Science

Don’t stop the mechanical orange

One of the protagonists of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was a blind librarian, and the journalists who interviewed the author when the novel came out asked him if the character was inspired by Borges. Eco, who was a semiologist rather than a novelist, replied that no, what happens is that blind + library of Borges, in an unappealable way. In the wake of that law of Eco, we can formulate that brain + electricity + violent prisoner gives The mechanical orange of Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess, written by the last in 1962. And these are the elements of the news that you can read in Materia: “Interior paralyzes an experiment of brain stimulation with violent prisoners. But neither Echo’s blind librarian was Borges, nor the prisoners’ experiment is Burgess. The arguments to decide whether to suspend research definitively, or to resume it provisionally, will have to be based in the end on neuroscience. Let’s give it a brief review.

The frontal lobe, the part of the brain between the forehead and the temples, is a newcomer to planet Earth. Its biological origins already existed in primates and other mammals, but its exacerbated development is perhaps the major event in human evolution. Since we were chimpanzees six million years ago, our entire brain has grown in greater proportion than our body, but the frontal lobes have outpaced the growth rate of any other area of the head. (Since there is a frontal lobe in each hemisphere, it is most common to refer to the “frontal lobes,” in the plural, but don’t lose sight of this.

Corresponding to its late arrival in the evolutionary history of the planet (two million years compared to 600 million years of animal life), the frontal lobe is also the last to mature during human development. It does not begin to do so until adolescence, and does not end until well into its twenties. This is why teenagers behave so strangely for adults, prone to aggression and refractory to argument, creative, risky and hopeless. The areas of the brain that govern these aggressive behaviors are already fully mature, while the frontal lobe that should repress or modulate them is still in larval state. The more effective the frontal lobe is, the more we can repress the aggressiveness that emanates from our old brain.

And that’s the same frontal lobe that the Huelva and Córdoba prison experiment deals with. It is a question of seeing if a group of violent prisoners, some of them homicidal, can benefit from the electrical stimulation of their frontal lobe. The results, which have been published in a scientific journal with all the papers in order, indicate that yes. The experiment did not fall from the sky, but is based on neuroscience. And the results are interesting, because they show us future ways to reduce the aggressiveness of certain people who are born with this ballast, or who have seen their frontal lobe damaged during childhood and the development of the individual. As long as the prisoners have understood the purpose of the research, and have given their informed consent, there seems to be no solid reason to stop the work. Unless the election campaign is one of them.

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