Tag: Enlightenment

Agency Pt. 1—Neurology, the Temporal Lobe and the Self

How Games Help Explain Today’s Headlines Con’t.

Games deliver.

Adults get something from playing games, something far too scarce in “real life”: A sense of Agency, the feeling that one can have a desire, decide to realize it, act on that decision and have that action affect the world in some real way, successfully closing a loop of thought, action and response.

The effect need not be as consequential as The Enlightenment, or as paradigm shifting as creating the General Theory of Relativity, nor even necessarily successful. It needs only to have meaning to the actor. Such as when you goad a friend, ribbing him or giving her grief for no other reason than to get a rise out of him, or get her to pay you a bit more attention. Think of children who start life powerless and how they love to throw pebbles into water to make it ripple, or to stomp in puddles to create splashes, or do things they’ve been repeatedly forbidden to do, and then, as they are scolded, the merest of smirks rises the corner of young lips: he has shown he could affect the world. Being scolded is doubly sweet: he’s affected someone who exerts so much control over him.

Misbehaving in anticipation of a scolding works on both broad levels of agency: the more direct root level, the simple ability to think, act and get sensory feedback as a person in the world, and the more complex social level in which desire is murky, what action to take is not always clear and feedback is usually less certain and often difficult to interpret. The child leaves his coat on the floor for the umpteenth time this week; the parent’s voice rises in admonishment, yet the child wonders: will I really get punished? Will it be worth it anyway? Or is this serious? Here, a complex calculus requires on the fly interpretation of the specific circumstances, including the adult’s tone of voice and body language, and the child’s own urge to respond, all within a dynamic, ever shifting relationship, where what’s at stake grows more serious over time.

With root level Agency though, outcome and feedback are usually more direct and clear. With recent advancements in neurology, especially the ability to see, real time, what areas of the brain are activated when humans experience specific feelings, neurologists have shown that agency is active most strongly in the parietal lobe. This area of the brain plays important roles in integrating sensory information from the various sense organs of the body, controlling body movement as well as dealing with the comprehension of numbers and their relations. One specific area of this lobe, the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), processes information relating to the manipulation of objects. It handles the where of sight and spatial relations, and the how of controlling the movements of the body through motor signals, in particular of the arm, hand, and the eyes, enabling the self to take action based on how the body senses it’s physically positioned in relation to the objects around it.

Further, accumulating evidence from newer studies suggests that a specific junction between parts of this lobe play a critical role in distinguishing between self-produced actions and those of others. Injuries to or disease of this region can produce a variety of disorders related to body knowledge and self-awareness such as anosognosia (the inability of a person to recognize a deficiency he or she has—this is not the psychological defense mechanism of denial, but a physical inability); asomatognosia (loss of recognition or awareness of a body part: this is expressed both verbally and through lack of care); in an extreme situation, somatoparapherenia, a limb is claimed to belong to another person. Some studies have also reported that electrical stimulation of this area can cause out-of-body experiences—the feeling that the self is no longer a part of its physical body.

Some brain injuries, particularly to the frontal, temporal, parietal lobes further demonstrate that ownership does not always imply agency, nor even control. In alien hand syndrome, the hand acts without the person’s conscious direction, or sometimes, even awareness that it’s acting at all. The person understands that it is his or her hand, but feels no sense of control over it. Some sufferers claim that someone else is moving his or her hand.

Teasing apart the elements of agency’s relation to self even further, experiments in 2009 by Marc Jeannerod have shown that self recognition in taking action has two levels: one is automatic, the recognition that one’s self is controlling body movements to do something; the second is self-reflexive, the conscious recognition of one’s own self as the originator of the desires, intentions and purposes for taking an action—the thinking about an action itself; these experiments have also shown that even though both of these levels rely on the “principle of congruence of the action-related signals”, these manners of self recognition can be sundered. For example, a person can open a door and enter a room, fully recognizing that it is he or she who opens the door and walks through, but be unable to identify him or herself as the origin of the desire to open the door and step through, nor understand what the purpose of doing so is, nor what is intended while extending a hand to grasp the door knob in the first place.

This experience is common in schizophrenia. Schizophrenic patients can act and understand they are the actor, but cannot “own” the thoughts that gave rise to the action. These inserted thoughts and the dissonance between their own awareness, inserted thoughts and actions all become material for delusions and delirium, including that of alien control: of being controlled by someone or something else. This loss of the ability to attribute thoughts and actions to themselves is in fact a major symptom of the disease, and lies primarily in a disturbed sense of agency.

At least one experiment suggests that the feeling of alien control is associated with increased activity in one part of parietal cortex: the area of the brain that has already been seen as centrally important not only for coordination of movement, but of a person’s sense of agency and so of sense of self. In effect, one’s sense of self—the ability to recognize oneself as a self at all—is hardwired to the same place that one feels agency, which is also a locus for motor control and sensory input from the body.

