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Being Cruel: It’s Not Blind Obedience; There is Enthusiasm in the Act

We’ve relied on the Milgram Experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment) and the Stanford Prison Experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment) for explaining how and why ordinary people, like ourselves, can commit acts of extreme cruelty and harm. While they tell part of the story, it seems we may have overlooked other important pieces of human motivation inherent to committing cruel acts. 

A new study argues that “…tyranny does not result from blind conformity to rules and roles. Rather, it is a creative act of followership, resulting from identifying with authorities who represent vicious acts as virtuous. “Decent people participate in horrific acts not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe—typically under the influence of those in authority—that what they are doing is right,” Professor Haslam explained.”

via Human obedience: The myth of blind conformity.

“This particular genotype affects the sleep-wake pattern of virtually everyone walking around,” Dr. Clifford Saper, chief of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, wrote

 in the statement. “And it is a fairly profound effect so that the people who have the A-A genotype wake up about an hour earlier than the people who have the G-G genotype, and the A-Gs wake up almost exactly in the middle.”

Moreover, investigators realized as some of the 1,200 older subjects in the project died that these nucleotide sequences were accurate predictors of their time of death, within a range of only a few hours. Patients with the A-A and A-G genotypes typically died just before 11 a.m., while subjects with the G-G combination tended to die near 6 p.m.

“So there is really a gene that predicts the time of day that you’ll die. Not the date, fortunately, but the time of day,” said Saper.

The Atlantic reports researchers believe their results may be due to the human body reverting to its more natural, circadian rhythm-induced state as death approaches, instead of the cycle created by social commitments.

via Gene Predicts Time Of Death Down To Hour, Study Suggests.

Conclusions

What can we do to encourage people to help more?

  1. Present them with a single, identifiable victim who they can help: people are more motivated to help if they can feel a personal connection with the victim.

  2. Appeal to their emotions: heightened emotional responses encourage altruistic behaviour.

  3. Instill a sense of responsibility to help, and an understanding that doing so is not futile.

via Blog: Why don’t people help others more? – part 1 | 80,000 Hours.

Drinking as little as half a pint of beer per week during pregnancy can cut a baby’s intelligence by several IQ points.

via Moderate drink during pregnancy can lower baby’s IQ – health – 15 November 2012 – New Scientist.

Men with partners increase the space they feel comfortable with between themselves and an attractive woman if exposed to the bonding hormone oxytocin.

René Hurlemann at the University of Bonn in Germany and colleagues gave men either a sniff of oxytocin or a placebo before asking them to choose the ideal distance for an interaction with a woman. The distance that they felt was comfortable significantly increased after sniffing oxytocin, but only for men in relationships.

The team conclude that oxytocin discourages partnered but not single men from getting close to a female stranger.

Journal reference: Journal of Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.2755-12.2012

via Oxytocin changes partnered men’s behaviour – life – 13 November 2012 – New Scientist.

The system was still able to identify which animal had been named, despite being trained with patterns generated for English words. For example, the word “horse” and its Dutch equivalent “paard” gave rise to the same brain pattern, suggesting that the activity represented the word’s meaning – the concept of a horse. 

However, the brain patterns that Correia identified were unique to each person. Brains are like faces – the eyes, nose and mouth are all in the same place, but the details can be different, says Davis. “The meanings might be stored in the same area, but the actual neurons would be idiosyncratic.” To read someone’s mind, a machine would first need to learn that individual’s unique representation of each word. “You would have to scan a person as they thought their way through a dictionary,” says Davis.

via Mind-reading scan locates site of meaning in the brain – health – 16 November 2012 – New Scientist.

Scientists have taken a step forward in helping to solve one of life’s greatest mysteries – what makes us human?
via New brain gene gives us edge over apes, study suggests.

Animal morality

Human animals have always had a hefty egoic sense of exceptionalism which has proven harmful, and often lethal, to all other animals. We tell ourselves we are the only animals who can feel pain, then discover most other creatures have fully

 functioning nervous systems. We tell ourselves we are the only animals with emotional capacities, so we call evidence of emotions in other animals “merely instinct”. We tell ourselves we are the only animals with a sense of morality, until we experience it in animals with whom we have become familiar.

