What Your Brain Looks Like When You're Selling Out
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" asks the gospel of Mark. Verily, I know not. But in contemplating the sale of his soul for gain, saith this study, such a man doth activate his temporoparietal junction, and also, lo, his ventrolateral prefrontal cortex stirreth, and great is the blood flow therein. And this is of interest because those regions are not very active when people negotiate over a price or do some other calculation of what economists call "utility." So, argue the authors, their research offers evidence that "sacred values" are a different mental experience, with a different basis in the brain, than is haggling over how much money you'd need to swallow a bug or go work for Goldman Sachs.
This matters because of the presumption, still common in policy circles, that humans in conflict can safely be presumed rational actors—people who can and will set a price on their actions. Rational actors seek to avoid losses above a certain level; they want to avoid their own destruction; they can be bought (if not with money, than perhaps with land, jobs, schools or satellite dishes). But part of what makes sacred values sacred, as Gregory S. Berns and his colleagues write here, is that they are enacted without regard to the consequences.
This difference is the basis of the old saw (attributed, as such things are, to Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and the other usual suspects) about the wit who asks a woman if she would sleep with him for 5 million pounds. After she says she might, he lowers his bid to 5 pounds, and she asks "what kind of a woman do you take me for?" Answer: "Madame, that is established. Now we are haggling over the price." Sacred matters are defined as that which is never haggled over, even at enormous cost, even unto death. Religion. Language. National identity. The land of our ancestors.
For some time now the anthropologist Scott Atran (a co-author on this paper) has been pointing out that this aspect of human psychology is a problem in many political and military conflicts. People defending a sacred value will not trade its incarnation (land, nuclear fuel rods, a city) for iPads, or even for peace. They may be more moved by an apology or some other symbolic concession that brings no economically measurable benefit, but which speaks to their transcendental needs. So a rationalist, supposedly realist, approach, which seeks to find their price, will fail. (And by the way, such people need not be a majority on either side, as even people who would not die for a sacred value will feel themselves bound to honor it when the true believers demand.)
On the other hand, if the rationalist model is right, then "sacred values" are just rhetoric and emotion, covering the usual game of incentives and disincentives. Atran, a resolutely empirical anthropologist, has been gathering evidence for the sacral theory. That's part of the context for this experiment, which was published last March in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Obviously, getting people to traduce their values is impossible in modern academia, in part because it would be an evil deed. But Berns et al. came up with an ingenious substitute.
They showed their 43 participants statements, some of which were relatively inconsequential opinions ("You are a cat person") and others of which touched on fundamental values ("You believe in God," "You are willing to kill an innocent human being"). The volunteers had to endorse each phrase or its opposite. Then, having committed to their phrases, they each were given the chance to sell out: For each sentence they had picked, they were offered a chance to take money to adopt its opposite. (So, for example, if you had selected "I do not believe in God," you would have had the chance to bid any amount between $1 and $100 to adopt the phrase "I believe in God.") Importantly, though, you could refuse to even consider such a thing, and "opt out" of bidding for that phrase. The actual payouts weren't certain (the system was set up so that a $1 bid meant you'd take any amount of money and were certain to get something; a $100 bid meant there was only a 1 percent chance your offer would be "accepted"). But real money did change hands. And to bring home the consequences of their choices, each participant received a printout of the statements s/he'd accepted, and had to sign it.
Finally, 32 of the volunteers went through this process while in a functional MRI scanner. This was, in fact, the point. The researchers had hypothesized that the most active regions of the brain during utilitarian horse-trading would be different from those active when people refused to trade. And this is what they report.
When people in the scanner were declining to take any amount of money to change their statements, a brain region called the left temporoparietal junction was more active. The temporoparietal junction has been associated with self-monitoring and with judgments of others' actions. While the researchers focussed on this region, they also looked around to see what else had been more active than usual when people were refusing to haggle. Those regions included the amygdala (which activates strongly when people are startled, alarmed or aroused) and a part of the frontal cortex associated with the learning and recall of explicit rules (like "thou shalt not kill").
Because these regions are quite different from those involved in cost-benefit calculations, the authors argue that they've shown that sacred values aren't simply a special form of "utility," but an entirely different kind of mental work.
The implication here is not that we should give up all hope of settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear standoff (which, Atran and colleagues have found, is increasingly seen as a "sacred values" conflict by some Iranians). But it does suggest that in those conflicts the West might do better to think less in terms of material payoffs and more in terms of concessions that honor the other side's sense of that they are not, and ever could be, that kind of woman.
Berns, G., Bell, E., Capra, C., Prietula, M., Moore, S., Anderson, B., Ginges, J., & Atran, S. (2012). The price of your soul: neural evidence for the non-utilitarian representation of sacred values Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367 (1589), 754-762 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0262
Atran, S., Axelrod, R., & Davis, R. (2007). SOCIAL SCIENCE: Sacred Barriers to Conflict Resolution Science, 317 (5841), 1039-1040 DOI: 10.1126/science.1144241
Illustration: Judas Iscariot's payday, detail from the fresco by Giotto.
