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October 2008
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corvi [userpic]
random poll

The basic theory, as put forward by Allan Snyder, is this:

This is probably not a politically correct term, but I have no idea what the PC one is: 'idiot savantism'. One estimate is that ten percent of autistic people have some outstanding, astounding talent: lightning calculators, people who can estimate distances of hundreds of meters to the exact centimeter, perfect pitch, timekeeping abilities.
Snyder has theorized that in neurologically normal people, higher brain centers actually inhibit the output of what he calls 'early' modules - lower level stuff, but that all people have the potential for that sort of genius, but can't focus it. Idiot savants can directly access 'lower levels' of the brain.

Which is a nice theory, and all. Sounds like the setup for a bad sci-fi novel, doesn't it?

So then some colleagues of his go and try it. Silence the front lobes with electric current (transcranial magnetic stimulation), cut off higher thought, see what happens.

It works.

They test seventeen grad students. To various degrees, they develop the sort of incredible talents and bizarre behaviour patterns associated with idiot savants.
You shut off the current, they go back to normal.

(I would like to take this moment to stress that seventeen is not a good sample set, and that the experiment needs repeating/verification, yadda yadda. It's philosophical implications that concern me at the moment.)

I was mentioning this to gfish, and he said, "That's Focus! Sign me up!" (See Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky, which featured a society built upon the labor and discoveries of artificially-focused researchers, genius, but too wrapped up in their work to even take care of themselves). Others were more diffident.

So: they can put the electrodes on your head, and start the current, and you will be a genius. And a moron. It will tear down the walls in your head, and rip away the structure of your thoughts. Would you do it? For work, to become a living computer? Temporary? Permanent?


I wouldn't do it. I understand the appeal, and I know a lot of people who really care about their work and would do it. But personally, it's just not worth it- there's no project I care about that much.

Even temporarily, I'd be afraid of losing my self. I wouldn't have participated in that study either- throwing current through your brain is dangerously experimental.

I guess what it comes down to is what you care about most. I care about human interactions and self-awareness, above all else. Work, of any form, is always secondary to that.

I do know people who are utterly devoted to some kind of research, programming, or other project that would be benefited by this. And I'm sure some of them would go for it- that's a perfectly valid choice.

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

I don't have enough data to know whether it was a decent experiment. At the moment, I'm more curious about other people's reactions to the idea. I'm honestly not quite sure what my reaction is...

I wouldn't do it. I'm too scared about messing with anything in my head. It took over a year of devastating depression to get me to even think of medication... I couldn't just fry the chemistry inside it.


No, definitely not for work. I'm sorry, but no job is worth that messing around with things like that for.

For myself? Maybe -- it's not something I would risk being an early adopter on without a fairly clear understanding of both the risks and the benefits. If it didn't have any long term side-effects I think I'd try it, for the experience. If it didn't have any long term side-effects and there was some control over what areas where effected, I'd seriously consider some kind of setup where I could toggle between modes -- that kind of explicit control over one's consciousness sounds interesting, to say the least.

Re: Hmmm...

It seems like part of the problem might be that when one is 'focused', one has no desire to return to 'normal'. I'm not sure how well toggling would work.

Re: Hmmm...

Yeah, I could see that being a problem. To some extent, I would see something like that as sort of the ultimate deep hack mode, although losing the ability to associate across domains would be problematic. As such, I can understand how it could be very addictive, but I certainly wouldn't want to live there. Definitely need to know more about it's long term effects. (/me makes a note to keep out of range of psychology departments)

Re: Hmmm...

Hm. The deep hack mode comparison is a very good one, I think (especially given the stories some of my past roommates have told me about truly bizarre conversations they've attempted to have with me when I was thinking that way). Hadn't thought of it that way. Makes the mental state involved a whole lot more comprehensible to me, and I can understand why people'd want to induce it.

Re: Hmmm...

I'm not sure if it's a necessarily valid comparison though -- it's a rather dangerous suposition to make without more supporting evidence. However, if we take it as valid, it could be pretty cool.

Unfortunately, I've not been able to put myself into hack mode nearly as often as I might like lately... I've had something like writers block for code, very annoying.

Electrodes are rather crude. It would be more interesting to learn to tap such a state without losing the desire to return to whatever is normal for you...

It sounds like something I wouldn't be able to resist, just so that I could know what it was like.
Of course, I also think my reaction would be either, "Oh. Is THAT all? I do that already," or a constant push-pull attraction/revulsion that would lead to either Never Doing That Again, or becoming an addict.
I wouldn't do it for a living, though.