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Medical Magnetic field modifies morality

  1. Apr 10, 2010 #1


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    What are your thoughts and does anyone know if the proceedings are available without being a member?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2010 #2


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    So, morality is just above the right ear? That's too funny.
  4. Apr 11, 2010 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    Darn, I was still rooting for Descarte and the pineal gland.
  5. Apr 11, 2010 #4
    Sounds bogus to me.
  6. Apr 11, 2010 #5
    I don't see why this is surprising, or any stranger than a snort of oxytocin causing people to act in a more trusting manner (until they lose their minds of course...).

    TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) is not bogus, nor is it even particularly controversial, although it is still very much in its infancy. Much of what we consider to be moral actions, are pro-social actions, presumably ones which evolved and rely on neurological structures or processes.

    Of course, is "morality above the right ear" or is just a handy place to disrupt a particular process? That, is still unkown, but if anyone here has met or worked with someone who suffered a TBI involving the frontal lobe, this isn't surprising at all.

    @Pythagorean: I subscribe to the (general) JAMA and archives, but I don't see tha tit is published there. That said, JAMA has a great deal of free literature available, and much concerning TMS. Sadly, most of the free work is opinion or commentary.
  7. Apr 11, 2010 #6
    It's precisely because there are so many "moral" degenerations associated with right frontal lobe damage (the case of Phineus Gage being the best known example) that locating morality in the rtpj seems suspect.

    How is it they focused only on moral questions after stimulating this area? Would a broader range of questions reveal that it alters all kinds of situation analysis?

    Also, it's an annoyingly unrigorous assertion. In the same way right frontal lobe damage causes "moral degeneration" because the right frontal lobe is responsible for impulse control, what is the actual function being interrupted here that seems to present as 'morality'?

    I'm not disputing that TMS can alter the way the brain works, by the way.
  8. Apr 11, 2010 #7
    Hey, that's why I said they could just as easily have disrupted a critical pathway or process. That said, Frontal Lobe Trauma usually hampers impulse control, the ability to reflect upon one's action, and plan. If you take that away, but the moral center remains, I still don't know that you'd be able to tell.

    That the TMS did NOT have that full range of effects, is probably more telling than what the authors' conclusions were. As I said, this is very new; essentially TMS is (temporary) Psychosurgery, and that has always been a terribly blunt instrument. That said, they disrupted procesess' critical to behaviour we percieve as moral AT LEAST... I find that telling.

    I would just add, that there is Mr. Gage was a REMARKABLE example... most people don't have a pipe through their head. Frontal TBI's are often much harder to quantify or qualify, because the damage is due to impact, swelling, or loss of circulation. When you then look at such a person in saaaay, an fMRI, you say, "Ah, the frontal lobe is relatively 'dark'," but is that becuase there is no demand being placed on it, or is it critically damaged?

    I'm not saying that this was some amazing study, but "Sounds bogus to me" was not informative enough for me to understand your position. Frankly, it sounds as though we agree.

    As for more questions, there are other studies, but it's going to be at least 3-5 years before there is enough data to BEGIN making declarative statements to BBC, or by the BBC. Then again, they're competing for funding, so not exactly a shock.
  9. Apr 11, 2010 #8


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    That doesn't seem to conflict with the two assertions from the researcher (ignoring the journalist's remarks) that TMS "modifies morality" and that the "RTPJ is necessary for morality".

    But I do agree that this is likely to be a specific process associated with morality, not morality itself (which is an abstract concept, not a behavior or task).

    The Temporal and Parietal lobes have a lot to do with our world model. I think morality isn't much different. We learn cues about morality from our society. In the end, a lot of morality is a matter of 'social intelligence' (judging what society accepts and does not) which relies on episodic memories (being punished for being bad or seeing others punished for behavior) and semantic memories (when something is defined as bad).

    Episodic memory is associated with the parietal lobes, while semantic memory is associated with the temporal lobes.
  10. Apr 11, 2010 #9
    I have to say, I was pretty dissapointed by the journalist... the BBC used to be so much better than this. REUTERS used to be. DAMN I'm tired of everything being lost in translation, or an attempt at sensationalism.
  11. Apr 11, 2010 #10


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    Yeah, whenever I read these kinds of articles, I generally skip the aesthetics. This is why I was wondering if anyone had found a link to the actual proceedings so that we wouldn't even bother arguing over or discussing the journalism.
  12. Apr 11, 2010 #11
    I looked... no joy yet. :(
  13. Apr 12, 2010 #12
    You could get a person drunk, give them the same morality questions, and then conclude that alcohol's effect on people is that it disrupts morality. Of course it does, but that would be a narrow and mis-emphasized final conclusion to draw about alcohol: there's a lot more going on, and I have to wonder why these researchers are are screening for effects on 'morality' to begin with. It strongly suggests to me there's an agenda behind it.
  14. Apr 12, 2010 #13


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    Which has already been done...

    I don't see an emphasis. If you're making generalizations in a global sense, you don't rely on one study. This kind of research is a contribution to the whole question, not an answer to it. You're speaking more to the responsibilities of the reader than to the experimenters.

