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Common Sense Amendment

A simple proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to legislate and enforce common sense
  (+4, -13)(+4, -13)
(+4, -13)
  [vote for,

1. No entity, public or private, shall be permitted to engage in, perpetuate or give support to any public action, behavior, process or condition that violates the standard of common sense.

2. Where the principle of common sense and the letter of law contradict, all other factors being equal, the principle of common sense shall prevail.

globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

The Onion, Feb 28, 2008 http://www.theonion...u_know_whats_stupid
Recent article this post reminds me of: "You Know What's Stupid? Everything I Don't Understand" [jutta, Mar 05 2008]

Wikipedia: Common sense http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_sense
Remains a perennial topic for epistomologists. [jutta, Mar 05 2008]


       I was tempted to add:   

       3. The whole of income tax law shall not be excluded from this amendment.   

       But I didn't want the joke in the idea...
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       Global, I see only three overwhelming problems with this amendment.   

       (a) You have just outlawed Monty Python, Buster Keaton and the N-prize. On the plus side, though, you've also outlawed religion and reiki.   

       (b) A consensus definition of common sense is needed - please provide one which is sufficiently robust to stand up to legal challenge   

       (c) The capital of Botswana is not Kanye, but is actually the more coastal Gaborone.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 05 2008

       (a) - I have not.   

       (b) - That's for the courts to do (interpret)   

       (c) - "Common sense" is different from "common belief"
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       (a) Have too.   

       (b) So, an amendment saying everyone has to follow the principal of heppity would be OK too?   

       (c) Do try to keep up.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 05 2008

       (a) - Have not.   

       (b) - Certainly not. Too many differing interpretations of heppity are available and reasonable   

       (c) - so kept - see above.
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       <average person> If I've tossed a coin four times and got heads each time, it's common sense that I'm more likely to get a tail next time. <average person>   

       <statistician> If I've tossed a coin four times and got heads each time, it's common sense that I've got a 50:50 chance of getting tails next time.<statistician>   

       <gambler> If I've tossed a coin four times and got heads each time, it's common sense that it's likely to be a phoney coin, and therefore I'm likely to get heads again.<gambler>
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 05 2008

       Again, common belief differs from common sense.
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       Kill all which lawyer?
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       It means "kill the entire lawyer". If you leave part of a lawyer alive, it can regenerate.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 05 2008

       ...and "William" goes in the blank.
phoenix, Mar 05 2008

       It'll never pass. There's no money to be had.
blissmiss, Mar 05 2008

       But there is much money to be lost. As I indicated above, the entire IRS and the income tax industry would be declared unconstitutional. So would fossil fuel vehicles.
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       I'm all for commonsense.   

       is it one word or two?
po, Mar 05 2008

       senseless commoners?
blissmiss, Mar 05 2008

       Hi 5 - dearie.
po, Mar 05 2008

       Oh god it's thin mind poice! Quick everybody act common! Nobody stand out from a common standard!   

       Somewhat like the evil of trying to enforce "common" moral values enforcing "common" sensabilites would have me throwing very senseless Moltov cocktails in a senseless and uncommon act of protest.
WcW, Mar 05 2008

       Apparently [jutta] is in a psychic struggle (that is to say, a struggle of the psyche as opposed to the more common paranormal definition of the term) to decide if this is mfd-able for "Rant". I have watched an annotation come, get edited and go over the issue.   

       Maybe it's a rant. I'm known for it. But the point of the idea is that the rule of law gets too specific. I have come from a jury trial in which, by the jury instructions, the accused was not guilty. By some order of "common sense", however, perhaps not.   

       That and the fact that corporations and government agencies get away with incredible nonsense via loopholes and technicalities that are simply winked at.
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       [I wouldn't call it psychic, but it definitely is a struggle.]   

       This is an attempt to disprove the old adage "You cannot legislate common sense"?   

       Ironically, "common sense" depends very much on the speaker - we all pretty much think we're normal, the other guy's nuts. So, relying on it to make decisions in disputes between people seems prima facie doomed; you might as well pass an amendment to let the judges make up whatever they like. I don't think that's what you're trying to do.   

