Are You a Psychopath? Take the Test.
What's the Big Idea?
The famous "trolley problem" was a psychological experiment developed by Philippa Foot that involved a railway trolley headed toward five people who can't get out of the way. These people will die unless you, the subject of this experiment, decide to divert the trolley onto another track. That decision comes with a cost. There is another person stuck on that track as well, and that person will die. What do you do?
Well, most people have little difficulty making the "utilitarian" choice of choosing to kill one person instead of five. However, the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson proposed a variation to the trolley problem, and the results of this test are quite different.
Thomson's variation is this: "You are standing behind a very large stranger on a footbridge above the tracks. The only way to save the five people is to heave the stranger over. He will fall to a certain death. But his considerable girth will block the trolley, saving five lives. Should you push him?"
This question was taken up by the Cambridge psychologist Dr. Kevin Dutton in recent book on psychopaths called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. So how do people with psychopathic tendencies differ from normal people when taking this test and what does it mean? The results may surprise you.
Dutton administers the test in the video here:
What's the Significance?
According to Dutton (citing the Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene, who observed psychopaths and normal people dealing with this dilemma), the variation of the trolley problem involves a "personal moral dilemma" that "hammers on the door of the brain's emotion center, known as the amygdala." While this dilemma makes normal people "circumspect and jittery," and 90 percent refuse to push the stranger off the bridge, Dutton writes that psychopaths, "without batting an eye, are perfectly happy to chuck the fat guy over the side, if that's how the cookie crumbles."
In other words, if you, assuming you are a "normal" reader, are hooked up to an fMRI machine, your amygdala would "light up like a pinball machine" when presented with the "personal" version of the trolley dilemma. However, if Dutton performed the same test on a psychopath, he writes, "I would see only darkness." The same would be the case if you showed a psychopath images of famine victims: their brains "merely pull down the emotional window blinds and implement a neural curfew."
Dutton says there is a benefit to this lack of emotion expressed in psychopaths if they are -- as crazy as this might seem -- in positions of leadership. Here's one example, the facts of which have been disputed by historians, but which nonetheless serves as an illustration of the trolley problem on a grand scale.
In his book The Ultra Secret, F. W. Winterbotham argued Winston Churchill knew that the Germans would be bombing Coventry in 1940, but decided not to alert air defenses because it would have compromised Ultra, the British intelligence system that would later be credited with making D-Day a success.
While historians have disputed that Churchill knew the actual target of the raid was Coventry, this "what-if" history certainly makes for an interesting psychopath test:
Would you let 568 civilians perish in the raid on Coventry if that meant many more British soldiers and civilians would ultimately be saved? What would your brain scan look like when the German bombers flew to their targets unmolested? That's the kind of question that isn't asked in presidential debates, but maybe it should.
Daniel Honan contributed to this post.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.
- U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
- The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
- The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
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