Wednesday, December 30, 2009
40 pages, littered with wikipedia entries, mantras and all capital pep talks later, I am giving up, for now, on trying to have an overall point. I'm too all over the place to try and simmer things down. And, like everything, this has applications to my life overall.
Every minute, we're choosing one specific thing over the infinite. Most of the time, our choices are basically unconscious. Sitting on the couch, not the chair. But even our conscious decisions, most of the time, seem on some level to be out of our control, be they comforts, habits, addictions, or just the myriad of things that we repeat enough times to then consider them a part of our personality, something definite and tangible that we can hold on to as ourselves. But all they are, all they ever are, are choices.
Choices are unbearable to me. Whenever I feel conscious of a decision, it's like two halves of myself split, and I see these two people I could be in my mind's eye. And then, somehow, I'm suppose to pick the person I'm suppose to be? I think the hardest choices are the ones that are the contours of our contradictions, that force us to come to terms with the parts of ourselves that are more easily made separate. As soon as I begin to lean towards someone, the other side of the choice pulls me back, reminding me of these parts of myself I'm cutting off.
This unbearable weight of choice almost always leaves me static. But I think my biggest confusion is that this stasis, too, is a choice. Time doesn't allow us the luxury of decision making, every moment is us making our decision. I wish I knew right now what this blog was meant to be about. I wish I had some definite way to sum it all up, but right now that's too hard. Instead, all I have is the choice to write at all, and the resolve to do it. Even when choices seem impossible, the choice between action or inaction is simple. Not to say it's easy. It's always easier to do nothing, but I at least know that at the end of the day, I want to be someone who chose something. Here's the first post in honor of that choice, of the new year. And to my prayer that everyone can chose that something they've been putting off---no matter how long!
Monday, December 7, 2009
I have just been lurking at this blog for about 3 months now, and am truly shocked by this article. It SO poorly argued and presented, it strikes one as a complete joke. Overcoming Bias? Are you kidding me? And are you serious with saying “people express strikingly little sympathy for sex-starved men.”? Basically, as I understand it, Robin is trying to argue that the reason most marriages are sexless is because women withhold sex in order to gain power over men. He argues this by stating that women are “allowed to be confused” about sex, but this really just masks the fact that they withhold sex to gain power over men in marriage.
“This complexity allows women to be honestly confused about what they want, but it can also hide motivated differences between what women say or think they want, and what really drives their choices.
THUS: For example, reduced sex might come from wives respecting husbands less than before, from seeing overly willing wives as lower in status, or from withholding sex to gain bargaining power on other issues.”
He then takes selected comments from Weil’s deeply nuanced story and extremely long chronicle of marriage improvement to demonstrate the power dynamic he outlines. I have read this entire article, and his interpretation of their overall dynamic is strained at best, completely irresponsible at worst.
I’ll start my critique of this argument with it’s first premise—women are ‘confused’ about sex, but this is just a cover for the fact that they use sex to gain power in relationships. Is it possible that women are “confused” about what they want when it comes to sex because they are told by their culture from a very young age that they are not to desire sex? When sex is constantly being forced upon them as their only value and worth in society, their only bargaining chip, instead of an act that will bring them pleasure or strengthen their love relationships? Models for girls who desire to have a healthy sexual relationship are basically non existent.
It is a huge taboo in our culture to allow any images of women pleasuring themselves, while boys and men masturbate constantly and without much societal rebuke. Only women who are exceptionally beautiful engage in the sex they want in our television shows, movies, magazines and novels, while average and even ugly men (RE:Knocked Up) engage in all kinds of sexual escapades without anyone batting an eye.
Could this possibly be contributing to the fact that most women are not sexually satisfied–that upwards of 10% of women report never experiencing an orgasm, and anywhere from 33%-50% have trouble experiencing one when they want to? Are you really going to say “people express strikingly little sympathy for sex-starved men.“? Do you have any clue how ridiculous that sounds? You can masturbate for god sake! A lot of women can’t even find this sort of pleasure on their own, let alone with a partner. Are you really still buying into the idea that these 50% of women don’t have orgasms when they want to because they physically can’t? How rational does that sound, could there be any biases involved in that?