Human Beings may seem exceptional to themselves, but in the whole scope of things, we are just one member of a very large tribe of living creatures, all of whom are in various stages of evolutionary adaptation.

via Mark Rowlands – Animal morality.

Scientists have figured out a way to read our dreams. It is in the preliminary stages, but the knowledge base will continue to expand. Although it seems pretty simplistic, it is a phenomenal step in an understanding of what our unconscious mind is up to during the one-third of our lives spent in slumber. Many people report infrequent memories of dream content, while some report no memory whatsoever. 

via Scientists read dreams : Nature News & Comment.

UCLA researchers have�discovered that�the activity of a brain region known to be involved in learning, memory and Alzheimer’s disease behaves as if it’s remembering something during sleep, even under anesthesia — a finding that counters conventional theories about memory consolidation during sleep.

His team found that the entorhinal cortex showed what is called persistent activity, which is thought to mediate working memory during waking life — for example, when people pay close attention to remember things temporarily, such as recalling a phone number or following directions.

“The big surprise here is that this kind of persistent activity is happening during sleep, pretty much all the time.” Mehta said. “These results are entirely novel and surprising. In fact, this working memory-like persistent activity occurred in the entorhinal cortex even under anesthesia.”

The findings are important, Mehta said, because humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping and a lack of sleep results in adverse effects on health, including learning and memory problems.

via The sleeping brain behaves as if it’s remembering something | KurzweilAI.

Scientists found a region in the brain responsible for “eye contact”.

Making direct eye contact with someone gives you that feeling of a special connection because it excites newly discovered “eye cells” in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions and social interactions.

via Eye-contact detector found in the brain – life – 16 October 2012 – New Scientist.

Researchers disguised rapid- and slow-changing sounds within background noise. Participants were asked to indicate whether they could hear the noise by pressing a button using alternately their right hand then their left hands.

Those responding with their right hand heard the rapidly changing sounds more often than when using their left hands while the slowly changing sounds were heard more often when using the left hand.

“The left hemisphere likes rapidly changing sounds, such as consonants, and the right hemisphere likes slowly changing sounds, such as syllables or intonation,” explains Turkeltaub on the GUMC website.

“It’s really pretty amazing. Imagine you’re waving an American flag while listening to one of the presidential candidates. The speech will actually sound slightly different to you depending on whether the flag is in your left hand or your right hand.”

Why?

What if the universe simply doesn’t need reasons? What if reason is relevant only in our human realm? A plant doesn’t need a reason to blossom. It just does it. Lightning strikes and meteors crash without a reason. The question “why?” only arises in the human mind.

We evolved to discover simple cause and effect. We know ginger roots settle the stomach and a black widow spider can kill you. Our species has thrived by understanding what might be beneficial and what might be harmful. However, when it comes to questions about the purpose of our existence, our brains fail us.

via Being Human A-Z | Being Human.

Being Human

Perhaps our brains are not equipped to get the Big Picture. Maybe they evolved to deal with only a narrow spectrum of reality, focused on day to day reality just enough to keep us going. Maybe at this point our brains are not capable of comprehending the incomprehensible.

Perhaps the question of our origin and of ultimate reality doesn’t need to be answered to find wellbeing. What if freedom lies instead in the capacity to live with not knowing? What would it feel like to be utterly at home, in the midst of the mystery?

 

via Being Human A-Z | Being Human.

 


P
eople aren’t really stupid.

These people are not stupid. These people were well educated and intellectually groomed. Stupid isn’t the right word for these people.

These people were susceptible. Their individual and collective egos were reaching up towards an ideal which held them as superior beings.

I proffer that this type of egoic reaction is somewhat involuntary. Many are able to resist the enticement of superiority, or worship, of self-aggrandizement, but eventually all but the rarest of creatures gives way and wallows within the hope of it.

I think it is a security vulnerability in the software of the human brain. Just as we rush to prepare patches to shore up the vulnerabilities on our technological counterparts, so, too, could we rush to prepare a patch for this paradigm shifting vulnerability which has been repeatedly exploited throughout history by those who have a clear understanding of how it works.