Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 24th, 2016

Larva Dressed in multi-color gala attire

“The larva of yesterday is dressed in multicolor gala attire”;

you may have as well said the butterfly looked sensational in her dress

that would sound insipid and boring static descriptions in the world of poets.

It does not mean that plain talk is not the job of poets:

imaginations carry through the purpose of reminding the people of the spirit of the Land far better than logic and reasoning.

It might be useful nowadays to add butterfly in parenthesis:

people have no time or patience to figure out anything unless spoon fed;

that would Not be a bad idea if it encourages reading splendid poems and retaining magnificent imageries.

Kids should be encouraged to memorize imageries.

Imagery in poems is the foundations of affordable imaginations:

poets are down to earth and have keen eyes to see the horrors and ugliness of the “As is” and are impatient to refuting the miseries of reality, ugly behavior and customs, and transmitting the urgency for a change, always feasible changes; at least of worthy poets.

Every survivor on earth, plants, insects, or mammals, is constantly fighting the good fight to surmount the difficulty of living on earth.

Long lasting changes are not done by exhibiting fire works or victory celebrations

but the daily struggle to live for another tomorrow.

Earth atmosphere and environment was initially noxious to organic living creatures.

After millions of years of evolution and catastrophes anything still surviving was incredibly lucky to exist today.

Heck, oxygen was meant to be a poisonous gas to man until he adapted to a certain mixture.

Earth was not created for man; he evolved against all odds, in an almost improbable continuous string of lucky hazards.

Yet, we cannot withstand a tree blocking a stupid view,

birds chanting by dawn and disturbing our unnatural cycle,

a flower not looking as pretty as a rose,

a neighbor less fortunate or more wealthy.

Yet, we resent someone who decided to rest on a Wednesday instead of a Friday, Saturday, or a Sunday.

Poets need to be unsatisfied; they carry the message to communicate the will of reducing inhuman realities to a human order of acceptability.

Poets are frequently revolting on the world of “as is” and changing life according to affordable imaginations.

The value of poetry is essentially to be present in the center of time and space.

Imagery is to agree for passionate re-conquest of nature and our standards of living.

The main ingredient for poets is the potential to creating a sustainable life by offering imageries that make changes feasible and attainable by the spirit.

Poets are infusing this hope that inhuman conditions of nature or man-made systems could be interacted with to accommodate humanity and its surroundings.

Man has been struggling for all kinds of emancipation that cover forms of liberations such as slavery, exploitation of the masses, women rights, oppression of minorities, domestic brutality, colonized people, and so many other forms of social domination that restrained the blooming of human spirit.

Maybe one of the major factors for the failure of successive attempts for social and individual liberation was the failure to regularly read poems to the illiterates who were shouldering the entire burden of reforms and revolts.

The masses of workers and peasants respect and appreciate poems that talk to their spirit far more than the well to do.  If the people managed to be that patient and sustained misery and daily toils for too long it is because they were free to recite poems and sing love songs and songs of freedom after a hard day of labor.

External political changes for reforms fail to mature and take roots simply because the internal changes in the people were forgotten or not taken seriously.

Pablo Neruda, the poet of Chili and South America recount the dignity of the hard working people and how they sheltered him and fed him during his escape to exile:

Along the grand night, throughout the entire life,

Tears on paper, from attire to attire,

I marched in those misty days,

The fugitive to the police:

I was handed over from hand to hands.

Grave is the night but man disposed of his fraternal signs.


By blind roads and plenty of shadows

I reached the lighted tiny star that was mine.

I don’t feel alone in the night.

I am people, innumerable people.

My voice carries pure force

To cross the silence and germinate in the obscurity.


Neruda recites a poem to thousands of miners who instinctively removed their hat and head gears in respect:

I write for the people.

Many cannot read my poems with their rural eyes.

Time is soon; a line,

Air that disrupted my life;

Will reach their ears.

They will say ”He was a comrade”

That is enough; this is the crown of laurel that I desired.


Copenhagen: where climate freezes; (October 9, 2009)

December is soon; this month disappeared for eight long years.

Freezing Copenhagen, will welcome Barak Obama this December

Trailed by hundred of representatives from the world States

To meet and discuss of global climate problems

Environmental deterioration, changes, and cataclysmic consequences,

To extending global resolutions.

