MIND

DECEIT AND SELF-DECEPTION

[5.30.06]

 

I believe that self-deception evolves in the service of deceit.  That is, that the major function of self-deception is to better deceive others.  Both make it harder for others to detect your deception, and also allow you to deceive with less immediate cognitive cost.  So if I'm lying to you now about something you actually care about, you might pay attention to my shifty eyes if I'm consciously lying, or the quality of my voice, or some other behavioral cue that's associated with conscious knowledge of deception and nervousness about being detected.  But if I'm unaware of the fact that I'm lying to you, those avenues of detection will be unavailable to you.


TRIVERS, SMOLIN, HAUSER"DARWIN Y LA TERCERA CULTURA" IN BARCELONA

In 2005 Edge received an invitation from Juan Insua, Director of Kosmpolis, a traditional literary festival in Barcelona, to stage an event at Kosmopolis 05 as part of an overall program "that ranges from the lasting light of Cervantes to the (ambiguous) crisis of the book format, from a literary mapping of Barcelona's Raval district to the dilemma raised by the influence of the Internet in the kitchen of writing, from the emergence of a new third culture humanism to the diverse practices that position literature at the core of urban creativity."

Something radically new is in the air: new ways of understanding physical systems, new focuses that lead to our questioning of many of our foundations. A realistic biology of the mind, advances in physics, information technology, genetics, neurobiology, engineering, the chemistry of materials: all are questions of capital importance with respect to what it means to be human.

Charles Darwin's ideas on evolution through natural selection are central to many of these scientific advances. Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist, Marc D. Hauser, a cognitive neuroscientist, and Robert Trivers, an evolutionary biologist, travelled to Barcelona last October to explain how the common thread of Darwinian evolution has led them to new advances in their respective fields.

The evening was presented by Eduard Punset, host of the internationally-viewed Spanish-language science television program Redes, and a best-selling author in Spain. A Redes television program based on the event was broadcast throughout Spain and Latin America.

The house was packed and the speakers did not disappoint.

Go to Event pageTRIVERS, SMOLIN, HAUSER: "DARWIN Y LA TERCERA CULTURA" IN BARCELONA

THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

[5.21.06]

When people think of "science," they naturally think of atoms, planets, robots — things they can touch and see. They know that subjective experiences such as happiness are important, but they believe that such experiences can't be studied scientifically. That belief is dead wrong.

Q: Why is this man happy? (A: He married up.)
Marilynn Oliphant & Daniel Gilbert  

Introduction by John Brockman

Dan Gilbert doesn't have an instruction manual that tells you how to be happy in four easy steps and one hard one. Nor is he the kind of thinker who needs Freud, Marx, and Modernism to explain the human condition.

Gilbert, the Director of Harvard's Hedonic Psychology Laboratory, is a scientist who explores what philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics have to teach us about how, and how well the human brain can imagine its own future, and about how, and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy.

Below he talks about a wide range of matters that include how we measure a person's subjective emotional experience; the role of "positive hedonic experience"; science as an attempt to replace qualitative distinctions with quantitative distinctions; the role negative emotions play in our lives; the costs of variety; and the need to abandon the romantic notion that human unhappiness results from the loss of our primal innocence.

-JB

DANIEL GILBERT is he Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of Harvard's Hedonic Psychology Laboratory.

He is the author of the recently published Stumbling on Happiness.

DANIEL GILBERT'S Edge Bio Page 


WHO REALLY WON THE SUPER BOWL?

The Story of an Instant-Science Experiment
[2.5.06]

This year, at the UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, Marco Iacoboni and his group used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain responses in a group of subjects while they were watching the Super Bowl ads.

Introduction

Commercials are part of our lives. We watch them, we enjoy them, discuss them with our friends. Do commercials make us buy the product they advertise? Nobody really knows. The most anticipated 'ad experience' is watching the Super Bowl ads. And after the game, there is a flurry of opinions from marketing experts and focus groups on what was the most effective Super Bowl ad. This year, at the UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, Marco Iacoboni and his group used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain responses in a group of subjects while they were watching the Super Bowl ads. The way fMRI works is relatively simple: different levels of cerebral blood oxygenation have different magnetic properties. Moreover, changes in blood oxygenation correlate with changes in neural activity. Thus, without using any contrast agent, fMRI can measure how much brain areas are activated during sensory, cognitive and motor experiences. 

