We don’t need more information. It’s imagination that we lack.

Image credit: h heyerlein

In 2016, I left my tech business to study mental health. Like so many in the industry, I was burning out, but looking back now, I know the issue ran deeper than that. My discomfort grew out of a crisis in faith — I wondered if the bits of code we were pushing out on the world were really changing it for the better, if the long days, the lousy sleep and constant anxieties meant anything to anyone.

Looking back, I probably needed therapy but I wasn’t ready to be helped. Instead, I decided to learn as much as I…

Why negative emotions hurt less in the East

Image by Tianshu Liu

Several years ago, a team of researchers puzzled over a paradox found in cross-cultural data on mental health. They called it the “East-West divide”. The paradox is that East Asians tend to report more negative emotions than European Americans and yet research suggests they have much lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Some argue that the paradox is not real, that it stems from flawed methods or non-disclosure due to high stigma in the East. Yet increasing evidence from other studies shows that while negative feelings correlate with worse mental and physical health in the West, the link is significantly…

After I signed up for one, I started to dig into their data. That’s when things got weird.

A photo of magic mushrooms, Psilocybe semilanceata, covered in frost.
A photo of magic mushrooms, Psilocybe semilanceata, covered in frost.
Magic mushrooms, Psilocybe semilanceata, covered in frost. Photo: Andrew Hasson/Getty Images

I’ve never been the kind of person to gush about mind-altering drugs. In fact, it takes only the slightest whiff of woo-woo to send me rolling my eyes — hard, with gleeful abandon. But when I tell people I’ll be taking a not-insignificant dose of psychedelics as part of a research study to treat depression, no shock ensues.

We live in a psychedelic renaissance where tripping for divine revelation or high productivity is fast becoming a trend. …

Do not innovate. Do not grow. Do not exit. And do not be a startup.

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“Our company fails the real world test in all kinds of ways.”

In the late 90s, a web designer called Jason Fried started a company with two friends in Chicago. The company’s name was 37Signals and like many others at the time, the trio redesigned people’s websites. But unlike their peers, the way they went about getting clients was distinctly odd. If you visited their website back then, you’d be at least mildly baffled by its plain, barren look and you’d search in vain for a portfolio of previous projects or client testimonials or anything in the way of bragging rights. In their place you’d find…

Do we need to delude ourselves to stay mentally healthy?

I once met an old lady from Florida whose name now eludes me, whose face I can’t remember at all, but whose capacity for delusion I’ll not forget, for never in my life have I envied anyone quite so much.

She was inching towards her 60s, maybe a little past, once a wife and a mother, now alone. Her husband had left for another, her children had grown up and gone.

She’d decamped to Florida and got herself a dog.

I felt sorry for her, and a little sad, and my own, rather nebulous troubles seemed suddenly puny. But the…

When he was in grad school, Dean Simonton wanted to study creativity and genius, but the way he went about it almost spelled his failure. Simonton had grown up reading the World Book encyclopedias, which his parents thought necessary for the child’s success in life. Between the covers of the venerable tomes, he discovered history’s most exalted artists and trailblazing inventors, and a question took root inside his mind: how does one become like those people?

The question wouldn’t go away and so for his doctoral thesis Simonton proposed to look at creativity not by studying college students in the…

How a pair of psychologists uncovered a link between isolation, the immune system, and our genes

Illustrations by Mariana Barakchieva

Like most scientists, Steve Cole didn’t believe things happened without reason. But no matter which variable he tested—and he tried all the usual suspects, from sleep to sex—nothing seemed to explain why the gay men were dying.

It was the late 1980s, the age that gave us the personal computer, the disposable contact lens, and The Simpsons — but also the Challenger explosion, the global stock market crash, and “new” Coke. AIDS was raging in the United States.

Cole was a young psychology researcher who’d landed on a study of 988 HIV-positive, AIDS-free gay men¹, and he was trying to…

How “bad genes” may actually make us stronger

Illustrations: Mariana Barakchieva

Not long ago in rural Maryland, a mere 50 miles from the bustle of downtown D.C., there was a lab in which a scientist and a few hundred rhesus macaque monkeys, over five decades, turned out gobs and gobs of data to decode what, ultimately, makes us who we are. The monkeys are gone now but their legacy lives on in some of the most remarkable science behind genes and mothering, evolution, and mental health.

Two things make rhesus macaques particularly suited for the job of studying humans: they share 95 percent of our DNA and exhibit personalities, just like…

The self-loathing that often strikes in adolescence can fuel our inner critics

Mariana Barakchieva

“You are 25 and already running your own business. Do you know how many people twice your age wish they could say that?”

My friend, a producer at the BBC, is baffled. I’ve just told her about my depression and how it’s only been getting worse since I co-founded a startup company two years earlier. She’s having none of it. In her mind, I’m living the life, and she’s stuck working for the man. I want to tell her that I’m drowning and losing it, fast. But she has that look on her face—one of genuine bewilderment on the cusp…

What we characterize as pathology may simply be part of the human experience

Illustrations: Mariana Barakchieva

On a recent visit to West Hampstead I passed a woman with a dog. She was mumbling something to herself, to the dog, or to no one—I couldn’t tell. She didn’t notice me. As I drew near, she snapped out of her reverie. Sorry, I’m a little crazy,” she said in a small voice.

Who isn’t? I called back, without turning. I didn’t expect her to hear me, but she answered.

“Thank you.”

I still think about this woman. Was she embarrassed? Apologetic? Matter-of-fact? Or maybe just vividly, unselfconsciously earnest the way kids can be, and also the crazy? …

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska

Social entrepreneur & editor of ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ — deeply personal stories by 13 authors & thinkers https://amzn.to/3dFG683

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