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Biotech Science

Happiness Is A Warm Electrode 199

sufijazz writes "A story by Gregory Mone on the Popular Science website talks about trials to use deep brain stimulation to cure chronic depression. It's a deeper exploration of the 'brain pacemaker' discussed here on the site before, and a practical application of research discussed even earlier. Why the pulses affect mood is still unclear, but scientists believe that they may facilitate chemical communication between brain cells, possibly by forcing ions through nerve fibers called axons. In turn, this may trigger the release of mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. Similar trials are being conducted in other places. Exact numbers are hard to ascertain, but it's estimated that fewer than 50 patients in North America are walking around with wires in their brain."
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Happiness Is A Warm Electrode

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  • by Das Modell ( 969371 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:31AM (#20718171)
    When I was on anti-depressants I acted in a way that, in retrospect, wasn't natural for me. I did some very weird things and occasionally embarrased myself, which is something that I don't like to do. What the fuck was I thinking back then? And was it really caused by anti-depressants, or have I simply changed? I don't know, but I'm now very wary of any artificial means of making yourself happy or less depressed. Besides, this technology doesn't address the root cause of why someone is depressed. I suppose it's useful to someone who's really badly depressed, but personally I wouldn't want to try it.
  • by gbutler69 ( 910166 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:34AM (#20718185) Homepage
    If the root cause is that your Axons are not releasing enough neurotransmitters, then this technique is addressing the root cause.
  • say "we don't know why this works... but we think it makes you happy..."

    Yet, somehow, a good joint and a stiff drink are evil.
  • by LuxMaker ( 996734 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:45AM (#20718229) Journal
    Exercise on par with drugs for aiding depression::;_ylt=AqwvsOoXYw0l3eNh11Gw1O0DW7oF []

    So get unglued from your computers occasionally and get some fresh air. =)
  • by Sunburnt ( 890890 ) * on Sunday September 23, 2007 @07:57AM (#20718275)

    this technology doesn't address the root cause of why someone is depressed.

    It may, if the root cause of the depression is genetic.

    I generally agree with your sentiment, though. A great deal of depression is comorbid with personality disorder, or can be strongly correlated to environmental factors.

    In the former instance, there is probably little to be done in the clinical sense. Changing this person's emotional reactivity is likely to just bring different aspects of their disordered personality to light, and the chaos and alienation this can induce in the patient and their social group is probably no healthier than the depression. There's much more to this, but a discussion of therapy for personality disorders would be long and outside the scope of this discussion.

    It is the second instance, I believe, where you hit the nail on the head. If a patient gets depressed by their own self-defeating thoughts and patterns of abuse in their life, then it is the role of the therapist to facilitate change in those thoughts and behaviors within the context of everyday life, not to recommend tinkering directly with the patient's neurons.

    It is, of course, quite possible that some folks genes provide them with an abnormal system of emotional regulation, and that "rewiring" this system is the best way to enable them to participate in the full range of human experience. Given what I know of ethics review boards, it is likely that the few dozen folks who've undergone this procedure had not responded positively to the normal range of treatment, and that they have not been diagnosed as PD'd. I'll bet that getting cerebral electrodes implanted for depression probably requires at least as much review and investigation as bilateral cingulotomy, [] for example.

  • Re:Wireheads (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @08:38AM (#20718425) Journal
    It won't be long until we know if Larry Niven was right about brain stimulation. If the current makes you feel better, will you be less likely to switch it off?

    Niven didn't pull that idea out of nowhere - He based in on experiments on rats and chimps contemporary with his writing that found they would rather zap their brains than eat, sleep, have sex, or take favored drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

    So yes, it would almost certainly have the exact same effect on people. Imagine the best orgasm you've ever had, while eating your favorite meal, while high on your favorite intoxicant, then quadruple that. The most restrained willful human alive would turn into a drooling zap-junkie, no question at all.
  • Re:shag carpet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sunburnt ( 890890 ) * on Sunday September 23, 2007 @09:35AM (#20718625)

    Pseudo programming sigs != going to change people's modding/tagging behaviour.

    Well, first off, it's not a "pseudo-programming" sig. It's a sig that's been abbreviated using logical operators so that it doesn't run over the character limit. I'm a science and philosophy nerd, not a programming nerd, and it wouldn't even occur to me that my sig looks like a fake computer program.

    Secondly, I disagree with your contention. True, it is highly unlikely that one person's sig will effect lasting changes in the uses and misuses of /. features. However, I certainly believe that an individual moderator, with no consistent behavior towards conscientiousness or abuse, could be reminded by my sig to side with the former after disagreeing with one of my posts. I have no way to test this hypothesis, but it makes sense given what I know of decision-making, and it costs me nothing to implement. So, I believe that my sig can change people's behavior, although certainly not in a widespread or meaningful way. This belief is not the motivator for my sig choice, though.

