have lunch away from my desk more often as one way to relax. I agree that preventative measures are very important - I started making some bad decisions, and forgetting to keep people informed, yet was too absorbed to even realise my work was being affected in this way.

andrewthesmart7 karma

I think this is a common experience - when you stretch your cognitive capacities too far you cannot pay enough attention to everything. Your brain just ignores things - and starts to ignore things that you don't want to ignore. I think this is a kind of warning from our brains to slow down and take it easy. Your brain is starting to decide for you so to speak.

milagrojones8 karma

Now that some of the restrictions are being tentatively lifted on neurological research using hallucinogens in the US, what sorts of experiments would you like to see conducted?

andrewthesmart8 karma

There are a number of really interesting recent studies that do brain imaging on people while on hallucinogens (for example http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/38/15171.short) One of the most fundamental questions for neuroscience is the nature of consciousness. Hallucinogens are a great way to use a classic scientific technique of perturbing a system (in this case our consciousness) to see what happens. I think hallucinogens could reveal the mysterious relationship between the activity of neurotransmitters, neuronal oscillations, and subjective experience.

milagrojones6 karma

Are there any companies or corporations out there that are treating their employees right, given this understanding of the toxic effects of work itself?

andrewthesmart7 karma

Well Richard Branson just announced that Virgin was granting unlimited vacation!

WombleCat5 karma

Hi, very interesting topic. At a work conference recently there was mention of using techniques like mindfulness and meditation, to help us better handle stress and increase resilience. Does your research explore the effects of idling/daydreaming only, or more active forms of emptying or calming the mind?

andrewthesmart11 karma

I am primarily interested in daydreaming and mind wandering. Mostly because these things get such a bad rap in the popular press and in academic brain articles. Mindfulness and meditation are seen to be these wonder cures for everything. But I think there is a downside to mindfulness, and in fact there was a really interesting study recently which showed that mindful people are bad at implicit learning. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810014001019 (sorry paywalled)

I think that our brains have this natural tendency to engage in mindwandering and it isn't always a bad thing. In fact, why would we have such a strong tendency to daydream if it wasn't useful for something? Perhaps in our evolutionary history daydreaming was adaptive, but in our society and culture today it has become maladaptive.

During mindwandering I think your brain is trying to tell you something, or even that random thoughts are actually creative new ideas your brain is pushing up into your conscious awareness. I for one love daydreaming when I can really enter into a relaxed state without any effort, and it is then often that new ideas pop into my head - like writing about book about idleness and daydreaming.

eddie_centered5 karma

What are the your top tips a person can take to maintain a healthy mind?

andrewthesmart17 karma

I don't want to give advice really - but FWIW these are my top tips for what I think helps maintain a healthy mind:

1) Give up busyness and don't work so much 2) Reduce stress as much as possible 3) Exercise a lot 4) Read for fun 5) Play music 6) Cuddle a lot with people you love 7) Hang out a lot with your family and friends 8) Write 9) Drink wine with family and friends 10) Travel

Senior_Destripador3 karma

I recently got fired from a toxic job... Thank goodness. However, even on the most taxing days, some good exercise after made it all feel better... even if I was insanely tired to begin with. It gave me a way to vent and confidence in knowing I was still strong even after a terrible day.

andrewthesmart3 karma

Good for you. I agree that hard exercise after a bad day at work is often the best remedy. Even if you don't lose weight or become a super athlete - the cognitive benefits of exercise are beyond dispute by now. In addition to the fact exercise reduces stress.

