Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fat heads, deadly force incidents, decay of civilization

The latest outrage in the US news (April 2021) is of a policewoman “accidentally” shooting a suspect during a routine outstanding-warrant traffic stop because the young man had the unfortunately common instinct (i.e., a not-well-thought-out action) of people of color that if they decide they do not want to be arrested they can simply leave the scene. The officer said she thought she had a taser instead of her service automatic pistol. She could be heard yelling “Taser! Taser!” on the body-cam audio as she frantically thrust her arm into the suspect’s open car with pistol in hand and pulled the trigger (rather like yelling, “Caress! Caress!” while punching someone in the nose).

Aside from the stupidity involved in actually making such a mistake (or the stupidity in expecting anyone to believe it), why would such out of control action (as shown on the police body-cam) be appropriate in responding to an attempt to flee by an unarmed otherwise docile suspect with a minor outstanding warrant and no immediate crime in progress? Why not return to the squad car and use the radio to bring in other patrol cars to look for the suspect car and proceed to the location associated with the license plate? Or if you really felt the need to shoot something, why not stand back and shoot out the tires on the suspect car, which was not moving. I think a jacketed slug would penetrate a tire, don’t think they are allowed to use hollow-points (because they balloon on impact and destroy a huge amount of body tissue, organs). Maybe they should use some kind of quick-acting tranquilizer projectiles since you often see an officer empty an entire clip (or two) of jacketed 9-mm rounds into suspects without immediate response. The usual defense in a questionable use of deadly force event is that you can’t second-guess the response of an officer in danger, but there clearly was no danger to the officer in this case. This officer was a 26-year veteran reportedly (veteran in what capacity?). What kind of training and management results in this type of officer incompetence?

I will be watching the Chauvin trial defense to see if they now claim that Chauvin actually thought his knee was a stethoscope when he used it to crush Floyd’s neck into the pavement for 9 minutes, strangling him last year, unabashed by a crowd of onlookers who pleaded with him that Floyd appeared not to be able to breathe (and eventually quietly telling Chauvin that Floyd’s eyes had rolled back in his head and he had become completely inert, like a fish on the dock, paraphrasing a martial artist familiar with the effects of choke holds, who had been among the horrified group watching the murder). Like the taser-shot suspect above, Floyd had also decided he did not want to be arrested (after police were called when he passed a counterfeit twenty dollar bill; why no media questions about where the counterfeit bill originated or how it was arranged for Floyd to circulate it?).

Aside from better psychiatric screening, training and management for police, we might want to educate (rigorously, frequently) public school students in every year of attendance that it is a serious health risk, as well as poor citizenship, to resist arrest. You may not respect the man (or woman), but you must respect the badge. To the extent fatalities are associated more with non-white suspects, this might be part of the problem, i.e., the combination of a loose-cannon officer and a group that is more often inclined to resist arrest or flee when ordered to submit to arrest. Would Chauvin have kept the knee applied with full body weight on the neck of a large white suspect who had struggled violently against three or more officers for several minutes during an attempted arrest? I would be surprised if Chauvin’s past history of complaints of excessive force (I assume he has such a history, but perhaps I make the usual statistical error in interpreting human behavior) was entirely confined to black suspects.                                                            
Public radio (my only other airwaves choice is a fascist evangelical maniac bemoaning the loss of the Anointed One, The Last, hopefully, Trump) this morning interviewed one of the seemingly endless supply of ad hoc experts (I suspect the PBS staff simply take turns being the interviewee) about the suspension of Johnson and Johnson COVID vaccinations after a few cases of a rare type of cerebral blood clot occurred in patients following the shot. By the way, I assert that the vaccinations are not “jabs”, no matter how often the media ineptly and inappropriately attempts to coin a new “word.” One has to wonder if they wanted to say “pricks” but this proposal was immediately nixed by the radical feminists for obvious reasons.

From the first “um...eh...ahem...um” self-conscious self-important vocalizations preceding what should have been simple responses (think, “So Mr. Expert, why is it not dark during the day?”… “um...eh...ahem...um...there is um...eh...ahem...um...a thing called a sun in the sky!”), I had the uncontrollable urge to beat him about the head with a rolled-up newspaper. One of the first things I would do as world dictator/philosopher-king is to have a newspaper-wielding Guardian appointed in every media group (that I could text to have this constructive criticism applied to the person speaking at the time).