This very first attempt at doing 'instant-science' is a collaborative effort between Marco Iacoboni's group — a leading group in functional neuroimaging — and FKF Applied Research, a marketing firm dedicated to conducting ethical projects and making key information publicly available. The main idea behind this project is that there is often a disconnect between what people say about what they like — and the real, underlying deeper motives that make us wanting and liking some things and some people, but not others. With fMRI, it is possible to look at unfiltered brain responses, to measure how the ads shown today elicit emotions, induce empathy, inspire liking and wanting. So, to put it bluntly:

WHO REALLY WON THE SUPER BOWL?

—JB

MARCO IACOBONI, MD PhD, is a neurologist and neuroscientist originally from Italy. Today he is at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, where he serves on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and is Director of the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation laboratory of the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center. Iacoboni's lab is arguably the leading lab in human mirror neuron research and he has a close relationship with Giacomo Rizzolatti in whose lab mirror neurons were originally discovered in monkeys.

Marco Iacoboni's Edge Bio page 

MIRROR NEURONS AND THE BRAIN IN THE VAT

[1.9.06]

Researchers at UCLA found that cells in the human anterior cingulate, which normally fire when you poke the patient with a needle ("pain neurons"), will also fire when the patient watches another patient being poked. The mirror neurons, it would seem, dissolve the barrier between self and others. [1] I call them "empathy neurons" or "Dalai Lama neurons". (I wonder how the mirror neurons of a masochist or sadist would respond to another person being poked.) Dissolving the "self vs. other" barrier is the basis of many ethical systems, especially eastern philosophical and mystical traditions. This research implies that mirror neurons can be used to provide rational rather than religious grounds for ethics (although we must be careful not to commit the is/ought fallacy).

Introduction

Six years ago, Edge published a now-famous essay by neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran ( (known to friends and colleagues as "Rama"), entitled "Mirror Neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind "the great leap forward" in human evolution" [2]. This was the first time that many in the Edge community heard of mirror neurons which were discovered by Iaccomo Rizzolati of the University of Parma in 1995. In his essay, Rama made the startling prediction that mirror neurons would do for psychology what DNA did for biology by providing a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments. He further suggested "that the emergence of a sophisticated mirror neuron system set the stage for the emergence, in early hominids, of a number of uniquely human abilities such as proto-language (facilitated by mapping phonemes on to lip and tongue movements), empathy, 'theory of other minds', and the ability to 'adopt another's point of view'.

In the past few years, mirror neurons have come into their own as the next big thing in neuroscience, and while the jury is still out on Rama's prediction, it's obvious that something important is unfolding:

•  Interesting new research is being conducted in neuroscience labs in the US and Europe and discussed at conferences and in the press:

•  A team at UCLA led by Marco Iacoboni, Director of the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation laboratory of the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA recently published important results ("Grasping the Intentions of Others with One's Own Mirror Neuron System", Iacoboni et al, 2005 );

•  Christian Keysers, Associate Professor, Neuro-Imaging-Center of the University Medical Center Groningen (Netherlands) published a paper neural basis of social intelligence with mirror neuron pioneers Rizzolatti and Gallese ("A unifying view of the basis of social cognition" Gallese, Keysers, Rizzolatti, 2004);

•  The New York Times "Science Times" published a page one review article on mirror neurons by ("Cells That Read Minds" by Sandra Blakeslee, January 10, 2006);

•  A virtual workshop — "What do Mirror Neurons Mean" — moderated by Gloria Origgi and Dan Sperber, and sponsored by the European Science Foundation, has an ongoing discussion on the theoretical implications of the discovery of mirror neurons.

•  At a recent conference near Paris —"Contribution of Mirroring Processes to Human Mindreading" — on the implications of mirror neurons for science and philosophy, top neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, and anthropologists from Europe and the United States engaged in heated debates on the interpretation and the consequences of the discovery, but at least one thing was clear: mirror neurons matter, and we are only beginning to understand how much and how.