    Let me point out that it's pretty presumptuous to even assume that a sig is meant to change behavior. Most sigs are just expressions of some tiny fraction of the author's opinion, frequently given indirectly through quotes or cultural references, that indicate a little something about the author's personality. So's mine: it points to my personal distaste for tag and mod abuse. On another level, it lets the reader know that I am the kind of stickler who cares enough about such things to make them the focus of my sig (which is every /.er's privilege, being a legitimized form of comment spam.) I previously had a Schopenhauer quote about the abuse of anonymity - not because I thought it would stop posters from abusing anonymity, but because I wanted to let the abusers know that I think they're cowardly assholes, and because I figured (correctly) that I might get e-mails from people who shared my interest in Schopenhauer.

    I hope this helps, and I thank you for your concern.

  • by speaker of the truth ( 1112181 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @09:59AM (#20718759)
    If the brain isn't producing enough chemicals to allow you to experience happiness then no amount of luxury is going to lift you from depression. A common comment from people who have no clue about depression is "what do they have to be depressed about?" The answer to this is typically nothing, except for a brain that isn't working correctly.
  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @10:08AM (#20718813)
    If we weren't supposed to eat those 4000 animals, they wouldn't taste so good.
  • by Sunburnt ( 890890 ) * on Sunday September 23, 2007 @10:25AM (#20718913)

    Defending Janov by pointing to an anecdote and encouraging the reader to "try it and see what you feel like," instead of linking to an empirical study of his clinical results, only adds credence to the GP's allegations of pesudoscience, since those are the typical rhetorical methods of its defenders. I'm sure at least one of this site's intrepid Googlers can find some actual research on either side, assuming it exists. Of course, if it doesn't exist, that's a statement in itself.

    His technique certainly goes against my understanding of healing. What Janov calls a "release of suppressed emotion," I call "rehearsing anxiety states," and I question the psychodynamic concepts that underlie his explanation of the technique. Unless Janov can show better results than the cognitive therapies, there's probably a better use of an hour than reading his book. Do you have any links to these results?

  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @11:43AM (#20719469)
    Do you have any idea what you're talking about? I will rephrase that. You do not have an idea what you're talking about. I'm not even going to debate with you about suffering: I put human beings first and animals second. If it comes down to a choice between a human being and 4,000 animals, I know which way I'd choose. Period. End-of-statement.

    When you've finished dealing with the fact that I disagree with you on every point, go read this []. After you've educated yourself on how wrong you are, come back tell me that what you said is even slightly relevant. Like the GP, I've had two family members suffer from severe clinical depression, suicide was narrowly averted multiple times. In one case the onset was before the age of antidepressants: he drank to mask the effects of the depression, but overall alcohol simply worsens the problem. When one of the early drugs became available we got him on it (Elevil in the late seventies, I think ... it's been a long time) and the difference was like night and day. "I have my life back" he said, and stopped drinking ... he didn't need it anymore, just to feel normal for a while. It was astonishing, and the relief we all felt was palpable. He still suffered from the effects of his condition 'til he died, but at least he had a life. If that drug hadn't come out when it did he wouldn't have lasted another six months, a year tops. He switched to different drugs over time, as better ones became available, but he got an extra twenty five years because of them.

    People who claim that no-one needs antidepressants ("Tom Cruise, are you listening?") are fools. Ignorant assholes who would cheerfully consign other human beings to a living hell contained within their own skulls. I still don't understand how it must feel to suffer from this disease, and yet I had to deal with the consequences of it for almost thirty years. All of us did, and it was ... very difficult. I'm not saying that antidepressants (like virtually all drugs) aren't capable of being abused, but to claim that people suffering from clinical depression should just "get over themselves" is a preposterous falsehood. Period. End of statement.

    If there is a God, I hope He delivers people like you a sample of what you say doesn't exist. For just a few years: I wouldn't want you to get so depressed that you actually off yourself. Maybe then you'll understand why what you just said offended me to the core.
  • by replicant108 ( 690832 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @12:00PM (#20719635) Journal
    "If the root cause is that your Axons are not releasing enough neurotransmitters, then this technique is addressing the root cause."

    The problem is that modern medicine assumes that this is the root cause.

  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @01:54PM (#20720539)
    You are confusing clinical depression with pessimism. Telling somebody who is suffering from clinical depression to "modify their opinions" or "control their emotional state" is mostly useless. Somebody suffering from clinical depression is simply unable to feel happy. It doesn't matter at all what their circumstances are, or how a normally functioning person would feel about them. Yes, psychotherapy is at least partially effective for some forms of depression, but it is totally ineffective for others. (And usually psychotherapy is far more expensive than drugs.)

    Real life isn't as neat and clean as 10-minute therapy on "Dr. Phil". Telling a depressed person that they should just be happier is about as effective as telling somebody who is drunk off their ass to "think sober".

    It is silly to argue against anti-depressants because they "create a dangerous dependency on the supplier". You could say that about medication for just about any chronic medical condition. Anti-depressants are not like narcotics, you do not need to continually increase your dosage to maintain effectiveness. Most anti-depressants on the market today are not particularly expensive either, as most are available in generic form.

  • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) * on Sunday September 23, 2007 @04:23PM (#20721689) Homepage Journal
    Exactly. Modern psychological medicine isn't much further along than smacking your TV set to improve the reception (a metaphor that is becoming more and more archaic). They sometimes know what works. When it works, they sometimes know why. But I imagine they don't often know what caused it in the first place.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"