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TheEndofOpinion

JakeEden
Afriendturnstoyouandexclaims,Ilovethathat!Myfavoritecoloriscyan.Eventhis
earlyintotheconversation,itsmundaneandunremarkablenatureisovert,butyouhumorher
regardless,justenjoyingthecompany.Maybeyoukindleherfervorandlaudyourownfondness
ofcyan,orperhapsyoumoveontofashioningeneral.Whoknows?Butwhatyoudontdomost
definitelydonotdoiscontradictyourfriend.Youdontsay,No,youremistaken.Orangeisyour
favorite.Thisshouldseemobvious.Opinionsarenonnegotiableandpersonal.Youdonttellme
whatIthink,andhowwouldyouknowanyway?ButIpositthatthiswillbepossibleandthat
advancementsinneurosciencearealreadyhintingtowardssuchaprospect.Infact,Idargue
thatthebirthoftheinternetpreludedwhatneurosciencewillpushfurther:theendofopinion.
Beforetheinternet,itwasnteasytocrossreferenceeverydayfactoidsspurted(with
suchconviction)fromAuntMarthaorJoetheconstructionworker.Ifevertherewasanydoubt,
eitheryouaskedanexpert,scouredthelibrary,orwereleftforeverwanderinginignorance.It
wasntagreattimetobeacynictoomuchdoubtwithoutenoughanswers.Plus,therewasnt
easyaccesstoconglomerationsofdiversenewssourcessotherewasalowercapforyour
dailydoseofmurder,rape,andwhateverelsesetspeopleonedge.Buttoday!Today,weare
virtuallyassaultedwiththeworsthumanityhastooffer.Soitshouldbenosurprisethat
Americansaremorecynicaltoday,assumingyoutrustthestatistics(ofcourse,Idontexpect
youto).AccordingtoPew,thereisgrowingtrendofpublicdistrusttowardsthegovernment
4
,
increasedpartisanpolarization
6
,andaperceivedwiderincomegap
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,whichisquitetrueImight
add.
Thegreatthingaboutthisbroad,negativeoutlookiswhenitsright:thejustified
skepticismtowardslessreputablesources.Peoplebecomemorefactbased.Maybeitsnot
manifestinourdailyinteractions,buttheinnerapprehensionisstillthereforthemostpartand
broughtonsincechildhood.Thequestforcredenceisnowanintegralpartofeveryelementary
schoolstudentsonlineeducation.Inthesemoderntimes,thenexttimeafriendinformsyouthat
youllcatchacoldwithoutawinterjacket,youmightwelldosomeprobingandcontemptibly
shakeyourheadupontherealizationthathisadvicewasutterbullshit.
Ofcourse,thusfarIveonlymentionedskepticismtowardsfacts,notopinions,butitsan
essentialprecondition.Whowouldquestionyouropinionsbeforequestioningyourfacts?Noone,
thatswho.WiththehelpoftheInternet,peoplearemoreexposedtootherculturesand
communities.WhateveryoucherishmostanddeifyonyourownselfcontrivedthronewillIhave
nodoubtrevoltsomearbitraryInternetuserandviceversa.Novalueisaxiomaticeverythingis
poisedfordisagreementontheweb.ItcouldbesomethingtriviallikebrowsingYoutubeand
discoveringthatacertainteenidolgarneredmoreviewsthanyourtopthreeartistscombined,or
perhaps,youstumbleuponmore...nichecommunitieslikeourfriendsatStormfront,awebsite
forwhitesupremacists.Whateverthecase,yourexposuretothesheeramountofpeoplewho
holddifferingopinionsandbeliefsystemsisexponentiallygreaterthanthatinthepreInternetera.
Thus,amidthewhirlpoolofcontroversyanddifference,itsdifficulttotrustanyoneparty,and
therefore,theperceivedvalueofanindividualsthoughtshasdecreasedeveniftheyarethoughts
worthhaving.
Inessence,everyoneisprimedtodoubt.Infact,Idtakeitastepfurther.Everyoneis
achingtosiftthegemsfromtherefuse,meaningpeoplewantothersprovenrightorwrong.They
wantanobjectiverealitytoclingtoforsupport,andthis,dearreader,iswhereneuroscience
entersthestage.Itcanprovidesuchscaffolding.Itcanprovidethecomfortfortheindecisiveor
theunsure.Howexactlydoesneurosciencedisposeofopinion?First,allowmetospeakpurely
theoretically(duringwhichtime,Ifullyexpectyoutodisputemystance),butbeforedismissing
mynotionsentirely,allowmetobuttressthemwithscientifictestimony.
Theinceptionofanidea,ofanopinion,maybeyearsinthemaking,butitsactual
existenceisquiteclearlydefinedasthepointintimewhenyourneuronsarrangeinapeculiar
pattern.Themechanicsofthisarenotfullyunderstoodonamacroscale,butthatsimmaterial.
Allthatstrulyimportanthereistheconceptthatyourneuronsstoreandconstitutesaid
opiniontherearenoqualmswiththisideaIassume.Ofcourse,yourneuronsaremadeofcells,
whicharemadeofmolecules,whicharemadeofatoms,andsoforth.Sinceatomsarethought
tofollowthelawsofphysics,itseemsreasonabletodivinethatthatyourthoughtsdoaswell.
Hereisthepointatwhichyoumaydisagreewithmyposition(onadeeply,viscerallevel)
becauseyouseewhereImheaded.Essentially,whoyouareasapersonshouldbequantifiable
giventherighttechnologybecausewhoyouareasapersonisdefinedwithinthematerialworld.