I don’t mind cold climate in the cold season:

I cannot get used to freezing weather at any season;

Beast digging in to hibernate;

I cannot get used to Nordic people

Stubborn in their craziness,

Calling it home.

Finally, the financial crash deposed the latest of the Bushes;

Hoping to be the last in that dynasty.

Man awoke to the magnitude of the disaster.

The optimist Biosphere/Earth has its own stabilizing mechanism;

It is indifferent to power-avid pessimist man.

This unattached mechanism may burn, suffocate, or drown man

And it would not even notice or care for its existence.

It dawned on Man that, through the ages,

Earth/biosphere underwent changes

And man either thrived, developed, or died

Consequent to the environmental changes.

All the time, man got curious about his environment;

He wanted to understand and then uncover the mysteries

Of that power surrounding him and controlling his life cycle.

By the by, man formulated general laws of nature.

And before he could fathom a tiny portion of the complex mysteries,

Of these multiple interactions among the sparse and conditioned laws,

This impatient and anxious man endeavored to modify and transform nature

To his own wants and restricted interests.

Man wants to alter earth and the biosphere

With the tacit understanding that he will not be affected.

Man keeps forgetting, intentionally,

That he is what he is because of earth and biosphere.

Man can alter earth and biosphere;

Biosphere will, imperturbably, react at its own pace;

Man can waste water; water does not care one way or the other;

Water can float and disintegrate into its other gaseous elements

And it wouldn’t care for its consequences to this wretched man.

Is it too late to coax nature to reverse its course?

Is it too late for the offspring of today

To degenerate in monsters of tomorrow?

If monsters are permitted to exist make it quick!

Do nothing at all.


Meet the Woman Who’s Created the 21st Century Finance Model for Emerging Technologies

This piece is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The Internet of Women: Accelerating Culture Change to be published on June 30th:

Riva-Melissa Tez is the CEO and co-founder of Permutation in San Francisco. A London native, she runs an artificial intelligence platform and incubator.

In her spare time, she works on The Longevity Cookbook, alongside Maria Konovalenko and Steve Aoki, which is a book that distills academic research into practical measures for slowing the aging process.

This is an edited transcript of a recorded interview.

I learned important lessons about money at a very early age.

At 10, I moved into a homeless shelter after my father left my mother. My mother is severely schizophrenic — which can be both chaotically fun and devastatingly traumatic — and was not well enough to look after herself, let alone me at the time.

Amongst other things, she used to make me drink the milk in the morning first to check if it had poison in it. A few years later, at 14, we moved into social housing. We lived in this horrible apartment that had no curtains or carpets. At one point I realized, “Oh, money is how the world works.” It’s a lesson you don’t learn at school.

I received a scholarship to attend a prestigious all-girls school. The girls at my school came from quite wealthy families, so I never told anyone where I lived. I would take different routes walking home so that no one knew where I was going.

Once I realized that money was the key to an escape, I started reading books on consumer psychology.

Edward Bernays, who was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, was a great inspiration for me. At 15, I managed to get a job selling outdoor sinks at a furniture trade show. The job initially belonged to my older sister, but on her first day of work she humorously fell asleep on the job and was promptly fired. The company told her to find a replacement, so I begged her to let me do it.

Najat Rizk shared this link
This piece is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The Internet of Women: Accelerating Culture Change to be published on…|By Rahilla Zafar

My sister lied and said I was 16. I ended up selling these sinks at a trade show from 9am to 9pm for three weeks straight. I developed my own strategy to improve my learning: I would read books on sales and then go test theories out when I was working.

Later, I would update my model of consumer psychology, which I kept track of in a notebook. In this way, I used very rapid AB testing to learn about sales.

I sold more at that trade show than the entire management team, earning £15,000 in commission, which was more money than I could even fathom at the time considering my mother and I lived on £60 a week.

I had truanted school to accommodate the job and was in a lot of trouble, but my grades were good and, to be honest, I didn’t really care much about school at the time. I saved the money and was able to eventually move my mother out of our awful apartment into a beautiful one-bedroom place in West London, where she still lives today.

I have paid her rent every month since then. I owe her for a lot of my thinking, so I could never abandon her. Those struggles she put me through gave me a high tolerance for risk and stress, which I am extremely grateful for.

