Crime and Punishment

English: Donald Trump at a press conference an...
English: Donald Trump at a press conference announcing David Blaine’s latest feat in New York City at the Trump Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Donald Trump got into trouble the other for, if you read the media, suggesting that women who seek abortions should be punished if abortion was made illegal in the US. Much as I dislike the Trump and fear for the US and possibly the world if he should become president, he is right.

It’s the conditional that makes the difference. If abortion was to be made illegal, it would make it a crime, and all crimes have an associated punishment. I think that Trump made a political misstep, and that he should have stood firm on the matter, explaining the logic of his statement.

A bar chart depicting selected data from the 1...
A bar chart depicting selected data from the 1998 AGI meta-study on the reasons women stated for having an abortion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He doesn’t even have to support the outlawing of abortion. He just has to explain the logic. Of course, if abortion were illegal, then the doctors and nurses who perform the operation would also be help responsible and punished. But if abortion were ruled illegal then the woman seeking the abortion would be breaking the law, and that implies punishment.

I personally believe that abortion, per se, should never be made illegal, although it should not be treated as just another birth control method, and should not be undertaken casually by the woman, or casually by the doctors and nurses. Clearly something living dies in the process.

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The Trump got caught out by knee-jerk and politically based reactions all round. Logically, the stand makes sense – if a crime is committed, then the perpetrators should be punished. Trump wisely backed down on this position in the case of a hypothetical law, and may have missed his chance at the presidency because of this political gaffe on a hypothetical situation!

Crime and punishment go together like Adam and Eve, like right and left, like good and evil, like a fine rump steak and a good Cab Sav. Ahem. As a determinist, I feel that choice is illusory and that the apparent choices that we make in fact depend totally on past events that narrow down our options to just one.

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Let’s take the case of a woman who “chooses” to have an abortion. She may have been informed that this is the safest option by medical specialists, she may be carrying a child who will not be viable when delivered because of genetic and other defect, or she may unable to care for a child for whatever reason. There is always a reason.

The woman balances all the information that comes to her and uses that information to “choose” to have an abortion. What really happens is that all the factors added together result in her trying to get an abortion.

English: Female demonstrator wearing a hat in ...
English: Female demonstrator wearing a hat in Madrid. It says “Abortion is my freedom, my choice.” She protested against Pope visit to Spain. Español: Chica manifestante con un sombrero en Madrid. Protesta contra la visita del papa a España. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You could of course argue that she could/should have decided to have the baby and adopt it out (assuming that the child is viable outside the womb, but that option is often not viable.

In general, punishment of a criminal is used to deter other criminals (and the criminal his/her self) from committing a similar crime in the future. Punishment should always give the criminal and similar people like him/her pause for thought. It is a factor that determines whether or not someone commits the crime in the future.

Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a criminal is thinking about committing a crime he/she will (consciously or unconsciously) consider the implications. If he/she chances it anyway, that will be because the pros outweigh the cons from their point of view at the time, not as a result of any free choice.

If someone is starving they may well steal a loaf of bread as one of the pros in the case may be continuing to live. This trumps any cons there may be if the person is desperate enough. Of course the person may be caught and fined or imprisoned or even transported to Australia, but at least he/she will be alive!

Tolpuddle Martyrs' Memorial Shelter, Tolpuddle...
Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Memorial Shelter, Tolpuddle Tolpuddle, Dorset, UK. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The justice system still works even if the concept of choice is removed. The person who commits a crime does so because they cannot do otherwise, and any punishment is merely the result of the actions that the person is destined to take. Such punishment is seen by others and becomes a factor that is considered when another person is contemplating a similar crime.

All the factors that go into the mental consideration of committing a crime result in either the crime being committed or not. They don’t result in a choice being made as the factors involved result in the person committing the crime or alternatively the factors may add up to the person not committing the crime.

English: 'Campus Watch' sign, Belfast One of d...
English: ‘Campus Watch’ sign, Belfast One of dozens erected around the university area of Belfast, this sign promotes the ‘Campus Watch’ scheme for students. Developed by the police in Belfast in partnership with the Northern Ireland Office, University of Ulster & Queen’s Students’ Union, it is similar to a neighbourhood watch scheme and promotes practical crime prevention for students. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you get people to “make a choice” where they have no sufficiently compelling reason to “choose” one way or another, they find it very difficult to do so. For example if you put a person in a room with two unmarked buttons and told them to push a button when a buzzer went, I’d say that they would initially have great difficulty, but once they had pushed a button once, it would become easier, I suspect.