Sure, there are biological differences between men and women’s sexual desire. But these biological differences do not need to be “recognized” as Eric puts it. Eric’s insistence that “For example, that it will never work, speaking in general, for women to be chasers and be sexually pressing/forward, its just not sexy for people on average. And that men have to be able to stand up to and deal with other people very assertively, and be self-confident, in order to be attractive, whereas this is significantly less true for women,” as if this is some forgone biological conclusion, is so utterly ridiculous. It is just one man’s insecure hope, as he feels intimidated by women who are willing to take a stand and say what they want when the want it. Why don’t we try to increase women’s sexual education and make it okay for women to want and enjoy sex from a young age? Perhaps then men can stop feeling insecure about this and instead understand the pleasures of being chased and captured, as women have for many years now. Sure, there are traditional tropes and reasons that they existed. But if the gay/transgender/bi movement has had any effect on culture in general, it has been to soften the stark contours of what it means to be a MAN or a WOMAN and instead blur the lines, increasing equality for both.
I’m very young–22. I know that I am idealistic and extremely naive when it comes to the amorphous pending blob that is marriage. But I don’t see how ensuring men get the amount of sex they want when they want is even a slightly interesting or enlightening way to approach the myriad of issues that surround gender, sex and marriage in 2009.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
by Greg Miller
For what may be the first time, fMRI scans of brain activity have been used as evidence in the sentencing phase of a murder trial. Defense lawyers for an Illinois man convicted of raping and killing a 10-year-old girl used the scans to argue that their client should be spared the death penalty because he has a brain disorder.
The defendant, Brian Dugan, pleaded guilty in July to killing Jeanine Nicarico after kidnapping her from her home in 1983. (Prior to that, the Nicarico case had taken more turns than a hangman's knot, detailed in a 1998 book Victims of Justice). Dugan was already serving life sentences for two other murders, but prosecutors sought the death penalty for Nicarico's murder.
"Nobody thought we had any chance at all going in," says Steve Greenberg, the lead attorney for the defense. But the defense tried an unusual strategy: They argued that Dugan was born with a mental illness—psychopathy—that should be considered a mitigating factor because it impaired his ability to control his behavior. Dugan exhibits the antisocial behavior, inpulsivity, lack of remorse, and other characteristics of psychopathy in spades, says Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and the Mind Research Network, who served as an expert witness for the defense. Dugan scored 37 out of 40 points on the standard diagnostic checklist for psychopathy, putting him in the 99.5th percentile, Kiehl says.
Kiehl conducts research on psychopathy in New Mexico state prisons in which he and colleagues collect life histories, anatomical brain scans, and fMRI scans of brain activity as inmates perform various tasks, including tests of moral reasoning. Using scanners at Northwestern University, Kiehl ran Dugan through a similar battery of tests. Kiehl testified that Dugan exhibited abnormalities similar to those he and others have reported in other psychopaths. Kiehl says he was careful not to stretch beyond what the data show. He didn't claim, for example, that the brain scans prove that Dugan committed his crimes as a result of a brain abnormality. "It's just one piece of evidence that his brain is different," he says.
Jonathan Brodie, a psychiatrist at New York University testified for the prosecution. "I said the scans are of wonderful technical quality, but so what? They're not relevant here," Brodie says. "Using an fMRI scan done in September of 2009 … to indicate a thought process that was going on in 1983 could hardly be more silly."
After 5 hours of deliberation the jury told the judge on 10 November that they'd come to a decision. But before the sentence could be read, the jury asked for more time and the judge sequestered them overnight. The next day they returned with a death sentence for Dugan. According to media reports and interviews with defense attorneys afterwards, the jury initially planned to sentence Dugan to life in prison, with at least one juror holding out against the death penalty, which requires a unanimous vote. The last minute change is highly irregular, says Greenberg, who is planning an appeal.
Although evidence of anatomical abnormalities in the brain has been introduced previously in the sentencing phase of murder cases, and PET scans have been used to show abnormalities in brain metabolism consistent with mental illness, the Dugan case may be a first for fMRI. "I don't know of any other cases where fMRI was used in that context," says Hank Greely, a professor at Stanford Law School and co-director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project. Greely notes that the standards for admitting evidence in sentencing hearings are less stringent than those for evidence used to establish a defendant's innocence or guilt. "The penalty phase of a capital case … is a special situation where the law bends over backwards to allow the convicted man to introduce just about any mitigating evidence."
