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Testing the Brains of Politicians

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posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 01:46 AM
With the advancements in neuroscience and our deeper understanding of gene-neuron-function relationships, I believe that within the next 10-20 years we will be able to diagnose psychopathy via brain imaging scans and genetic testing.

This is probably the most stunningly obvious, yet seldom thought about reason for why society never seems to function the way we want it. Personalities differ. Some people are whats called "extroverts", and others are "introverts". This is just an arbitrary category we put people in to make sense to ourselves of how people relate at the feeling level in human communication.

People who are shy and introverted have a sensitive autonomic nervous system which overreacts to social-emotional signals. Sensitivity per se is a highly useful in promoting "connection" between minds, but in an environment that is "unsafe", or full of aggressors, this sensitivity can lead to "trauma", which implants its self in the bodily procedures, vital state, visceral state, emotional state and cognitive states.

An intelligent society, to quote the Dalai Lama, is a society which seeks the well being of all of its members. It is fair, because it understands what unequal division of resources feels like on the social level. Our brains don't like it. Evolution has made cooperation the cherry on top on the evolutionary sundae. Usually, evolution operates via "survival of the fittest". Whichever organism posses environmentally salient traits is "selected" and become a "type" for future organisms within it's species. But as evolution has progressed and mammals evolved larger brains through the process of encephalization (adding to older brain "models"), species became more sophisticated in how they connected with one another. Paradoxically, as organisms became more "individualistic" i.e, as primates, in humans, they have developed complex techniques to harmonize and connect with one another on cognitive, emotional, and neurobiological levels. Simply look at what were doing right now - socializing on an abstract representational platform (computer) - to highlight how complex and embedded our way of being is.

But, unfortunately, despite our powers of self awareness, self reflection, and the ability to guide cognitions and seed emotions, we tend to operate on the principle of "might is right". It has been implied in every civilization that has ever lived on this planet. It was a principle of operation of large bad hunter-gatherers. However, small band hunter-gatherers, which still exist in the far reaches of our earth, live in egalitarian societies, and cultivate feelings of playfulness in each of it's members as a way to promote wellbeing, loyalty and connection between each member.

So, apparently, with civilization came the opposite of small band cooperation: competition. Competition is a powerful force of creation. I am not in any way seeking to diminish the importance of competition. But I do believe competition should be handled mindfully. If not handled mindfully, strict and rigid systems of hierarchy form, and within the minds of it's members, theres lives a "active representation" of this mode of relating. Each individual member becomes "primed" to seek its own survival. Survival is no longer interpreted as "physical". i.e. eating, shelter. As human beings, we are extremely social creatures. In fMRI scans of people dealing with social rejection, the same areas of the brain which process the emotional distress of physical pain (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) carry out the emotional distress of social rejection. Not being liked can feel debilitating. On the other hand, having social power can be intoxicating.

In every society that has existed from Sumer until today, the most sociopathic, the most unfeeling, the most unscrupulous and pragmatic types of people, fight their way to the top of the pyramid, where, if they're mild mannered, they will oftentimes come to terms of peace, allowing an oligarchy to form and specific types of people to become propagated, with a very specific personality type and character profile, perpetuating itself in the leaders to come.

This is a simple fact of social psychology. If hurting others doesn't hurt you, and you notice that it hurts other people, the thought will come to mind "they are weaklings", because, of course, being different from other people cannot be interpreted by these people as a pathology. If they're going to "be this way", they want to be their way on their own terms. That is, they will develop their own philosophies and own beliefs about the world, not for one second, stopping, and really realizing that they are the evolutionary "duds" that didn't develop properly in the womb. That part working normally in the majority, the 98% with the capacity for empathic connection, is beautiful. And it is sad when someone can't experience the beauty and truth of our existential and spiritual unity.

Really, the metaphor of the reptilian is quite apt. All mammals seek social connection. Every mammalian mother takes care of her young. Reptiles, conversely, sometimes eat their young. They have nothing we could call "emotion". They have walnut sized brains. They live at the "bare minimum", following drives, and not connecting with other members of it's group in any significant social way. Our lowest brain area, the brain stem, is what the "reptilian brain" refers to. The neurobiological evolution of the human brain is theorized to contain three evolutionary layers. The oldest one is the reptilian brain - the brain stem, which controls basic bodily functions. There is a profound similarity of this area of the human brain with the brains of reptiles. All mammals have this brain plan. Next, there is whats known as the "paleomammalian" brian, which is the brain of more primitive mammals. This handles basic social interaction at the emotional level. Creatures with brains dominated by this feature, such as rats, connect in ways that lack the variety and complexity that is seen in primates, cetaceans (dolphins, whales) and elephants. Lastly, there is the neomammalian brain, which is the outer cortex that covers the mid brain (paleomammalian). This terms sometimes refers to the prefrontal cortex of the human brain.

