Artists Are Drug-Taking Heroes. Athletes Inspire with Sobriety.

Why does our belief in the ability of drugs to enhance the achievements of artists stop with artists? Isn't reaching new physical heights just as inspiring as a lyric that tells us some truth creatively?

As someone who dabbles in the arts myself, I find it disheartening each time the media glorify a famous artist who's gone off the rails due to drugs and alcohol. The most recent example that comes to mind is Amy Winehouse, though that probably marks me a little behind the times (sorry, grad school happened). As the sad joke goes, the sale price of an artist's work jumps as soon as he or she passes on. And when that demise is a result of substance abuse, a famous artist becomes legendary.

When famous athletes like Lance Armstrong use drugs, on the other hand, they are sued endlessly by tournaments and competitions who want to recoup millions of dollars in prize winnings. So why does our belief in the ability of drugs to enhance the achievements of artists stop with artists? There is apparently some barrier in the mind that is transcended when an artist takes drugs, so why don't we allow athletes to transcend their physical limitations? Isn't reaching new physical heights just as inspiring (at least for some) as a lyric that tells us some truth creatively?

Anke Snoek, who studies the ways that drug addiction affects our moral self-valuations, argues that a society always needs heroes, but different kinds of heroes for different occasions. She explains the difference between the artist and athlete drug binge over at Oxford University's Practical Ethics:

In a sportsperson, we admire discipline, and very controlled behavior — we like them to excel within a certain set of rules. In an artist, we admire someone who makes new rules; we are excited by erratic behavior, independence from societal norms, and originality.

Snoek argues that doping in the arts isn't considered doping because, ultimately, it doesn't really help. Artists who begin abusing drugs and alcohol, rather than using them to self-medicate, typically meet unfortunate ends. We treat the body and the mind differently, says Snoek, and the self-medicating of artists doesn't help one run faster or jump higher — just get higher.

In his Big Think interview, American novelist and National Book Award-winning author Robert Stone explains why literature itself functions like a drug, altering our state of consciousness, letting in the artist who shares his or her altered state with us (whether it's drug-inspired or not).

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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