Now,youmayappealtoandseekrefugeinthesoulasmeansofrefutation,butIwillnotdiscuss
religionitsuptoyoutoreconcileyourbeliefswithmycontention.Ishallonlypresentthedata
andwhatIlikelythinkitimplies.
Ishallbeginbyaddressingthemotivationsbehindcomplexactionsandthoughts.Why
areyounice?Itsadeceivinglysimplequestion.Haveyoueverconsideredthatabetterquestion
is:whatmadeyounicetoday,atthismoment?WouldyoubelieveitifItoldyouthatthebriefcase
bythetableorthestackofpapersonyourdeskcandetractfromyourphilanthropicnature?Or
thatthetemperatureofyourmorningcoffeeaffectsyourtemperamenttowardsothers?There
aresomanyenvironmentalvariablesthatmostpeopleautomaticallydecideareextraneousor
irrelevanttotheirdecisionmakingprocess.Heresaconcreteexamplethatdisgracesthis
ignorance.ResearchersattheCityUniversityofNewYorkdemonstratedthatthephysical
sensationofbitternessinducesagreaterproclivitytocondemnanothersmorality.Inother
words,ifyoutastesomethingbitter,youwilltemporarilybecomemorejudgemental.Participants
weregiveneitherasweetdrink,bitterdrink,orglassofwaterandthenexposedtowhatwould
typicallybeconsidereddistressingscenariossuchasanimalabuseorincest.Thosegiventhe
bitterbeveragewouldconsistentlyranksuchactsasmorallydisgusting,muchmoresothan
theirsaccharineandcontrolgroupcounterparts.However,whatinterestsmemostaboutthis
experiment(andyes,Irealizethisismorepsychologicalthanneurological)istheexcuses
participantswouldofferwhenaskedwhytheyfeltthisway.Mostattributedtheirfeelingstosome
innatesenseofmoralfortitudeorsimplyrepeateditwaswrongjustbecauseitwasnoone
mentionedthesubtleinfluenceoftheirbeverage.
2
Popsciencebooksarefilledwithsimilarexamplesofpeoplenotrealizingthemotivations
behindtheirownactions.Infact,itbringsintoquestiontheveryconceptoffreewill.Considerthe
followingexperiment.Usingelectrodesimplantedwithintheparticipantsbrains,ItzhakFriedet
al.measuredtheirneuralactivitywhenaskedtopressabutton.Attheprecisemomentthatthe
participantswereconsciouslyawareoftheirdecisiontopresssaidbutton,theyweretotakenote
ofthetime.Whatsremarkableisthattheresearcherscouldpredictthedecision700
millisecondsbeforethetheparticipantswereevenconsciousoftheirdecisionwith8090%
accuracy
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.Itseemsasiftheparticipantsnevermakeanydecisionatalltheyonlyrationalizeit
afterthefact.Inanotherexperiment,StefanBodeandhisteamofresearchersusedfMRIsto
alsoaccuratelypredicttheoutcomeofafreedecisionsseveralsecondsbeforetheparticipants
werecognizantoftheirowndecision.
1
Therehavebeendozensofexperimentsthatallpointto
thesameconclusion.Sure,youmayarguethattheseexperimentsdontconsiderthe
unconsciousbrain,buthowcanyouclaimthatyouchooseatallifthedecisionisnevera
consciousone?Whetheryoubelievemeornot,Ihopethatwecanatleastagreethattheway
mostpeople,onatypicaldaytodaylevel,thinkaboutthemselvesisfundamentallyincoherent
withreality,andthatwhoweareandwhywedothethingswedoaremysteriesevento
ourselves.
Whenthescienceadvancesandwebecomebetterandbetteratdeconstructingour
minds,therewillbeasocietalshifttowardsidealizedobjectivity.Thisiswherethe
aforementionedcynicismcomesintoplay.Imsuggestingthatthistrendisincreasingandwill
allowforsituationsliketheoneIopenedwithtobeintegratedintothetypicalAmericanlife.Itsa
simultaneousshiftinknowledgeandtechnologythatcausesaculturalshiftthatsalreadyinits
precursordays.
Bysomeestimates,2029
5
willbethedeadlineformachinestosuccessfullypassthe
TuringTestwhetherornotmachinesexhibitbehaviordistinguishablefromhumans,and
consequently,adeadlineforunderstandingourminds.However,Illbeconservativeand
estimatethatthiswillcometofruitionby2040.Ifwesucceedindecodingthehumanbrain,
imaginewhatthatmeansforourunderstandingofhumanemotions.Whatdoesitmeantoreally
lovesomeone?Well,youneedtohaveneuronsarrangedinstructureslikesoandyour
chemoreceptorsmustbealignedtoresemblethispatternandsoon.Wealreadyhave
technologythatdecodesneuralmotorsignalsintodigitalonesaquadriplegiccanmovearobot
armwithbutmerethoughts.Soisitsohardtoconceiveofadevicethatcantranslateother,
morecomplicatedneuralsignals?
Imaginethepotential.Whatdoyouwant?Whatdoyoulike?Withaclickofabutton,you
canfindoutempiricallywithnearabsolutecertainty.Yourmindisnolongeryours.Iffreewillis
anillusionandyoustopviewingpeopleaspeople,itbecomesincrediblyeasytotreatthevery
conceptofanopinion,apersonaltruth,asakintothelikesofSantaClaus.Suchaparadigmshift
wouldthrowintoquestiontheveryconceptofresponsibility(whichcannotexistwithoutchoice)
andforceustoquestiontheverynatureofthehumanconditionbyasking,Howdowereinvent
ourmindsintosomethingbetter?

