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Nutritionfacts.org Video on the Actual Effectiveness of Antidepressants

First, a few important points. I have heard several in person endorsements of antidepressants from long term users. I also have little doubt that antidepressants have saved thousands of people from suicide. With that out of the way, I also think they are massively over-prescribed and that there are many other far more promising treatments for depression. The video below takes a hard look at the most revealing studies on the effectiveness of antidepressants, and describes why public perception of these medicines might be excessively positive.


Key points:

  • In many studies, antidepressants have proven no more effective than placebo pills in the treatment of depression.
  • Drug companies often choose not to publish studies when they fail to show drugs are effective. For example, a company might run five separate trials on a type of novel pharmaceutical. Even if all but one of these studies fails to indicate that the drug shows promise, the company can simply throw out the four negative results and draw public attention to the one study in which the outcome was positive. This tendency is called publication bias.
  • For more information on the pervasiveness of publication bias, and other issues in the world of pharmaceuticals, I’d highly recommend reading the book Bad Pharma, by Ben Goldacre.


Book I’ve Been Reading: Quiet, by Susan Cain 

Quiet takes an in depth look at the science of introversion and extroversion, and highlights important differences between the two personality tendencies. I particularly enjoyed the book’s novel take on the essential differences between introverts and extroverts. Most importantly, in my opinion, the book modifies the overly simplistic idea that introverts need alone time to recharge, whereas extroverts recharge by spending time around people. This theory never really resonated with me, as I generally feel most at peace and happy when around a small group of people (as opposed to being alone) but would rather be alone than around a large group of people. This is because, according to research cited in the book, a person’s apparent introversion and extroversion stem from their resting level of neural activity. Introverts have a higher resting level of neural activity and therefore require less sensory input from the outside world to reach their optimal level of stimulation. Extroverts, on the other hand, require more activity to reach a comfortable baseline. This is why they (extroverts) can spend extended periods of time in crowds and other stimulating situations without becoming overwhelmed.

In one of the studies that led to the formulation of this new theory, infants were subjected to various forms of stimulus. The degree to which the infants responded to stimulus was recorded and used to place them on a spectrum. The researchers predicted, somewhat counterintuitively, that babies who responded heavily to the stimulus, by crying, waving their arms, etc, would tend to be more introverted in later life. This prediction turned out to be accurate. The extroverted babies, with their less active nervous systems, were not as easily excited as their introverted peers.

Although I haven’t finished this book, I’d definitely say it’s worth flipping through. However, as with many books, I’d say that all the important information could be communicated in about half the number of pages. A good strategy I’ve found for absorbing the key ideas of a book without having to actually read the whole thing is by watching or listening to an interview with the author. Authors, when constrained by the limited attention spans of live audiences, tend to highlight their books key ideas and leave out the superfluous. If you’d rather employ this strategy, here’s a talk by the author that provides a good summary of Quiet’s key ideas:


Person I’m Learning More About: Micheal Meaney

Michael Meaney is a professor at McGill University who has done extensive research on the effects of maternal care and stress on gene expression, behavior, and health outcomes. His research has revealed some incredibly fascinating causal relationships between stress / neglect in childhood, and behavior in later life. These relationship appear to be caused by alterations in neuronal gene expression. In other words, the early life stressors seem to have a strong influence on the activity of genes within one’s brain.


Key points

  • The children of non-caring mother mice tend to neglect their own children
  • There are notable differences in brain structure between experimental (neglected) and control (normally raised) rats that seem to result from neglect
  • The environment an organism inhabits plays a strong role in influencing the ways in which its genes are expressed
  • To learn more about how the environment affects gene expression, click here


A little essay I wrote a few months ago

The summer camp where I’m currently working holds a weekly gathering called musicale. It is a time for campers and staff to play music, read writings, tell stories, and perform in a variety of other ways. A couple weeks ago, I decided to write a little piece and read it to the crowd. It was written in a bit of a hurry and is somewhat disjointed, but I’m still reasonably happy with how it turned out. Here it is:

Some Observations on Words, Music, and Life

I spend a lot of time thinking about words. So much of life comes down to finding the right words. If you can find the right words, you can inspire those around you and rally a nation to your cause. If you can’t find the right words, you’ll be felt sorry for or laughed at. You won’t be able to get that person you like to go on another date with you. You won’t achieve grades high enough to warrant a scholarship. You won’t kill the interview. 