People sometimes ask what made me ambitious at a young age. The motivation was simple: we were literally so poor that I had to find a way to make money for my mother. There’s no secret sauce; it was just pure desperation. There were times when we couldn’t even afford to eat.

I attended University College London and switched from a joint honors to straight Philosophy, with a focus on epistemology and logic. My mother’s condition got me hooked on trying to understand how humans justify their beliefs.

Whilst at University, I was living above an empty shop in Notting Hill, which is an affluent area in London. During my time there, I noticed there were many families living in the neighborhood.

One day, I suggested to my boyfriend at the time that we should open a pop-up toy store in the empty store below. We followed through, and surprisingly we did very well — so much so that we launched a permanent store.

Eventually our shop expanded, taking over the two stories. Our toy store still stands today. It just celebrated its sixth birthday.

At 21, I got more serious — I thought, “wait, but I don’t want to run a toy store for the rest of my life…” I wanted to learn how to do things digitally.

I used to get into trouble for hacking stuff off computers- I was very much the kind of teenager who would stay up all night on a computer. This was all inspired by my father- he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering. Before he left my mother and I, he used to make me build computers and watch him code when I was very young.

After I left the toyshop, I moved to Berlin with a mission to further my software skills.

After a few months into this endeavor, I had the idea of building a creative social network for kids. I worked on it with an American co-founder and ended up staying in Germany for over two years.

At one point, I read Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and got really interested in emerging technologies. I wanted to find people to discuss ideas with, so I started a nonprofit called Berlin Singularity which hosted talks and events.

I also started teaching as a lecturer at two business schools, mainly on consumer psychology but also on entrepreneurship. Some friends and I entered and won the LinkedIn Hackathon, which is still one of my favorite memories from Berlin.

Michael Vassar, who at the time was running the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence in San Francisco came to give a talk for Berlin Singularity.

After his talk, I complained to him that I had this sense of imposter syndrome. What I meant by this was- the idea that people were regarding me as some sort of European expert on emerging technology horrified me. I remember seeing myself in this magazine listed as one of the top influential people in technology in Germany and I kept thinking, ‘But I’m only 21 and don’t know anything!’ I remember Michael telling me that I would enjoy the intellectual climate in San Francisco.

A few months later, I was in a near-death car accident on the autobahn. I got admitted into hospital with a bad concussion and kept thinking about how much I wanted to learn about the world. A few days later, I left my house, start-up, and boyfriend behind in Berlin and flew to San Francisco.

An interest furthered by the near-death experience, my original plan was to study how I could contribute towards life extension and regenerative medicine.

To begin, I started profiling all of the biotech companies I found interesting. Trying to fulfill the challenge I set myself in the hospital to learn about the world, I also picked up a hobby of reading a lot of physics papers. To this day, I find them very humbling.

Eventually I began to work with investors who wanted to put their money in emerging biotech opportunities. As I started to undertake technical due diligence on different companies, I realized that solving scientific challenges depended on the strength of tools and resources that researchers have at their disposal.

It was then that I really hit on machine learning and artificial intelligence. I kept thinking, well, if you could improve AI resources, you could use it to solve complex problems — such as those in biotech and energy provision, among other industries.

AI artificial intelligence has the potential to make the scientific process cheaper and better. It has the power to reduce complexity, which is an idea I think about all the time.

Once I hit on AI, I knew what I had to work on. I believe AI is fundamental to improving humanity’s odds of survival because humans are limited in their scope of skills for problem-solving.

The only other option would be intelligence-amplification en masse.

Women in Science

Adam Rutherford (right), Daniel Glaser, Nick Bostrom, Murray Shanahan and Riva discussing the future of AI at the Vanity Fair Intelligence Summit.

The subjects that we work with tend to all fall under the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) categories that already have poor gender rates. I think the disparity is improving today, because there are more opportunities to learn about engineering for children.

Today, there are so many children’s toys that promote engineering for girls. This is in sharp contrast to 10 or 20 years ago. Today, we’re at a point where we are just ahead of the curve in getting women into STEM subjects. I believe the ratios will balance — it’s just a matter of time.

Frequently, I’m the only woman speaker at an event or on a panel. I recently shot an ad campaign for Microsoft where I was the only female. People ask me what that’s like all the time, but most of the time I don’t even notice.