While I am at it (i.e., detailing my planned agenda as “Daltamesh, Bringer-of-Order-to-Chaos”), I would have every executive who presided over the transfer of American high-technology to third-world country manufacturing sites in order to avoid paying American workers a proper wage and now complains that those nations have “stolen” our technology (and by “our” they refer to the irreplaceable talented American engineers who created the technology, not the parasites they worked for) dragged out of their offices, de-pantsed and beaten with sticks daily by angry mobs of obese welfare mothers (it is admittedly physiologically difficult for a woman not to become obese under the best of conditions, but in particular while stranded at home with a brood to mother and no way to pass the time) who might have had jobs otherwise.

Daily outrages aside, I have been studying neuroscience in recent weeks, related to a question about the role of a curious structure (looks like a potato chip more or less, one chip in each hemisphere, like Lays chips, you apparently cannot make just one), the claustrum, in the brains of mammals. The claustrum is reciprocally connected with all cortical areas. Analogously, you might wonder why all the telephone lines of a city passed through the local police department, if you are old enough to remember that wires used to connect people to telephone communications and that the communications of citizens of bygone days were not routinely monitored by the government. The latter belief occasionally did occur back then, but the powers-that-be used to put those believers into hospitals and disable them with neuroleptic medication. Thorazine and its descendant chemical compounds of the anti-psychotics had the eventual frequent side effect of causing the patient to involuntarily snap at invisible flies in the air, making loud sucking sounds (there are other symptoms, potentially fatal, but this one caught my attention), so were termed “neuroleptics.”

To be labeled as insane now, the beliefs of a person must be more unrealistic (or more inconvenient). When I read the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) some years ago there were criteria for diagnoses of Axis-I disorders, e.g., 293.81 psychotic disorder with delusions. A mental health counselor I ran into (no, it was not a clinical appointment, grin) at a Starbucks c. 2008 told me that she thought those DSM formal symptom clusters were too restrictive. That should have come as no surprise to me given the widespread herd-democracy zeitgeist (no standard for truth or understanding other than the instant requirements of one’s own narcissism, i.e., free reign to whim). Nowadays, if you exhibit more unacceptable beliefs than merely thinking the government is watching you one way or another (which, of course, it is), the mind-killing medication is still prescribed (the “you are only sick if you believe you are” cognitive behavior approach has not worked out well for the therapists in Axis I severe cases). However, the patients are humanely housed in alleys in cardboard box structures, or they are sent to prisons, rather than confining them in hospitals (thanks to, I kid you not, the graduate thesis of some student in the late 50’s or early 60’s advocating that approach, labeled “community care” in best Orwellian form).                                                        

At any rate, cortex is Latin for “bark,” i.e., the cerebral cortex is a layer of gray matter or neuronal cell bodies seen to be a 3-mm thin bark covering the cerebrum or average 1345 cubic centimeter volume of the brain (the “trunk” covered by this “bark,” which, now that I think about it, probably is indeed a substance more akin to wood than neural tissue in much of the population).                                                                                                   

I recently watched portions of a Ken Burns television production telling of the life of Hemingway. I cannot watch anything but scraps of a Ken Burns work, because my blood pressure is worsened by his habit of distorting facts either directly or through the numerous hand-waving spastic proxies available in academia in after the 1960s. In honor of Hemingway,  I wanted to try replacing my habitual parentheticals by brief independent sentences (perhaps this mode of speech was required while forced as a child by his eccentric mother to occasionally wear a little girl’s dress and serve tea, if we can trust Burns in this datum). However, that (me avoiding parenthetical remarks) is obviously impossible. My prose (and the generating thought) is as convoluted as the human cortex.