Two weeks ago Edge received Rama's essay in response to the 2006 Edge Question, "What is your dangerous idea", which we are publishing as a separate feature. Rama's "dangerous if true" idea is "what Francis Crick referred to as "the astonishing hypothesis"; the notion that "our conscious experience and sense of self is based entirely on the activity of a hundred billion bits of jelly — the neurons that constitute the brain. We take this for granted in these enlightened times but even so it never ceases to amaze me". He then goes on to characterize Crick's "astonishing hypothesis" as a key indicator of "the fifth revolution" — the "neuroscience revolution" — the first four being Copernican, Darwinian, Freudian, and the discovery of DNA and the genetic code.". "that even our loftiest thoughts and aspirations are mere byproducts of neural activity. We are nothing but a pack of neurons." Central to this revolution are mirror neurons.

Rama also asks an interesting question:

Lets advance to a point of time where we know everything there is to know about the intricate circuitry and functioning of the human brain. With this knowledge, it would be possible for a neuroscientist to isolate your brain in a vat of nutrients and keep it alive and healthy indefinitely.

Utilizing thousands of electrodes and appropriate patterns of electrical stimulation, the scientist makes your brain think and feel that it's experiencing actual life events. The simulation is perfect and includes a sense of time and planning for the future. The brain doesn't know that its experiences, its entire life, are not real.

Further assume that the scientist can make your brain "think" and experience being a combination of Einstein, Mark Spitz, Bill Gates, Hugh Heffner, and Gandhi, while at the same time preserving your own deeply personal memories and identity (there's nothing in contemporary brain science that forbids such a scenario). The mad neuroscientist then gives you a choice. You can either be this incredible, deliriously happy being floating forever in the vat or be your real self, more or less like you are now (for the sake of argument we will further assume that you are basically a happy and contended person, not a starving pheasant). Which of the two would you pick?

—JB

THE VAGARIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

[9.28.05]

Is God is nothing more than an attempt to explain order and good fortune by those who do not understand the mathematics of chance, the principles of self-organizing systems, or the psychology of the human mind? When the study I just described was accepted for publication, I recall asking one of my collaborators, who is a deeply religious man, how he felt about having demonstrated that people can misattribute the products of their own minds to powerful external agents. He said, "I feel fine. After all, God doesn't want us to confuse our miracles with his."

That's fair enough. Science rules out the most cartoonish versions of God by debunking specific claims about ancient civilizations in North America or the creatio ex nihilo of human life. But it cannot tell us whether there is a force or entity or idea beyond our ken that deserves to be known as God. What we can say is that the universe is a complex place, that events within it often seem to turn out for the best, and that neither of these facts requires an explanation beyond our own skins.

DANIEL GILBERT is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of the Social Cognition and Emotion Lab.

Daniel Gilbert 's Edge Bio Page

THE ASSORTATIVE MATING THEORY

[4.5.05]

My thesis with regard to sex differences is quite moderate, in that I do not discount environmental factors; I'm just saying, don't forget about biology. To me that sounds very moderate. But for some people in the field of gender studies, even that is too extreme. They want it to be all environment and no biology. You can understand that politically that was an important position in the 1960s, in an effort to try to change society. But is it a true description, scientifically, of what goes on? It's time to distinguish politics and science, and just look at the evidence.

Introduction by John Brockman

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University. In this Edge feature, he presents his new Assortative Mating Theory which connects his two fields of research: the characteristics of autism in terms of understanding what's going on in the brain and the causes of the condition; and understanding the differences between males and females.

"My new theory is that it's not just a genetic condition," he says, "but it might be the result of two particular types of parents, who are both contributing genes. This might be controversially received. This is because there are a number of different theories out there — one of which is an environmental theory, such as autism being caused by vaccine damage — the MMR vaccine (the measles, mumps, and rubella combination vaccine). Another environmental theory is that autism is due to toxic levels of mercury building up in the child's brain. But the genetic theory has a lot of evidence, and what we are now testing is that if two "systemizers" have a child, this will increase the risk of the child having autism. That's it in a nutshell.

