One of the most mysterious problems in neuroscience is the link between brain chemistry and consciousness. How do changes in our neurochemistry influence our perception of the real world?
This question is hard to tackle for the obvious reason that experiments on humans are notoriously difficult to perform. Not only are the variables hard to pin down but changing them with psychoactive drugs under controlled conditions is fraught with practical, ethical, and moral dilemmas.
That’s why the majority of work examining the role of psychoactive drugs on neuropharmacological signaling mechanisms has been done on rats.
But there’s a revolution afoot. Today, Jeremy Coyle at the University of California Berkeley and a couple of pals say they’ve found a new way to study the role of psychoactive drugs on human perception.
These guys point out that in the contrast to the small amount of formal scientific literature in this area, there are large volumes of narrative descriptions of the effects of drugs posted on the web. Their idea is to mine these descriptions using machine learning techniques to identify common features which would allow a quantitative comparison of their effects.
The obvious place to start such an endeavour is a website called erowid.org, which is a well known and popular source of user generated information about the effects of all kinds of psychoactive substances.
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