BardScholar3 karma

Hello, I'm currently applying for cognitive sciences major at a top university in the US. I really want to do research and figure out how people work, but I don't know exactly what field I would go into yet... Is it difficult to find research opportunities specifically in cognitive sciences? Maybe it's different because you're in Sweden, but could you give me any insight into the job you have and what I could do to have a job that makes an impact on how the brain works? Thank you!

andrewthesmart3 karma

As I said to another poster interested in neuroscience, the opportunities for people with cognitive science backgrounds are huge right now. For example you can go into a field called human factors, which is what I do right now, in which you apply the knowledge of the brain to creating medical technology that is safe and easy to understand. From a broad perspective, engineering, technology and cognitive science are starting to merge into what you could call neurotechnology. This where we will implant devices into the brain, or use external stimuli to enhance cognitive performance, or even use brain waves to control devices (which is already happening). In my opinion this field will only keep growing, so whether you are interested in pure research or developing technology, I think the demand for cognitive scientists and neuroscientists will keep growing. My own career has been pretty random - I have done everything from brain imaging, aviation psychology, touchscreen development, medical devices. I would say to follow what you are really interested in and I do think in this field you will not have trouble finding work.

Geminii273 karma

Interested in crossposting to /r/antiwork?

andrewthesmart2 karma

Yes would love to!

C454L13 karma

Hey! Kind of unrelated, but I'm in college right now and just switched my major to neuroscience, i love the classes and everything about it, but i don't know where this path will take me career wise, how did you end up where you ended up? And what could you recommend to a student like me? I will definitely check out your book!

andrewthesmart4 karma

Thanks for checking out the book! So to be really frank, I went into industry (hi tech and medical) for the money. I still get to do some interesting research, but my real passion is the brain and consciousness. I think for many people when they are struggling to decide whether to stay in research or go into industry - you have to ask yourself how obsessed with your subject you are. Is that the only thing you want to work with? That said, in the technology and medical fields today there are tremendous opportunities for people with neuroscience backgrounds. Everything from designing devices to brain computer interfaces to artificial intelligence. It is a very exciting time in neuroscience I think. I think the demand for neuroscientists will only increase in the future as technology and the brain start to merge.

PostFappening13 karma

If LSD was not only legal but also easier to make, how much better would Tool concerts be with their laser shows?

andrewthesmart4 karma

On a scale from 1 to Lateralus?

Broketographer3 karma

How do you quantify the claim that a certain lifestyle can lead to brain damage? Do you use neuropsyche evaluations?

andrewthesmart3 karma

I don't myself, but depending on how you look at the question, there are many ways to quantify the negative effects of long work hours and chronic-occupational stress. I will just link to a few studies like this one http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0104550 which uses the acoustic startle response to negative images and measures what is called functional connectivity in the brain to assess how long work hours affect our ability to handle negative emotions and this study http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/09/04/aje.kws139.full which is a systematic review of several clinical studies that studied the link between long working hours and the incidence of coronary heart disease. The numbers are not pretty.

Of course if you go into the details the statistical measures get complicated and many assumptions can be debated. However, I would say that there are many independent studies, in neuroscience, in clinical research, in medicine that try to examine work and chronic stress - and the vast majority of these studies show a strong negative impact on our brains and on our general health from work.

BA-ZINGG3 karma

Is the work you are doing on this topic causing brain damage to yourself?

andrewthesmart8 karma

I hope not, but I can't rule it out.

whatswiththesefrogs3 karma

I've noticed, as you pointed out, that my best ideas and best thinking tends to come during periods of idleness. But as soon as I try to apply those ideas in a more serious context my mind sort of shuts down and I simply can't think well enough to effectively implement those ideas into any kind of work.

Exactly what is happening here and how can I overcome this problem?

andrewthesmart3 karma

In a nutshell what is happening when you are idle is that your brain's default mode network becomes more active. And this network is large and widespread, it connects many different brain regions. My own hypothesis is that "information" however you define it starts to flow in perhaps random ways among the brain regions involved in the default mode network. So memories, images, associations, emotional reactions that you are not normally aware may start to be able to enter your awareness. So daydreaming often seems random. I think this is your brain being creative with the information it has. But it requires you to be idle and spacing out, or drifting off to sleep, or even sleeping. When you get serious and try to do this on purpose you are directing your attention to task, or exercising cognitive control, and this actually deactivates the default mode network and so the kind of random creativity stops. What works for me is to really carry around a notebook. I know it's cliche, but there have been many times where I am spacing out and suddenly I have an AHA! moment, and if I don't capture it in writing it disappears forever.

tinmans_folly2 karma


andrewthesmart2 karma

This is a great question. I hope people don't mind me linking to a lot of articles but this discussion is starting to pick up steam in the psychiatric literature. It turns out that for example LSD was used in over 1,000 clinical trials on almost 40,000 people before it was banned in the mid-60's and Sandoz stopped sponsoring LSD trials. The drug showed a lot of promise in treating alcoholism - in fact they have reanalyzed some of these trials and the effect size of LSD is as big or larger than any treatment for alcoholism developed since.