       But yeah, Jury trials are weird. Especially when the jury is told to disregard some piece of clearly damning evidence. I'm not sure the problem with that is specificity, though.
jutta, Mar 05 2008

       Perhaps it's an attempt to prevent things like the tobacco industry executives declaring that they do not believe nicotine is addictive, simply because of the liability issues they face if they did not. There's a common sense issue we ought to be able to legislate.
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       Have to say a word in defense of reiki, [MB]. I've had some great massages where I wasn't touched. Amazing stuff, the body's electrical fields.
normzone, Mar 05 2008

       And then of course we have Treon's version of common sense.
WcW, Mar 05 2008

       [normzone] I'm going to guess that you are in hostile company here about that. If there are, say, eighty active users of the Half-Bakery, I would venture to say that, vis-a-vis so-called "alternative" medicine - much less all things paranormal/supernatural - the skeptics outweigh the believers by a factor of about 79 to 1.   

       The implication being that you would, um, be the one?   

       I'm just saying....   

       I still love you, of course. My own wife of 20 years is a Christian (non-liberal, mind you) and I am an atheist, so I'm not saying there isn't room for you and your nutty ideas.
globaltourniquet, Mar 05 2008

       //Amazing stuff, the body's electrical fields.// Sp.: Amazing stuff, the power of the human brain.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 05 2008

       This is a horrible idea(-). The immediate reality is that it puts the Judges in charge to do whatever they want, but then it distroys everything. Yes, there are some things like religion that I wouldn't miss, but how about ownership, property & modern physics? On paper communism is common sense. Does it make sense that Bill Gates has billions and some people starve? Does it make sense that you have an empty extra bedroom while there are homeless people outside your door?   

       I can't convince my wife that brown is in the rainbow. She asked all her friends and they agreed with her. We NEED laws that make definite decisions.
MisterQED, Mar 06 2008

       // old adage// Tautology.
coprocephalous, Mar 06 2008

       // I can't convince my wife that brown is in the rainbow.
Interesting. Why do you think this is unambiguous?
jutta, Mar 06 2008

       Common sense tells you that no law attempting to enforce common sense can ever work.
xenzag, Mar 06 2008

       One must first, of course, define "the standard of common sense", which, judging by how things are now, is an oxymoron.
nuclear hobo, Mar 06 2008

       Common sense says the world is flat, the sun goes round the Earth, that there is a force contrary to gravity which pulls things upwards, that heavier objects fall faster than light ones and many other easily disprovable things in physics. More disturbingly, it might tell you that your own group of people is superior to others. Different people's common sense might recommend communism, fascism or capitalism. How would you deal with that?
nineteenthly, Mar 06 2008

       Oh, that would be up to judges. Blameless holy creatures that can do no wrong if the current US supreme court is any guide.
WcW, Mar 06 2008

       Incidentally, some of us *are* alternative medicine practitioners, however reluctant.
nineteenthly, Mar 06 2008

       Yeah, you guys are right. This idea sucks ass.
globaltourniquet, Mar 06 2008

       Wow. I had no idea that I was experiencing alternative medicine.   

       [MaxwellBuchanan] [globaltourniquet], all I can tell you is that I've experienced being able to feel a person moving their hand next to my skin without their touching my skin.   

       Have you any experience with reiki or are you mocking from a distance?
normzone, Mar 06 2008

       How about creating an alternative "common sense" judicial system, whereby an individual who is sued may choose to have the case heard not in a traditional court but rather where the rules of common sense apply?   

       For example, let's say I have a pool in my back yard, and a neighbour comes over for a refreshing swim. Before he enters the pool area I tell him the water is not deep enough for diving, but he just laughs and dives in, head first. He hits his head on the bottom of the pool, breaking his nose. Soon, I get a notice from his lawyer that I am being sued for multiple millions of dollars due to my negligence in not posting signage around the pool indicating that the depth was insufficient for diving.   

       At this point, rather than take my chances with the traditional court system and have to pay outrageous sums of money to defend myself over months or even years of litigation, I may choose to bring the case before the Common Sense Court. Since common sense tells us we should never dive head first into water without checking the depth first, I would be absolved of all charges and the jackass, I mean neighbour would be responsible for all the costs (and never be invited to swim in my pool again).
Canuck, Mar 06 2008

       The problem with your question, [normzone] (with respect) is that, when it comes to religious matters (and reiki is a religious practice, in case you were unaware), experience is a poor judge of the veracity of a thing. This is a stringently held principle of most atheists - despite some people apparently experiencing ESP, for instance, it as defined by its proponents still does not exist.   

