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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Question Of The Week: Who Owns Your Brain?

Recently I contracted with a company in which all of the employees had taken the Myers-Briggs personality test. This is a complex test which gives people a four-letter representation of what personality type they are. These types are supposedly what you got when you were born -- take it or leave it. So they would walk around saying things like "I'm a ESTJ and I can't believe they're expecting me to work with all of those INFPs!"

Not only was this impossible to understand, it really made me wonder at how much of your brain is yours and how much does your employer or government own?

There's been a long-held belief by some (not all) in western Christian tradition that anything that makes your brain behave differently is immoral, and therefore the church and/or government should get involved in stopping you from doing it. Alcohol, tobacco, and other substances have been deemed unacceptable because of their impact on the mind -- not just their impact on society. The same goes for substances such as pot or other drugs.

The problem with this belief is that now we are beginning to realize that anything you ingest changes the way your body and mind works. Sugar, caffeine, fat -- all of these things change your mood and your health. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and even if there were it would probably be bad for you. But obviously some of this stuff makes big changes quickly, while some of this stuff does it work much more subtly.

So of course we want drug tests for employees. After all, I don't want my airplane pilot to be a crackhead, nor do I want my doctor to be popping prescription pain pills. But how about personality tests? If I fly a plane, should my passengers be assured that I am not depressed? Should they know that I don't have Islamic Terrorist tendencies?

More and more, society is getting into our heads. Sony has a new game interface that works from brain waves. Scientists are figuring out how sensory information gets into our heads, including being able to decode how a cat sees. Department Of Homeland Security administrators are looking into using brain scans to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth: a great benefit at airports (and for parents of teenagers).

So who owns what goes on inside our heads? Personally as a libertarian I believe that society's interest stops at my skin. I don't want anybody else having any part of what goes on inside my body. It's bad enough for me to try to control what's happening here. I certainly don't need the federal government or my insurance company poking around as well. But for other people? Heck yeah. I'd like to know everything about that guy sitting next to me in the airplane, the pilot, and the fellow down the street. Just not me. NIMBY for the brain. What do you think? Where do you draw the line?


At 7:57 PM, Blogger B O B said...

Hi Dan you pose some interesting thoughts. Have you considered the medical uses for instance brain waves controlling devices for quadriplegics?

I thought you might also be interested in this, here are things that taken a step farther than you suggest: Grab your remote and make that person d dance

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Melissa O. Markham said...


It is an interesting question you pose...where do we draw the line? And it is such a broad topic, it is hard to give an answer.

Could we get to the point of where we test people for the potential of being sexual predators? Murderers? Addicts? And if we did get to that point would it seem to make sense to use that information? But if we did use that information, could we end up in a society like in Minority Report? And do we want that?

While on the surface it seems like a good idea, it also seems like it would open up the flood gates for examination of other 'undesirables' which of course would be defined by different factions...people who are willing to earn a living by pornography, homosexuals, weird religious beliefs...This is definitely a path I wouldn't want to see our world go down.

Utopia is a nice place to think about...where we all get along, where there is no crime...but the reality of how to get there (controlling people by examining their brains or even eliminating people by examing their brains) is not a path I would like to travel.

Having said that, like you, I would like to know that my pilot and my doctor aren't on drugs, that Sunday School teacher doesn't harbor pedophile tendencies. I have quirks in my brain that I don't share with others (deep, dark secrets) that I certainly wouldn't want the world at large knowing about but that could make me seem very deviant to some...

At any rate, I think this question is huge and tough to answer. It has the potential to lead us to a brighter future or a darker one. Perhaps in time, our wisdom will evolve to the point where we can make a wise choice. Just hope we don't get there technologically before we are ready.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger thebluestbutterfly said...

I don't believe that anything like that is accurate.


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