Sometimes I get spoken down to, but I just play into it. At this one high-profile investment event, guys kept asking me where my husband was, I guess it was impossible for them to believe a 26 year old female could be an invited guest. I told them that he had stepped outside to make an important business call and made a note to never work with those people. I don’t feel a need to justify myself.

Creating a 21st Century Finance Model

When I first came to the Bay Area, I was working with two kinds of groups: investors who wanted to put their money in biotech, and startups that wanted help raising money for their projects. As a philosophy graduate, I didn’t know a lot about fundraising.

I spent a great deal of my time learning about how venture capital funds work.

The traditional fundraising model didn’t make much sense to me. I saw it this way: as a VC, you’re basically a kind of middleman who invests in startups. You represent other people’s money, which means you have to answer to their particular interests. But, at the same time, you also need to negotiate the interest of startups and their entrepreneurs.

I was pretty open about telling people in asset management that I didn’t entirely understand some of their models, and that some of them might be more imperfect than others. Then, someone rightly challenged me on how I would do it differently. I told him I would learn everything I could about venture capital and attempt to create a new model.

I left America and spent nearly three months in France reading about venture capital, including all of the venture capital reports from the Kauffman Foundation for the last few decades.

At the beginning, I didn’t even know what a Limited Partner was. At the end, I could breakdown the IRRs of the top VC funds for the last ten years. I just studied everything I could and concluded that the model of traditional venture capital didn’t work for the kind of projects that interested me. It works well for consumer tech, but it doesn’t work as well if you want to do anything long term.

I wrote a few posts about how we should reshape finance. My posts got over 250,000 views. As a result, a couple of big investor groups were interested in hiring me. I found that ironic, but then again everyone loves a contrarian.

Among those who reached out to me was Peter Bruce-Clark, who was working at Stanford looking at innovative investment models. I ended up spending much of my time talking to him. He walked me through some papers, including research on new models for investment funds that he himself had been building, which were very impact-focused.

I decided I wanted to do the same thing for AI and began working with two others on fleshing out that model- which was a hybrid impact investment fund.

My original goal was to raise these funds to specifically invest in artificial intelligence. This was about 18 months ago. During this time, a very smart investor and mentor said to me, “The bottleneck in solving problems like the advancement of AI isn’t a lack of capital. The problem is a lack of valuable deal flow.”

Essentially, he told me that I wasn’t tackling the real problem. It was a major shape-shift for me.

I decided to take another six months to model the AI ecosystem. I wanted to learn about where talent goes, the flows of capital between companies and investors, why certain companies are built, and why some ideas don’t get off the ground.

One of the problems is that investors don’t understand much about research-driven machine intelligence since it’s extremely technical. I saw a market gap for better due diligence tools as well as a gap in the provision of services geared to assist early-stage development of AI companies.

It’s a much better, more valuable use of my time to ensure we have lots of smart AI investors rather than trying to launch a standalone fund.

That’s how Permutation ended up being developed. I created a suite of tools– which we’re launching soon- which helps investors with some tricky decisions.

I’m also trying to introduce investors to more hardware-based projects. People focus on top layer innovation- such as algorithms- without recognizing that the very thing that sets the parameters for improvement is the hardware.

I’m lucky that I can call up my father when I need some help understanding a quantum computing paper.

The second thing we’re doing is investing in and incubating early stage AI companies. It’s a very compelling message when you go back to investors and can demonstrate how you’ve built tools to measure your returns and your ecosystem impact.

Typically, you raise a fund and then you try to do that (or perhaps at least pretend you care about impact). We did all of the research first and remain extremely research-driven in our investment model and thesis. Nobody we’ve approached for funding thus far has said no.

Peter, who helped me learn about measuring impact returns, left Stanford and is now my business partner and closest friend.

There’s a lot of hype right now around AI, so while there are many interested investors, we’re seeking smart ones that pass different integrity tests. It’s the same for the people we hire.

I’m looking for impact-driven individuals and groups who genuinely care about making the world better. Making money isn’t as hard as creating a positive global impact, although capital can certainly fuel the strength of impact.

Unfortunately, I think most people realize this in life when it’s far too late and wish they had done more with their time-slice of existence. I’ll retire when I die- and I’m not really planning on doing that either.

Incentives and Collaboration

Last year, I went through a bout of depression because it bothered me to see how little people in power didn’t collaborate to solve some of our grandest challenges.

