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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » worth getting off the couch for

   
Author Topic: worth getting off the couch for
J
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This thread is my attempt to do double duty by (1) stimulating an (at least potentially) interesting discussion and (2) doing research for my WIP.

(A)
What aspect of your internal experience (mind, soul, psyche, however you want to classify) would you find the most debasing to your humanity if it were somehow taken from you by force?
Assume that you get to keep your reason and your ability to feel emotion.

(B)
Explain your answer to (A)

In the true spirit of OSC, discard your first answer and post the second thing to come to your mind.


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Beth
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I don't think I understand the question.

I don't know what you mean by "aspect of your internal experience" and I don't know why that would be "debasing," exactly.

I'm confused.


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J
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You're only confused because my question was vague and unclear.

Allow me to restate.
Say somebody tampered with your brain and changed something. Anything. The only rule about the change they made is that it has to affect the way you perceive, feel, or think about yourself or about the world around you. For example, they could have taken away your conscience. Or dulled your sense of emotional pain. Or sharpened your natural sense of direction. Or induced perpetual endorphin-euphoria. Etc.

In this infinite class of possibilities, are there any that stand out to you as being particularly insulting or harmful to your humanity--to the essence of what makes you human?


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Beth
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ah, much clearer, thank you! now i'm going to think about it for a while.
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Survivor
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Just a question, why are reason and emotion exempted here?

Another question, is it my humanity as such that must be damaged by the change, or could injury to non-human aspects of sentience qualify?

A final question, are changes that could be induced by natural or simulated experiences excluded?


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Jeraliey
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I'd have to say ability to understand others' attempts at communication.

[This message has been edited by Jeraliey (edited November 12, 2004).]


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Survivor
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See, that's one of those things I already lack
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Magic Beans
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Inability to feel empathy.
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Jeraliey
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Oh goodness. I didn't even realize. ::BLUSH::
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Survivor
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How could losing an inability to feel empathy harm your humanity?
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djvdakota
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Guilt. Or Love.

Edit-o-rama. So, I forgot to explain my reasoning.

Although I think it is somewhat obvious. Without guilt you could never make a 'wrong' choice. You would quickly become the ultimate relativist, and you would become callous towards the natural consequences of your action. And if there is no guilt, there is no restraint to keep you from doing or saying anything.

Now Love--that seems an OSC first choice. But I think it would be the thing I missed the most.

[This message has been edited by djvdakota (edited November 12, 2004).]

[This message has been edited by djvdakota (edited November 12, 2004).]


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QuantumLogic
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I never feel guilty when I do something wrong. But I still know I did something wrong, and I still try to choose not to do it.

The characteristic that I feel is most fundamental to "ME" is my method of logically analyzing things.


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Magic Beans
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Being tampered with so that you are unable to feel empathy would make you inhuman, is what I meant.

Besides, hate to say this, but if it's just the brain that's tampered with, it won't work, anyway. Brain does not equal software, Body does not equal hardware. That idea is now outdated. It is far, far more complex than that.

Emotions are emergent phenomena arising from many complex systems, only one of which is the nervous system, and only part of which is in the brain. Even then, it is only a convenient oversimplification to think of the nervous system as a system that is separate from other systems, like political borders drawn on a map. Your limbic and endocrine systems play a huge role in emoting. Consider doing some research.


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Survivor
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Well, he already said that ability to feel emotion was off limits (I asked why, and your answer is as good as any, I suppose--though you can eliminate a human's ability to be sensible of emotion even though the physiological indicators are still present).

What if you naturally lack empathy rather than having lost such an ability through tampering? And just to be perverse, what if emotion only affected you physiologically, not mentally?


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Magic Beans
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I have a pet theory that what we call "civilization" is nothing more than our minds over-thinking about what our biology and emotions naturally drive us to do. For example, biology demands the species propagate. Civilization (Western and Christian, anyway) says sex is forbidden outside the bounds of marriage. Biology says to hell with that. Hilarity ensues. The point is, to take away one's ability to think or consider or otherwise cogitate about their emotions would probably make one more primal (not necessarily in an animalistic sense). I still find it highly doubtful that this could be done at all, because the chief tools one uses to keep emotions in check are imagination and empathy. One imagines the consequences and engages in forethought regarding whether or how to act on emotions. One empathizes with the pain another might experience if one follows through with a rash decision influenced by strong emotions. This being the case proves our humanity. There are other reasons one can imagine to not do something, such as fear of punishment, but that is a baser reason than empathizing with those who may be hurt by one's actions. One is mere survival, the other transcends survival for the good of all. Even in the future, it seems too complex a task to somehow excise these abilities from people.

A personality is an emergent, dynamical phenomenon, and is much more than the sum of the neurons, bodily systems, genetics, and upbringing that are its basic building blocks. If these component parts were tampered with, the manner in which it affects the emergent properties that comprise a person could never, I think, be predicted. Perhaps in an attempt to do so, it would be the unintended consequences that would be the crux of the story. The butterfly effect within the myriad interdependent systems of a human being.

Finally, any person who seems incapapble of empathy is, in my opinion, the lowest sort of person. Taken to its extreme end, one would be a sociopath.

[This message has been edited by Magic Beans (edited November 14, 2004).]


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Survivor
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Couldn't a person seem capable of empathy even though said person is not actually capable of it? After all, there has been a lot of recent robotics and machine intelligence work on making simple "anderoids" that appear to have human emotional responses.

