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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Apr 11, 2019

Timothy Carey’s Method Of Levels teaches a form of psychotherapy based on perceptual control theory.

The Crackpot List is specific to physics. But if someone were to create one for psychiatry, Method of Levels would score a perfect 100%. It somehow manages to do okay on the physics one despite not discussing any physics.

The Method of Levels is the correct solution to every psychological problem, from mild depression to psychosis. Therapists may be tempted to use something other than the Method of Levels, but they must overcome this temptation and just use the Method of Levels on everybody. Every other therapy is about dismissing patients as “just crazy”, but the Method of Levels tries to truly understand the patient. Every other therapy is about the therapist trying to change the patient, but the Method of Levels is about the patient trying to change themselves. The author occasionally just lapses into straight-up daydreams about elderly psychologists sitting on the porch, beating themselves up that they were once so stupid as to believe in psychology other than the Method of Levels.

This book isn’t just bad, it’s dangerous. One vignette discusses a patient whose symptoms clearly indicate the start of a manic episode. The author recommends that instead of stigmatizing this person with a diagnosis of bipolar or pumping them full of toxic drugs, you should use the Method of Levels on them. This is a good way to end up with a dead patient.

like perceptual control theory. I share the author’s hope that it could one day be a theory of everything for the brain. But even if it is, you can’t use theories of everything to do clinical medicine. Darwin discovered a theory of everything for biology, but you can’t reason from evolutionary first principles to how to treat a bacterial infection. You should treat the bacterial infection with antibiotics. This will be in accordance with evolutionary principles, and there will even be some cool evolutionary tie-ins (fungi evolved penicillin as a defense against bacteria). But you didn’t discover penicillin by reasoning from evolutionary first principles. If you tried reasoning from evolutionary first principles, you might end up trying to make the bacteria mutate into a less dangerous strain during the middle of an osteomyelitis case or something. Just use actually existing clinical medicine and figure out the evolutionary justification for it later.