       [MB] has the traditional atheist response to the buzz words of religious experience - it is in reality a psychological event (a placebo). This does not serve to diminish your experience, only to properly categorize it.
globaltourniquet, Mar 06 2008

// Wow. I had no idea that I was experiencing alternative medicine.

       Really? It's so close to "laying on hands" that I find that conclusion hard to avoid. Of course, snake oil will, in about 25% of cases, still do the job - like any other placebo.   

       [What am I talking about: Reiki manipulation of "chi" or "energy flows" around the body, without pressure, sometimes without touch. As opposed to traditional massage that would be concerned with pressure, stretching, increasing blood flow through muscles. In answer to normzone's question below, I've had some kick-ass massages that felt very good as sensual experiences (as opposed to having long-term health effects, about which I know nothing).]
jutta, Mar 06 2008

       Oops. Inadvertent debate propagation   

       Hmmm. Are we discussing the same phenomena?   

       I guess it COULD be considered a religious experience.   

       Although in the context I first experienced it (most properly categorized as part of a brothel massage), I was unaware until now that there was anything other than a physical therapy context this could be viewed as.   

       I found it odd that something I took for granted as a readily replicated experience would invoke such skepticism among the 'bakers.   

       Okay, I guess my next question is, do any of the justifiably skeptical have any experience with skilled massage technicians? Have you ever had a good massage?   

       I'd wager most of your certified massage techs take the phenomenon for granted. As for any religious aspect, that's news to me. My spiritual beliefs don't fit comfortably in any available pigeonhole.   

       If nothing else, I recommend everybody find a skilled massage tech whose work you enjoy, and see them periodically. Certified non-brothel, of course.
normzone, Mar 06 2008

       Maybe it's an irregular verb, as in "I have reiki", "you have the laying on of hands", "s/he is experiencing alternative medicine".   

       Do i practice alternative medicine? I don't think so. I think i try to maintain and improve people's health. Presumably the patients have various views, but most of them are trying to improve their quality of life, i imagine. Whether i am practicing alternative medicine probably depends on what the other person thinks. They also get attention, someone to listen to them and a rapport, of course, and presumably the recipients of reiki get physical contact at least, and maybe they have skin hunger. I can't speak for them, but presumably [normzone] can.
nineteenthly, Mar 06 2008

       // Maybe it's an irregular verb
Ha! Well put.
jutta, Mar 06 2008

       //all I can tell you is that I've experienced being able to feel a person moving their hand next to my skin without their touching my skin. Have you any experience with reiki or are you mocking from a distance?//   

       Please, don't be offended. I'm not doubting at all your ability to feel a person moving their hand next to your skin without their touching your skin. All I am saying is that you underestimate the powers of human senses and the human brain. Can I ask you a question? And another one? Was it the case that you couldn't see their hand, yet you felt it moving in exactly the way in which it was, actually, moving?
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2008

       Yes, that was the case. If you experiment on your own with somebody else you'll likely find the same thing.   

       Of course, there's always the possibility that what makes my spine tingle and muscles relax could be chalked up to body heat proximity, but I lacked the test equipment and professional detachment to address that question.   

       (edit) I checked out the link. My exposure to what was called reiki was initially 25 years ago, before the current packaging of the product came to be. Strikes me as trying to trademark "bathing" or something.
normzone, Mar 06 2008

       //Yes, that was the case.//   

       OK, so, you couldn't see the hand moving, yet what you felt corresponded perfectly with the actual movement?   

MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2008

       Common sense is often wrong here in the US because people have their religions to contend with, and they think it makes them exempt from all things logical .... like balancing their checkbooks with their income so they have net positive income. These things just don't make sense for folks when they are being told that their money belongs in the hands of an angry god or poor-boy Makeemalo Jamalahaha in Africa instead of putting it into a bank account where it can at least be withdrawn later (with little inflation effects), or investing in the stock market where at least it has the potential to grow.   

       ... part of the reason why elections are a nightmare here.
quantum_flux, Mar 06 2008

       I have no strong opinions on Reiki, except for wishing the masseuse who rents my practice room had more clients. However, i have seen ray fish following people's hands above the surface of their water, ostensibly due to the electrical activity in the latter, so it seems possible that a vertebrate can detect the presence of another vertebrate separated from them by air. I don't know either whether that's true or if it is, whether it's relevant to Reiki.   