It's hard to know what effect the fMRI scans in particular had on the jury in the Dugan case, but Greenberg says the fact that they deliberated for a total of more than 10 hours shows that it was influential. "This guy was guilty of raping and killing little girls," Greenberg says. "Without the brain imaging stuff the jury would have been back in an hour."
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Genes and criminals: Italian court makes controversial ruling
“Don’t blame me—it was my genes’ fault.” Could this be the plea of future criminals? In Italy, the case of a man who confessed to murder in 2007 may set a precedent.
It’s not that unusual that an Italian court gave Abdelmalek Bayout three years less than it otherwise would have because his lawyer argued Bayout was mentally ill at the time of the crime. What is unprecedented, though, is that at an appeal hearing in September the judge removed an additional year from the defendant’s sentence based on genetic tests. The judge believed Bayout’s genes made him “particularly aggressive in stressful situations,” basing his decision on the tests that revealed Bayout to have low levels of MAOA, a trait which has been linked to criminal behavior.
It was the first time in a European court that behavioral genetics has affected a sentence. In the United States, this type of defense has been used more than 200 times in the past five years and in rare cases has influenced sentencing.
“There’s increasing evidence that some genes together with a particular environmental insult may predispose people to certain behavior,” Pietro Pietrini, a molecular neuroscientist at Italy’s University of Pisa and one of the researchers investigating Bayout’s genetic makeup, said in a Nature news article.
Many people argue that this is true for anyone. It’s certainly a worthwhile question: Isn’t anyone who commits murder at least a little bit mentally ill? While this particular criminal’s sentence was reduced, others have argued that courts could rule the other way—if the person’s genes are “bad,” perhaps the sentencing should be stricter.
Many researchers contacted by Nature also questioned the court’s decisions. Giuseppe Novelli, a forensic scientist and geneticist, said that tests for single genes are “useless.” The judge may not have considered some additional relevant factors when analyzing the results, according to geneticist Terrie Moffitt.
It’s an interesting debate and likely one with too many factors to be settled any time soon.
One of the biggest issues that the documentary brings up is the insanity of bureaucracy. On one hand, having a standardized way of doing business or government is essential to allowing for regulation and equality standards. But on the other hand, I think it becomes too easy for officials to hide behind rules and protocol, and miss out on what's really going on around them. In any case, the documentary is great, and it's free on netflix so check it out!
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Maybe its just me.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Let me know what you think!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
And which decisions, you might wonder is Dr. Knutson studying? Which essential decision making process is he doing his best to flesh out? You guessed it: the decisions we make when we...spend money. The experiments he presented were based in trying to figure out when someone is going to buy something or not, or when they are going to make risky investment decisions. A majority of neuroscience research into decision making, in fact, has been focused on economic choices of the individual, as you can find here. I'm not going to speculate on why, when it comes to the vast array of decisions human beings make on a day to day basis neuroscientists have been most engaged with how people make economic decisions, but so it is.
But anyway, what it does bring to the forefront is something that has been looming in neuroscience, and science more generally, for a while now. Basically, what has always been an implicit project of science, figuring out specific causes of events so that they can predicted in the future, has now become an explicit project of neuroscience, and our conception of free will hangs in the balance.
Scientists disagree widely about when or how or even if these discoveries will be made. But to me, the point is that thousands of scientists in our country are engaged in the project of making it happen right now. Even if they are only mildly successful, our current notions of free will and moral responsibility will be fiercely challenged. If scientists are looking for ways that they can use your neurological and genetic information to predict events and behavior that you will experience, where does your free will lie? This is hardly a new question posed by science, but I think it is becoming more urgent that we think long and hard about how to address it. This way, if the data arrives, we will know how to interpret and communicate it long before we are actually presented with it.
Groups like the law & neuroscience project are already starting to deal with these issues as they come to the forefront in legal matters. But this is not enough to address the effects this information will have on average individuals' conception of themselves. How can we experience ourselves if we come to know all the reasons we will do the things we do? Sometimes, I think that there is no way to conceive of there not being free will, and that's enough to keep the concept intact. But at other moments, when I concentrate really hard, I can imagine reliable information about what decisions I'm going to make or experiences I'm going to have could be at the same time freeing and extremely limiting.