As far as when these drugs might enter mainstream clinical treatment is a very hard question. There is no doubt, to me anyway, that when used in conjunction with talk therapy, they are effective. Unfortunately like you point out, the stigma is very strong surrounding these drugs. As long as these drugs are listed as Schedule I controlled substances, research on them is almost prohibitively expensive and difficult.



Without going into neurochemistry too much, which I am not at all an expert on, hallucinogens target our serotonin systems and specifically the 5HT-2A receptors - which seem to be involved in emotion regulation, consciousness - not too surprising. However, the precise mechanisms of action of these drugs is still unclear. I don't know too much about DMT or Ibogaine, but I think that from a neurobiological perspective, these molecules all have a strong affinity for neurotransmitters that profoundly alter our conscious experience.


bob0000000055551 karma

Is LSA analogous enough to provide similar effects? Also any thoughts on the efficacy of tDCS as a nootropic?

andrewthesmart3 karma

I am not sure what you mean by LSA - I know that acronym as Latent Semantic Analysis used in text retrieval and mining. tDCS is very interesting and I do think it works. There are some startups that are working on using this and similar techniques in iPhone apps - for example transcranial ultrasound (http://www.thync.com/). The DOD and DARPA have sponsored several programs to develop tDCS technology. Whether it works in all domains is unclear.

gobblemyballs2 karma

Any thought on what would happen if you gave LSD to a schizophrenic? I ask this considering the array of positive and negative symptoms they already experience.

andrewthesmart3 karma

This is very interesting. In fact LSD is used to model schizophrenia in rats. So researchers give LSD to rats and measure precisely how their brains are reacting. Of course with rats you can only assume that they have some kind of altered experience, but their behavior on LSD changes very dramatically. When LSD was being developed clinically there were several animals studies done. I am not sure about the wisdom of giving LSD to schizophrenics - although one could imagine that it might not disrupt their experience as much as it does so-called normal people. In the field of hallucination research the idea is that all of our perception is partially hallucinatory - but our normal experience is constrained by sensory input so we all seem to share the same reality. If for some reason this sensory constraint on our experience is disrupted, as in schizophrenia or on LSD, we hallucinate. But really hallucinations are not fundamentally different from normal waking consciousness - both are creations of our brains. But LSD holds the potential to at least increase our understanding of schizophrenia.

FenceLaVa2 karma

This is definitely one of the most interesting AMA's out here right now!

Sadly I have not had the time or put in the effort to be efficiently idle for some time now. Inane non-work related activities from the internet, TV, etc also creep in. And I do feel poorer for it, I am less creative than I was before, when I had free time to simply do nothing. What would you recommend doing to get into the "zone" and allow your mind to wander freely after a hard workday for example?

andrewthesmart2 karma

Thank you! Like I mentioned I think running, biking or just walking for a long time will really help you to decouple from a hard workday. After exercise I think your brain has an easier time to enter a daydreaming like state. But simply reducing TV and internet (which is hard) will free up a lot of time. I think many people initially feel uncomfortable when they don't have internet or TV because they are so unused to letting their minds wander. But I think it is possible regain that sense of creativity you had.

nutricionado2 karma

Do you see a feasible alternative to how our society handles work? Is there something employers and/or governments could change to minimize brain damage but still run productive companies?

andrewthesmart18 karma

The labor ministry of Germany for example just banned off-hours email. I talk about smoking a lot, but I see the situation as very similar. When evidence started to come out that smoking was very dangerous people had a hard time accepting it. Then there was a kind of tipping point when the evidence became just overwhelming and we all started to know people personally who died from smoking. Then policies started to change - radically. Smoking bans in bars for example, which up until they were enforced were almost unimaginable. How can you not allow people to smoke in bar? Now smokers are almost shunned everywhere. Everybody knows and accepts that smoking will shorten your life in one way or another.