       There's another issue with Reiki and other forms of alternative therapy which are contentious apart from efficacy or otherwise, which is the adoption of public domain intellectual property for profit. If one disapproves of a particular approach, this is irrelevant, but if one both believes in it and approves, it is immoral anyway. Reflexology diagrams are altered in order to avoid violating copyright, traditionally used herbal mixtures patented and long-recognised sequences of Yoga asanas copyrighted. This is a bad thing regardless of whether it works or not, and it affects Reiki. This is one reason i practice "open source" herbalism. People can go and check the evidence out for themselves if i tell them exactly what they're given and why as well.
nineteenthly, Mar 06 2008

       // it seems likely that a vertebrate can detect the presence of another vertebrate separated from them by air//   

       Do you know something? I can do that too.   

       And, [normzone], how??
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2008

       Well, I could be mistaken. If somebody makes a series of massage strokes from the lower back to your upper neck while in firm contact with your skin, then repeats those movements without touching your skin, and you can still feel something going on, it is of course possible that I could be mistaken or deliberately deceived.   

       And since that brothel experience I've had certified massage techs with full english skills duplicate the experience, and there was no religious or mystic subtext applied, just state licensing agency approved techniques demonstrated by a coworker I trusted.   

       I think I'm going to go back to my "have you ever been massaged by a skilled person" question.   

       My ability to perceive and think rationally seems to be in question here, and that's OK, but I have to wonder.   

       Is the body of skeptics here experienced massagees, or am I being questioned by people without much experience in non-sexual body contact?
normzone, Mar 06 2008

       I am mocking from a distance, though with complete confidence. Yes, you felt something. It is possible that it was body heat, but much more likely to be suggestion. And that is not meant as a dismissal or an insult - it's just that the power of suggestion is huge.   

       Try this experiment. Close your eyes, and pass one hand over the back of the other without touching, maybe an inch or two away.   

       Did you feel the heat? The skin is a lot more sensitive to infra-red that you might imagine. Is what you felt similar to your experience with Reiki or not?
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2008

       I personally am not a sceptic but i have avoided massages from people i don't know. I am agnostic on the matter of whether there is more to Reiki than a placebo effect. I am also aware of a fair amount of unethical CAM practices and a variety of techniques which i find really hard to believe, such as remote colour therapy, EFT and kinesiology. Other therapies seem more feasible to me, such as osteopathy.   

       I just don't know what i think about Reiki. I do believe the masseuse i mentioned before believes in what she's doing and has no intention of misleading anyone.
nineteenthly, Mar 06 2008

       Similar, but much stronger. Of course, I haven't been massaged into a state of near somnolence, which could help.   

       [jutta] has already voiced her feelings about massage, which mirror mine.   

       [MB], screw reiki. Go get a massage, and find out for yourself. At the worst it will unwind you some.
normzone, Mar 06 2008

       //Similar, but much stronger.// You mean the heat from your hand was similar to that from Reiki, but the Reiki feeling was much stronger?   

       In fact, you probably didn't feel anything objective from your own hand, from a distance of a couple of inches. But you expected to, and knew where your hand was.   

       Suggestion is a glorious and non-trivial thing.   

       And yes, I suspect a massage would unwind me - no offense intended to masseurs, Reiki or otherwise. I don't doubt the perceptions, just their physical basis.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2008

       Max - I have been both diagnosed and cured by a kinesiologist. Try it, if you are curious and open minded. All of this is off topic of idea.. how did that happen?
xenzag, Mar 06 2008

       //Try it, if you are curious and open minded//   

       But, this (with some paraphrase) is very much like the suggestion that the Book of Mormon makes to us as we read it (there is a chapter and verse citation). The promise is that it will reveal itself to us as the truth. And for many, it does! Does this speak of its veracity? I think not.   

       By the way: Kinesiology as a science - just the study of human movement - no controversy. Truly a science and subject to the rigors thereof.   

       Applied Kinesiology as a diagnostic and healing technique - "alternative medicine" (look up the non-science of what they call the "viscerosomatic relationship"), controversial, quack-prone. It is this that is not verified by its anecdotal successes, including your own.
globaltourniquet, Mar 07 2008

       I think kinesiology tells the kinesiologist what the patient or the practitioner believes is wrong with them. Since both are frequently wrong, it is frequently wrong. The power of suggestion leads the muscle weakness to be manifested by the patient, due to the kinesiologist's approach or the patient's hunches about their own health. They could be right, but the way in which the concepts of health are expressed is not in accordance with the way the body works, being too reductivist. So, if someone has a relatively accurate grasp and knowledge of health issues, perhaps intuitively, kinesiology might show something, but if they haven't it would be like buying Echinacea OTC when they feel run down.
nineteenthly, Mar 07 2008