This is both exciting and scary to me. Could we be on the edge of a new paradigm, a whole new way of looking at the universe and ourselves? It would be exhilarating---but I have no answers, only questions. And the hope that we can get more smart people to really think about this question.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Basically, if you have an idea of a project you want to do (usually an artistic project), then you post it on this website and ask for people to fund it through pledges (can be large or small). The 'kicker' is, unless you raise all the money you need through pledges, you don't get money at all. This encourages people to pledge a little more liberally, and makes sure that anything you pledge money to gets accomplished. I love the concept, perhaps most especially because in my future imagination of the world everyone will work together to do everything, and it will all be run through the internet. Plus, everyone wins--you either get your awesome idea funded or get to spend that cigarette money on allowing someone to create something awesome!
Monday, November 2, 2009
Atheists have begun a new ad campaign to inform other atheists that there are many atheists in the country---and that their numbers are growing! Rational humanism, naturalism, the brights, United Coalition of Reason, are just a few examples of the groups these atheists have developed.
The stated or understated message of these groups is this: a naturalist, or rational world view is what makes sense, and as more and more people come to their senses, belief in God will end. In a lot of ways, I think this movement is a good thing. Religious beliefs that cause harm to other individuals, like homophobia, should be ferociously attacked and I’m glad people are taking them head on.
But the fight against religious beliefs that lead to intolerance, violence, and pain is not the same fight as a debate over God’s existence. If atheists honestly want to engage in a debate, they must argue against theism, not religion in general. Religion is an organization of people that share a belief in a specific brand of theism, just as “the brights” are an organization of people that share a belief in a specific brand of atheism. To criticize the actions of “the brights” is not a valid argument against belief in atheism generally, and the same goes in reverse.
Atheists who claim it is “rational” to be atheists have lost track of themselves. I can understand this confusion. For, as science has progressed, it has disproven many of the most sacred teachings of various religions. The sense of 'disprove' here means that the teachings have been shown to NOT be rational fact. This has served to be a red herring for those involved in the atheism vs. theism debate, as it leads to such “rational conclusions” as “the theory of evolution is a rational fact, thus there is no God.”
Atheists are engaging in a belief, not a rational conclusion. They are choosing to believe that the reality that we experience and come to understand through the scientific method, or ‘empirical reality’ as Kant called it, is the ONLY truth or reality. For atheists, there is no knowledge, truth, or reality beyond what humans can know through reason.
Theism, then, is the belief that there is knowledge beyond what humans can possibly know. We can call this knowledge, or reality, or truth, God. It is not, however, necessarily the claim that we know, in the same way we ‘know’ scientific fact, something about this knowledge. Many theists do think they ‘know’ something about God in the same way that they ‘know’ the sky is blue. But in my mind, this God is by definition something that we cannot know. Yet, once one engages in the belief of this God’s existence, there are some things that can be shown to follow logically. And this is the stuff of religion. The important point is that there is nothing inherent in theism that is counter to science.
We can imagine that eventually a vast majority of people in the world will accept that the facts derived through the scientific method are the most objective, and thus truthful way that humans can understand the world. But this will not end the debate of theism vs. atheism. The question is not whether the scientific method can create an objective viewpoint through which universal human truths can be derived. Rather, it is whether these truths are truly ‘reality’, or the ultimate truths about the world.
This debate is one that rests on faith. There is no logical path that will lead you one way or the other. This is the essential fact that I believe atheists need to do a better job of understanding and promoting. Perhaps through this, the debate can begin to transcend its current stalemate and investigate the fascinating questions about truth and reality that are constantly present in our lives.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I was talking to someone once about how the direction of art is to no longer have division between mediums or types, that the lines between music, visual art, dance, drama, writing will all be blurred. At the time, I was pretty defensive of every art staying independent, but I am thinking it's kind of futile now, with Vook, and now making paint video. I can't say I love Vook, but stuff like this is just so amazing, how could I resist??
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Here's the kicker though: this lady was fat. Not obese or anything, but bigger than average. Certainly bigger than me, and I had never even seen anyone my size displayed as a sex symbol before. I'm hardly fat myself, at 5'4'' and 140 pounds, but no one would call me skinny either. Because of this, like almost every other girl I know my size or bigger, I have wasted hours and hours of my life concerned about my size. I spend entire afternoons just comparing my thighs to other girl's thighs, my mood following accordingly. Any one whose thighs are smaller than mine induce self hatred, same size, a sense of relief, larger? Victory.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tunruh/sets/72157603719036323/