Monday, May 23, 2011
Learning Today: May 24th 2011. The Kiddie-Diddling Tumor.
Everything a person is--every thought, feeling, idea and memory--is little more than an instance of brain activity. This is a radical and unsettling idea. My feeling of love is correlated with a particular set of neurons firing. My appreciation of great works of art is identical with activity in a particular region of my brain. I am a meat computer, weighing about three pounds, engorged with blood.
Though it may be unpalatable, there's a lot of evidence that the mind is nothing more than the brain. For instance, brain damage can often cause profound changes in human behavior. Take the case of the 40 year old schoolteacher who suddenly became an uncontrollable pedophile. His wife discovered him downloading child porn. He visited massage parlors. He even solicited sex from children.
But he also complained of horrible headaches. He urinated on himself and didn't care. He was unable to copy writing and drawings.
A day before he was supposed to go to prison on child molestation charges, he was put into an MRI. Doctors discovered a tumor in the right lobe of the orbifrontal cortex. When the tumor was removed, his sex addiction vanished.
But wait! Later, the man complained of headaches again and started to secretly collect porn. A second trip to the MRI revealed that the tumor had only be incompletely removed. The doctors out the remaining tumor, and the man was better again.
I heard about this story on the Philosophy Bites interview with David Eagleman. Check out the rest of the episode--it's a fascinating look into the intersection of ethics and neuroscience.