The cortex must fold into gyri (hills) and sulci (valleys) in order to fit into the limited volume of the cranium (interesting parenthetical: if your nerve axons were the same diameter as those of the great squid, your brain would not fit through a barn door). Hoffman 1988 (“On the Evolution and Geometry of the Brain in Mammals”) provides an equation (numbered 10 in the cited paper) giving the approximate empirically observed relationship between the total unfolded area of the cortex (you could, like a crumpled blanket, flatten out the hills and valleys of the cortex, at least theoretically) and the inner area of the cranium. For an approximate 1000 square centimeter available cranial inner surface, that equation would suggest the unfolded cerebral cortex would be around 3184 square centimeters:

log (unfolded area) = (1.25)log(inner cranial area) – 0.247        (Equation 10 from Hoffman 1988)
log (1000) is 3 (we use base 10 log). (3)(1.25) is 3.75. Subtract 0.247 to obtain 3.503. Take 10 to that power to obtain the unfolded area, i.e., 10^(3.503) =  3184
Hoffman gives the typical unfolded surface area of human cortex as 2430 square centimeters, implying that actual average inner cranial area is a little less than the 1000 square centimeter value we used for the sake of approximation in our calculation above (I guess Anatole France was not the only pinhead). What we are calling here “average inner cranial area” is really just the surface area of the main volume of the brain. That is the part you see zombies eating in the zombie-apocalypse movies so ironically popular these days of consciousness-deniers and AI-believers.

I note, regarding “Artificial Intelligence,” that the 2016 most influential computer scientist, Michael I. Jordan, has been attempting for years, apparently with little success, to make people understand that computers have not become intelligent in any human sense (no high-level reasoning or thought, cannot formulate and pursue goals). Rather, computers, particularly with machine-learning technologies (software), can provide pattern-recognition capabilities at massive scale (these are the “AI” processes used by search engines, for example, and best-exemplified by the “Family Feud” game show, where contestants compete to return the most common string of words for a particular cue). I assume Jordan is afraid (of the vicious thought police who run the media and universities now) to publicly admit that current digital computers can never become conscious.

Jordan originally studied psychology (as did I). In 1971 I took Intro to Psychology at the University of Texas in a huge class of 150 students. I inadvertently ended up at the top of the class, but was normally unconcerned with top grades for their own sake (though I had been pleased about my National Merit Scholarship results my senior year of high school and the college offers that came to me as a result). We were told not to use the word “mind.” The psychology textbook included a picture of a grotesquely fat cat (it was recognizable as a cat only by the label, being a shapeless blob of white fur, with impatient little eyes) in the section on unrestricted reward-seeking behaviors (that picture would now be censored as “shaming” I assume). I must admit that is hypocritical of me to criticize lack of control, given that my general philosophy in my younger days was, “if some is good, more is better.” That being said, at least I can see my error clearly (one of the few benefits of aging).                                                                                                                                                                

Returning to brains, you could obtain the approximate cortex volume if you extracted a brain, discarded the cerebellum and brain stem, then submerged the brain in a bucket of water and measured the volume of water displaced. If the brain did not sink, you would have to attach a low-volume but dense weight to the brain to get it below the surface of the water. I believe the brain probably has fat-like density (some brains more so than others) and fats tend to float. For example, a symptom of pancreatic cancer is production of foul-smelling floating feces consisting of undigested fat. The pancreas normally produces enzymes that help break down fats in the digestive process; I studied for the USMLE (US Medical Licensing Examination) a few years ago, but only worked through sample tests, since I have not attended medical school.

A marginally less-nauseating inference (that a brain might float, minus brain stem and cerebellum) could proceed from considering that the density of paraffin, a hydrocarbon waxy solid at room temperature is less dense than water, so should float (as does butterfat on the more watery fluid in unhomogenized milk, or so I was told by a milkmaid many years ago, though I did not as a rule date milkmaids because they were well aware that there was no need to buy the cow if you could get the milk for free). Knowing that brain axons (which comprise much of the brain white matter, approximately 35% of the human brain volume being white matter, from Hoffman Fig. 6) are sheathed in myelin, which contains lipid, i.e., insoluble hydrocarbons or colloquially, simply fat, we might reason that a brain should float also.

