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Primate (9/13)



  1. It is often said that depression is caused just by a chemical imbalance in the brain, so all we have to do is drug ourselves to restore the imbalance to the proper level, and we should be fine. But the problem with this is that depression is highly correlated with adverse life events, and there is no reason why people who have suffered 'depressing' events in their life should also just happen to be the same people who have a chemical imbalance in the brain. If we assume that the depressing life events cause the chemical imbalance, then the chemical imbalance is no longer the ultimate cause, but just the effect of the life event, just the way moping about is caused by sad events in one's life. Correlations can be drawn in highly misleading ways. For example, seeing an objectively real apple in the world may cause in my brain a representation of that experience in the form of an 'apple representation chemical.' We have to assume that there is always some physical correlate of any psychological experience if we are not to rely on unscientific hypotheses like the notion that experiences are represented and stored in the 'soul' but not in any physical form. But the fact that there is a distinctive chemical change in my brain in response to seeing an apple does not mean that apples are just a chemical state of the brain. On the contrary, the apple is something real in the outside world, and its representation in a different form (a brain chemical rather than a physical object) does nothing to make it 'just a chemical in the brain.' The same is true of depression: The fact that feeling sad may cause a chemical change in the brain does not mean that the feeling is nothing but a chemical, or that the chemical is its cause. A distinction used to be drawn between short-term, reactive depression in response to a negative experience in life, which was said to be a normal, non-pathological reaction to what had happened. A long-term depression was assumed to be an abnormal, pathological state. But no one ever seemed willing to deal with the problem of a real world, objective problem which endures forever for the patient, or which constantly and varies or worsens, so the patient cannot adjust to it. Is the patient's depression then a normal, reactive depression to what is objectively happening in the world, or is it an abnormal response because it is not short-term? Chronic illnesses; bereavements for people who because of age or circumstance cannot form new, equivalent attachments; or the many inescapable dead-ends and traps that the complexities of modern life creates can all cause enduring and constantly worsening sources of depressive mood in the objective world.
  2. Actually a fistula access for dialysis is not necessary, since a central-line catheter will do just as well. While needling via a fistula is extremely painful, and patients report that local anesthetic does not help much, a central-line catheter is completely painless. Fistulas tend to break down over time, so painful 'mapping' procedures are necessary to assess their patency and blood flow rates. They often have to be reconstructed, which is also a painful surgical process. Sometimes they fail to work from the outset, and so have to be constructed again. The patient has to do demanding exercises to get the fistulas to work, and the access requires about six weeks to mature before it is ready. In contrast, a central catheter is ready to use right after it is inserted. The reason why fistulas are preferred is that catheters are slightly more prone to infection, and the patients have to be careful not to get them wet. However, with some care in avoiding infection, they can last much longer and work much better than fistulas. Still, because nephrologists tend not to be able to appreciate how much pain and inconvenience patients go through with fistulas, most refuse even to permit the option of central line catheters. I have witnessed patients even refuse to continue dialysis from the pain of fistula needling, so you could even say that fistulas indirectly cause a certain percentage of patients to die. You would think that the reasons for preferring catheters would be clear, but in the highly resigned, depressive, defeatist atmosphere of renal dialysis, lots of practices prevail which would not be conceivable in more sane environments. For those considering nephrology, I would recommend internal medicine as a specialization instead, since at least some cases there are successful.
  3. Efforts to ameliorate or cure type 1 diabetes by transplanting either the entire pancreas or the functional units of the pancreas, the beta cell islets, have had little success due to their destruction either by normal immunity or by the same autoimmune response in the patient which caused diabetes in the first place. Also, with about 800,000 type 1 diabetics in the U.S. and only about 5000 cadavers becoming available for organ harvesting each year, the donor supply could never make any difference in the disease epidemiologically. A major alternative to this approach has been to transplant animal pancreas islets encasuled in a differentially permeable membrane which allows insulin to escape but which blocks the entrance of immunologically active cells. However, a decisive problem with this alternative is that the islets within the capsule rapidly decline in function and die because they are not revascularized by the host's body from outside the capsule. My question is: Would it be possible in principle to permit the host's body to revascularize the islets within the capsule, or would that disrupt the encapsulation barrier too severely or destroy the islets through vascular-based immunity? Any advice would be appreciated.
  4. Marat