The parts of the brain damaged or non-functioning in the brains of sociopaths is the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, as well as the ventral striatum, and anterior insula. This means we know where the differences in activation happen, and we can use computers to find specific patterns of activation that indicate sociopathic functioning. Of course, in addition to this a psychological test can be done to diagnose sociopathy.

Years from now, we will be able to pinpoint whats going wrong in the cellular functioning in these brain regions. We will identify specific neurons involved in encoding empathic resonance, and we can find the specific genes unique to socioapthic functioning. In short, we can really develop the technology to screen sociopaths to prevent them from entering positions of power and authority.

This is a fundamental issue in our society, as House of Cards shows us. lf As Spaceys character francis underwood put it "I pray to myself, for myself", is true of most of these people, it seems like a good idea that we try to keep people like this out of positions requiring a sense of responsibility.
edit on 25-3-2014 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 02:05 AM
The beauty of brain imaging technologies is that you can't lie to them. When we have amassed enough information to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that sociopathy can be discovered by "reading" someones emotional state by analyzing the patterns of activation. When a certain unique pattern turns up when someone is asked to look at a picture of someone crying, and if it comes up again and again in additional experiments, then one can surely conclude "this individual would be unfit for public office". Of course, since sociopaths are so keen on power, they would perhaps try to co-opt the system (assuming that there thinking is recursive, and constantly seeking to anticipate and work to undermine any approach that might "weed out" their kind). In anycase, putting provisions like this in place, done for the public good, will eventually produce a society with better leaders.

This is what science can do for us. It is using what we know about the brain to intelligent social use.

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 02:12 AM
Well said!

The problem is that society needs all types to function.

As a first step, a tiny step, we need to stop morons from getting into positions of power.

Sadly though, Police forces have a cap on IQ for recruits, they want yes men not thinkers.

Political parties want a few decent minds and then they also want moronic yes men.

Not a single system of government has stood the test of time, they all fail.

What you suggest is good, but, consider the down side. Think slippery slopes!


posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 03:54 AM
reply to post by Astrocyte

Wouldn't that be discrimination?

Arbitrarily excluding an entire demographic from a social interaction based on how one might perceive these "feelings".

That's a slippery slope.

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 04:16 AM
Instead of testing for a brain, maybe we should be testing politicians for morals? or conscience? or compassion?

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 11:22 AM
reply to post by DataWraith

First, they could lie and mislead in an interview.

Second, empathy forms the basis for conscience and morality. If people do not "feel" a need to connect with other people, they are not likely to form cognitions that are moral. Underlying thinking is feeling.

Third, they can't trick a genetic test/brain imaging test. They may be able to say they feel "compassion", but unless the brain imaging scan justifies it, they are lying - as sociopaths are wont to do.

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 11:33 AM
reply to post by watchitburn

An "entire demographic" that is highly vulnerable to being corrupted.

A child molester is not allowed to become a teacher because we recognize the relationship between "feeling" and "acting". We don't raise our arms and cry injustice when people like this are excluded from working as teachers, because, simply put, their emotional pathology gives us very good reason to believe that they are liable to "slipping", to succumbing to the temptations that come with working around children day in and day out.

Similarly, a sociopath is not working for himself, but for others. The problem is, he does not "feel" the connection between himself and others. If this fundamental feeling state is lacking, then, like the case above, there is very good reason to believe that is liable to being corrupted by the pressures that come with political leadership.

The basic principle is this: feeling underlies thinking. "What" we choose to think about is largely predicated on "how we feel" from moment to moment. For someone who is pathologically unable to experience an empathic resonance with other minds, this person will invariably put his own personal interests and desires above those of the people he is hired to serve.

There's no "slippery" slope. It makes a lot of sense to implement a screening process like this to keep people like that out of positions which require a developed sense of empathy.

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 11:37 AM
reply to post by pheonix358

What would be the slippery slope of implementing a screening program that checks for a brain with a normal empathy profile? This seems pretty innocuous to me.

I'm not saying we should screen children before they enter school, as the neuroscientist Adrian Raine suggests. THAT would be a slippery slope. I'm talking about restricting this technology to people running for public office. Since the position itself grants a single individual great power and influence, it seems rational, even praiseworthy, to make certain that the person were electing is emotionally normal, and not a psychopathic bent on accumulating personal power in his "social chess board".

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 12:11 PM
Very well written, SnF for you.

However, I would think that some of the worlds brightest and most effective people may well have fallen into the psychopathic groups that you speak of. Our leaders need to have a mechanical disconnect wired in, in order to be effective. The ability to navigate any political system demands the disconnect. That said, I think a good leader should know when and how to turn this attribute off and on accordingly.

I think that you are onto something here. The idea of enlightenment may be rooted in the other side of this coin. Maybe we need to nourish the more compassionate side of ourselves through the very awareness that you speak of though, as opposed to constraining other equally effective attributes.

