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November 28, 2005

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The beginning of enlightment comes from the realization,"But this could happen to me, and I wouldn't like it!". Still, hizzoner may be onto something. Dishonest think tankers, lobbyists, high rollin' welfare queen "entrepreneurs", sanctimonious embezzlers and their pet poetasters should wear dunce caps to work. They could be fined for any damage to the caps, as an incentive to take ownership for their crimes, and display some sense of personal responsibility. The inherent virtues that elevated them, once, make it certain they could benefit more from the pillory than other folk.

Would you say that shaming falls under the rehabilitation or punishment theory of justice for criminal offenses? The law certainly doesn't prescribe such sentences, so I imagine we are left to the creativity and discretion of the judge.

Wonder what would happen if more judges started imposing creative and appropriate sentencing. Imagine Martha being required to publicly admit her crimes and bet the public for forgiveness.

Satire is judge, jury, and executioner. Our noble trade is fully in the spirit of the times: Brutal. Branding is not restricted to products.

Yes, but how much better to have it part of a public ritual. A new cabinet post of Satirist General to preside over public executions (no capital punishment please, just humiliations).

Satirist General was pretty close to Swift's role when his party was in power. Satire from the top down can be repressive, but from the Dumpster up it is more like Carnival, the serf's symbolic revenge.

But you admire Swift's use of satire, right? Did it change in color or temperment when they were in power?

Maybe he and his circle were waging a losing war against modern market driven democracy; they detested Grub Street and the middle class reading public, yet they toyed with it as we do with Google. Swift would satirize the popular forms, as in Guillver's Travels, but would get caught up in it too and enjoy himself in the process, as did Gay in satirizing light opera by writing one.

They did, arguably, their best work when they spoke a language everyone could understand. It does a wingnut no good to be able to pretend not to understand the extent of the opprobrium he has brought on himself.

I had a strange feeling as I started the final chapter of The New Brain. Much of what he has to say throughout the entire book is very positive about what great benefitial breakthroughs are just around the corner in neuroscience and I wanted to say but wait just a minute, then he delivers the temporing realities and limitations. A section in the final chapter is "We can do it, but should we".


... Should we modify our concepts of freedom and personal responsibility on the basis of findings that some criminals have abnormal brains? Questions such as these are prividing the impetus for the development of a brand new area of neuroscientific exploration: neuroethics.

Neuroethics is concerned with the moral and ethical issues arising from new, brain-related scientific findings. It attempts to predict and respond to the social consequences of future advances in neuroscience. If a PET scan can reliably detect lying, should suspected criminals be forced to submit to the test? ... Job applicants? ...

Despite the undisputable value of subjecting neuroscientific advances to ethical scrutiny, it's probably naive to think that neuroethics is going to privide easy anwers to hard questions. Neuroethical dilemmas are certin to arise that will defy our most determined efforts at achieving satisfactory solutions to complex issues. In one example, consider the relationship between child abuse and later development of antisocial personalities and violence.


He goes on with some details about the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAOA). The short version is that low MAOA is corelated with increase violence in humans and animals including a case of a family with multiple instances of a defective gene for MAOA. That defect is quite rare, but other factors can lead to depressed MAOA (probably a combo of environment and genetic short of the complete lack of a functioning MAOA gene). The kicker is that the expression of disproportional violence measured by criminal acts doesn't show up unless the individual has been abused as a child.

Then he asks whether you "would hold the prisoner with the genotype ofr low MAOA activity not guilty and set him free? or whould you consider him guilty but less so than his counterpart, and take the genetic information into accound at the time of sentencing?"

and then:

Other uncharterd waters involve "a whole series of physicotechnologies that are going to be incorporated into our very flesh, that will become part of who we are," according to bioethicist Paul Wolpe. And as Richard Gregory of Pal Bach-y-Rita discoverd with their blind subjects who regained vision, unpredictable emotional responses can occur in some people who were thought to benefit from atttempts to help them. Some technological interventions may even bring about a fundamental revision in a person's self-concept.


I am quite impressed that such a strong science/technology guy is also very clear on what conclusions should not be drawn, and that some answers are fundamentally not answerable that way. The overall structure of his book and thinking suggests that rehabilitation rather than punishment is indicated. Any brain can be retrained within limits, and some of those limits can be reduced with technology. What if we had a medical way to increase MAOA activity? That would make it a lot easier for those with low MAOA to be rehabilitated, and a lot more likely that it would work.

