I think I have found another unfortunate example of the epistemic hostility of modern life.

If an apparently reputable mycologist were to tell you that a wide range of fungi have been proven to have significant neuroprotective, antiviral, antibacterial, and/or immune boosting effects in humans, you would be surprised. At least, I was surprised.

Then you're forced to consider what to do with this information. A glance at your priors suggests that if this were true, you should already know about it. Doctors should be telling you to eat your mushrooms. Supplement companies should be marketing mushroom extracts at you just as they market vitamins.

A seperate set of priors points out that you did know that some fungi had antimicrobial effects (powerful antibiotic drugs) and others have powerful psychoactive effects. But you didn't know that these features would be general and you're not sure if you should assume that they are.

Then you consider the cynical Hansonian perspective that says doctors aren't really all that motivated to recommend that you consume cheap substances that keep you from needing to go to the doctor, and supplement companies might not make much profit selling you mushroom pills when you can just buy mushrooms.

Then you realize you have very little chance of successfully arbitrating between these perspectives. You're not even sure where to look to find out if mushrooms are really good for you and that you should be eating more of them. You could look at academic publications but you're not confident in your ability to interpret such findings, which tend to be highly narrow and specific, and apply them to your life. You could look at the ads of supplement companies that do sell mushroom extracts, but you wouldn't trust them.

So it's data that has a potentially significant upside that you can't really prove to yourself, despite the fact that all of the relevant information is in principle known to people and probably publicly available.


New Comment
6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:35 PM

Meta: I suppose I meant to post this to my "private blog feed" or whatever. I did not select Front Page. Let me know if I messed up.

That's where the virtue of experimentation comes in. Let us know what you find! :D

(Purely incidentally, I love what you're doing on We've Got Worm. Didn't know you ran in these circles, though I might have guessed.)

When experimenting on yourself you should take into account the potential risks.

Data points:

  1. Many fungi contain toxic substances that can kill you.
  2. Seth Roberts (Shangri La Diet) was famous for self-esperimentation. He died suddenly of a heart attack while out hiking. May or may not be related to his self-experimentation.


And yeah, I ordered some mushroom stuff. Of course, even if it seems to help, I'll worry it's the Placebo Effect.

That's where randomized controlled trials come in. Rigor! Scholarship! Risks to one's health! That's the scientific method!

The supplement market is, empirically, totally willing to market extracts of food. (Off the top of my head examples include green tea and cranberry.) However, it's unclear to me how correlated "the supplement market sells something" is with "the thing does anything at all."

New to LessWrong?