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"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"
"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons<h3>Naked revolution</h3><p>Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (<em>Wandervögel</em>) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote <em>The C</em><em>ult of </em><em>the </em><em>Nud</em><em>e</em>, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.</p><p>In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (<em>Naturheilbewegung</em>) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.</p><p>Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (<em>Freikörperkultur</em>, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.</p><p>The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.</p><p>In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.</p>
Would you ever have sex with a robot?
- In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
- According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
- Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
From homemade dildos to Harmony, the AI sex robot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f7451615568e74c6a839f04329c9902"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-cN8sJz50Ng?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>"...amid an economic crisis, with restaurants and retailers closing their doors and larger companies laying off and furloughing employees, the sex tech industry is booming."</em><br></p><p>A Bustle <a href="https://www.bustle.com/wellness/the-sex-tech-industry-is-booming-amid-economic-crisis-22819801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">article</a> published in April 2020, weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, explored the drastic boost in the sex tech industry. According to the research, <a href="https://www.dameproducts.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dame Products</a> (a popular sex toy retailer) experienced a 30 percent increase in sales between the months of February to April, and popular sexual wellness brand <a href="https://unboundbabes.com/?utm_source=%7Bsource%7D&utm_medium=%7Bmedium%7D&utm_keyword=unbound%20babes&utm_matchtype=e&device=c&utm_campaign=%7Bcampaign%7D&utm_adgroup=%7Badgroup%7D&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5qYbdEwANUjCdRkCeVZ2HZzHjcGmpYbsOXYcMcNneLc2nySvrbaalBoChEsQAvD_BwE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Unbound</a> reported selling twice as many toys as normal in this period.</p><p>While the new coronavirus was crashing the economy in other ways, the sex tech industry was one of the few that actually saw improvements, likely due to people all over the world being advised, encouraged, and in some instances forced to stay at home.</p><p>Something similar happened in 2008, <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/08/23/the-great-recession-is-a-turn-on-for-the-sex-toy-industry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during the recession</a>: the sex toy industry was one of the only industries at the time that didn't gravely suffer. </p><p><strong>The evolution of sex tech from stone dildos to artificial intelligence.</strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/what-is-the-history-of-sex-toys-from-stone-to-silicone-and-beyond/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The history of sex toys</a> is quite interesting. A 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo was uncovered in Germany in 2005. Luxury bronze dildos have also been found in China that are at least 2,000 years old.</p><p>Aside from various materials being shaped into dildos, there has always been an interest in how to advance sex technology, even before it involved actual technology at all.</p><ul><li>The 1700s: Steam-powered vibrators (such as the Manipulator).</li><li>The 1800s—1900s: The invention of the first electric vibrator (the Pulsoson) and "beauty tools" being used for sexual satisfaction (such as the Polar Cub massager)</li><li>The 1920s—1940s: The introduction of hand-held massagers (the Andis Vibrator) and compact devices (such as the Oster Stim-U-Lax)</li><li>The 1940s—1960s: Japan introduced the "Cadillac of Vibrators" (The Hitachi Magic Wand), which eventually made it's way to America.</li><li>1965: The invention of silicone, which most modern sex toys are made of.</li><li>The 1980s—1990s: The invention of the rabbit-style vibrator, made more popular with one of the first showings of a sex toy on television ("Sex and the City"). </li><li>The 2000s: Visual porn website Pornhub launched and sex toys became increasingly popular. Erotic literature also became more common and popular, with "50 Shades of Grey" and others like it. </li><li>The 2010s and beyond: Sex toys and technology start to blend, and the world's first internet-controlled sex toy was launched in 2010 by Lovense.</li></ul><p>In 2016, "Harmony", <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cN8sJz50Ng" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the world's first AI sex robot</a> was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix. </p>
From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
Credit: Willyam Bradberry on Shutterstock<p>In 2020, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. <a href="https://today.yougov.com/topics/science/articles-reports/2020/03/19/2020-both-men-and-women-are-more-likely-consider-h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">YouGov conducted a study</a> in February 2020 that compared results from a similar study from 2017.<br></p><p>According to the results, 6 percent more people in 2020 are comfortable with the idea of having sex with a robot than in 2017.</p><p>YouGov points out that the increase in consideration is particularly significant among American adults between the ages of 18-34 years old. Additionally, how people feel about having sex with a robot has also changed. In 2020, 27 percent of Americans said they would consider it cheating if they had a partner who had sex with a robot during the relationship, compared to the 32 percent reported in 2017.</p><p><strong>"If you had a partner who had sex with a robot, would you consider it cheating?"</strong></p><p>The results from this interesting study also reveal that many people (42 percent) believe having sex with a robot is safer than having sex with a human stranger.</p><p>Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries. From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.</p><p>According to YouGov, "a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/amazon-plans-high-end-echo-ramps-up-work-on-alexa-home-robot" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a> report outlining Amazon's plans for an Alexa-powered robot that follows and helps you around the home may redefine how these machines service humans in the near future." </p>