Not-Yet-Fully-Formed Brain Areas

H/T Audrey Silk,

“[M]ost smokers first try cigarettes as youth, before the areas of their brain responsible for rational decision-making and risk perception have been fully formed. For these reasons, smoking should not be viewed as a rational behavior.”

Lots of things to chew over in this passage.

I tried my first cigarettes during my childhood, as a puff or two on one of my father’s while he smoked them, and I didn’t like them. I also didn’t like gin or whisky he drank. I didn’t much like girls either. It was only when I had reached the age of 18 or 20 that I found that I now liked all the things that I didn’t much like when I was 10.

And I’m always a bit puzzled about these “areas of the brain” that are somehow not “fully formed” until someone has reach the age of 18, or maybe 21, or perhaps even 47. When I was about 7 years old, I was told by my proud parents that I had reached “the age of reason” – but I had not recently experienced some profound revelation during which I had learned to count or to add. As far as I was concerned, I was as rational at the age of seven as I was at the age of six.

As far as my own experience goes, it seems to me that I have had the same mind/brain from birth, much as I have the same eyes, and I have used it to slowly build up skill and experience and knowledge. One of the earliest skills I acquired was that of walking, and later talking. I sometimes wonder, given that I have no memories of anything I saw before the age of 18 months, that I maybe also acquired the skill of seeing around that time. To the basic set of walking-talking-seeing skills I was then provided with reading-writing-arithmetic skills, swimming and bicycle-riding and shoelace-tying skills.  I also slowly grew taller. As time went on, I learned more and more about the world in which I lived. And I’m still learning today. The learning process is unending. But none of that entails any “formation” of “areas of the brain” that I know of. In fact, to speak in this manner seems to me to be a way of de-legitimising people, by saying “their brains aren’t fully formed enough to understand” whatever insight/knowledge the speaker possesses.

And also, in what sense is any behaviour “rational”? In Idle Theory, people act rationally to increase their idleness, and thereby increase their freedom, wealth, and longevity. But what people do in their idle time need not be particularly “rational”. They do things that they enjoy doing.

Rational behaviour seems to me to be entail working using some means towards some end: something needs to be done – a lightbulb replaced -, and so a new one is found from the cupboard and screwed into place. But there are a great many activities which are not means to some end, but are ends in themselves. They don’t need to be done. Smoking cigarettes or drinking beer are such activities. Sitting in a pub, drinking a beer, and smoking a cigarette is an end in itself. It’s not a means to an end. Equally, activities like reading a novel or playing cards or going for a walk or a swim are ends in themselves. All art and music and poetry is an end in itself. Dance is an end in itself. They’re all idle time activities in which people can engage, or not engage. And there’s nothing particularly “rational” about any of them.

If it is the antismoker’s insistence that people would not take up smoking if they were capable of rational decision-making and risk assessment, then it seems to me that they wouldn’t take up beer-drinking, pub-going, card-playing, novel-reading, poetry-writing, picture-painting, hill-walking, sea-swimming, or waltz-dancing either. The antismoker seems to be insisting that we only do what needs to be done – like changing a lightbulb – and that we should desist from any activity that is unnecessary – like cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking, card-playing, and any of the countless other unnecessary activities that people engage in.

All of which reminds me, once again, of Dr W, the first antismoker I ever encountered. For, apart from his occasional rants against smoking, he was a man who seemed singularly incapable of pleasure. Not only did he not smoke or drink, but he didn’t go to pubs, or play cards, or read books, or paint pictures, or go for walks. He didn’t even read newspapers or watch TV. When he got home from his work – he was some sort of district health officer – he would take off his suit, put on some old trousers and boots, and head off into the garden to work on the beans and cabbages and chickens that he raised there. And when darkness had fallen, he’d potter around the house doing odd jobs that needed doing. Or he’d sit at the desk that he kept at home, poring over medical papers (he was very active in the BMA). And he never laughed. He hardly ever even smiled. And when he did, it was a sardonic smile, with the corners of his mouth hitched up for the required duration.