On the other hand, Candidia is working on a test to screen out the unproductive members of her workforce, as well as how to do lie detecting brain scans non-intrusively, so be careful what you say when you are sitting in her office. When the techs get it working she plans on complete campus coverage, not be mention the portable units for placing on street corners.

I wonder if brain scans can detect self-delusions or mass psychosis. It seems somewhere in here you need epistemology, as well as neuro-ethics.

If I understand the implications correctly, they can tell the difference between self-delusion and outright deception and lying. The basic idea is that the brain responds in a certain characteristic way to things it knows to be true. Faces it recognizes, and so on. Lying requires that specific circuits activate to overcome that response. It would indeed be useful to be able to separate the fools from the knaves.

In an unjust country, some people have a need to lie on a regular basis. And it's already easy to separate the fools from the knaves. The problem is people keep insisting that they can't be all that bad. I doubt we'll see any Rumsfelds or Clintons offering to be scanned. But if we did, what would become of them? They'd declare it was junk science, their followers would believe them, and then they'd order several dozen suites of the equipment for their torture facilities.

As someone who's lived years at the skinniest edge of the bell-curve of acceptability I'd have to weigh in as sketched on any metric that relies on majority data. It's like they build things for most people. Which is fine for most people.
If you're 7'2" or 3'6"- and people are, people are - too bad for you.
I imagine the William Blake of 2015, in his late teens next year, caught up in some narko-fascist round-up, and the soulless labcoats run him through their fail-safe machine.
Only he's at that pre-enlightenment threshold where everything looks bogus and false, because it is, it is, and he's realized the English language is a turk's-head of spells and symbolic intrigue and so mistrusts any speech even as he writes his soul out onto the page in blank verse most nights until dawn, and he's a late-teen male - so his head swirls with hormonally-charged images of the near-unspeakable.
I don't want that kid subjected to the scientific fondling of men and women who would slice open the skulls of living chimpanzees just to gain some "insight" into the workings of primate brains that they could then apply to fortune-making technologies.
It's the same with the mass distribution of CCTV cams. Yes they potentially make for a safer world, but only in the sense that the absence of provable danger is a kind of safety.
It's the unprovable dangers that are getting us, and are going to.
The day is coming when an arm's merchant's daughter will have bred for her especially a swift-fox/Jack Russell cross because she saw a show that said the swift fox had become extinct, and that made her sad. Ho-hum.
Natural risk proves to have been safer all along than this constantly-increasing protection we've been brainwashed into thinking we can't live without.
And there will never be a way to prove the existence of Blakean mutants in order to vouchsafe them passage through the Satanic mazes of the behaviorist security apparatus.
The far-outliers are the seed corn of the race. And they won't ever fit the metric profile.

If you had scanned the head of Christopher Columbus prior to his voyage would it have revealed that he knew the world was flat? I suspect so. We will some thoughts, some visions into being. We are at that stage today in America with social justice. We will a falsehood into truth through our own actions.

The far-outliers are the seed corn of the race. And they won't ever fit the metric profile.

Yes, and I think the idea of metric profiling breaks down long before it becomes ubiquitous. I agree it is a risk, but one that is not that hard to see either. The moments that Satan cannot find may grow fewer and more precious, but they are always there and pregnant with possibility.

BTW, one of the key messages of Restak's book is that non-invasive imaging, primarily fMRI, can make for more humane reseach methodoligies. I don't want to open the animal research debate here, and although there may be ethical problems remaining in this area, it is also unfair to discredit any researcher because of these questions.

It might be interesting to know if the outliers actually do have different brain organizations, or to discover that many geniuses have unique characteristics. Restak is clear to show both that all brains are plastic enough to change organization from intense and prolonged training and practice, but also that we don't and may never know what makes for unique gifts and talents, the individual who only takes a few months or years to attain proficiency and then mastery that would take anyone else years or decades. This sort of exceptional talent is very rare indeed, the rest of us must study and practice for a long time. Even among the dumpster crowd, who I would guess average a few dozen points above the global mean in IQ the same is true.

WB 'Mean IQ' distribution:
Extraordinarily Mean / Extremely Mean / Very Mean / Mean / Kind of Mean / Hardly Mean / Kind

It is a normal distribution, but not a normal group of people. Many standard deviations, and a few nonstandard too.