So far, we’ve primarily explored the brain itself, using neurology and changes caused by disease and injury. But even in perfectly healthy people, hindering a body’s physical ability to move or restricting the sensory inputs a brain receives at all can profoundly affect one’s sense of self.

Next up in the scientific study of Agency are the effects of manipulating the body, mining what Korean War era brainwashing attempts can tell us about Agency and the creation of self.

Missouri’s Amendment 3 Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Source: Missouri’s Amendment 3 Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing


Within this noble-sounding law to implement a cigarette tax to help improve health care and access to early childhood education hides a sneak around Missouri’s own constitution prohibiting government endorsement of and aid to religious institutions. These places already get tax exemption; they already get privileges not afforded to other organizations; if religious groups cannot survive because their own flocks abandon them, taking money used for the general good to prop them up is one feeble idea indeed. Religion is a creed. If it shrivels, then it’s their own message that is the problem, not the taxpayers.

The Real Zombie Apocalypse

RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! The un-thinking have come to eat your brain

We’re no longer talking about the guy in his wife-beater regurgitating white pride memes to his family at a dinner table. Nor a group of buddies at the local bar venting about how they have to get us back good old days. Nor a lone pamphleteer scribbling that FEMA is really a secret UN organization of international communists who want to force everyone to cross-breed to eradicate racial discrimination.

No, we’re talking the wholesale abandonment of fact, evidence, and expertise for the Cult of Gut: “I don’t care what the facts are: I know it’s true. My gut tells me so,” leading to a time when a celebrity can tweet that the earth is flat and get any response other than derision.

A time when people start dying of measles in the US again (where it was eradicated in 2010).

When government employees demand special privileges to refuse issuing marriage licenses and business owners can forbid employees’ access to complete medical insurance simply for worshiping the ancient sky god of illiterate desert nomads.

To when a major party’s candidate for president of the United States can vomit naked bigotry, and then point to the number of likes and re-tweets he gets as further proof it’s true because it affirms what he feels is true—“I just know it.”

Yes, bigotry has been around since there has been an Us and Them. Willful ignorance has plagued us since Conventional Wisdom gave humans an easy way to avoid the work of thinking or the trouble of changing. Prideful stupidity has clogged thinking since one guy learned that shouting louder than the other guy can win an argument regardless of who is actually right.

But, the Enlightenment gave us the tools to keep these social cancers, more or less, in check. The tools acted both as a shield from these treacherous diseases of thoughtlessness and as vaccination against contracting them in the first place.

If and when we use them.

Here in the US, these tools had been showing real promise, especially in the twentieth century—once herd immunity started working—though not perfectly and certainly not everywhere equally. At least in public, those infected with the diseases of mindlessness were not taken seriously and mostly left to wallow in their own medieval imaginations, impotent to spread their infection, with McCarthyism an ominous exception.

But ever since I was old enough to care about such things—roughly when Ronald Regan was first elected—I’ve watched as the infected have crawled out from hiding. Worse yet, they started appearing on national TV and in mainstream print,

shibboleths dripping from their lips,

memes where their minds once were,

carrying a contagion that kills humanity’s greatest asset: the ability to think.

Crushing evidence under their many thousands of mindless feet, the infected thoughtless carry pre-form realities with them. These do not depend on what could be seen or shown, only on what someone believes is right.

Contrary facts are dismissed or twisted to fit these private worlds. They brought moral panics to spread their disease, such as the nationwide terror of satanic ritual abuse of children, fears that games of imagination were actually devil worship, and confidence that making the rich richer helps the poor by trickling money down to them: the Voodoo economy of the Invisible Hand of the Market guided by True Belief. It feels right, so it must be right—one has only to believe strongly enough to make it real.

Regan’s Neocon revolution was the first wave of the actual zombie apocalypse, and they fed on mind after mind.

And it’s only gotten worse as the infected have hauled their gut trusting anti-Intellectualism into the mainstream.

It won elections.

It defeated people who knew things.

Decimates facts.

It now appears regularly on network news, in major newspapers, and in the mouths of political figures

the zombies are taking over.

This should worry the hell out of everyone, and frankly, piss more of us off. Yes, us: we who share Enlightenment values like

  • individual liberty
  • progress
  • tolerance
  • ending the collusion of church and state.

We who value using reason, empiricism, and scientific rigor, and who reject received truth: truth with a capital T, the absolute, unalterable truth, which past Zombie masters have always twisted to fit their needs.

One Candle in the Darkness will test drive ideas to fight off this mass brain death.

Not to cure the infected, as that won’t happen, at least not often enough to be worth spending the time and energy. Why? Because the irrational cannot be reasoned with, and the faithful cannot be swayed by facts contrary to what they already believe: they will accept only evidence that fits their own personal realities.

Our goals must be different:

  • quarantine the brain-dead
  • inoculate the vulnerable
  • rescue the not too far-gone