Again, so much of life is about finding the right words. 

I’ve really tried to figure out the nature of words. To figure out what they are analogous to. To figure out their strengths and their limitations. 

In terms of analogy, it’s fairly easy to see the connections between words and musical notes. They can both make us feel elated, or  move us to tears. In their purest forms, their original and intended forms, both are inherently vibrational. 

That said, they can also both be represented using written notation, although reading music’s notation doesn’t inspire nearly as much emotion as experiencing said notation’s sonic equivalent. Similarly, written word is largely devoid of inflection and timing, both of which are often critical for imparting meaning and feeling. 

There are many other important differences between the two. Musical notes can’t crush you in quite the way that words can. It’s true that listening to a song can remind you of a time that you wished wasn’t gone, but I don’t think anyone has ever been put into nearly as awful a state when listening to any song for the first time, as they have when hearing the words “I’m leaving” when spoken for the first time by someone they loved. 

It’s also impossible to deceive skill with notes. You can’t really fake being incredibly good at an instrument. On the other hand, someone with a good memory can recite an in depth lecture on quantum physics without having the slightest idea what the words the are using actually mean and or how they connect with the rest of reality. 

Then there’s phenomena such as humor and wit, which are the sole property of words. We can make people laugh using words, but it pretty tough to make a person laugh by playing them an instrumental song. 

You can’t lie with an instrument. You can lie with with words. It’s pretty weird to think of all the millions of people who go through their lives thinking about and acting upon word-fueled nightmares and fantasies that have little to no correlation with reality. Instrumental songs however, are incapable of having these distortional effects on our minds.  

Interestingly, there are no taboo notes. You can’t swear with an instrument. However, there are many taboo words. In fact, they are present in every culture. Weirdly enough, a specific portion of your brain lights up anytime you use them, but fails to do so when you use non-swear words. 

Then there are the words we use to label ourselves. Everyone seems so obsessed with labels these days. Obsessed with what country the happened to be born in or what political party they prefer. 

On one hand, it’s nice to have a label that we feel is reflective of who we truly are. On the other, I’ve never found that altering things that are easy to change, such as our names, clothing, haircuts, profile pictures, or the word we use to label ourselves, actually leads to any substantial amount of lasting change in the way we experience reality and the people around us. 

In my opinion, what you have actually done is far more important than the words you use as labels, both in terms of how others perceive you, and how you feel about yourself. For example, I’d say that the books a person has read, and the people they have exchanged words with on a frequent basis, say far more about them than whether they use the words “democrat” or “republican” to describe themselves. 

Just before completing this essay, I once again started thinking about the words to notes analogy. It struck me that words actually might be slightly more similar to chords than individual notes. After all, individual letters have no meaning. String a few of them together however, and you can create a word, which does. Similarly, musical notes in and of themselves sound neither light nor dark, but if you combine them in the right way, you can get major and and minor chords, which do exhibit said qualities. This is a bit tangential, but I find the fact that light and darkness are present even in the vibration of matter that we call instrumental music, to be one of the most fascinating and mysterious truths about reality. 

Coming up with an end to this essay was tough. As with so many things, the beginning went alright, the middle was a blast, but the end didn’t come easily. So I decided to cheat a bit and borrow a thought from Terrance McKenna who said, and I quote 

“The syntactical nature of reality, the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words. And if you know the words the world is made of, you can make it whatever you wish.” 


Photo of the Week