It is not so much that humans have larger brains (fat or otherwise) than other mammals. An elephant, for example, has a larger brain (as I recall, but my recollection is not as good as elephants, which, as those of us who were educated by the high-quality cartoons of the early 60’s know, never forget...it is a pity that in 2021 there are fewer and fewer elephants around to forget anything and more and more misery for them to forget...I identify with them in that sense). As Hoffman points out, large organisms need large brains to manage the increased somatic (e.g., more muscle fibers to control by more motor neurons, larger surface area to sense) and vegetative (e.g., a stomach the size of a bedroom would have more smooth muscle and associated enervation to control mixing wave peristalsis, more sympathetic enervation to operate the huge number of gastric secretion sites) demands of life on a grand scale. Well, a large scale anyway (a grazing brontosaurus might not appear grand to everyone). There is accordingly an allometric power law relationship between animal body weight P and brain weight E, E= bP^a, where b and alpha are allometric parameters fit to the observed data. In logarithmic form log E = log b + a log P and a log-log graph of brain weight as a function of body weight is a straight line more or less. One would therefore want to compare brain size among similarly sized animals if trying to draw conclusions about relative intelligence (I suppose one could skip the work and ask public radio to appoint an imbecile to discuss the matter).
As it turns out though, once (over evolutionary time) the mammalian lines began to increase brain size beyond that required simply to manage their locomotion and viscera at a given body weight, it appears that groups of columnar cortical neurons comprising cortical areas of particular function, could be combined or duplicated and modified to introduce new capabilities in the particular organism. You can view this as evolution in a mosaic pattern, with some regions changing dramatically and others being conserved more or less unchanged over evolutionary time. The gene responsible for a particular “circuit” (keeping in mind that brains are not analogous in any respect to our electronic digital computers) could then occasionally be incidentally duplicated (these duplications are not uncommon). Selective pressures might then drive modification of the duplicate in a new direction, e.g., for example, there is evidence that the birds with increased ability to hear and reproduce sounds, e.g., parrots, evolved through this process and that humans, though on an evolutionary path that diverged from birds long ago, experienced something similar (there being an analogous genetic duplication and modification compared to primates that are less capable of speech, e.g., Republican baboons, or Democratic Capuchins).
I guess some readers might have the feeling that I am simply a prig who believes himself to be smarter than everyone else (and perhaps also, from the Latin se amare sine rivali, “to be fond of one's self without a rival,” i. e. to be alone in esteeming one's self). Arrogance can be some kind of compensation for other inferiority or just the same kind of narcissism I complain about in the population at large. That is not my motivation. What angers me (and motivates my biting comments) is seeing a process in progress which is destroying civilization (never mind that the same evil opposed me throughout life). The instant brainwashed response is, “who are you to say what is desirable in that regard. We are all equal.” It is difficult to proceed from there, since only a fool would say such a thing.

A desirable world would be one in which none of my complaints would apply, a smaller population, a smarter population (this is the only atmosphere in which true democracy can survive), a culture that did not reward greed, a culture that valued achievements that elevate the race of man (every contribution, no matter how small, works for that good). What are elevated characteristics? Honor, honesty, kindness, generosity, courage, intelligence, pride in working toward what is good for oneself and others—these attributes cannot be taught, they must emerge in the experience of a higher level of experience, one that is freely offered to all conscious beings. The mystery of conscious life, in every instant, is testament enough to a transcendent purpose, but seen only by those who wish it, paraphrasing somewhat from Confessions of St. Augustine, Book X, Chapter VI,  10.

The present level of technology and science was built by a civilization, that of America and the Western tradition that gave birth to America, that recognized these characteristics (and the higher experience from which they sprang) as desiderata. The current decaying culture rejects those aspirations (aside from rejecting any standards) and specifically their metaphysical source.

What will be the future for a densely populated world, one with deteriorating environment from climate change and the poisonous accumulation of a planetary biomass of humans, where the average intellectual capability of men has decreased significantly and the young have been taught that they are merely animals with no prime good other than to acquire what wealth and power they may? The proposed “Humanist Manifesto” as replacement for the true metaphysical inner experience upon which all good is founded does not seem to be working so well, judging by daily events. We find themselves in a sinking ship culturally, yet continue to haul in more buckets of water as it were (another substance comes to mind, but I will refrain from scatology). The history of mere biological evolution on Earth is a history of the law of death, i.e., the simple but brutal struggle of organisms for limited resources. It is not inner good that is driving our retrogression, but something diametrically opposed.