Baron-Cohen realizes that his theory might raise anxieties. "Just because it's potentially controversial," he says, "doesn't mean that we shouldn't investigate it. And there are ways that you can investigate it empirically."

He also expects controversy. Given the continuing public discussing in the US about innate sex differences, he will, no doubt, be challenged when he says "It was interesting for me to discover that there's been a sleight of hand, mostly in the States, such that the word 'sex' has been replaced by the word 'gender'. Baron-Cohen believes that it's time "to distinguish politics and science, and just look at the evidence". Others will feel differently.

— JB

SIMON BARON-COHEN is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University. He is also a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. His books include Mindblindness; and The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain.

SIMON BARON-COHEN's Edge Bio Page

THE REALITY CLUB: Marc D. Hauser, Steven Pinker, Armand Leroi, Carole Hooven, Elizabeth Spelke, Alison Gopnik, David C. Geary, Helena Cronin, Linda S. Gottfredson. NEW Baron-Cohen responds.

YOU CAN'T BE A SWEET CUCUMBER IN A VINEGAR BARREL

Topic: 

  • MIND
http://vimeo.com/79428635

"When you put that set of horrendous work conditions and external factors together, it creates an evil barrel. You could put virtually anybody in it and you're going to get this kind of evil behavior. The Pentagon and the military say that the Abu Ghraib scandal is the result of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel. That's the dispositional analysis. The social psychologist in me, and the consensus among many of my colleagues in experimental social psychology, says that's the wrong analysis. It's not the bad apples, it's the bad barrels that corrupt good people.

YOU CAN'T BE A SWEET CUCUMBER IN A VINEGAR BARREL

[1.17.05]

When you put that set of horrendous work conditions and external factors together, it creates an evil barrel. You could put virtually anybody in it and you're going to get this kind of evil behavior. The Pentagon and the military say that the Abu Ghraib scandal is the result of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel. That's the dispositional analysis. The social psychologist in me, and the consensus among many of my colleagues in experimental social psychology, says that's the wrong analysis. It's not the bad apples, it's the bad barrels that corrupt good people. Understanding the abuses at this Iraqi prison starts with an analysis of both the situational and systematic forces operating on those soldiers working the night shift in that 'little shop of horrors.'

Introduction

"When you put that set of horrendous work conditions and external factors together, it creates an evil barrel,"writes the eminent situationist psychologist Philip Zimbardo, known for his famous Stanford Prison Experiment in the early 70s.

"You could put virtually anybody in it and you're going to get this kind of evil behavior," he continued. "The Pentagon and the military say that the Abu Ghraib scandal is the result of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel. That's the dispositional analysis. The social psychologist in me, and the consensus among many of my colleagues in experimental social psychology, says that's the wrong analysis. It's not the bad apples, it's the bad barrels that corrupt good people. Understanding the abuses at this Iraqi prison starts with an analysis of both the situational and systematic forces operating on those soldiers working the night shift in that 'little shop of horrors.'"

About 30 years ago, Zimbardo and his colleagues began to do research on dehumanization. "What are the ways in which, instead of changing yourself and becoming the aggressor, it becomes easier to be hostile against other people by changing your psychological conception of them?". he asked. "You think of them as worthless animals. That's the killing power of stereotypes."

He connected that work the work he had done during the Stanford prison experiment. "The question there was," he says, "what happens when you put good people in an evil place? We put good, ordinary college students in a very realistic, prison-like setting in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford. We dehumanized the prisoners, gave them numbers, and took away their identity. We also deindividuated the guards, calling them Mr. Correctional Officer, putting them in khaki uniforms, and giving them silver reflecting sunglasses like in the movie Cool Hand Luke. Essentially, we translated the anonymity ofLord of the Flies into a setting where we could observe exactly what happened from moment to moment."

