Thursday, December 08, 2005
It's The Mind
Brains. People think with them. Zombies eat them. Drugs, apparently, fry them exactly like eggs. Brains are complicated things with a complicated host of uses. I would lay them all out for you, but I don't want to get too sciency.
The best thing about the brain is that, when operating within certain acceptable social parameters, we are free as people to use them in whatever way we see fit. Mine, for instance, has 74% of its capacity devoted to Freecell. The remaining 26% is divided more or less evenly between basic cognition, speech, motor functions, regulation of the autonomic nervous system, Minesweeper and porn.
I will leave it to you to guess which part I devote to this little endeavor every day.
I've read two news stories this morning, however, that has made me question just how much freedom we actually have in using our minds. Is my devotion to Freecell more a question of nature or nurture? Personally I am convinced that my absolute committment to wasting time shuffling electronic representations of playing cards around has to be genetic. As I sit here in my swivel chair, I can see all around me dishes that need cleaning, floors that need vacuuming, a dog that needs letting out, children that need... I don't know, something probably. And still I just shrug my shoulders and go back to trying to figure out how I can dig out the 3 of clubs I need from under four cards with only two spaces free. A dereliction of duty that powerfully irresponsible can only be hardwired into the human subconscious.
One great thing about brains is that we, as humans, have employed our superior brains and worked out that in order to find things out about ourselves, the best methodology involves experimentation. On other species. They still have brains and eyes and feet and nipples for electrode-attachement analogous to our own.
It's very common to experiment with monkeys in this fashion since, as primates, the man-subsitution analogy is very strong. Let's say you have a cattle prod. You are desperate to find out what happens if you were to shove it 2 feet deep into someone's colon and set it off. But not your colon specifically, no. Basic personal survival instincts urge you to try it on someone else first. You could try it on a couple of guys in the lab. Hell, ole Roger the Beaker-cleaning Intern might even be up for it. But if Roger gets cold feet half way through, it's your word against his when the cops start asking questions.
Hey! What about monkeys!? They look like people! They have colons and everything. And they're infinitely less likely to sue. One giant grant from the Department of Defense later and you're in business.
What's weird is when we move past the helpful, straightforward research of cattle-prods-in-colons and make-up-applied-directly-to-eyeballs and start making dubious corrollaries between monkeys and humans in the brain department.
This study came out just today talking about how boy monkeys like boy-human toys and girl monkeys like girl-human toys. The boy monkeys played cars and the girl monkeys played with the dolls. Oh, this means that gender preference is hardwired in humans, too! Except at the end of the experiment, the monkeys ate the toys and took turns shitting on each other.
So maybe the analogies aren't perfect.
What this suggests, though, is sort of awesome, if the stupid scientists would take the time to look at the data correctly. It's not that the monkeys act like that out of biological necessity; it's simply definitive proof that the patriarchal hegemony has finally penetrated the animal kingdom.
I'm a huge fan of patriarchy. This is because I am a male. A woman-hating, dominating, oppressive male. I don't actually act in any of those ways, but it's what society needs me to be, so I guess I must be.
Not only am I male, but I am almost a patriarch, of sorts. I've got kids and everything. King of the castle. Lord of the manor. It seems kind of backward because I stay home while my wife goes out to work, but in point of fact that is the ultimate expression of patriarchal dominance. I send her out to slave away and bring me home wages I can then wantonly spend on things like computer upgrades so I can play faster and faster versions of Freecell.
I would like to congratulate the monkeys for finally getting clued in to this big fat gravy train. If the girl monkeys start asking questions, just remember: you can't help it. It's just the way things are. That's the lesson I take away from this study at least. It's the biggest human/primate achievement since the discovery in 1998 that a macaque could operate a Barcalounger.
Fascinating as the brain is, it can also get you into trouble, especially when it malfunctions. It turns out the guy who got shot by air marshals in Orlando yesterday was bipolar and off his meds. Tragic.
One teenager quoted in the story said: "Officers told him to stop and he said no," the teen said. "He was running like a crazy man."
Yes, teenager. He was running exactly like a crazy man. He would have also talked, walked, eaten, breathed and sat perfectly still like a crazy man. This is because he was a crazy man.
I just hope that when my fragile mind finally betrays me, I hope I don't go the kind of crazy that makes me make bomb threats on planes and then run away. I want to go the kind of crazy where you're barely awake, mostly catatonic, your body betraying you but your mind frantically working as normal on the inside, like being caught in a flesh prison of my own tragic device. Just so long as I can still move just enough to point and click with the mouse.
This post on the Narcissus Scale: 3.8