And getting back to a question I already asked, aren't there aspects of sentience which are more important than humanity?


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J
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This is a great conversation.

Survivor, what is it about 'sentience' that you find more meaningful than 'humanity?' I think I'd understand your question better if you could illustrate with an example.
I mean, what is humanity other than the particular way in which humans experience sentience?
If you have any answer somewhere in the wings that is being repressed due to my use of the word 'humanity' instead of 'sentience,' then by all means bring it to the party.

Good show, to whoever said 'guilt.' I think the point there was well made.

Magic Beans, have no fear regarding my treatment of the human brain.

Regarding your point on empathy--I would like to probe a little further.
I agree with you, assuming the person were born with sociopathic tendencies. But what if a perfectly normal person had their empathetic abilities removed (don't worry about the science of it for the moment). Don't you think that decades of social conditioning and sheer force of habit would minimize deviations in their behavior. Perhaps they would become a worse person without empathy, but they would still remember being empathic. Further, all of their ingrained social and personal responses would have been formed when they were empathetic.

Dogs feel empathy. What is it about empathy that you find so uniquely human?

[This message has been edited by J (edited November 15, 2004).]


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Magic Beans
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I'm afraid you're going to have to convince me that dogs feel empathy. Animals learn to respond to repeated stimuli, and it may look as though they're imagining a possible future, but they're not. Animals have no concept of the future, at leat not that I know of. I know of no study that has ever proved such a thing (I'll try to find one, though).

quote:
Don't you think that decades of social conditioning and sheer force of habit would minimize deviations in their behavior. Perhaps they would become a worse person without empathy, but they would still remember being empathic. Further, all of their ingrained social and personal responses would have been formed when they were empathetic.

That is a good point. It might interest you to know something about Asperger's Syndrome, which causes its sufferers to have extremely limited social interactivity, often lacking a sense of humor and becoming utterly obsessed with one particular subject that may not make any sense to anyone else. The reason I bring this up is because most of the time this form of autism goes completely undiagnosed, and these poor people truly don't understand why all their efforts to fit into society come to naught.

Now that I mention it, not being able to process events in such a way so as to find them funny would likely be a terrible thing to experience.

[This message has been edited by Magic Beans (edited November 15, 2004).]


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J
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http://www.medicine.uiowa.edu/prestonresearch/EmpathyChapter.pdf
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Magic Beans
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That was a very interesting read, and I appreciate you posting it. After reading it, let me specify that the kind of empathy I was talking about would be classified as cognitive empathy according to that paper, as in imaginative, time-displaced, perspective-taking empathy, not reactive, state-matching, distress-response empathy. They clearly state that only humans and some very few great apes are capable of the former, while a great many species have been shown to be capable of the latter--including dogs.

As far as I know, the ability of humans to imagine a future outcome based on situations which have not yet happened requires powers of imagination far beyond situationally-responsive cognition. I believe this is unique to humans. Were it to be lost, we would be in quite a pickle.

[This message has been edited by Magic Beans (edited November 15, 2004).]


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shadowynd
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Alright, I'll give this a shot.

The ability to form memories.

We define ourselves, largely, by our experiences, by our education and socialization. We store away the items that are important to us as memories. Take away the ability to form memories, and you have effectively taken away the ability to learn, to form lasting relationships and much more. How can you love someone if you cannot remember them from day to day, minute to minute? How can you know right from wrong if you cannot remember what society's norms dictate? Would you even have morals?

Of course this all depends on what age this is taken away from a person. The younger the person, the more profound the effect. I am not saying take away one's memories, those already stored, just the ability to commit anything else to memory. An older person stripped of this ability would still have all of their memories.

Perhaps then a greater impact would be to remove one's ability to retrieve memories and information. That would affect anyone profoundly.

Susan


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Survivor
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quote:
How can you love someone if you cannot remember them from day to day, minute to minute? How can you know right from wrong if you cannot remember what society's norms dictate?

Man, you people are making me all depressed.

Really, I think that if my sentience were damaged, I wouldn't particularly care. Of course I would rather not lose my sentience, but once I lost it, I think I would also have lost the ability to notice that it was missing.

I think the most important part of sentience is the will to become more sentient. But I think that isn't an important part of being human. Neither the desire to be more sentient nor the desire to be more human makes you human.


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Survivor
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On the subject of empathy, I thought I'd share this

Really, it certainly isn't any worse than that article on testing the empathic responses of various animals. It amazes me that humans will deliberately set out to prove that rats are morally superior to man.


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reid
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Shadowynd- Loss of memory was my very first thought on reading J's initial post. There's an excellent essay in The New Atlantis about Hollywood's infatuation with memory loss and what that says about us (http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/5/bowman.htm).

On that note, I highly recommend Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (now on DVD)to anyone that hasn't seen it. It's a beautiful movie.

Brian


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Keeley
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Nice link, Survivor. I'm sending it out to my friends.

I was going to say "loss of memory" as well, but you guys beat me to it. :P

My husband saw part of ESotSM. The part he saw was good and he now wants to see the rest.

If you want to see a depressing, but excellent movie about memory loss, also try Memento. Seeing what the main character becomes is both horrifying and fascinating.


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goatboy
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If I lost my memory, I probably wouldn't notice, because I wouldn't remember what life was like before I lost it.
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