'Scuse me, fellers, cuz Drew P.'s all agitated over a possibility and will not stop yammerin' less'n I pass it on:If I get no dumber and no smarter over a lifetime will my IQ score passively rise because of a falling mean?The top Drawer has spoken. As you were, gents.

Gerry-
Ubiquity's a situational attribute, a temporary condition.
A lot of what we murkily describe as current dynamic would be possibly more accurately viewed as pre-Galapagian.
So that given motives and desired results are meaningless, except as raps of salesmanship and the hooks of deal-clinching rebate.
Fear has been the great political goad of the last few years, but now there aren't many who see that as having much, if any, validity.
All the well-intentioned lab time in the universe won't change the foundation's interface with what was here before it was laid. What's under the building is dark.
There was this picture in the 70's of Ken Kesey bobbing in some Alaskan cove all balooned-up in a then-prototypical cold water survival suit.
The nuance was there'd been some acquired research from the Mengelians used to design it. So the debate was - do we throw it all away and never look? Or do we go on, using everything we're given regardless of how it was gained?
The same thing kept foundering alliances in the early days of the invisible war. The children of the settled and prosperous pioneers were affronted personally by the idea their lands, so hard-won and arduously maintained, were stolen.
End of story. Stolen.
You can keep the land but you can't keep the moral sense of earned privilege that keeps your social context viable. All those prissy rules about theft and property holding the economy together.
The alternatives seem black and white, because they are.
There is no way through that doesn't hurt.
And out of that is supposed to emerge the Novum Ordinam Humanorum or whatever.
A paraplegic can drive from Paris to Rome solo, in comfort, in two days.
A man on foot can no longer comfortably make that same journey, feeding himself from the landscape. A mode of transport, of living, that we had refined for hundreds of thousands of years. Gone in a matter of decades.
And he'd be prey to the dominant presence of the rivers of steel and poison gas that the roads are now. A man walking along a modern highway is a diminished creature.
But this is accepted as progress and inevitable.
The seed corn's ground into flour and baked into cakes, and we celebrate that.
Farming out obscene experiments means modern man can wash his hands and go home to the family, then go back and collate the data in the morning with a clean conscience. And his efforts are legitimately seen as moving toward light and peace and harmony and all the other good things. With the kids' well-being as purpose and object of endeavor.
But grand-dad was the grandson of Indian killers.
There is no way through that that doesn't involve either insupportable self-delusion or societal collapse, and both of those hurt, eventually.
Of course no one wants to open the debate about animal experiments, who with an investment in the continuance of human progress would?
It's what I see behind the quick smugness and superiority of the weapons and tools, though. The grim faces of the lab-techs dumping sealed Hefty bags of terminated "subjects" into the locked dumpster out back.
It isn't enough, I guess would be the point, to have stopped the immediate grotesque and abominable, or moved away from it, or sub-contracted it out to the more villainous and willing - once the main steps are done you won't need it anyway.
Like stealing land - once it's fait accompi we can make strict rules against it, because really, it's a very bad thing to do.
Tangential as it may seem this is actually about as politically germane as it gets - the "reality-based" trope that was fed to the junior varsity by the neo-cons came right out of a bomb-proof recognition of that - morality was a gloss all along, just crowd-control and maneuvering for position before the great speciating retraction.
A massive bloom of populace, then a filtering and sequestration of the elect and their domestics, then bam - Galapagos, The Movie!
Or...
If it wasn't a gloss, if morality really does matter, then it always matters.
And there's those aboriginals again, and there's those rhesus babies, screaming in terror.
So, nice as the new kids are, and hopeful and all those other wonderful attributes - I still smell formaldehyde every time they come around, bringing some terrific new tool or toy.
Learning more and more about what this is, where we are, how we got here, what we are now, by itself - without a severely disciplined recognition of all that led up to this - is swinish in the main, and doomed, and it will take everything down with it.
That would be the objection.
It's an emotional objection, though, more than it's a rational one, and so far emotion's lost to irrefutable logic, every time.

"I teach man to walk the way he has hitherto walked blindly and to affirm it," Nietzsche's Zarathrustra.

Rollo, that irrefutable logic reminds me of the conscious and deliberately conspicuous lack of affect favored by media personalities, described here and here. It's a cynical, disingenuous logic, which only works when the parameters for discussion are narrowed.

Grabbed the link to Chastity Powers at Informant 38.