    Human Rights

    The position of Kant and other idealists would hold that rights can be derived a priori, ideally but not empirically, from an analysis of the type of characteristics that would have to be possessed by people in order for them to be morally significant. So all these questions about who sets up the rights system we have, whether it can be made empirically effective, who gets to make decisions about rights, etc., make about as much sense with respect to the ideal system of rights as questions about how can we teach logic, how can people use it, and how can society accept it would make for the validity of an axiomatized system of mathematical logic. If it has trouble becoming effective in the real world, too bad for the real world. Similarly, if people get their system of rights wrong, they should look back to the Kantian derivation and check where they went wrong. However, that attitude doesn't mean that your question lacks validity, since rights are clearly designed to have real social significance. A major force in the philosophy of law today, the Critical Legal Studies movment, argues that the basic design of rights and duties in society is abusive and oppressive, since it defines certain claims and interests out of existence right at the outset. But a counter-argument would be to note that society seems to accept the system of rights we now have, since it hasn't revolted against it, so this tacit consent gives it validity. Also, because rights are formal principles, they can't reliably operate to the consistent benefit of one group or individual over another, so they have an inherent fairness. For example, the legal rule of 'aude alterem partem' -- both parties must be heard (before a neutral adjudicator), seems too formal ever to operate prejudicially against anyone. Similarly, a rule like 'ubi jus, ibi rem,' where there is a right there must be a remedy, will sometimes work for the rich and powerful and sometimes against them, sometimes for men, sometimes for women, occasionally for whites, at other times for blacks, etc. There have been attempts to define war as so immoral that no state has a right to go to war other than for purposes of self-defense against a genuine is imminent attack, but the 'Bush Doctrine' argued that in an age of weapons of mass destruction, imminent threats could be so lethal that countries have to have a broad right to make pre-emptive strikes under all sorts of excuses. There are also now principles of international law described as 'ius in bello,' or law in war, which describe internationally agreed upon rules for conducting war, taking prisoners, administering conquered terroritory, etc. Unfortunately, these are almost always violated, or sometimes prove impossible to observe because of technological advances or unique political situations. Thus it used to be a rule of war that the conquering power had to administer the conquered state domestically according to the local laws in force at the time of the conquest, so this would have compelled the Allies in 1945 to continue the Holocaust, which would have been absurd. Yet technically, because they did not enforce the anti-Jewish laws, they were in violation of international law.
  5. I think the basic flaw with your theory is that sexual researchers have found that women tend to become more sexually interested as they age, up until menopause, because as they have more sexual experience, they become more relaxed about it and can enjoy it more. This is probably because their real experience of the ordinary, biological pleasure that human sexual experience actually is helps them overcome all the artificial, metaphysical terror society has built into women about sex being a toxic and sacred thing, which can only be safely endured under the restrictions of monogamny or romance to detoxify it. But this finding of a female sexual peak interest from the late 30s to mid-40s undermines your hypothesis, since it appears either that the operant conditioning of the woman has been largely positive, or that even if the actual stimulus-response conditioning has been less than satisfactory, the removal of social inhibitions has been of greater importance. In humans, because they are so social, it is difficult to confine the variables for testing in operant conditioning experiments as well as you can in animals. On a more biological level, the basic disposition of women toward sexual interest is the amount of testosterone they have, since testosterone is essentially a pro-sex hormone, just as estrogen is an anti-sex hormone. The reason why women don't want sex at all during the time around pregnancy and lactation -- and this is an evolutionary benefit -- is that their estrogen levels are simply too high. As women age, their ratio of estrogen to testosterone declines (thus the older woman with a deeper voice, a moustache, and the beginnings of male pattern baldness in 'widows' peaks'), so their sexual interest, ironically, increases. This is also why ordinary society regards a woman with a low, sultry voice as sexy, since empirical observation of the effects of higher testosterone levels has received expression in this folk wisdom.
  6. Marat

