Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Wetware

This is an idea I have discussed briefly before, but here's a real scientist discussing the relationship between the complexity of the human brain and it's likelihood of failure. We tend to take ourselves for granted but we've found that what seem to us to be our simplest capabilities are so far impossible to model or emulate with computers. Just making a plan to get through the next hour, let alone life, is a unique capability of Homo sapiens.

But the danger is that when this astonishingly capable machine goes awry, it can go spectacularly wrong. Dr. Paz refers to mental illness, specifically ADHD, anxiety, depression, PTSD and autism, but of course schizophrenia can get a lot weirder. People can know for certain that they are being controlled by radio waves from Mars or have ideas that don't translate into any sense the rest of us can make of them.

But I'm more interested here in malfunctions that aren't necessarily associated with diagnosable mental illness. In some cases, psychiatrists will attach a diagnostic label to these but they are not diseases in the same sense as measles or atherosclerosis. The person with the "disease" may not suffer at all or think that she or he needs to be cured or fixed in any way. The "disease" is only a problem for the rest of us. This is true of some of people who are diagnosed with a personality disorder, but many of these disorders are not really coherent sets of characteristics. They are diagnosed by deciding that a person has 5 out of 8 indicators (all of which are subjective anyway), so that two people with the same diagnosis may have almost nothing in common.

Most people with those diagnoses are just annoying, some are lonely, and some are quite miserable. But then there is psychopathy. This is a medical term for what used to be called just plain evil. For example, the guy in Wisconsin who kidnapped a 13 year old girl after murdering her parents just because he wanted to possess her. He can probably be diagnosed as a psychopath, although he's something of an unusual case since apparently he showed no signs of it until he suddenly did this grotesque crime.

Then there are people who clearly can't get diagnosed as insane but nevertheless manage to go down a road of preposterous delusion, like the guy who shot up the pizza restaurant in D.C. because he believed the absurd story that it was the headquarters of a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton. People who believe that, believe it or not, are generally not schizophrenic.

Then we have people who believe, for example, that building a 30 foot wall along the U.S. Mexico border will reduce the crime rate and keep illicit drugs out of the country. Or that depriving people of health insurance will make them free. Or that reducing tax rates on billionaires will make workers more prosperous. It takes a very complex and capable brain to believe stuff that is completely nuts.

UPDATE:  Here's a dispassionate analysis of the effect of the TCJA. Many are even less optimistic.

The Republican claim that depriving people of health insurance makes them free goes  all the way back to Ronald Reagan.

Here's a list of personal income tax rates in Europe. You will note that the richest countries are at the top, and the poorest countries are at the bottom. Hmmm.

Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saenz on top marginal tax rates


Anonymous said...

Seems to be your way or the highway and if not, you're just crazy.

Cervantes said...

Not at all. I'll entertain all sorts of differences of opinion, but people are not entitled to their own facts. Doesn't mean they're crazy, per se, as I explicitly said, but there is such a thing as truth and falsehood.

Don Quixote said...

Anonymous forgets what he doesn't want to remember. So he keeps spouting nonsensical garbage--e.g., "Seems to be your way or the highway and if not, you're just crazy."

That makes no sense as an argument and doesn't apply to Cervantes.

Anonymous did shup for awhile, it seems, after learning that Cervantes has a blue-collar history, has had his own business, knows how to cut and fix and saw and hammer stuff ... but Anonymous is one of the most unteachable characters I've ever come across.

Anybody else realize how terribly sad,how tragic, this is? I teach autistic kids and, as rough as what they deal with on a daily basis is, some of them really seem to change more than he does.

So much for the mighty neocortex.