       I seem to remember a double-blind study on prayer awhile back.
RayfordSteele, Mar 07 2008

       Common sense would have told me not to anno on this idea in the first place.
normzone, Mar 07 2008

       //I seem to remember a double-blind study on prayer awhile back.// Yes, by the end of it, one of them could see again.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 07 2008

       [UB], i haven't in any way taken what you said personally and i respect your views, which are substantially like mine on these matters. I don't think you intended to include me in that list, and you indeed have not, but most alternative practitioners i know are on the bread line, including myself. We frequently (in the UK anyway) have no transport, can't pay the rent and are living a hand to mouth existence. This is not a line of work to get into if you want to get rich. There are a few wealthy people, but many of us are about as poor as it's possible to be without being homeless. Maybe it's different elsewhere in the world. I am getting out of doing this ASAP because i just can't feed the family doing what i do.   

       I am also as suspicious as the next person about a lot of what's done in the name of alternative medicine, and i think people are buying into a lifestyle a lot of the time. I also see it as parallel to religious fundamentalism, i.e. an abandonment of rationality for gullibility. Some people will believe anything.   

       And, of course, i'm a herbalist, and i can provide hard data on the efficacy of my remedies, such as pulse rates, blood pressure and peak expiratory flow. It is massively corroborated. Example: a hyperthyroid patient on no orthodox medication (her decision, not mine) had brisk deep tendon reflexes, marked benign essential tremor and a resting pulse rate of a hundred and six BPM before treatment. Today, two weeks after starting treatment, she had a pulse rate after exertion of eighty-five BPM, no discernable tremor and tendon reflexes less marked than yours truly. I could give hundreds of other examples, and i'm doing quantitative research right now.   

       However, it seems that people are not interested in improving their health, so we are basically starving. I have no idea why.
nineteenthly, Mar 07 2008

       //What I'm saying is that these alternative "medicines" will cure nothing but the empty pockets of the scurrilous practitioners who peddle them.//   

       I"m sure you didn't mean to place "prayer" in that group. Atleast not in the sense of the non-televangilist(sp) sort.
blissmiss, Mar 08 2008

       "Common sense would have told me not to anno on this idea in the first place." - [normzone]   

       I thought about making an annotation here before, wasn't going to, I knew getting involved in these kinds of debates is usually useless and hurtful. Oh well, here I am doing it anyway.   

       I personally dislike fundamentalist philosophies (although not necessarily the people who hold them): religious, atheistic, political, and every other sort I can't think of to list right now.   

       I wish we could all give people the courtesy of allowing them disagree with us. Debate with intent to alter another person's viewpoint, without a mutual agreement to engage in that kind of adversarial discussion, is not a courteous or friendly thing, in my opinion.   

       But then, simply by making this statement, I'm already violating my own principle. Hypocrisy can be very difficult to avoid.   

       My final comment: I think we've all adequately demonstrated with this discussion that "common sense" is something with definitions as varied as the people who use the term.
drememynd, Mar 08 2008

       But UnaBubba, I'm referring to the "empty pockets" part. Often times I pray for peace. It's free and it's never time wasted. It makes me calmer and more centered and I feel I have sent out a positive vibe. And in the grand scheme of things, maybe that's all any of us can do anyway. I'm not talking about miracles, but miracles do happen, of that I feel pretty much certain.
blissmiss, Mar 08 2008

       So in regards to their being a "common" sense of things I am getting a concensus of "no". Paradoxical.
WcW, Mar 08 2008

       [Nineteenthly] while we're diverging this much, can I ask you a question, as a rational herbalist?   

       I have no problem at all with the idea that plants can contain pharmacalogically active compounds, and that plants or extracts thereof can treat disease.   

       However, I am genuinely puzzled by the rationale that prefers plants over purified forms of the same active compounds. For example, if Foxglove contains digitalis (or is it digoxin), then it makes sense to use Foxglove to treat some heart conditions. However, as soon as you have isolated the active compound, identified it, and found a way to prepare it in pure form, why would anyone persist with the plant?   

       If someone told me they had found a herb that slowed the growth of a certain type of cancer (as they doubtless have), my response would be "Great. Start by evaluating the plant as treatment, but concentrate on isolating the active ingredients. Then find a good source or synthetic route. Then see if any obvious chemical modifications can improve their efficacy."   