I really think the same is true for work - at least the kind work we do now. Low levels of chronic stress, low physical activity, far too many demanding tasks, being connected 24/7 - all damage our health over time.

In my opinion we have to fundamentally change how we approach work. I for one am a fan of implemented a 4 hour work day. Kellog's did an interesting study many years which showed that reducing the work day to 6 hours actually increased productivity. Many people scoff at the idea. And of course especially in the technology industry, in the medical industry, working long hours is some kind of badge of honor. But the evidence is just too strong - this practice is just dangerous. Of course people should have the right to do it to themselves - just like smoking I suppose. But I don't think smokers have the right to force me to breath second-hand smoke. In a similar way, I don't think employers should be allowed to force people, or make people feel pressured, to work dangerously long hours.

noob_dragon2 karma

I have thought about the 6 hour work day a lot and talked to many people about it, and they all agree that they would get more done in a 6 hour work day than a 8 hour work day.

andrewthesmart3 karma

There are studies which show this is true. And in fact Sweden is starting to implement it. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/04/sweden-the-new-laboratory-for-a-six-hour-work-day/360402/

Rearviewmirror2 karma

Have you ever taken LSD? Do you have any experience with its effect on people who have had multiple concussions

andrewthesmart3 karma

I have taken LSD, and I probably have had multiple concussions when I was younger. I am now writing a book about computers taking LSD. In all seriousness, this is a very interesting question but if you are worried that LSD will somehow make your concussions worse I would be surprised if that were the case. LSD seems to act on your serotonin and dopamine system and is called an agonist - which means that LSD attaches to serotonin receptors and activates them. There is a very complex interaction between the serotonin and dopamine systems while on LSD, but I would be surprised if LSD has a negative effect on concussion. In fact LSD might actually help for people with concussion. But I am not an MD so please don't interpret anything I say to be advice - I am just speculating.

OrganicRedditor2 karma


andrewthesmart6 karma

Well it's interesting to think about whether the managers are under so much stress themselves that they become "psychotic". Or course they may have been that way from the beginning, but it seems that chronic work stress decreases your ability to manage negative emotions - as I mentioned before in another answer. So one could hypothesize that managers under a lot of stress will become worse managers because they are not able to regulate their negative emotions or negative reactions to employees. I have not read Snakes in Suits but sounds very interesting. I do think that overwork can cause a variant of PTSD - where you are always in a state of hypervigilance.

Consolidated_Skeebal2 karma

Is it possible to give a conscious machine LSD?

andrewthesmart2 karma

That is the question I try to answer in the book I am working on. And I wonder if a test for machine consciousness could be to give them acid.

Kilo_Victor1 karma

What are your thoughts on McKenna's Stoned Ape Theory?

And, are you a fan of Alexander Shulgin's work?

andrewthesmart2 karma

I actually saw Shulgin speak in about 2006 in San Diego - he was great. He just showed about 50 overheads on an old school overhead projector - no laptop no powerpoint. It was just chemical structures and molecules and he would say "this is (some derivative of amphetamine) and I just moved the benzene ring and this causes you to be an bad mood for two days - it is not your friend", then he would flip to the next overhead and go "now we come to MDMA, this is a result of moving the O ....etc". So his approach was quite similar, but much less controlled, to Albert Hofmann who synthesized LSD, with self-experimentation. Shulgin would synthesize some new molecule, eat it, see what happened, then if it was good he would invite his friends over and they would all eat it and write down what happened. He was very proud of the fact that the DEA had to change their rule on enforcing Schedule I controlled substances because the molecules that Shulgin was making had never existed in nature before so how could they be illegal? So the DEA said it is no longer legal to produce something with the intent to alter consciousness (or something like that).

