All 27 entries tagged Psychology

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October 20, 2006

Face transplants – an ethical and practical dilemma

The other day I sat down (a relatively rare occurrance at the moment) and watched the Horizon programme about Isabelle Dinoire, the first person to receive a face transplant. Isabelle was mauled by her pet dog, an horrific incident which left her without her lips, part of the flesh on her chin and the bottom half of her nose. Nearly a year ago she underwent the first ever face transplant operation, which was a success.

Whilst Isabelle was, herself, incredibly positive about the operation and its results, a huge amount of contraversy and argument has surrounded the proceedure.

  • Whilst the majority of transplant operations that are currently carried out routinely are life-saving, face transplants are not essential to survival in any way. It the proceedure a luxury that we don’t need?
  • On the other hand, as a result of the way she looked, Isabelle’s life changed dramatically. For example, she had to wear a mask over her face when she went out. Is this deterioration in quality of life enough of a justification?
  • A vastly important consideration in any transplantation proceedure is the risk of rejection. The immune system of the recipient will attack the transplanted tissue unless strong immunosuppressant drugs are taken by the for the rest of their lives. These drugs make the patient more susceptible to infection and increase the risk of cancer. Despite these drugs, there is still a 5% risk of rejection.
  • Along similar lines, a disfigured person (for example a burn victim) will often have large amount of skin and facial tissue left, and may have already undergone many operations to improve their appearance, facial function and comfort. To carry out a face transplant on that patient will mean removing all of their skin and a large amount of the soft tissue order for them to receive the new face. If their immune system then rejects it they would be in a far worse situation than they were before the operation.
  • The other, less tangible, issue is a psychological one. The face is associated far more with identity than any other part of the body. Although the transplanted tissue moulds to the bone structure of the recipient, the face will still be considerably different from their own. Is this too much of a hurdle to jump for some patients? In contrast, some might say that the patient might have already undergone so much adjustment to become accustomed to their disfigured state that making the jump to transplantation is not so great.

May 10, 2006

Our view of the mind

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18. Albert Einstein

Common sense in humans can be range from the universal to the very specific and can depend on someone's culture and background: some external influences are constant from population to population and some are not.

Common sense is something that artificial intelligence researchers are having trouble teaching to robots. Yet many researchers in neurology maintain that the human mind relies solely on the functioning of the information processing system that is the brain: a series of interconnected neurons. It is as yet unknown how 'automated' our brain functions are or how much is nature and how much nurture. Indeed, some scientists and philosophers are edging towards a wider viewpoint, that the mind encompasses the actions of the brain together with far more complex and adaptive interactions with the physical environment.

The fact that the automated view of the human mind is widely accepted is, I think, very interesting as it has some difficult implications. If our minds are but a series of automated circuits, is there anything that distinguishes us from robots? Are we not just a more sopisticated version of the same system? What implications does this have for our concepts of the 'mind' and the 'soul' and even of 'life' itself?


May 06, 2006

A musing

I have become very aware that many recent posts have delved into the consideration of human rights, and there are a great many different viewpoints expressed by all the contributors.

Is the advocation of human rights always a good thing or is there a point at which the rights of the individual become detrimental to society as a whole? Are people, particularly in the social climate we have now, willing to surrender their rights for the sake of society? Should they? Do all members of society have equal rights, and if not, should they?


April 13, 2006

Potential alcohol substitute: would you choose to drink it?

I read an article in New Scientist this morning detailing the development of a new cocktail of drugs that mimics the neurological actions that cause the pleasurable effects of alcohol without causing any of the downsides. Whilst limiting the immediate adverse effects, such as violence and illness, it would also reduce the occurrence of longer-term problems like liver cirrhosis.

This all sounds like a fantastic idea, but I'm not sure I'm convinced that it will catch on. It started me thinking about my habits: I know I sometimes feel like I just need to go out and get a little pissed at the end of a long week, but most of the time I drink alcoholic beverages because I like the taste of them. What reason do people really have for drinking alcohol: is it for the love of the drinks themselves or the way that they affect you? What is it particularly about the state of drunkenness that is so attractive that we want to repeat it: many people still go out and binge drink despite often being ill and wasting days as a result of painful hangovers? Would there be a stigma associated with an alcohol substitute because it is an admission that you only like drinking because it gets you drunk?


April 12, 2006

Shirking

It occurs to me that I, and sometimes others, have been talking a great deal on these 'ere blogs about responsibilities. It is a common observation, I believe, that many of the younger generation have the constant urge to shirk their responsibilities, even going so far as to deny things they have been seen doing (I have lots of first-hand experience of this). I personally think this attitude is becoming a real problem.

But why is it happening?

Another modern phenomenon, which seems to be linked, is the increase in numbers of individuals suing companies for apparent negligence, or for the emotional results of bullying or prejudice. Now of course I would never advocate maltreatment in any form, but some of the recent cases do seem a little ridiculous: the deputy headteacher who tried to claim £1,000,000 for the emotional scarring left after having, in her office, a chair which made farting noises; the guy who bought a bike from Taiwan and was badly injured because the Taiwanese wire their brakes the opposite way around and he put on the front brake instead of the back when going quickly down a hill (apparently the manufacturers didn't make this quite clear enough in the instructions, despite detailing the wiring of the brakes).