    Human Rights

    This thread got off on the wrong foot by worrying about who first creates human rights, and then wondering whether the impeachable status of the various creators of human rights systems undermines the claim of rights to be absolute. But undermining rights by impeaching those who first posited them in law is like trying to argue that the calculus is faulty because Isaac Newton was viciously difficult to get along with. The validity of the calculus, like that of human rights, is intrinsic: either the system is coherent and appeals to what it must describe -- the real world in the former case and the ethical world in a social context in the latter -- or it does not. Taking that initial step, there have been many attempts to derive the human rights systems we have from certain foundational postulates of what human beings are and what ethics requires. Kant famously derived them this way: (Step 1) Praise and blame are essential to morality, but praise and blame are only possible if humans have free will so they can deserve praise or blame for what they do. (Step 2) Since we have morality and value it as one of the two systems we use for interpreting reality to our satisfaction (natural science, based on the assumption that everything is subject to the laws of cause and effect, being the other), we can posit for purposes of morality that humans are free. (Step 3) If all humans are posited to be free for purposes of morality, and this is based on treating humans as part of an idealized world of values, not as part of the real world of science, then we have no access to empirical reasons for regarding people as unequal, so all people are both free and equal. (Step 4) But how can we know that we are free, since all our behavior can be explained by science as causally determined by culture, hormones, genes, childhood trauma, etc.? We know ourselves as free only if we restrict our behavior by basing it solely on a purely ideal resolve and giving ourselves an intellectual motivation for action. (Step 5) This intellectual motive for action, so that we can be sure it is not just a covert disguise for some practical interest we have on the basis of childhood trauma, genes, hormones, or other physical drives, must itself be oriented to respecting something transcending the physical realm. But since what we have so far established as transcending the physical realm is human freedom, it is now clear that we can only experience ourselves as free by recognizing and acting out of respect for human freedom, which has been posited to be a universal aspect of all people. (Step 6) Since all people have been posited not only as free but also as equal, to be free ourselves we must respect in our actions the equal freedom of others. (Step 7) Therefore, morality is the respect for the equal freedom of others, or, as religious intution puts it, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' (Step 8) The state is itself moral only if its actions respect the equality and freedom of its citizens. (Step 9) Therefore, the state is moral only if it respects the limitations set out in today's equal liberty rights in many of the world's constitutiions.
  7. Marat


    What does it mean that taller people 'do better'? Generally, people who come closer to fulfilling the arbitrary, socially-established conventions of attractiveness, suitability for a leadership role, authority, etc., are GIVEN better positions by the subconscious motivations of hiring committees, the electorate (the taller candidate almost always wins the Presidency), and both men and women seeking a mate. Since one of the most important of these criteria for social selection is tallness, tall people may just seem to do better without really deserving that success, simply because they are given more chances to succeeed. But on the other hand, many famous geniuses have been short, e.g., Einstein, Steinmetz, Haber, Mozart, Napoleon, and Kant -- to name just a few from various fields. Perhaps being short encourages a greater focus on thought, given that athletics or physical work are out of reach, or a greater motivation toward self-development to overcome prejudice. One problem with eugenics is that the trait selected may be the best for the current environment but not for future challenges. Another is that the selected trait may be inherited with a cluster of other genetic characteristics which will interact disastrously with future environmental stresses, e.g., greater pollution, changes in diet, chenges in the world's temperature, etc. Since to some extent the trait selected is the one which is now culturally valued, as culture evolves, it may find itself saddled with a population that fails to fit its new criteria. E.g., violent brutes required for survival of a tribe 12,000 years ago may not be suited for the world of industrial rationalization, tightly-woven socialization, bureaucratic structures, and peace. On the other hand, selecting for intelligence will increase adaptability of the species, since smarter people are moe likely to think of new ways to respond to problems. However, the variety of types in a species is important, since dumber folk may provide a less competitive and opinionated social glue, loving and supportive but slow people may be essential to promoting social stabiity in the family unit, and essential characteristics, such as a disposition toward altruism, may be linked to genes which are associated with lower IQ.
  8. From what I have read, a modern octopus, while extremely intelligent for a sea creature, is in fact no smarter than the domestic cat. Their intelligence seems to be a function of their flexible body, whose advantages for escaping enemies and hunting prey can only be exploited if they can correctly assess their own dimensions in relation to the complex geometry of underwater caves and crevices. So they seem not only to be geometrically smart, but also, more importantly, to have a sense of their own self image. These two skills are essential for being able to make artistic representations, especially of themselves. In mammals with anything less than the intelligence of the smarter apes, self-recognition in a mirror seems impossible. The notion that an octopus may have this ability is reinforced by its need for self-image awareness to exploit its flexibility, but undermined by its limited intelligence. Also, since cats don't ever make art, it seems that that level of intelligence is insufficient for the task.
  9. I think I'm the only person who read your theory on rape and agreed straight away :P although I believe it a reason, I don't believe it's the sole reason. I think people misinterpretted it as you saying it's the fault of women (which is obviously going to get people upset). Anyway I've read a lot of your posts and was wondering if you could tell me a bit about yourself, you ...