I think McKenna is a very interesting figure but he is far too mystical for me. I think everything LSD and similar compounds do are physical things, consciousness is something our brain does, it is just working out how.

rgdenis1 karma

What is the most surprising thing you have learned from writing this book?

andrewthesmart1 karma

By far the most surprising thing about it has been the positive reaction from traditional business type media and entrepreneurs. I wrote the book as a criticism of how businesses are run, especially large companies, but people in the business community have reacted very positively to the book which is totally surprising to me. Of course they want to know how to use idleness to be more productive, kind of in the life-hacking sense, which to me misses the point. But for example, my book has been discussed on Forbes and CNN - I never thought those kinds of places would mention a book like mine.

Patches671 karma

What do you think of the future or possibility (maybe inevitability) of the cyberization of the human brain? In other words human brains that are connected directly (or less invasive means) to computers and virtual realities?

andrewthesmart2 karma

I think this is already well underway and I don't think it will be too long before this type of technology is common. There is a great book by Miguel Nicolelis http://www.nicolelislab.net/ about his work in this area. Interestingly, even though he is the leading scientist working on merging machines and brains he does not think the brain is computable.

preaty_colors1 karma

I am trying to get into med school. Any advice about studying?

andrewthesmart2 karma

I am not an MD so I am sorry I don't have a good answer for that.

adamimos11 karma

What do you think are the most important distinctions between machine intelligence as opposed to machine consciousness? Considering we don't have a clue as to what the neural mechanisms of consciousness are, I find it hard to imagine us building a machine consciousness anytime soon.

andrewthesmart1 karma

This is something I am trying to explore at length in my book. Even in cognitive science the relationship between intelligence and consciousness is not well understood (probably because most intelligence researchers take consciousness for granted). But I think AI should take consciousness seriously, because I do think it contributes to our intelligence. Why would we be conscious if being conscious did not confer some adaptive advantage? We are the most intelligent species on the plant and the most conscious. But it is a good question: how intelligent can a machine get without consciousness? I also find it hard to imagine building a conscious machine soon, but I am sure nobody in 1900 could have imagined the internet, much less reddit. While I am not a Kurzweil follower who believes that superintelligent machines are coming in 2045, I would not bet against the possibility that we will someday do it - whether we accomplish before the human race gets wiped out by climate change, disease or war is another question.

YigitDemirag1 karma

Let's say as a humanity, we achieved creating an AI looks like today's sci-fi and has consciousness; a true AI. Approaching scientifically, can you propose that it can be stressed?

andrewthesmart6 karma

I am not sure what you mean by stressed - but what I am working on now is exploring the idea that this true AI can trip on acid. If it's really conscious it should be able to hallucinate - is my working hypothesis. Because as I go into detail in the book, consciousness itself is a kind of hallucination.

Xervious1 karma

You'd have to consider points of input/entry for this AI though. An AI should be able to trip, but who says lsd will cause this to happen? Maybe some other input/chemical/stimulus may be needed unless it is specifically modeled to be like a human ai. Just pointing out another layer of complexity here.

I'd recommend browsing through Niall (Jock) McLaren's work into the mind as more of a program/ghost (in contrast to a biophysical model for how the brain works, think itd be interesting to approach your work from both angles)

andrewthesmart1 karma

Thanks for the reference I am not familiar with McLaren's work. I think your comment gets really to the heart of the matter. If we can achieve artificial consciousness that is not based on a human model then the functionalist view of consciousness will win - to a functionalist consciousness is some layer of abstraction, or an algorithm, or information complexity, and the underlying physical substrate is irrelevant. But if consciousness is really dependent on the wetware so to speak, then the artificial form of it will necessarily I think anyway have to be able to react to molecules like LSD in order to produce consciousness.

PythonEnergy1 karma

Have you ever taken LSD? If so, how many times, and to what effect?

andrewthesmart1 karma

I have only taken it once and it had a profound effect on me. I write about my experience in my new book - so you will have to wait and buy the book!