Contrast that with my mother, who when she got home from her teaching job, would change, get out her paints and work on her paintings, or sing along with Frank Sinatra, or play piano, read books, and drink Cinzano. Or my father, who when he came home from his managerial job, would change into casual clothes, sit down in an armchair with a Pink Gin and a cigarette, and read Time or the Brazil Herald, before taking us all out in his car to the beach or the cinema or some restaurant. And they were both capable of smiling and laughing. In fact they were both capable of gales of laughter. And so were all their friends, who would occasionally come round to one of the parties they threw, and themselves smoke and drink and laugh all evening.

Dr W lived a life that was all work, no play. When he’d finished his day job, he started on his evening jobs. Most likely everything he was doing was highly rational. He never did anything in the least bit irrational or playful. But my parents (and their friends) enjoyed their after-hours idle time. They played hard. When they got home, they’d start doing things they enjoyed doing for their own sake, not as means to some end.

But then maybe at the age 35 or 40, the “areas of the brain” that they needed for “rational decision-making and risk perception” had still yet to be “fully formed.”


About Frank Davis

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42 Responses to Not-Yet-Fully-Formed Brain Areas

  1. Surely ‘youth’ in the context of the quote must mean 16-18 year olds? It can’t refer to anyone over the age of 18 as they can vote and what could be more indicative of having reached an age of intellectual maturity than being able to discern which party one should cast one’s vote for?

    …. Oh silly me, of course American youths are excluded from that particular consideration as they are obviously mature enough aged 18 to vote for their president (as long as they make the ‘right choice’ i assume) die for their country (or commit acts of genocide on innocent natives following the Religion Of Peace) but are only able to make a rational decision to drink after the age of 21.
    I suppose American youths’ brains mature more slowly. I blame Trump….or the CIA…or both.

  2. Frank Davis says:


    WHO, What and Why? Transnational Government, Legitimacy and
    the World Health Organization



    80 page pdf

    1 Introduction 1
    2 The WHO and its mission 7
    3 The mission betrayed? 13
    4 The accession of Dr Brundtland 17
    1 The policy document 19
    2 Side-stepping the donors 20
    3 Derek Yach 21
    5 The tobacco free initiative 29
    6 What should we think about tobacco? 41
    7 The framework convention on tobacco control 47
    8 National commissions 51
    9 The war on tobacco 56
    10 Conclusion 60
    About the IEA 62

    Why be interested in the World Health Organization and its
    attack on the tobacco industry? First, because the controversy over
    tobacco is of enormous social, political and fiscal importance, and
    has yet to be clearly stated and assessed. Secondly because the
    WHO has added to the confusion, by proposing massive legislative
    measures with no democratic mandate. The story that I tell in
    the following pages is meant as a warning. More and more legislation
    issues from bodies that are not accountable to those whom
    they seek to control. Only if we are aware of what this means in a
    particular case can we understand the more general threat to our
    freedom. To understand the particular case is hard, however. The
    facts are elusive, and there has been a lack of transparency among
    those who debate them. I have therefore had to wrestle with some
    difficult and abstruse material, and am very grateful for the help
    provided by Daniel Stander, in pursuing references and carrying
    out research. I am also grateful to those who read the pamphlet for
    the IEA and who made helpful suggestions. Any remaining mistakes
    are of course my own.
    roger scruton
    Malmesbury, April 2000

    • nisakiman says:

      That’s the first time I’ve read that, Frank (in between eating and watching a movie), which is surprising, given when it was written. And despite it having been written 16 years ago, it is still relevant; prescient, even. Excellent. Thanks for the link.

  3. C.F. Apollyon says:

    Animal migrations and direction(s). Not just/only vibration(s)/wave(s)…but pressure(s) and pressure(s) over times. This might help as to why there is not a coalescing at the equator. Equate…or…

    Mid-Atlantic ridge, mid-ocean ridge/ocean ridges and rifts, currents, biomass and ocean “blooms” and migrations, Coriolis Force, and thermal/convective activity. Also think about things like the wave of deep ocean creatures rising through the water column to shallower waters at night and then back down as day approaches, as the sun rises and sets around/across the world. Think gravity/gravities and magnetism/magnetisms. (Life) – running to, and away, from light(s). Chemosynthesis, Photosynthesis, and so on.
    Chemosynthesis + Photosynthesis = CPSynthesis
    Photosynthesis + Chemosynthesis = PCSynthesis
    PCSynthesis + CPSynthesis = PCCPSynthesis
    CPSynthesis + PCSynthesis = CPPCSynthesis

    “Airborne Plate Tectonics” that operate in different times and time than does other matter that is more or less fluidic over time and times. Ripples and rifts.

