Tuesday, March 25, 2014


What is free will? Free will has been defined by Wikipedia as the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors. These factors include metaphysical constraints, physical constraints, social constraints, and mental constraints.

What is determinism? Determinism is defined as the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, exist conditions that could cause no other event.

What role does the process of evolution play in determining modern human behavior?

Why do we have routines? Why do we have sex?

Did we create our belief systems from scratch or were we conditioned over time to believe the things we do?

As we have already learned in this class, humans are creatures of creation. We create patterns random acts and seek to find order from chaos. Once upon a time, we worshiped the sun and we were suspicious of night time.

This video explores the impact of evolution on human behavior in greater depth:

Much of human behavior is predetermined by at least some four million years of evolution. Evolutionary psychologists claim that these behaviors covers mate choice, disparate standards of beauty to everyday social social exchange. Studies in the field have unearthed that regardless of what culture we are exposed to we respond similarly to a wide ranging variety of things; an aversion to spiders or a particular smell we find repugnant.


To what extent then do we have free will?

Maybe what we call "free will" just depends on what we have been conditioned to believe, an illusion that has long been determined by things outside of your control. We should start by redefining free will and determinism, decide to what extent they reach, and how best they compliment each other.

There's EXperience in my ESSence

"Layer by layer I removed all I thought I was.
All I thought I had to be and in the moment
I was left standing naked and vulnerable
without identities and labels.
I remembered…

— Lenita Vangellis

Like the Ship of Theseus or any band that goes through numerous member changes over time, so too humans constantly change and evolve. Science has shown that our bodies change physically, mentally and emotionally, even if we fail to notice the changes ourselves. So, as we change do we become someone else or are we merely an updated version of our original selves?

“Who are you?
Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies?
Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?
I have. I am fucking crazy...
But I am free.”

― Lana Del Rey

When I purchased this phone it shipped with the Android Jelly Bean operating system, version 4.2.2, and it looked like this:

Almost a year later, with a few software updates and a body transformation it's almost unrecognizable.
Software? KitKat 4.4.2. As it relates to physical changes in humans, studies have repeatedly shown that all the cells in the human body, with the exception of the neurons in the cerebral cortex, are replaced at different rates. Approximately every 7 - 10 years our bodies not only physically grow, but also change and regenerate itself from the inside.

Whether we believe it or not, humans also develop mentally. Yes, I agree that some don't seem to show much development in this area, but developmental psychology monitors changes in human problem solving, moral understanding, and conceptual understanding; language acquisition; social, personality, and emotional development; and self-concept and identity formation. We learn, and unlearn as we challenge what we have have learned.

“Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled 
to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking Into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing 
that the light is everything —
that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading.

And I do.”

— Mary Oliver, The Ponds

All humans are born with the non-verbal language of emotion and it plays a delicate role in how we react to each other. With one event we can transform from cold and callous to warm and empathetic or the adverse may also occur. Caring and warmhearted humans who move to New York City on a mission to save the world, may soon find themselves morphing into calculated and jaded droids. People are prone to change with every new experience. A smile may change a would-be-murderer into a saint, and an act of violence can turn a monk into a monster. The human emotional spectrum is wide and unstable.

“Never forget who you are, for surely the world will not.
Make it your strength, then it can never be your weakness.
Armour yourself in it, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

— George R. R. Martin

Some will argue that we are the same no matter what we go through. Period. However, I would challenge, how can we remain the same when the only thing constant is change? Using the renewal of cells at the rate of every seven years, I would be accurate in saying that in my 365 months of life, I am not simply DeRoux anymore, as I was born, but now I am DeRoux 4.2.1. In fact, if you saw a picture of me when I was a day old, or spoke to me when I was 6 years old, you would not recognize those versions of me as I am today. I could chronicle the changes of my own life from believer to freethinker. On this ladder of change, did I ever cease being me? At the end of the day, regardless of who we think we are; the old ship of Theseus or a spanking new band, we are certainly more than we think and more than our memories. We are the effect of specific causes, we are the reflection of all our experiences.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

'False memories: The hidden side of our good memory' - An Overview

Basque Research relates its findings in a Science Daily article dated February 5, 2014, titled False memories: The hidden side of our good memory. The article explores the part of our memory that the justice system often overlooks when relying on eyewitnesses. While eyewitness testimony can prove crucial it is imperative to highlight that memory is subjective and as a result can be an unreliable source.
The research underscores that 'memory is a cognitive process, which is intrinsically linked to language’ and that 'the brain compares the words it hears with those that it recalls from previous events, in order to recognize them and to unravel their meaning.’ It finds however that this semantic process is not without fault as a lack of precision in recollection on occasion 'gives rise to the creation of false memories.'
Basque outlines that ‘one of the reasons for this phenomenon is that children do not have this semantic process as automated and developed as adults.’ While I agree with this, I think it would be remiss to not also point out another possible reason that this phenomenon is less likely to occur among children. Most children of a certain age do not have as many memories that they need to modified or discarded.
For example, lately I have been attempting without much success to put the fragmented pieces of my memory in some order. To file them away as it were. These memories span from early childhood to adolescence and through to adulthood. Some of my memories I know to be true, some I am certain are false, and there are others that are stuck in a gray area. The problem is always deciphering what memories were deliberately modified to become more digestible and which ones were not. When humans have to deal with painful memories, learning to file them away or ‘fixing’ them becomes a coping mechanism.
Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia in 2011 for the murder of an off-duty police officer after the case against him was ‘built entirely on eyewitnesses, who said they saw Davis gun down off-duty cop Mark McPhail.’ Seven of the nine eyewitnesses later changed their minds and recanted their testimony. The execution prompted Nathan Thornburgh in a September 2011 issue of Time Magazine, Witness Testimony and the Death Penalty: After Troy Davis, a Push for Eyewitness Reform, to point out that ‘eyewitnesses are extremely unreliable, and second, that because of that unreliability, the death penalty shouldn't hinge solely on eyewitness recall.’ Thornburgh also mentions how 'UC Irvine psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has done considerable research into the inherent unreliability of memory, how easily suggestible and completely self-deceptive it can be' and 'Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu -Towery points to a number of potential variables that might affect a witness' ability to recall accurately: how far away they were from the scene, what the light was like, whether they were afraid, whether they are of a different race than the person they witnessed.'
In a court of law, I think it is a grave mistake to rely solely or mostly on eyewitness testimony, especially in capital cases. In fact, eyewitness testimony should only be supplementary to concrete evidence. The neuroplasticity of the human brain is one reality of our evolution. Subtle or even unsubtle changes in behavior, environment, the neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury can affect memories, making them vulnerable and therefore malleable.