       Plants don't produce pharmaceuticals for our benefit, and they also produce a very broad spectrum of compounds which are either incidentally or intentionally harmfull (plants don't want to be eaten, and are full of their own pesticides). So, why trust a plant?   

       (NB - I'm not talking about cases where the active compound(s) are unknown - clearly in that case you have no choice)   

       Sorry if the question seems naive, but I am curious (if, admittedly, slightly on the hostile side).
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2008

       No, a lot of people ask that. I would say there's an analogy between whole remedies and whole food. White sugar consists of almost pure sucrose. This is processed through the Krebs cycle with the use of magnesium and calcium in coenzymes. Hence it occupies or depletes magnesium. Sucrose as found in plants is usually accompanied by calcium and magnesium, and possibly with the B vitamins which are eventually used in the Krebs cycle. Therefore it's healthier to use sugar as part of a plant than in its refined form, and the same applies to a lot of other compounds.   

       Many purified drugs are similar. The classic example which is always given is salicylates. Since it blocks prostaglandin synthesis, aspirin can cause usually mild stomach haemorrhage. However, plants containing salicylates are also high in tannins, so the so-called vegetable sources of aspirin, Salix nigra and Filipendula ulmaria, will block haemorrhaging because tannins precipitate proteins, and they do the same with the proteins in the blood when it starts to enter the stomach.   

       Then there comes my leap of faith, but i don't see it as any more dramatic than a lot of other leaps of faith that people who set store by scientific method make, and it's this. We have evolved to consume mixtures, not pure compounds, with the exception of water. Therefore, it generally makes more sense to consume mixtures as remedies than purified compounds.   

       Remember also that herbalism largely addresses chronic conditions. I see it as an extension of dietetics. However, i do believe there's a role for purified compounds in many conditions. It's just that that role is currently occupied by orthodox pharmaceuticals.   

       To some extent, plants do produce things for the benefit of animals because of the phenomenon of symbiosis. For example, if they produce nutritious fruit, it encourages dispersal, and insect pollinated flowers are another example. Leaving that aside, however, one thing they definitely do is synthesise compounds with a marked physiological action. For instance, they are often high in oestrogenic substances because this feminises male insect herbivores (and consequently, aphids and stick insects are parthenogenic). These oestrogenic compounds are also more easily converted to water-soluble compounds than many synthetic and unintentionally oestrogenic substances, so they are sometimes easier to excrete. Similarly, alkaloids are partly characterised as nitrogenous heterocyclic compounds with a markedly physiological action in some animals. Their function in plants is unclear, if there have any, but they often have a use, just as wood has uses. If you want to build a hut, it makes more sense to make it out of wood than purifying it to extract the cellulose and make it out of cardboard. Same thing with herbal remedies.   

       In any case, orthodox remedies are frequently mixtures themselves. They are often racemic, contain the appropriate substances to form tablets, can be flavoured or need to be a specific colour so they can be identified in an emergency, or they may need to contain preservatives.   

       I don't trust plants per se. The herbs i use, on the whole, have a tradition of being used as food, of being indigenous to this island, of having a tradition of long term use, and are invasive. I also try to avoid using barks and roots for ecological reasons.   

       Having said all that, herbs are what people get if they don't benefit from less invasive measures, and i'm actually trying to get out of herbalism because i think people's problems are more fundamental than herbalism can deal with, even theoretically, and the point is prevention.   

       There's a video on YouTube i've posted about this whole issue, but the sound quality is pretty poor. Search for "nineteenthly" and you'll turn it up.
nineteenthly, Mar 08 2008

       Hmm. I take some of your specific points (though I think the instances you cite are more fortuitous than systematic).   

       I'd have to disagree, though, with some of your general points. Yes, we normally eat mixtures, but there's no magic to be had from that. The other compounds in a plant, if they have any pharmacologic effect, are probably as likely to be harmful as beneficial - much like any randomly-chosen cocktail of drugs. I'd also disagree with the way you cite fruits as an example of the benificence of plants. Yes, fruits are a clear instance of plants "enticing" animals to eat them, but again there's no rationale to extend this to parts of plants which the plant doesn't intend you to eat. Most of the small-molecule compounds in a strawberry would not get approval as food additives or pharmaceuticals; of the very few that have been evaluated, many are carcinogenic, teratogenic, or otherwise harmful. Of course, it's nonsense because ot the levels at which they are present, which are too low to cause anything more than "background harm" (even though they are present in greater amounts than man-made chemical residues by orders of magnitude).   

