Wednesday, October 07, 2009

How We Read Each Other's Minds

I found out that the embed codes from the TED site doesn't work with my Google Reader, so I went back to the YouTube version.

Probably the most "stunning" part of Rebecca Saxe's talk is how moral judgments can be affected by magnetic fields. It decreases the desire to blame for intentional acts and increases the desire to blame in accidental acts. As she tried to explain, it takes a noticable magnetic field to actually do anything. Pay attention to the video excerpt, where she is zapped by the equipment - there is a physical and visual response. Let me repeat - there is a physical and visual response. And the effect is TEMPORARY. Of course, if you are attached to your tinfoil hat, far be it from me to deny you another reason to sport it.

Now the question is - what about those people who already put more blame for accidental acts? Obviously they aren't constantly affected by a magnetic field, so it is possible that some brain circuitry gone haywire. Of course, brain circuitry can often be affected by repetitive thoughts and actions.

Another interesting study shows that when the right hemisphere of the brain is similarly stimulated, there is a gender difference in how that stimulation is perceived. To quote my capstone paper: "The creativity of the left hemisphere is evident in how men and women perceive the over-stimulation of the right hemisphere differently. To men it will feel like an alien presence or a source outside of themselves. To women, who are more sensitive to the stimulation, it will most likely take the form of a physical manifestation (i.e. dizziness, spinning, spatial displacement, etc.) from a source inside them. (Persinger, 2003) It is interesting to note that the left hemisphere will also cause delusions to compensate for right hemisphere damage. (Wood, 2009)"

Persinger believes that this is an example of male egotism. Some may say it explains all religious experiences. However, the question is then - what is causing the stimulation of the right brain in those cases? Some we can account for. Others we can't. So while it may give some people warm fuzzies to learn of this, it still doesn't actually prove or disprove anything theological. There is just not enough research and data. Our physical senses can give us weird stuff that aren't accurate and yet most of what they give us is considered accurate. Many of us have hypnogognic hallucinations and delusions. It is not an indication of our sanity or lack thereof.

The following video from TED is about Charles Bonnett hallucinations:

In the cases of Charles Bonnett and hynagognic hallucinations, we know the stimulus sources. Perhaps one day we will know all sources, until then an analytical critical mind will have to be willing to accept abiguity on the matter and be willing to accept that a difference of opinion doesn't necessitate a judgment of insanity on the other person's part. (Insanity is a legal issue, not a medical issue, anyway.)

Persinger, M. (2003, January). The sensed presence within experimental settings: implications for the male and female concept of self. Journal of Psychology, 137(1), 5. Retrieved December 1, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.

Woods, L. (2009, January). Association between delusions and consistent pattern of brain injury. Medical News Today. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from

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