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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 suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @08:29AM (#20718389)
    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.

    Few weeks ago when we talked about Singularity AI (AI that produces smarter AI and so on), I made a post and within it had ironic remark that AI's happiness level you could imagine as some sort of mood_level number. Training the AI to increase it's mood level when it meets our criteria would be a way to keep its behavior within given guidelines.

    Thing is, of course, it's the same for us. People replied that the robot would just up its mood_level with a tool or a program, and go on a killing spree.

    In the end though, AI or actual intelligence is a very complex system. If the system says you're sad, you'd rather look into why you're sad and try changing things in your environment or actions.

    The current state of psychology science would rather look at the symptom of another problem and try to "hack it". You can fool yourself you're happy by tweaking your "mood_level", but you realize the one you're lying you is yourself, it's no different that measuring your temperature with a thermometer with "it's all ok! don't look at the scale" written all over it.

    Depression is apparently a big problem. There's the argument some people are depressed because of chemical imbalance, well but is there any research going into the difference between both? Nope, instead let's prod rods in our brain, and take drugs.

    They should sell those rods and meds together with pink glasses.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2007 @08:55AM (#20718489)
    When I was in love 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 love, or have I simply changed? I don't know, but I'm now very wary of any natural means of making yourself happy or less depressed.

    You know, the brain is very complex and ever changing mix of various chemicals affecting your mood and behaviour in various ways. If you want to retain the same personality your entire life and always act natural (what the hell is natural anyway?), well, good luck trying. Oh, and better throw away that chocolate, it's artificial after all.
  • by VanessaE ( 970834 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @09:11AM (#20718549) Homepage
    As someone who suffers from both chronic depression and the more acute or short-term version of it (yes, there are two different diagnoses), I can say with complete confidence that you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Yes, changing your situation can sometimes help, but the root cause is not environmental, it's something physical in the brain. Unlike a lot of medicines, anti-depressants actually try to treat the cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms. It's just that this is the brain we're talking about, and we all know the brain is a tricky bastard to tinker with.

    I feel more "stable" when I take my meds than I do otherwise, and if you were to ask my husband, he would tell you that it's like night and day. No, I don't walk around all smiles, but I'm not exactly crying all the time either. Depression sucks as bad as any other major disease. If I could get some kind of implant put in that could fix the depression in a permanent manner, I'd jump on it in a heartbeat, if only to be able to give up the pills (I have problems remembering to take them).

    What makes matters the worst for a depression sufferer is if their triggers happen to be something that themselves are either long-term or essentially unsolveable problems which the sufferer is stuck with. In those cases, pills simply aren't enough, and so you're back to feeling like hell all the time. That's where I stand (two such conditions), and I hate it worse than the most rabid Linux user hates Microsoft.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday September 23, 2007 @08:20PM (#20723217) Homepage Journal

    When it works, they sometimes know why.

    It seems that they very rarely if ever know why. It seems that practically ALL psychiatric drugs except for tranquilizers can act "paradoxically", that is, the opposite of their intended action. Furthermore, over time their effects on a given patient may flip-flop. That is, drug A used to make the condition worse, but is now helpful. B was effective for several years but now makes them worse. Meanwhile, as far as they know, A and B are in the same class, have similar actions and SHOULD have the same effect.

    So, standard procedure is to keep trying different ones until one of them seems to provide more relief tahn side effects. When it stops working, try again. It's WORSE than banging on the TV. At least with that, you learn after a while just where to bang and how hard.

    It strongly suggests that the simple model of too much or too little of a neurotransmitter is at best incomplete. That is, perhaps the natural homeostasis is thrown off rather than absolute levels of neurotransmitters. Alternatively, neurotransmitter levels have nothing to do with it, but adjusting them may sometimes compensate for the real problem (with highly variable success).

    That's not to say the current drugs don't benefit some patients greatly. It may not put things right but for many it at least leaves them better off. However, the prevailing attitude that this is the final answer and all we need is more targeted drugs is not exactly conducive to further knowledge, and it leads to both discounting patient complaints that things seem wrong somehow and failure to recognize that at best the drugs are a trade-off where some are better off with the original complaint than with the side-effects or even that treatment may not need to be lifelong to be effective.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern