Yet another weird SF fan


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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Al Qaeda Is Taking Notes

They will look for recruits with the right kind of brain damage:

At the University of Iowa Hospital, the researchers singled out six middle-age men and women who had injured the same neural network in the prefrontal cortex. On neuropsychological tests, they seemed normal. They were healthy, intelligent, talkative, yet also unkempt, not so easily embarrassed or so likely to feel guilty, explained lead study scientist Michael Koenigs at the National Institutes of Health. They had lived with the brain damage for years but seemed unaware that anything about them had changed.

To analyze their moral abilities, Dr. Koenigs and his colleagues used a diagnostic probe as old as Socrates -- leading questions: To save yourself and others, would you throw someone out of a lifeboat? Would you push someone off a bridge, smother a crying baby, or kill a hostage?

All told, they considered 50 hypothetical moral dilemmas. Their responses were essentially identical to those of neurology patients who had different brain injuries and to healthy volunteers, except when a situation demanded they take one life to save others. For most, the thought of killing an innocent prompts a visceral revulsion, no matter how many other lives weigh in the balance. But if your prefrontal cortex has been impaired in the same small way by stroke or surgery, you would feel no such compunction in sacrificing one life for the good of all. The six patients certainly felt none. Any moral inhibition, whether learned or hereditary, had lost its influence.

They might even try psychosurgery to create the necessary recruits.

ObSF: “I Always Do What Teddy Says” by Harry Harrison.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Akatsukami said...

With all due respect to the WSJ, a reporter's account of what a researcher said does not necessarily bear any relation to what he may actually have found. I don't have access to the actual researcher, and there is enough ambiguity in the article that the nature of the questions asked cannot be discerned.

However, it is possible (but by no means certain, as I say), that another conclusion could be drawn: that people without that brain damage will refrain from taking action, no matter how horrible the consequences, if said action squicks them.

The consequences are left as an exercise for the reader.

6:39 AM  

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