He found in that experiment that it is "really a study of the competition between institutional power versus the individual will to resist. The companion piece is the study by Stanley Milgram, who was my classmate at James Monroe High School in the Bronx. (Again, it is interesting that we are two situationists who came from the same neighborhood.) His study investigated the power of an individual authority: Some guy in a white lab coat tells you to continue to shock another person even though he's screaming and yelling. That's one way that evil is created as blind obedience to authority. But more often than not, somebody doesn't have to tell you to do something. You're just in a setting where you look around and everyone else is doing it. Say you're a guard and you don't want to harm the prisoners—because at some level you know they're just college students—but the two other guards on your shift are doing terrible things. They provide social models for you to follow if you are going to be a team player."

-JB

PHILIP ZIMBARDO is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University. He is a founder of the National Center for the Psychology of Terrorism, and creator and co-director of The Shyness Clinic.

PHILIP ZIMBARDO's Edge Bio Page

AFFECTIVE FORECASTING...OR...THE BIG WOMBASSA: WHAT YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO GET, AND WHAT YOU DON'T GET, WHEN YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT

Topic: 

  • MIND
http://vimeo.com/80902433

"The problem lies in how we imagine our future hedonic states. We are the only animals that can peer deeply into our futures—the only animal that can travel mentally through time, preview a variety of futures, and choose the one that will bring us the greatest pleasure and/or the least pain. This is a remarkable adaptation—which, incidentally, is directly tied to the evolution of the frontal lobe—because it means that we can learn from mistakes before we make them.

AFFECTIVE FORECASTING...OR...THE BIG WOMBASSA: WHAT YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO GET, AND WHAT YOU DON'T GET, WHEN YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT

[12.31.04]

The problem lies in how we imagine our future hedonic states. We are the only animals that can peer deeply into our futures—the only animal that can travel mentally through time, preview a variety of futures, and choose the one that will bring us the greatest pleasure and/or the least pain. This is a remarkable adaptation—which, incidentally, is directly tied to the evolution of the frontal lobe—because it means that we can learn from mistakes before we make them. We don't have to actually have gallbladder surgery or lounge around on a Caribbean beach to know that one of these is better than another. We may do this better than any other animal, but our research suggests that we don't do it perfectly. Our ability to simulate the future and to forecast our hedonic reactions to it is seriously flawed, and that people are rarely as happy or unhappy as they expect to be.

 

Introduction by John Brockman

In 1968, I was sitting at the back of a seedy Sunset Strip night club in Hollywood having a few drinks a friend, an actor, who, in the blink of an eye, had unexpectedly become an overnight sensation. An actor's actor, highly regarded by his peers, he was now in the middle of the actor's dream fantasy...on the covers of national news magazines, women, acclaim, and...work.

Or was it an actor's nightmare?

" The big wombassa", he said quitely.

"What?", I asked. "The big what?"

"It's 'the big wombassa' ", Johnny, "what you think you're going to get, and what you don't get, when you get what you want."

~~~

The Big Wombassa.

Indeed, over the years I've thought a lot about this highly intuitive formulation but it wasn't until I met Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert that I found out that syndromes such as "The Big Wombassa" had become a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry, and at no less a place than Harvard's Social Cognition and Emotion Lab, which is bringing scientific rigor to the study of subjective experiences such as satisfaction and happiness.

Gilbert is well-known for his work on what he and his long-time collaborator, Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia, call "affective forecasting", which is "the ability to predict one's hedonic reactions to future events."

He points out that "many economists believe that affective forecasting errors are impediments to rational action and hence should be eliminated—just as we would all agree that illiteracy or innumeracy are bad things that deserve to be eradicated. But cognitive errors may be more like optical illusions than they are like illiteracy. The human visual system is susceptible to a variety of optical illusions, but if someone offered to surgically restructure your eyes and your visual cortex so that parallel lines no longer appeared to converge on the horizon, you should run as far and fast as possible."

Gilbert approaches these issues as a scientist, not a clinician. He is "interested in learning how people can become better affective forecasters, but not because I believe that people should become better affective forecasters. My job as a scientist is to find and explain these errors and illusions, and it is up to each individual to decide how they want to use our findings."

— JB

DANIEL GILBERT is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.

Daniel Gilbert's Edge Bio Page

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