  10. Amnesty International, a reasonably neutral observer, has just said on BBC World that 'both sides' are committing violations of international law in the Libyan conflict. So I guess that where both sides are violating international law, NATO just backs the side whose victory most helps its economic interests. That's worth dying for ...
  11. Germany is also the only country in the world where I have lived or travelled where the cab drivers -- who are theoretically hoping for a good tip, aren't they? -- are spontaneously aggressively rude to their fares. This derives perhaps from the odd, statist, authoritarian assumption in Germany that the person with the office, the facility, behind the counter, with the authority is Hitler and everyone else is in Auschwitz. Thus the sales lady shrieks at you because you brought her three items of the same product and she rang up the price before you notified her that all the prices were different; a bookstore owner insists that you walk three miles to your bank to get some cash because he mistakenly wrote up the sale for the complete works of Fichte as cash and all you have is a credit card and he doesn't want to have to write out a new sales slip; the academic administrator who just invited you into his office to process a form pounds his desk and bellows at you when you speak up on entering the office, because it turns out the other people in the office don't work there but are also waiting for his attention, etc. It just never ends. All this happens under cheery signs proclaiming 'Der Kunde ist Koenig!' and 'Nie wieder wird Krieg aus Deutschen Boden hervorgehen!' Yeah, right, war will never again PROCEED from German territory, since it is constantly going on within it, only on an endless, exhausting micro-level. The other creepy thing is that after living there for many years it still seemed to me as though everyone I knew, from strangers to friends to girlfriends, was perpetually projecting some distorted self-image or pretending to be someone they weren't. It was as if you couldn't shake them loose from their constant pretense of being someone to get them actually just to be someone. The same is true in England, though it takes a very different form. You can stay for a week with a couple who have been married to each other for 30 years and they are still acting around the house as though they were two people who were going on their first awkward date with each other.
  12. When Spinoza identified God with all that exists, he was accused of atheism for not affirming the separate existence of God. I think that everyone agrees with the utterly trivial point that all the power, all the knowability, all the potential future states, all the good, and all the evil of the universe 'exists' as the universe. The essential point of the theists, however, is that all of this exists apart from the universe with the 'evil' subtracted out of it and left either in the physical world or in human nature or both. I don't know how anyone could ascend to a sufficiently universal perspective to be able to know that a sorting out of these features on such a vast scale was real so that he could reasonably affirm belief in a 'God' as the separate and distinct embodiment just of the power, knowledge, prevision, and goodness everywhere throughout the universe. But if God can't be affirmed as this, and he is identified with the physical universe or merely instantiated as something in our imagination, then 'God' seems just to be a rather empty, pointless nickname we give to the universe, certain positive aspects of it, or a kind of imagining we have now and then.
  13. I think we all (?) agree that SHC does not exist, for the very reason that it would require some sort of supernatural action for something so naturally moist and difficult to combust as a human body to burst into flames. So no one is disagreeing with you there. The cases are interesting, however, since finding a real explanation that covers all the available data in a plausible way seems difficult.
  14. I agree. The danger of e coli and other pathogens in organic food, free range chickens and eggs, etc., probably outweighs the benefits. Now that the health status of numerous Egyptian mummies has been studied, we know that people living exclusively on the essentially natural food of that era (except for Egyptian beer, which is an example of an early processed food) had very poor health from the parasites and grinding down of the tooth surfaces from eating stone-milled bread.
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