Is this attitude a logical result of the regulations that are being put in place to try to make things more rigid? Essentially, when a company writes a list of instructions, they are declaring that they take responsibility for the safe working of a product when following them. When they begin to consider common sense as part of the required instructions can it not then be inferred that the user is not expected to use any common sense in their approach, other than that detailed? It also occurred to me that there may be a link between the regulation of teachers and the attitude of pupils. Teachers are now having to follow incredibly strict instructions regarding everything they do. They are being observed and checked up on constantly (some schools have even installed CCTV cameras with sound feedback and two-way mirrors), and they have to document every tiny incident to cover their backs and all punishments have to be standardised and approved. If you take away the responsibilities and independence of teachers how can they instil in their pupils the need for accepting responsibility? If teachers lose more and more authority (for example, parents can refuse to let their children stay for detentions) how can we expect them to be respected?

Is this change good for us? Health and safety regulations are dictating that we now need to put instructions on the back of bags of nuts to say 'may contain nuts' and on clothing labels to say 'please remove before washing'. I'm sure, a few years ago, these things would have been dismissed as being far too painfully obvious to bother with. These helpful hints are, I assume, supposed to assist users in being safe. However, we now have a situation where companies have to cover all ridiculous eventualities and yet still get sued because they missed just one loophole.


March 13, 2006

The penal system

I read in this morning's paper that jail terms for rape could be shortened and that in some cases those guilty of domestic violence may walk free if they promise to reform, as recommended by the independent Sentencing Guidelines Council.

The reason given for this action is that prison is apparently 'more demanding' now than it has been in the past.

This prompted me to think about another article I read, maybe last week, about the facilities in which prisoners live. This article stated that the exercise facilities provided by many prisons are better than public facilities in local towns. It was also asserted that, in many cases, more money is spent food for prisoners than on food for school children.

Now, I have to admit that I am torn on this issue. The argument in favour of good facilities and educational services in prisons is, of course, that if prisoners improve their education and fitness whilst in the inside and learn to occupy their time productively, they are more likely to have changed lives when they leave and thus less likely to reoffend. This may be true for some, but how large a proportion fall through this net? One of the prisons mentioned in the earlier article had full sports facilities, but they were only used by 10% of the inmates. In some cases the conditions inside may well be far better to those a prisoner is used to when free. Has the change in prison environment taken the punishment out of the penal system?


February 28, 2006

The mystery of unsolved puzzles

I read a letter in the National Geographic the other day that bemoaned the loss of mystery through scientific discovery.

The author of the letter was responding to an article describing developments in neurobiology. They said that the author of the article had 'abolished the human spirit' by suggesting that the brain worked through firing synapses and denied the possibility that the mind is simply what the brain does. This made me think:

  • Are we destroying our fascination with the worlds around us and within us by finding out how it all works?

  • Cannot understanding the workings of something increase one's fascination? I become increasingly amazed by life and its processes the more I learn, because it's all so incredibly complex.

  • Has history shown that trying to understand our surroundings is something innate in us as humans?

  • Does everything work by a set of rules and mechanisms that are always obeyed and are definable? If not, we require the intervention of something mystical.

  • Will we ever figure everything out, or are some things just too complex for our comprehension or investigation?

February 27, 2006

Breasts – why are they attractive???

I do sometimes wonder what on earth it is about breasts that men find so attractive. They are, after all, just big bags of fat: fat in any other place is normally seen as far less attractive.

  • Is it just conditioning caused by the general conceptions of society? And if so where did it come from? After all, as Charlotte says in Sex And The City, in some cultures fat women with moustaches are seen to be the most attractive.

  • Do large breasts signify fertility and suggest to men that women will be good mothers, or is it less complicated than that?

  • Is there an equivalent attribute in men that all women revere in the same way?

February 23, 2006

Attitudes…

My co-workers and I were having an interesting discussion over coffee a few mornings ago about attitude changes over the generations and conceptions of appropriate behaviour. This got me thinking…

Many people, including myself, admire Madonna for the way she has sustained her success over the years and seemingly managed to juggle career, home live and children with aplomb. However, I do cringe somewhat when I see her cavorting around a stage, with men, in hot pants. For some reason I have a conception that it is not appropriate to behave in such a way when you have children. Similarly, my Mum's boss (and mine for a year) is in her early forties with two young children, and yet regularly goes out and gets drunk to the point of amnesia and lets her kids see her like that. But am I being an old-fashioned prude by thinking badly of them?

The subsequent generations change so significantly. In maybe twenty years the image I have of a 'grandparent' will not exist any more: no longer will OAPs have blue-rinse perms, wear flat caps and always dress in skirts and trousers.

It is, of course, true that maturity increases with age, but to what extent? Should we change our behaviour as we get older and our circumstances change, or do we have a right to continue behaving as we did when we were in our teenage years or twenties?


February 07, 2006

Are we all fundamentally the same?

Writing about Are we all the same? from Neighbourhood #1

Wow, I haven't blogged for ages! I feel I should rectify this…

I stumbled upon Iyobosa's entry again today about edge.org's annual question. In it he refers to a previous entry he made about last years' question:
What do you believe in that we cannot prove?

One response was from Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University who said that she thought:

All people have the same fundamental concepts, values, concerns, and commitments… our common conceptual and moral commitments spring from the core cognitive systems that allow an infant to grow rapidly and spontaneously into a competent participant in any human society.

Several years ago I would have agreed with this view, but my recent experiences have begun to change my mind. I spent a year working in a relatively rough state Community College and some of the children I met were, according to the generally-held moral concepts of society, completely lacking. I've seen many children lie about things they know their teachers have just seen them do, viciously pick on their peers and their seniors, show no respect for any other person (including their families) and repeatedly subvert the rules of our society. Some of the worst of these kids seemed to do these things with absolutely no remorse.

So I ask:

  • Do we all have an innate sense of right and wrong and of moral responsibility?
  • Can this sense of responsibility be subverted by the conditions in which we are brought up?
  • How do we account, for example, for extreme criminals who refuse to admit, particularly to themselves, that their crimes were wrong?

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