       I take your point about many pharmaceuticals being racemic, in contrast to almost all plant compounds, and this is a genuine concern (with proven issues, of course).   

       I think there's another point in favour of herbal sources which you didn't mention explicitly, and that is that the plant will probably contain a range of similar molecules (given the fuzziness and redundancy of biochemical pathways), and often some of these will have effects similar to the main compound (which may the only compound in a pharmaceutical analogue). However, it's also fair to say that these secondary compounds include a wide spectrum of random compounds, many potentially harmful.   

       The other thing that herbalism has going, presumably, is a long history, and hence a long basis of experience. (However, if a natural painkiller was carcinogenic in the long term, I'm not sure folk medicine would have picked this up).   

       Anyway, good luck, even if we disagree. Personally, I'd like to get my new pharmaceuticals out of the plant and into the Eppendorf as fast as possible.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2008

       //There's also the argument that...// I'm not sure I follow your reasoning. But it seems unlikely. Unless the plant has set out to affect a specific pathway in an animal (possible, if the aim is to deter the eater, but unlikely in general), then such a situation would arise only rarely and by chance. As I mentioned, a plant may well contain several beneficial (and perhaps, rarely, synergistic) compounds of which only one is represented in a pharmaceutical equivalent, but this is a different matter (and the other compounds in the plant are as likely to be harmful as helpful).   

       I think (and I speak from a great depth of ignorance) that the main advantage of herbalism is that it's often ineffective. What I mean is that the relevant plant compounds may be so dilute or non- specific as to have relatively little pharmacologic effect. This, in turn, means that side effects will often be less. This is seen as a great advantage by patients, perhaps greater than the disadvantage of lower effectiveness.   

       Take an example - antidepressants. St. John's Wort is a popular herbal antidepressant, and contains at least two compounds believed to be effective. It is not as good as synthetic antidepressants in severe depression, but it is beneficial. It also has very few side effects (in contrast to most antidepressants). Perhaps its lack of side effects is simply because it is not very potent.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2008

       //According to the news stories released last week// Yes, and they're bollocks, as any GP (let alone specialist) will tell you. There is indeed a strong placebo effect, and in at least 50% of people on any one antidepressant, this is all there is. But the placebo effect is relatively transient (enough, sometimes, of course).   

       About 30% of people respond well to any given antidepressant, and the effects are very far from placebo alone. 30% is a low hit rate, but not far off that for other types of drugs. In the case of antidepressants, the poor hit rate is partly because different pathways are screwed up in different cases; and partly people differ hugely in their ability to get some drugs across the blood-brain barrier. In many cases, the drug does nothing because it never reaches the brain, so you have to try the next one.   

       Claiming that antidepressants have only a placebo effect is a bit like claiming that antivenoms have only a placebo effect: if you have to try several before you find the appropriate one, then of course most of them have no effect beyond placebo. The people who did that research (and some group does the same study every 8-10 years, with the same result each time) are basically arseholes.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2008

       <looks up after a long session of simultaneous walking and muttering> Christ - how did I get here? </ luaalsoswam>
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2008

       OK, thanks [MaxwellBuchanan]. I like a lot of the points [UnaBubba] has made. I'm trying to decide whether it's worthwhile to answer what you have to say because i actually wanted to make a more general point. Actually, i'll do both, i think.   

       There's an issue about what counts as a pharmacological action. The cephalic phase of digestion, i.e. anticipating eating, seems to involve something like the release of gastrin. When taste buds are stimulated, various processes seem to occur. For instance, the classic bitter taste, i.e. something interacting with the bitter receptors ennervated by the glossopharyngeal nerve (there are also other bitter receptors), seems to lead to a similar response to the cephalic phase of digestion, which again seems to involve the release of gastrin. I can't corroborate it, but i suspect that there are other similar reflexes linked to other tastes. It may not be so, but it would at least make sense for a sweet taste to stimulate the release of insulin before it is substantially absorbed, for example. There are apparently other processes, but i could go on all night. My point is this. In such cases, does it make sense to analyse these processes in pharmacological terms? It would be possible to look at the bitter receptors on the tongue in pharmacological terms, but perhaps not very helpful in terms of conceptualising it.   