    I bet a biologist could help out with things like charge and charges of the micro to macro.
    1 Individual Microbe of a Certain Set.
    1 Set of Individual Microbes.
    1 + 1 = 3

    • Harleyrider1978 says:

      Mike once wrote second smoke harm is like believing a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Australia caused hurricane Katrina

      • C.F. Apollyon says:

        I wouldn’t say that a butterfly flapping it’s wings or not flapping it’s wings caused or didn’t cause something. But nor would I say that it didn’t nor did. But I bet we could track all kinds of things through time that led to this that led to that and so on.

        That said, maybe the butterfly rolling in or unrolling it’s antennae? Yep…that’s prolly more a likely cause/likely scenario. ;-)

        Mysteries are mysterious.

      • Harley, yes, thanks for the reminder on that!

        Butterflies are ALSO important in terms of all the people they kill more directly! Just imagine: Poor Mrs. Quimby and her toddler are standing at an intersection. Mrs. Q. is momentarily distracted by the toddler’s giggle as a butterfly lands on the little one’s cute button nose. As a result she steps off the curb while forgetting to check traffic sufficiently and she and the toddler end up under the wheels of a speeding trolley car!


        There is clearly No Safe Level of exposure to these MONSTERS, and Something Must Be Done.

        – MJM

        • Harleyrider1978 says:


        • C.F. Apollyon says:

          You think butterflies can’t be monsters?

          When I was on my first “solo cross-country” flight when training for my pilot’s license? I encountered a Monarch Butterfly @ 3,000 feet that scared me so fucking bad, I’ve often recounted that the butterfly was as well have been Rodan…because it appeared so suddenly, and seemed as tho it was going to fill my windshield completely.

          But yeah, Monarchs migrate through this neck of the woods a coupla times a year. And yes, they sometimes fly VERY high. I mean…not like…on drugs…but altitude.

          Things happen very fast at those speeds in an airplane. Especially when you factor in the relative motions of the wind and winds, relative to the motions of the aircraft flying in what is typically called 3-dimensional space, or on/in 3-axises. I call it 7-dimensional space because of the time elements of each axis plus a “master time”…and when you add a second “traveler” to the mix, suddenly you have 14 dimensions + (2 + 2). But that’s just me. It gets even more wacked out from there. ;-)

          You can learn a great deal from a butterfly. Even in the briefest of relationships on the briefest of timelines. My encounter with that Monarch was prolly less than 2 seconds…24+ years ago. ;-)

          ^Deadmau5 – Not Exactly (1080p) || HD^

        • Harleyrider1978 says:

          Mostra the giant moth versus Godzilla

  4. garyk30 says:

    Smoking proves that kids can not make rational choices?

    But, how many kids actually try smoking and end up being lifetime smokers.

    Only about 1 in 350 kids.

    Each day, more than 4,000 kids under the age of 18 try their first cigarette and another 1,100 become regular, daily smokers.

    There are about 70 million kids under 18 in the USA.
    1,100 per day makes about 1 per 175 of the 70 million start smoking.

    Since there are more ex- smokers than smokers, it can be said that half will quit.

    That gives about 1 in 350 become lifelong smokers.

    Brain development and rational thinking have little to do with this matter.

    Another thought.
    If only 1 in 4 kids that try a cig continue smoking; obviously, cigs are not very addictive.

  5. Rhys says:

    One of the reasons that this prohibition has gone so far is that at the outset it was stated that smokers are addicts, non-rational, possibly non compos mentis, or most likely – possessed by the demon nicotine. That let them exclude us from any discussions of a smoking ban. We’ve never had a proper voice in this. It’s the ‘rational adults’ at public health who must make our decisions for us.

    • “That let them exclude us from any discussions of a smoking ban. ” Rhys, exactly. That’s one of the “arguments of last resort” I’ve seen out on the boards since the late 1980s: Once an Antismoker is fully backed into a corner with nowhere to go as they futilely try to defend the nonsense-science they depend on, they’ll just huffily announce, “Hmph. There’s no sense trying to reason with an addict. I see no reason to continue this discussion and will no longer respond.”

      Cute, eh?