Sources:

1.Bode,Stefan,RobertTurner,RobertTrampel,andChunSiongSoon."TrackingtheUnconscious
GenerationofFreeDecisionsUsingUItraHighFieldFMRI."PlosOne.N.p.,27June2011.
Web.30Nov.2013.
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0021612

2.Eskine,KendallJ.,andNatalieA.Kacinik."ABadTasteintheMouth:GustatoryDisgustInfluences
MoralJudgment."Diss.CityUniversityofNewYork,2011.Abstract.PsychologicalScience.
BrooklynCollege,09Feb.2011.Web.30Nov.2013.
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/02/08/0956797611398497

3.Fried,Itzhak,RoyMukamel,andGabrielKreiman."InternallyGeneratedPreactivationofSingle
NeuronsinHumanMedialFrontalCortexPredictsVolition."Neuron.N.p.,10Feb.2011.
Web.30Nov.2013.(Vol.69,Issue3,pp.548562)

4."PublicTrustinGovernment:19582013."PewResearchCenterforthePeopleandthePress.
ThePewCharitableTrusts,18Oct.2013.Web.30Nov.2013.
http://www.peoplepress.org/2013/10/18/trustingovernmentinteractive/

5.Saenz,Aaron."KurzweilIsConfidentMachinesWillPassTuringTestby2029."SingularityHub.
SingularityUniversity,04Apr.2011.Web.30Nov.2013.

6."TrendsinAmericanValues:19872012."PewResearchCenterforthePeopleandthePress
RSS.ThePewCharitableTrusts,04June2012.Web.02Dec.2013.
http://www.peoplepress.org/2012/06/04/partisanpolarizationsurgesinbushobamayears/

7."ValuesAboutEconomicInequalityandIndividualOpportunity."PewResearchCenterforthe
PeopleandthePressRSS.ThePewCharitableTrusts,04June2012.Web.30Nov.2013.
http://www.peoplepress.org/2012/06/04/section3valuesabouteconomicinequalityandindi
vidualopportunity/