Understanding the nature of our species and it's obsessions is paramount to overcoming the destructive tendencies we have. Without the need to dominate and exploit our habitat we never would have evolved to have the power we have over it and ourselves.

I think that the answers to becoming better stewards over each other and this planet we need to embrace our environment and everything that exists within it. Our reality is a vast network of wonderment and life. We are hard wired for trying to understand all of it's workings. Each one of us has a profound need to fill our senses and memories with these things, and I believe that when this doesn't happen, our brains tend to become atrophied in a sense. This is where we end up being driven by the psychopathic tendencies that you speak of, and as a consequence we get stuck in the egotistical and self serving sides of our nature.

If we ever get to the point where we realise this and learn to fill ourselves up with the wonders of nature we may begin to coexist in a more complimentary fashion with each other and the environment. In order to get to that point I believe that we need to be looking outwardly for our answers as opposed to inwardly. We are not meant to be gods over nature, it's not within our capabilities. We need learn how to simply be spectators.

If our species is ever going to become purely spectators though, I think that we've got a lot of evolving to do. Our first priority needs to be in teaching ourselves how to nurse our world and it's inhabitants back to health. The knowledge and research that you speak of will undoubtedly be a great tool for getting us there.
edit on 25-3-2014 by Quauhtli because: ...

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 03:30 PM
reply to post by Astrocyte

One could also argue that they are less susceptible to corruption, since they are not motivated by the same things as "neuro-typical" people.

I would also counter argue that those who have the ability to think without their reason clouded by emotion will make the correct choice using reason and logic more often than another person.

I also find it amusing how people seem to always assume that if someone is corrupt or committed a crime they must of course be psychopaths or sociopaths.
The false assumption that "no one like me could ever do that"

Unfortunately, mankind has proven time and again that all people are equally capable of crime and corruption.

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 07:50 PM
reply to post by Quauhtli

However, I would think that some of the worlds brightest and most effective people may well have fallen into the psychopathic groups that you speak of. Our leaders need to have a mechanical disconnect wired in, in order to be effective. The ability to navigate any political system demands the disconnect. That said, I think a good leader should know when and how to turn this attribute off and on accordingly.

You get a star just for that first paragraph. Interesting point! And thats precisely my point. The ability to "turn on and off" implies an ability to move between feeling states. When I am "on", in a mechanical, and mentalistic sort of way, emotion is "muted". Whenever we think analytically about things the awareness of emotion, at a visceral, bodily way, is effaced from awareness. It's like a "quieting" that makes the mind clearer, allowing attention and concentration to operate in abstract, recursive, and embedded ways.

If someone fundamentally has something wrong with his brain in the regions mentioned above (the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, ventral striatum, amygdala) that is, their brain expresses a pattern of activation that is different from brains that express empathy in response to external cues (such as a child crying), then I think that seals the deal. Their central processing system (their brain) isn't picking up a signal that is integral to social harmony: empathic resonance.

A leader without empathic resonance is someone guided by emotions and feelings which are formed in purely egocentric categories. Two systems in normal human brains are theorized to regulate emotional connection: the "theory of mind" system, and the "mirror neuron system". The former is also known as the brains "default state". When were doing nothing, when were told to stop doing something and relax, the same brain regions "light up" from subject to subject.

The Mentalizing System:

The Mirror System:

If a politician lacks this normal activation profile, that is a major red flag. There is no more important a position than to be a representative for someone else. This is what mayors, council members, congressman, senators, presidents, ministers, judges, etc, do for a living. Since society is SOCIAL at heart, and being social implies an emotional resonance with other minds, than obviously, whats most important to being in this position of power is not merely "intelligence", i.e. a cognitive "distance", but more fundamentally, an emotional interest in helping other people. If such a person enters such a position without this generalized "way of understanding things", then he is highly, HIGHLY liable to being corrupted, or perverted, once something which piques his egoiccentric perspective guides him down a road which he will only feel most comfortable in, because he never had a sense of obligation and indebtedness to the people who elected him, or the people whom he exercises great power over.

So intelligence and distance is absolutely important, no doubt, but if the emotional direction isn't there, if the person doesn't Feel in the way that is needed to support a prosocial direction, than he is bound to corrupt himself, and the people and system he functions within. Overtime, the system becomes one which operates in a public and shadowy way. Since the majority of the guys are sociopathic, in that they have interests and goals that are not consistent with the good of the people they are representatives of, over a time a culture "forms" and this culture is maintained because the majority of guys are "immoral", they have this recursive way of thinking about things, as house of cards shows. Its like chess to these sorts of guys. They want to get ahead, and they want to amass more power and or more money, and they do so by getting information on another guy. And if not that, they'll use some other means. Point being, the "culture" of corruption exists because it is continuous property of political systems. And it's a continuous part of political systems because human social psychology causes the "sociopaths" bent on accumulating power - a power, social in nature, which is utterly intoxicating for egomaniacs - to fight for control. The only way of breaking this positive feedback is to become aware of it. In time, I hope, people will take more seriously how susceptible we are to these types of "blinders". We look, so often, to external things to explain why corruption and inequality exists, but we fail to consider the more psychological reasons - that we can only know what others tell us, and we cannot be 100% certain that were saying is the truth.