      – MJM

  6. Frank, can you even begin to imagine all the brain areas of Antismokers that are not yet fully formed? And which are unlikely to EVER be fully formed. It’s sad and unfortunate, and I don’t think there’s even a single charitable organization out there dedicated to helping these benighted creatures.


  7. Rose says:

    They do come up with some drivel to explain their failures don’t they?

  8. Aged 14 or so I tried a cigarette or two ‘behind the bike sheds’ (or rather on the way home from Karate with my mate ‘Mark’). Didn’t like it and looking cool wasn’t worth the beating i would have gotten from my parents, and there were better things i could have spent what little pocket money i got on.
    Even at 6th form college aged 18 I was one of the few who didn’t smoke. Then my first Xmas away from home, staying in a house full of young *cough* ladies with my then steady, there was a Xmas party (imagine the last days of the Roman Empire on Merrydown and home made Austrian Xmas cookies). At some point in the evening some girl offered me a smoke and -i assume-because i fancied getting in her knickers I took it. It was a ‘Consulate’ menthol and whilst i wasn’t keen on the taste of the menthol (a childhood in Norfolk with the accompanying colds every winter had left me with a natural dislaike of anything that tastes of cold cure) the tobacco taste was amazing, almost better than sex, I was hooked from the first drag (not over the lungs, that took training). Within in a week i was on 2 packs a day, shortly after that up to 5. After 3 days I ditched the menthols for a manly smoke.
    I have heard a lot of similar stories from a lot of smokers over the years. I have no proof, just a feeling that those who dislike cigs as children , find them beyond pleasurable as adults. Or in other words, “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”.
    Maybe the ability to enjoy tobacco is something that comes to most of us with reaching the age of majority? Maybe smoking is a sign of mental maturity?
    Dunno but think about how you started. If you didn’t start after that fag behind the bike sheds (no Harley, nothing homosexual) , did you start as an adult who tried…and promptly fell head over heels in love with the Goddess Nicotinia ?

    • Rose says:

      BD, I was a natural non smoker, knowing tobacco’s close relationship to the other nightshade vegetables from my Mother’s pre 50’s gardening books, I couldn’t see any point in it. Neither did I fear it. When they told me at school that the manufacturers put road tar in cigarettes I took them seriously and wondered for some years what possible advantage that could be.
      Standing once too often next to an anti-smoking poster depicting a phial dripping black oil, while waiting for a lift home, I came to the startling conclusion that they were lying, no matter how unwittingly.
      So the next day, to my friends amazement, I asked her for a cigarette, I had to know why they were lying and what they were lying about.
      I was very bad at learning to smoke and it took me a long time to master it, but it took me a great many more years and the Smoking Ban to stir me into properly finding out.
      I was 18.

      • Frank Davis says:

        @Rose, it was a similar loss of trust that started me smoking. When Dr W, in whose house I was staying, started shouting one night about smoking as a “filthy” habit, I realised that his objection to it wasn’t rational or scientific or medical, but was instead irrational, emotional, and concerned with aesthetics. He hated it. I think he’d suffered from TB at one stage in his life, and perhaps had reason to hate it. But once I realised that the objection was irrational, my fears about smoking evaporated. But for Dr W, I might never have started smoking at all.

        Which makes me wonder how many people are taking up smoking these days, when the antismoking hysteria is at an insane height, for the exact same reason we did.

        • Rose says:

          If something controversial looks like it’s about to be taken away, I suppose that it’s only human nature to try it before it disappears forever.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Like you, I didn’t like cigarettes when I was younger than about 15. I didn’t start behind the bike shed (or in my case the pill box) either. That was just an exercise in breaking school rules. I started after I’d met Dr W, and thought he was a nutter, and stopped taking antismoking advice seriously. I bought my first packet of cigarettes when I was 18, maybe 19, in 1967, and quite liked them. But I hardly ever bought any. I probably bought about 3 packs in one year.

      I only really started smoking regularly when, like you, I discovered Consulate menthol cigarettes, which were much easier on my throat and lungs than Woodbines. I loved them. I was soon up to 5 or 10 Consulate a day. And stayed that way for a couple of years or more, mostly smoking with friends in cafes and bars. But then one day, quite suddenly, I found I no longer liked Consulate. Maybe they changed the way they made them, but I could barely smoke a single one. I tried others (Kool?), but eventually, after being shown how to hand roll cigarettes, I started smoking roll-ups in about 1974 – and have been smoking them ever since. Half an ounce a day. Or 12.5 g. Regular as clockwork, pretty much. I’m not sure what current consumption is. They used to be Old Holborn for many years, but 7 or 8 years ago I started find Old Holborn a bit too strong, so now it’s mostly Golden Virginia.