       There is indeed a range of similar substances rather than single compounds involved a lot of the time, just as nutritionally speaking, for example, an edible oil contains a range of triglycerides with various fatty acid moieties. The oil considered as a whole would still be nutritious, and where it isn't used as a component of eicosanoids, it may be broken down bit by bit to provide energy whether it contains twenty carbons or eighteen. To that extent, it does something similar physiologically.   

       Again, there is a lot of variation in the constituents of herbs: the volatile oil component of lavender (as in Lavandula angustifolia, not spike lavender) only has a family resemblance-style composition and has no constituents in common for different times, conditions, places and races. My suppliers, with whom i'm in close contact because i make a point of sourcing herbs locally for ecological reasons, analyse the proportions of the constituents of the herbs i use and compose reports on them, which i have seen. Some herbalists would regard this as reductivist, though, so it isn't necessarily very popular.   

       Concerning harm, i have a strong tendency to use herbs which are currently or have persistently been used in food, and like food they will of course contain certain substance which are harmful, such as cyanogenic glycosides or excessive amounts of carotenoids. This is the same as food.   

       Concerning St John's Wort, it seems to have quite a dramatic effect on a lot of people who are depressed, but i don't think of it as an anti-depressant, and it isn't the only herb which can be used like that. The most suitable herb would depend on a lot of factors, but if, for example, someone was anaemic and depressed, it would make sense for them to take a herb high in iron and maybe another with vitamin C to aid absorption, so maybe nettles and chickweed, but it would make a lot more sense for them to increase iron-rich foods in their diet.   

       However, this is all tangential to the point i actually wanted to make, which is that i think everyone, myself included, will tend to select those arguments which help them to justify what they currently do, when the real reasons may be quite inaccessible to them, and as a philosopher, and to a small extent someone who has done a little psychology at degree level, i actually find that more interesting. I'm about to apply for a lecturing job in herbalism. If i get that, it will be easier for me to live with myself if i talk myself into believing in it. I'm not sure i would be doing anything drastically different than that if i chose a different line of work. People want their work to be congruent with their values and they will change one or the other to achieve this.
nineteenthly, Mar 08 2008

       Wow. And to think much of this anno string is my fault.   

       I was going to let this fade away, but since pixels are cheap and it's still here on the front page, I will say something that I never bothered to point out in the first place, since it was self-evident to me.   

       Nobody ever told me about the reiki effect (feeling of proximity of hands without touching) and then demonstrated it to me.   

       The first time I experienced it it was simply applied without warning or discussion, and I felt it on my back, out of my sight and certainly outside of any "suggestion" or "belief".   

       The second time was the same, except this was followed up with some discussion.   

       So the whole argument that I felt it because I wanted to seems off track.
normzone, Mar 10 2008

       OK, thanks. I tend to go on and on a lot, in real life as well as here.   

       I suppose that what i have to say about that is that with herbalism, i started from a very sceptical position because it seemed too good to be true. How could there possibly be remedies which were just good, with no down side or side-effects? Well, this turned out to be an over-simplification. However, i took a sceptical position with every herb i used and it had to "prove" (impossible) itself to me. Eventually, this happened so many times i decided it was worth investigating, and here i am. In fact, there are a number of popular herbs in which i have no faith at all for various reasons.   

       Anyway, your sort of experience is sort of like that. You didn't start from a position of belief or wanting to be convinced, but you found there was an inexplicable experience. It's difficult to know how far to take that, but maybe not actually necessary. Pottery glazes, dyeing, paint and so forth all developed without knowledge of colour chemistry. You don't always actually need an explanation, just enough information arrived at by trial and error.   

       However, i do take the point about undetected carcinogenicity. I would also say that it's difficult to test drugs over several generations as well. There might be a drug which affects the oocytes of the foetus when given to the mother, so that her grandchildren will suffer, but it would be virtually impossible to test for that. I think this is part of the risk of everyday life. There is also, of course, a precautionary principle applied by both herbalists and more orthodox medics to pregnancy.
nineteenthly, Mar 10 2008

       I'm absolutely in favour of this idea, if only as a jurisprudential spectator sport (provided they never play it in my jurisdiction).
calum, Mar 10 2008

       Wow! An on-topic post!   

       It Would Be Nice If this happened, but it needs to be more specific. Common sense is highly subjective.
nineteenthly, Mar 10 2008

       Absolutely. It isn't common and it doesn't make sense. Then again, it could keep lawyers very, very busy.
nineteenthly, Mar 10 2008


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