    What kind of agenda? I'm largely politically ignorant, so it's not surprising I can't find a motivation for deceit associated with this kind of experiment.
  15. Apr 12, 2010 #14
    An agenda, not a political agenda. What I suspect is something like this:

    You may or may not be aware of the attention Ramachandran got when he published his hastily put together speculations about a "God-Module" in the brain. He, himself, quickly realized that the criticism of it, that it was based on only two or three patients, was a good criticism and he regretted having let the idea get into print without more study and thought. Regardless, the notion spread like wildfire, and even became the crux of a plot of an X-files episode. It made him a minor celebrity.

    I am thinking these researchers may be trying for something similar with the 'discovery' of a "Morality Module". "Magnetic field modifies morality" is vastly more attention getting than "TMS alters hierarchy of values in social analysis" or whatever title might be more soberly descriptive. In the world of "Publish or Perish" a study that gets picked up by the popular media is a feather in your cap. Even if it's picked apart by your colleages, as Ramachandran's experience demonstrates.
  16. Apr 12, 2010 #15
    I'm sure it may be difficult to assess the extent of the damage on a scan, but it doesn't take anything near Gage-like damage to the frontal lobes to produce amoral and anti-social behavior.

    Couple of personal anecdotes: I once met a girl who had her right orbital fossa fractured by her ex boyfriend. In addition to a grand mal seizure about a year later, she had quit her job since the attack and become a stripper. There used to be a guy who was a regular seller at the swap meet I go to who was belligerent, profane, and completely unwilling to negotiate on any sales ("You're just tryin' to screw me. Take a hike, a-hole.") He always had the surly demeanor of someone who was very drunk and angry. One day his lady friend explained to me he'd been shot in the forehead at some point with a .22, and the bullet was still lodged in his brain.

    A few years back I saw a program on TV where they gave that NY serial killer, Rifkin, I think his name was, an 8 hour battery of neurological tests. He did great on the bulk of them, and they even assessed his I.Q. at 125. Where he fell down completely was on the impulse control tests: failed all three flat out. The neurologist concluded there was no doubt he had something wrong with his right frontal lobe.

    As you probably know chronic crystal meth users become completely amoral and lie outrageously without hesitation. Meth use has been pretty solidly linked to frontal lobe damage. And, of course, the link between sociopathic behavior and reduced frontal lobe functioning is probably known to you.

    So, yes, Gage had some really extreme damage, but it was probably far in excess of the minimum required to produce an authentically amoral and anti-social person. I don't know what the minimum might be: scull fracture, cyst, occluded blood vessel? It doesn't have to be a pipe through the head, though.
  17. Apr 12, 2010 #16


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    I wrote about TMS in my Lancet Neurology column some years back. It might be of some relevance....particularly this comment "Experiments indeed show that hitting the higher cortex releases the "lower brain" to make more rapid, less inhibited, automatic responses. People hesitate less when adding up numbers or naming objects in line drawings."

  18. Apr 12, 2010 #17
    Wow, we agree I think. I liken this to people being given snorts of Oxytocin, playing trust games, and then reading an article about "mind control sprays". Mind ALTERING sure, but then so is a pipe through the noggin.

    This to me is just a new generation of the same old psychosurgeons, some with good intent and too much naivetee, some who do decent research but SERIOUSLY oversell the results for funding (understandable, but reperehensible), and most who as you so aptly say DROOL at the idea of being able to do to people for a while, what thay have to cats, dogs, and monkeys for MUCH longer.

    What always gets to me about projects such as the ones you refer to (MK ULTRA and the like), beyond the ethical cluster****, is that they don't WORK. Inevitably, some people spill their guts if you dose them with scopolamine and sodium thiopental, many don't. NOW Midazolam is the big ticket, and again, some talk, most talk too much and just babble.

    Why not just aim a Tesla Coil at someone's head at this point?! TMS clearly has an effect, but I question what kind of researcher, doctor or both is thinking when they move from that to "fine-tuning the mind". Oh, and Snyder we laugh at cry at, and realize that once again.... going back to the CIA and DARPA... M.I.C.E.

    I believe that the bolds apply to Snyder and the middle two (C in the sense that they wish to do this to others) apply to DARPA. History seems to indicate that bluntly shutting down, or depressing those 'higher functions' also depressed the part you want to influence or talk to. As for control, I just have to laugh... DARPA is thrilled that they have RV Fruit Beetles :rofl: ... as with mapping genomes, they should probably take the hint, along with anyone who thinks TMS is going to be more than mild and directed ECT sans obvious adverse reactions.

    Everyone wants to alter the mind, but they set so few standards. I can alter my mind with a beer, or by getting a good or poor night's sleep, or by having a friend crack me in the head with a bat. Making the outcome useful and predictable... Now that is currently horse****.

    Good column btw, grats on publishing in the Lancet.
  19. Apr 12, 2010 #18
    Hmmm, now we can link this thread to discussions of Greek Philosophy; we both seem to agree that TMS as a "radical breakthrough" can best be described witha single word: "Hubris".
    (note: metaphorically or literally, depending on beliefs of course)
  20. Apr 13, 2010 #19


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    I see...

    I agree that we should see more about what they did do for control (asking non-moral questions, for instance) because of the obvious role of the rtjp in semantic memory in general.

    Has anyone happened to find the proceedings themselves?
  21. Apr 13, 2010 #20


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    With regard to TMS, I have no doubt that an electromagnetic field can influence neurons. The physics and neurobiology are actually quite easy to understand (especially since EM has the neat property of superposition).

    TMS though, is a specific engineering attempt at doing that. I have no idea how it's designed or how it works, so I have no way to make a judgment on it.
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