There’s too much ego and opposing forces, not to mention incentive structures that work against us. I kept thinking: how can you make collaboration easier without losing the value you have as a company or the impact you have as an individual?

We haven’t quite worked out how the human mind works well enough to understand how to manage incentives. The problem is, we incentivize people Not to collaborate with others.

You collaborate within your own group or within your company, but if someone does something similar to you, you want to deliberately withhold information from them. It restricts everyone and restricts innovation. This kills research progress.

Things I would like to see:

1. The reshaping of incentive structures: We really need to improve incentive structures between groups. How can we give other people access to fundamental research?

When you read academic papers, researchers are incentivized to keep private the exact details that would explain the breakthrough.

I’m opposed to people being private about discovery, even though I understand it would be suicide to do the opposite. I love today’s emphasis on being open source, but we need more incentives for following through. Right now, you need to be altruistic or charitable to be open source.

There is no cost benefit. We don’t live in a world where individuals get rewarded for contributing to society. Instead, the message is, contribute to your own thing and you’ll be rewarded for it. Then use that money to contribute to society. That process is too slow in my mind.

For many companies, their value lies in their intellectual property. If you give that away, you’ve given away the value of your company. Imagine if everyone shared datasets. And what if you had people doing it to benefit humanity?

That would take global coordination and a redistribution of power, and I think that’s probably the biggest challenge of the next 100 years. I also believe AI will help with solving this, but that’s a whole another topic.

2. Supporting other women: Maria Konovalenko is one of my closest friends and one the most famous faces of regenerative medicine. I met her whilst I was working in biotech a few years back and to be honest, originally I found her to be very intimidating. She used every opportunity to publicly advocate for life extension.

When we first met, I was much more timid and didn’t know what to make of this. As I spent more time with her when she moved to the Bay Area, I came to find she’s vocal because she cares so much about wanting to solve aging.

She’s working on a PhD now and spends her days in a lab dissecting flies to test out ideas. She wakes up at 5 a.m., goes to the gym, and dissects flies all day.

At night, she’s advocating for life extension. In her spare time, she’s working on a book with Steve Aoki, called The Longevity Cookbook, that I’m also helping with. It’s a user-friendly book that people can read to learn more about the topic. I’m writing a chapter on how artificial intelligence will revolutionize biotech research, such as the use of neural networks to simulate drug discovery. I live for that kind of development.

What I’ve learned from my friendship with Maria, is the best thing we can do is speak up. I used to publish articles under a pseudonym. Now, I write under my own name as a female in the space in the hope that people can relate to me in some way.

3. I also want people to realize that you can be interested in these naturally academic areas and still have a lot of fun. I refuse to play up to the false idea that you have to be boring to be professional.

The environment in our office is extremely fun. By that, I don’t just mean we have a table-tennis table. If I think a brainstorming session would be better held at the Zoo, then I’ll hold it there. Life’s too precious to not enjoy every day that you get.

4. The next century will be critical for humanity’s progress. Doing my bit and speaking up about the challenges ahead is a responsibility that gets me out of bed every morning. At night, I think about all the future people of the world and the opportunities and risks ahead, how big the universe is and about different spectrums of time.

It makes trivial matters seem very small indeed.

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered,

and It Is Not What You Think

Johann Hari. Author of ‘Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments.

This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too.

But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her.

From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man.

From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer.

From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers.

One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop?

How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp.

I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it.

The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently?

So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War.

Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that.

Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park.

He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)

When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense — unless you take account of this new approach.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day.

If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief.

The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it.

So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place.

The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction.

If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn’t shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me — you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins.

You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.

But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre’s book The Cult of Pharmacology.

Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism — cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs.

This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction.

For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use.

It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world — and so leave behind their addictions.

This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it.

Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them — to their own feelings, and to the wider society.

The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.

The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent.

Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.

This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s — “only connect.”

But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before.

Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.

Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention — tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned.

It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction — and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever — to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.

When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

The full story of Johann Hari’s journey — told through the stories of the people he met — can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at

Johann will be speaking on August 26th in Edinburgh, in early September in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and in mid-September in Mexico City. For details of these events go to

The full references and sources for all the information cited in this article can be found in the book’s extensive end-notes.

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