Candice Shelby, the next speaker, comes from several generations of drunks, which did not prevent her from becoming a professor of philosophy, which she is. Her interest in addiction was piqued by the dawning awareness that philosophers, by and large, didn't know the first thing about it. Candice spoke in an edgy, animated tone, with endearing wisecracks and asides that let you know she knew some things about addiction from personal experience. She made well-deserved fun of rationalist theories of addiction (theories that deny that addiction is real and see addictive behavior as a rational choice). Her battle with the philosophers ultimately led her to look for answers in the neurobiology of the brain. She spent a couple of years acquiring the equivalent of a second Phd, as she put it, in the subject. She took us onto a tour of the human brain: neurons, axons, neocortex, limbic system, amygdala, dopamine, and all that. She showed that some of the addicted persons' response to triggers, and some relapse mechanisms, are not conscious and not within the rational framework; that emotions are faster and more powerful than rational thinking, and that people sometimes truthfully do not have a clue why they did what they did. All in all, if I were a rationalist, Adam-Smithian philosopher, I might have felt crushed by the onslaught of neuropsychological research findings that Candice marshaled. I have read a number of neurobiological explanations of addiction, particularly those trotted out to clients in treatment programs to prepare the clients for step one, and Candice's was definitely one of the best informed, better than that of some medical doctors, and far more lively and witty. But it had some of the same limitations. The standard program lecture on neurobiology of addiction typically builds up the power of addiction to such an extent that it becomes quite incomprehensible how and why many people are nevertheless able to shake off their addiction and get free. What is the neurobiological basis of recovery? Candice's talk, perhaps because her time was up before she could finish her prepared text, left this issue unexplored. It would be interesting in a future LifeRing event to hear her lively analytical mind present the results of her study of the brain's inherent powers of recovery.
plaque mounted on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft. A few small modifications enhanced NASA's original design for our purposes; see image.
(To be continued)