Scientific American recently reported on research on the effects of tobacco and coffee on the brain. It turns out that there’s something in tobacco and coffee that helps keep dopamine cells healthy, which means that we may be on the verge of figuring out why coffee-drinkers and smokers tend to have a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. This reinforces what I’ve always thought: value judgements suck.
This could be great news for those who suffer from a variety of dopamine-related illnesses, but I think the most interesting bit is that there’s something good about coffee and tobacco. It’s not caffeine or nicotine, but there’s something else in these substances that seems to be quite beneficial. This is interesting because of how generally reviled coffee and tobacco are (especially the latter). It’s an important lesson we all need to learn: just because something seems bad doesn’t mean there’s nothing good about it.
Too often we make foolish value judgements based on how we use something rather than on the thing itself. We drink too much coffee and get sick, so we blame coffee. And we identify tobacco as a bad substance because we smoke the stuff and get cancer. This is, of course, ridiculous. Plants are neither good nor bad. These are only labels we put on things to make ourselves feel better when we screw up. We smoke excessively, we ignore the warnings of doctors, we get cancer and die. And thus tobacco becomes “bad,” when rather it’s us who are being stupid. And thus labelled, curiosity about it’s potentially beneficial uses are ignored completely.
I have to wonder, if it weren’t for the stigma attached to, say, tobacco over the last few decades, would we have found out long ago about the benefits of some elements of tobacco to dopamine production? And would we now have better medicines for diseases like Parkinson’s?
It bothers me immensely that the answers to these questions could very well be “Yes.”
We need to stop making value judgements about things, because they make us stupid.