🎧 Prozac and ChatGPT: How Technology Is Changing the Way We See Ourselves

Psychiatrist Dr. Peter D. Kramer on how technology shapes our minds

TL;DR: Today we’re releasing a new episode of our podcast How Do You Use ChatGPT? I go in depth with Dr. Peter D. Kramer, psychiatrist and prolific author of eight books, including international bestseller Listening to Prozac. We dive into how ChatGPT is reshaping our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Watch on X or YouTube, or listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Antidepressants changed my life.

I have OCD, and antidepressants did what nearly a decade of therapy, meditation, and supplements couldn’t: They allowed me to live my life without being in a 24/7 spiral. (Bonus: They actually made therapy and meditation far more helpful once they started to work.)

I think antidepressants are seriously misunderstood. Yes, they blunt negative emotions. But they also operate on personality and sense of self: they can make you bolder, less sensitive to failure, and less risk-averse.

In short: They are a technology that changes how we see ourselves and the world.

That’s why I invited Dr. Peter D. Kramer on my show. Dr. Kramer is a psychiatrist and the author of eight books, including Listening to Prozac, which is an international bestseller. He has practiced psychiatry and taught psychotherapy at Brown University for nearly four decades.

Listening To Prozac is one of my favorite books, and it documents Dr. Kramer’s experiences as a psychiatrist seeing how antidepressants like Prozac changed his patients’ sense of self and personality.

Now, you might be wondering why have him on a show about ChatGPT? Well, technology can change who we are even if it comes as a software product rather than a pill. It’s undoubtedly true that as generations of humans learn to live with AI, it will change what it means to be human—and how we see ourselves and the world. I think that can be a good thing, but it could also be scary.

I wanted to talk to Dr. Kramer about his book, and see if we could apply some of his insights in Prozac to ChatGPT. It was an incredible conversation, and I was honored to talk to him. Here’s a taste:

  • We see the problems we know how to solve. In Listening to Prozac, Dr. Kramer writes that panic attacks were once an uncommon occurrence until a drug to treat them, Xanax, became widely available. “I think we really do see things that we have solutions for more,” Dr. Kramer says, an insight I share because ever since I noticed ChatGPT’s adeptness at summarizing, I see opportunities to summarize everywhere, from writing articles to framing emails.
  • We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. Dr. Kramer’s book also delves into how the discovery of lithium, which effectively treats manic depression but generally not schizophrenia, created a distinction between the two disorders. He explains that “technologies…seem to be illuminating about how human experience ought to be subdivided,” just as tools like ChatGPT are reframing the parts of ourselves, including our intelligence, that we perceive as uniquely human.

Another one of Dr. Kramer’s books, Should You Leave?, addresses fictional characters who are seeking advice on dilemmas of intimacy. He’s curious about AI’s ability to advise people on these matters based on its understanding of the consequences of human behavior. We put ChatGPT to the test in the exploratory segment of the interview, where my guest and I experiment with ChatGPT together. We present ChatGPT with a relationship problem and ask it to assume the role of psychiatrist Dr. Peter D. Kramer while advising us.

  • Present ChatGPT with your dilemma. We assume the persona of a 29-year-old woman who is hypersensitive to rejection and struggling with the feeling that her relationship with her boyfriend is one-sided. We ask ChatGPT about the general outcomes for women in this situation.
  • Ask ChatGPT what it needs to give you good advice. ChatGPT recommends introspection, setting personal boundaries, and then evaluating the relationship based on these actions. Dr. Kramer thinks that ChatGPT has “captured the cultural consensus,” but the suggestions are generic, so we prompt ChatGPT for specific advice about how long we should let the relationship go on by querying what information it would need to give us an effective answer.
  • Remind ChatGPT to slow down. ChatGPT poses a series of questions in order to gather more context, and in response, we share that our character’s boyfriend is often distracted by other women at restaurants and lacks shared interests with her. We request ChatGPT to ask us one question at a time if it isn’t ready to give us advice.
  • Clearly indicate the tone you want ChatGPT to take. Even after some back and forth, ChatGPT is so noncommital that Dr. Kramer jokes that he thinks it’s afraid it’s “going to get sued.” We instruct it to be direct and ask it to inform our patient how many weeks we should give the relationship before ending it.
  • Question ChatGPT’s rationale. After ChatGPT proposes a specific time frame, Dr. Kramer is curious how it arrived at that conclusion, so we simply ask ChatGPT for its reasoning.

You can check out the episode on X, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or YouTube. Links and timestamps are below:

  1. Introduction: 00:50
  2. How technology changes the way we see ourselves and the world: 08:24
  3. Antidepressants and their impact on our personality and sense of self: 21:25
  4. How the availability of a technological solution prompts us to see the problem everywhere: 26:35
  5. Technology alters the categories we have divided the world into: 34:06
  6. How I use ChatGPT in my writing process: 40:05
  7. Experimenting with ChatGPT to get relationship advice: 45:41
  8. Prompting ChatGPT to be more specific: 51:16
  9. Clearly indicate the tone you want ChatGPT to take: 55:11
  10. Dr. Peter D. Kramer’s final thoughts on ChatGPT as a therapist: 1:02:27

What do you use ChatGPT for? Have you found any interesting or surprising use cases? We want to hear from you—and we might even interview you. Reply here to talk to me!

Miss an episode? Catch up on my recent conversations with investor Jesse Beyroutey, a16z Podcast host Steph Smith, economist Tyler Cowen, writer and entrepreneur David Perell, Notion engineer Linus Lee, and others, and learn how they use ChatGPT.

If you’re enjoying my work, here are a few things I recommend:

If you’re interested in learning more about antidepressants or how technology changes who we are I recommend:

The transcript of this episode is for paying subscribers.

Thanks to Rhea Purohit for editorial support.

Dan Shipper is the cofounder and CEO of Every, where he writes the Chain of Thought column and hosts the podcast How Do You Use ChatGPT? You can follow him on X at @danshipper and on LinkedIn, and Every on X at @every and on LinkedIn.

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