October 28, 2020

Do not stop the mechanical orange | Science

Do not stop the mechanical orange | Science

One of the protagonists of The name of the rose, of Umberto Eco, was a blind librarian, and the journalists who interviewed the author when the novel came out asked him if that character was inspired by Borges. Eco, who was a semiologist rather than a novelist, answered that no, what happens is that blind + library Borges, unappealable. In the wake of that Eco law, we can formulate that brain + electricity + violent prisoner The mechanical orange of Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess, written by the latter in 1962. And those are the elements of the news that you can read in Matter: "Interior paralyzes a brain stimulation experiment with violent prisoners" But neither the blind librarian of Eco was Borges, nor the experiment of the prisoners is Burgess. The arguments to decide if the investigation is definitively suspended, or provisionally resumed, will have to be based in the end on neuroscience. Let's give it a quick review.

The frontal lobe, the part of the brain that we have between the forehead and the temples, is a newcomer to the planet Earth. Its biological origins already existed in primates and other mammals, but its exacerbated development is perhaps the capital event of human evolution. Since we were chimpanzees, six million years ago, our entire brain has grown more than our body, but the frontal lobes have exceeded the growth rate of any other area of ​​the head. (Since there is a frontal lobe in each hemisphere, the most common is to refer to the "frontal lobes", in the plural, but we do not get lost with this).

While the prisoners have understood the objective of the investigation, and have given their informed consent, there do not seem to be solid reasons to stop the work

In correspondence with its late arrival to the evolutionary history of the planet (two million years, compared to 600 million years of animal life), the frontal lobe is also the last to mature during human development. It does not begin to do it until adolescence, and it does not end well into the twenties. This is the reason why adolescents have such a strange behavior for adults, prone to aggression and refractory to argument, creative, risky and desperate. The areas of the brain that govern these aggressive behaviors are already fully mature, while the frontal lobe that should repress or modulate them is still in a larval state. The more effective the frontal lobe, the more we can repress the aggressiveness that emanates from our old brain.

And that is the same frontal lobe that deals with the experiment of the prisons of Huelva and Córdoba. It is about seeing if a group of violent prisoners, some of them homicidal, can benefit from the electrical stimulation of their frontal lobe. The results, which have been published in a scientific journal with all the papers in order, indicate that yes. The experiment has not fallen from the sky, but is based on neuroscience. And the results are interesting, because they indicate future ways to reduce the aggressiveness of certain people born with this ballast, or who have seen their frontal lobe damaged during childhood and the development of the individual. As long as the prisoners have understood the objective of the investigation, and have given their informed consent, there seems to be no solid reason to stop the work. Unless the electoral campaign is one of them.


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