The President's New Clothes

Personality sketch based on Obama's somatotype.


It isn't often that a man, let alone a politician, shows enough of his bare body that you can make a pretty good estimate of their somatotype.  In may of 2009, a photo of Obama  made the cover of the Washingtonian. A photographer took the picture while Obama was on a  "brief" getaway to Hawaii.  This photo should be of special interest to those in the field of anthropometry; the study of the dimensions of the human body.  Although, that photograph isn't exactly what an anthropologist would consider ideal it is sufficient to make a fairly good estimate of his somatotype.  Obama's mother, an anthropologist,  would no doubt be familiar and sympathetic with the practice of photographing and measuring indigenous populations.

So here is the "skinny" on Obama. His Trunk Index is 1.65 (Area of Thoracic Trunk divided by the Area of his Abdominal Trunk) .  He is alleged to be around six feet two without shoes.  And he is kind of skinny - under 170 pounds.  Using W.H. Sheldon's method of somatotyping Obama is most likely a 2½-4½.-5.½ which is a rating of Endomorphy, Mesomorphy and Ectomorphy on a 7 point scale.  So he would be classified as a mesomorphic ectomorph. Being a 4½ in Mesomorphy he is a half a degree above the average male population but not enough to be a professional  athlete.  At 5½ in ectomorphy (tall) he is much above the average of 3 for American males. His least developed component is his gut.  The average male is about a 4 in Endomorphy and he is only 2½.. Another significant measurement is the degree of balance between the three basic components. This is a scale that I have added to Sheldon's to express the degree of balance between the three dimensions and it becomes important in determining temperament.   His degree of balance is 5½.   When you sum it all up he is a fairly mid-range, gutless, muscular, skinny person.  He probably won't ever weigh more than 178 pounds.

The point of Hans Christian Andersen's story of the Emperor's New Clothes is that we are all naked animals underneath.  There is something very revealing about our bodies. When we are naked we lose not only our mask but our costume.  We are merely human.  But that raw human body tells us who we really are - before we created our persona by adapting to the influences around us.  What I am going to do now is give you a personality sketch based on what his body reveals. 

I have spent 30 years studying personality and have developed a coherent typology of personalities based upon the body-typing (somatotype) scheme of W.H. Sheldon. Please keep the groans to a minimum. Reserve your judgement until I finish. I warn you that you will understand Obama as the human he is.

There is a lot to this theory but here is the elevator ride description. You can describe any person first of all by what they want and how they get what they want. Secondly you can describe a person by what they avoid and how they avoid it.  The strongest component of a persons constituion determines what they want.  The second strongest component is how they get what they want. The weakest component is what they avoid. 

His body systems in rank order (highest to lowest ) are therefore; Nervous (Ectomorphy), Sensory (Balance), Muscular (Mesomorphy), and Visceral (Endomorphy)   So what kind of a person is this?  Being Nervous first he wants IDENTITY.  Sensory being second means he is SEARCHING for IDENTITY.  Since Visceral is last he avoids dependency. He is a peacock trying to develop his personal brand.  He may seem to be interested in people around him but he is really interested in people being interested in him. He loves to see people enjoying "him".  Somehow that erases his insecurity. 

Because his sensory and nervous systems are equal there is a struggle for dominance between IDENTITY which forms a rigid boudary and the SEARCHING and scanning activities of the sensory system. So there is a struggle going on between SEARCHING for IDENTITY and PLANNING for CHANGE.  But since he quite Ectomorphic the establishment of his own IDENTITY takes precedence over CHANGE.  He wants change as long as he doesn't risk anything.

This is a good fit for a college professor, lawyer or politician.  He wants to be safe and secure in everything so he protects himself by checking and rechecking the facts.  At the same time he enjoys the attention of people although maintaining the decorum of his position.  So he is a  low pressure salesman who makes the logical something appealing.  This is evident in his two styles of speaking. His normal style is a  staccatto style of delivery which springs from from his professorial core. He wants to state the terse facts but at the same time adding just a touch of emotion to engage the listener.  The result is something definitely above monotone but just a little more interesting than a sing-song.  His second style is that of the black preacher.  This is not his natural style.  It is a role he mastered by sitting in church and watching the cascade of emotions that emerges from the call and response interaction of the preacher and his congregation. When he resorts to this technique he is playing the role of entertainer, and just "lovin it, yes indeed". 

Visceral, being last, means he avoids a clinging dependency and doesn't merge well with intimates. He attends to emotional obligations as a duty - something he ought to do. This can be good enough for raising kids but it can create some strain on a wife.

The sensory system gathers and the nervous system selects.  These are opposite functions.  In combination this creates a state of moodiness. If his nervous system builds a good enough wall he loses his admirers.  This loss of admirers makes him lose his main contact with others. At that point he is liable to feel his dreaded dependence welling up from his neglected Visceral system. The only system left to keep his Visceral system in check is the anger of his Muscular system.  Out of this comes the sharp and critical snaps. When he sees talk radio hosts fanning the flames of resentment and robbing him of his rightful audience he is liable to react.  Perhaps he over reacts to his talk radio critics.

Normally, the nervous system is good at deciding and selecting, however with sensory in the second place there is a tendency to feel that something important is being overlooked.  So, this person is indiciscive.  In addition to the facts he is also looking for a consensus of the people around him.  Rather than setting the pace he puts up the agenda and then expects everyone else to do the deciding.  It appears that may be his undoing.  Rather than stepping up and demanding what he wants he thinks another review of the "facts" will move things along. His adaptability degenerates into indecision. He will tend to drown in an ocean of details.  These qualities are admirable in an academician whose job is to teach his students to ferret out the details that will make them experts.  This behavior may also be useful to a senator who needs to avoid taking a stand until he has to, but for a President this skill set is an obstacle.  

What does this mean for his presidency?  He needs to be decisive. He tends to start the debate by offering a compromised position.  Where do you go from there.  You are always going to get less than you ask for.  Republicans criticize his low key approach to the Russians and Iranians but they are glad he starts the healthcare debate by giving up the single payer system.  Again you see the conflict between Nervous and Sensory.  Instead of getting his opponents to fear him, or at least respect him he settles for what he think will get them to admire him.  I have a feeling Rahm Imanuel (Mr. No Apologies) will be fed up by this after elections in 2010.

Well, I've done something that I don't like.  I prefer to keep personality descriptions simple. The more long winded the description the more room there is for error.  Basically, Obama is an ordinary human.  He has high needs for IDENTITY and he wants to be ADMIRED.  There are millions just like him.  Does this mean he isn't cut out to be President? No one is cut out to be President and that's why you have elections every four years.

John Danzer

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.