"it is also unfair to discredit any researcher because of these questions"

It's true, but at the same time there's this moral workaround I tried to describe above, where the villainy's been accomplished by expendable cut-outs, so the benefits accrue - but the hands of the inheriting beneficiaries remain unsullied.
A kind of moral sacrifice. This was an attitude that was, if not prevalent, present in more than a few of the big guns of the Third Reich. "We have to do these nasty things so the new creatures won't."
Large-scale orgs like Christianity and various govt's function on just that kind of moral atomization.
Viz. the cold water survival data.
Viz. all the primate data.
Viz. the dominance of a particluar kind of human in the American landscape, who needs two things to maintain that dominance that are repugnant but invisible - a false impression that there is and will always be only one kind of human when we're as amorphous and diverse as any other species, and as capable of niche-blooming change (thus Galapagos as metaphor above); and a sense of being entirely separate from the past's iniquities even as the results of past actions iniquitous or no become the essentials of the present.
What I really wanted to say is that I'm not as directly antagonistic to research as this sounds, it's just that the idea of whoa now hey wait a minute gets trivialized and ignored by the rough and tough real men who find themselves in positions of social power these days, and that won't stand.
It's bogus, and that bogosity contaminates everything that ensues.
To overcome it requires humility of a degree and centrality that will turn those same rough tough men back into the whining adolescents they were all along.
This is touching on something that keeps returning in the to-do file as the Task.
To find and illuminate an attitude that will work, that doesn't carry the parasites forward at the expense of something equally subtle, something human and essential that's been shoved out of the way in this headlong rush toward whatever it is we're rushing headlong toward.
Too much of the arcane weirdness is presented to an infantile public under the guise of "saving lives", when it's not centrally about that at all. It's about the fortunes of a minority and the saved lives are a by-product.
This leads directly to the current mealymouthed absurdities of inhuman and grotesque nonsense like torture and white-phosphor bombs being "justified" because they "work".
Blood-sucking works, for vampires.
Cowardice works, for cowards.
It's nice and good that we develop methodologies that are "less invasive" just as it's nice and good that people stopped keeping slaves and stuff.
There's just something hinky about stopping slavery and letting the masters keep the plantation while the slaves get to go find places to live and jobs if they can, is all.
It isn't about not moving forward, it's about the attitude.

In the darkness at the edge of the camp fire circle, we hear things that those nearer the warmth hear, but we do not experience those words the same way. We feel more like prey some days than hunters.

Thanks Rollo, I was thinking how to respond to your previous comment, and sensing that I really didn't disagree with you much. You last comment confirms that, I completely agree. What had struck me in the first place was the idea of neuroethics. I thought ethics is ethics, but in the end Restak is saying that. The science takes you so far and no further and beyond that it is necessary to take a stand as a human being.

You can't forget what you have learned even if you want to, and science can't just put away what was gotten by cruelty or torture, but we can resolve to act differently in the future. Of course we cannot control how others will act, and I think Dandy captured the essense of the danger very well:

In an unjust country, some people have a need to lie on a regular basis. And it's already easy to separate the fools from the knaves. The problem is people keep insisting that they can't be all that bad. I doubt we'll see any Rumsfelds or Clintons offering to be scanned. But if we did, what would become of them? They'd declare it was junk science, their followers would believe them, and then they'd order several dozen suites of the equipment for their torture facilities.

It's not the technology, but how it is used, and with our present level of leadership we haven't proven ourselves prepared for the technology we already have, much less what will be possible in the near future. Candidia will use it against you, no questions, so we need to be aware of it first. Drexler in "Engines of Creation" on nanotechnology makes the argument that we can't stop the march of knowledge and technique because the covert labs will do it anyway if the public doesn't get there first.

I don't expect that they would submit to it, but if some day you can be scanned covertly ... It puts a whole new harsh on the surveylance society. How do you "act" for the camera now? Can you shield yourself by what? distraction? Humming a stupid tune? Jamming technology built into your "personal inteface"?

We feel more like prey some days than hunters.

Perhaps, but the preditors are there whether acknowledged or not. Or looked at another way, better to be prey than cattle. Conversations like this give me strength and think that the preditors best be wary of pursuing the most dangerous game.

When the actor plays the Fool in Lear, is he lying? We all play many parts in our Theatrum Mundi. The brain scan might tell that we are acting, but who is not?

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