  9. after being shown how to hand roll cigarettes
    After walking around the town with a horrible hangover early one morning and a 2oz of DRUM , or it might have been Samson, asking complete strangers to roll me a cigarette (and take one for themselves of course, I was brought proper n’all) I finally swallowed my pride and asked my dear ol’ Dad- what could roll one handed (Oh the blessings of a London childhood spent nicking books from Public Library and spending all day on the Tube cos it was warm and you could smoke) to show me how. Still took me bloody ages to roll rather than fold.
    Incase anyone is interested, he told me the key to a good rollup is getting a really even spread and not over rolling.
    These days i don’t normally roll but as luck would have it someone kindly gave me a bag of 200gs of very fine cut tobacco from Turkey so the last couple of days I’ve been smoking that – at around 4 times your daily dose Frank (12.5g of GV a day isn’t smoking-it’s foreplay :P).

    • Rose says:

      I still haven’t learned to hand roll, I use a rolling machine.

    • Frank Davis says:

      12.5g of GV a day isn’t smoking-it’s foreplay :P


      Actually, in the London Hospitals study, half an ounce of tobacco a day was the threshold between ‘light’ smoking and ‘heavy’ smoking.

      And I need both hands to roll a cigarette. I can’t even begin to imagine how anyone can roll one one-handed.

      • Only the actual rolling was done one handed (must be almost impossible to make an entire rollie using just one hand). Like learning to whistle, throw a knife, riffle shuffle cards and steal hub caps I assume one handed rolling was, on the bombsites, a valuable life skill to be acquired.
        I’ve seen a couple of other ‘weird’ hand rolling methods. One was my Parisian GF who put several creases in the paper and folded more than rolled, the other was someone who used to do the actual rolling behind palms or rather flat finger tips onto palm -like clapping.
        And Rose I contend that you can really only make a perfect roll up using a rolling machine-and one of the antique sorts at that- the ones with grooved metal Rollers not cloth or plastic membrane.

        • Frank Davis says:

          So how is a roll-up rolled one handed? Between thumb and fingers? Where is the paper placed with the tobacco on it?

        • To be honest I can’t remember exactly how he did it (it was 30 years ago and i was more interested in learning how to roll ‘normally’) but I think it was thumb against middle and ring. As always Youtube has videos….

  10. Marvin says:

    In your description of Dr W as “a man who seemed singularly incapable of pleasure” you’ve hit the nail on the head!!

    He suffered from what Dr Wilhelm Reich called “pleasure anxiety” and it is, quite literally, that.

    Because of an overly strict upbringing, instead of feeling pleasure, they feel anxiety and to avoid the anxiety, all sources of pleasure are avoided.

    “Not only did he not smoke or drink, but he didn’t go to pubs, or play cards, or read books, or paint pictures, or go for walks” and I would add to that, “or have a normal healthy sexual life”.

    Imagine living a life like that, no wonder there is such hatred shown to anyone who enjoys themselves. I suppose you should feel sorry for such people, but I find that hard personally after all the destruction they have caused.

  11. waltc says:

    I think by the time you’re 13 you know about all there is to know, and after you’ve had sex, you know the rest. Of course what TC means is that you haven’t yet considered that you might drown if you swim in the ocean, or get paralyzed if you play football, herpes if you have sex, and cirrhosis or lung cancer 60 years after your first beer and cigarette. If you thought like TC, you’d likely never do anything. What blithely irrational youth understands is that “Present mirth hath present laughter.”

    Btw, I liked all those things the very first time I tried them

  12. margo says:

    I liked smoking the first time I tried it, and I was the one who had the fags (nicked from my mum) that we all shared behind the bike shed.
    Actually, it might be quite rational to smoke – if you read that Parkinsons and Alzheimers are less common among smokers (as I’ve read) and you consider that these two conditions are not what you want in old age and are certainly worse than death from other quite common causes (which may or may not – probably not – be caused by smoking).

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