While I acknowledge the slippery" slope nature of implementing brain imaging testing as a way to prevent a certain group of people from entering political office, if we are mindful, and careful to rigorously analyze and debate the pros and cons of brain screening technology, taking each case on it's own merits, I'm sure we will agree, for the most part, that since holding political power is so important, and grants people special powers of authority and influence, that it is actually crucial that we be absolutely sure that this person is emotionally capable to perform his duty with honour and integrity.

In fact, I think there is great wisdom in doing this. An honest person would not have a problem putting his brain to the test, because he knows deep down that he possesses empathy. Conversely, someone who doesn't experience empathy for others will be the one moaning and complaining about "civil rights", because of course they do not want to be exposed and have a part of life - something which tickles their fancy - completely cut off for them.

On another point, there is nothing more deranged than twisting the moral argument in favor of the sociopaths, as if the public - 97-98% of human beings with normal empathic resonance - should put the public good ahead of the personal interests of sociopaths.

While I have a small part of me which pities sociopaths, because, in fact, they are deprived of a very special part of the human experience. I am not about to forget the context and ignore all the problems and difficulties they cause for others.

posted on Mar, 25 2014 @ 08:20 PM
reply to post by Quauhtli

I think that you are onto something here. The idea of enlightenment may be rooted in the other side of this coin. Maybe we need to nourish the more compassionate side of ourselves through the very awareness that you speak of though, as opposed to constraining other equally effective attributes.

That's the other side of the coin. Maybe different from "your coin", but the other thing we can do, which we are doing, is cultivate mindfulness and awareness in society.

But I think there is still something congenital to political systems. They form another "culture" different from the general public culture. Just because a society contains mindful and compassionate people doesn't necessarily mean that those "entrenched" in power, the "upper echelon", will cede their power without a fight. In other words, the individuals at the "top", the culture" of elitism and power and wealth for the sake of power and wealth which they cultivate, will likely persist. And a separation between the two cultures are likely to exist because the ones at the top are constantly "scheming" against the awareness of those at the bottom.

I'm not going to speculate about conspiracies, even though this is mostly what this site is about. I'm stating flat out, as a basic rule of human social psychology, and perhaps, a staple of primate psychology, that the most aggressive and cold individuals rise to the top. This happens because they are willing to be bad.

This is where we end up being driven by the psychopathic tendencies that you speak of, and as a consequence we get stuck in the egotistical and self serving sides of our nature.

Although each of us are capable of being "psychopaths", the term really does to neuropsychological disorder of emotional functioning. Whether it is "genetic" i.e. occurs as a matter of genetic mutation, or experiential - whether in the womb, or in the first 2 years of life where 5/6ths of brain completes its growth - something in the brains of certain people are "biologically" wrong. They seem to be incapable of feeling the states of others. They also share other symptoms like a very low resting heart rate, very low responsiveness to fear and threat, and it takes more for them to "sweat". In other words, the problems I mentioned above with regard to socioemotional processing, translate physically as low reactive autonomic arousal. It takes a lot to stimulate them, so they stimulate themselves by engaging in highly egoistic, and oftentimes, highly aggressive activities. I think as much as 30% of prison inmates are biologically psychopathic.

Our first priority needs to be in teaching ourselves how to nurse our world and it's inhabitants back to health.

I agree. What happens outside in our environment is holistically connected to whats wrong within us.

One could say the main problem of our time is a "left hemispheric bias" in bilateral neural processing. What we we see in the world is largely predicated on "how" we choose to see. The right hemisphere thinking in terms of context and wholes, which is why the body and emotions have more connections with the right hemisphere than the left. The body gives one a sense of "wholeness". When you experience the world in a I-Thou way, the environment feels like an extension of self. Everything becomes sacred, awesome, and meaningful. Conversely, when we look at the world in n I-it way, the world becomes focused upon in a particularistic, linear, causative, and syllogistic way.

Just look at how organize our environments. Schizophrenia thrives in cities because city steets, buildings, i.e the forms which schizophrenics live within, reflect the pathological patterns of schizophrenic perception: fragmented, particulatistic, linear, - all unnatural forms, all things created by human abstraction and not at all related to immediate body-world experiencing. No wonder we all feel the way we do. We implant within our environments cues that prime our attention. It's a feedback loop between what we put out and the power of the symbol to influence what we take in.

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