If asked why they pushed one button on the third trial, they might reply that they had pressed the other button twice so it was the button’s turn to be pressed. Consciously or unconsciously I’d suggest that they would be led to make the choices random.

English: 'Arcade Button' photo by Daniel, free...
English: ‘Arcade Button’ photo by Daniel, free to use (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the experimenter then pauses the test and mentions that the subject had favoured one button over the other and then continued, I’d guess that this would cause the subject to favour the unfavoured button more. I have no idea if such experiments have been done.

We are machines of meat, and machines don’t have any choice – they behave in a way that is built in, or lately, programmed in. Would you punish a machine that gives an answer that doesn’t satisfy you? You’d maybe add a new input into the machine to achieve a desired result.

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In humans punishment is a new input. It could affect the result of the calculation that the brain makes and hence the human would come up with a result different to the result that would be observed without the punishment. Perhaps if or when machines become intelligent, it may be that we will need to introduce the concept of punishment to make them do what is required. Let’s hope not.

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Friends, Romans and Countrymen

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(A little late this week, but this time I have an excuse – my daughter and her partner were staying with us, which makes writing a post difficult).

I’m going to write about friendship here, and not about Julius Caesar, conspiracies or murder, in spite of the above title. Friendship is where two or more people like and trust each other and form a bond between them.

Most often friendship is a same sex thing, but not infrequently friendship happens between people of opposite sexes, and also between groups of people. However the most intense friendships seem to arise between two people of the same sex.

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Someone coined the phrase “bromance” to describe a close relationship between two heterosexual men. Such friendships can sometimes be stronger in some ways than those between men and their female spouses, to the extent that “the boys” go fishing or boating or to the football or simply drinking coffee or beer together while their spouses are left at home, usually fuming.

However, when “the girls” get together, talking babies, make up and other women, or simply drinking coffee or wine, then it is the men who are left out in the cold to fend for themselves.

Korea. Kisaeng girls (?). Seven girls posed, f...
Korea. Kisaeng girls (?). Seven girls posed, full length. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously there’s a lot of stereotyping above that is in no way justified, and in many ways is false and misleading, but it does demonstrate that friendship can be as strong if not stronger than a marital bond between spouses. As suggested by the awful stereotypes, above, to strike as balance between friends and families can be a difficult task, but I don’t think that it can be denied that both are required for people to feel satisfied in a relationship.

Español: Taxi en Bogota
Español: Taxi en Bogota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Friendships and familial relationships appear to be support structures. Friends can have interests that the spouses do not, such as an interest in sports or politics or a particular genre of films. Friendships allow one to enjoy something in company that the other spouse does not enjoy. This makes life easier for partners or spouses to enjoy as they do not have to totally give up any interest that they might have, and can share them with others.

Although a couple would probably share a lot of interests, it can feel restricting in a relationship if a particular interest bores or irritates one’s partner, and friends who share that interest can ease those restrictions by providing an outlet for the interest.

Friends can also provide financial assistance by means of a small loans, but it is not wise to regularly borrow from friends all the time. Friends can be there to supply a few coins for the parking meter, or similar small costs, but bigger loans between friends can easily become a source of contention. Benjamin Franklin said :

Lend money to an enemy, and thou will gain him, to a friend and thou will lose him.

The reason behind this is obvious – everyone knows the friend who has always left his wallet at home, or who has run out of money, or who disappears when it is his round. Friendship is based on trust and, unless you are prepared to forgive and forget such behaviour, such a person may not long remain your friend.

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As I mentioned above, same sex friendships are very common, but it is possible for persons of opposite sexes to be friends, but if they are of the same age group, this is often slightly dubious – the inference being that such friendships might become more intimate. Platonic relationships are deemed very likely to develop into sexual relationships.

Some research has been done into this, but it is, at least to me, unclear as to whether or not it is true that platonic relationships between friends of opposite sex tend to develop into sexual relationships. On the face of it, this is not so, otherwise men and women would not be able to work together successfully. However, other influences, rather than sexual attraction, may moderate any sexual attraction between platonic friends, in a work situation.

Friendship, Göteborg, Sweden
Friendship, Göteborg, Sweden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days many people may make friends on so-called “social media”. One’s social standing can be assessed in some quarters by the number of Facebook friends one has. Facebook friends (and friends or the equivalent on other social media) are frequently in different parts of the world.

In the Facebook world friendship is based on what is written rather than spoken and Facebook friends may not ever meet, and this is perhaps a good thing in many cases. People have met physically after meeting virtually on the Internet and it has not always gone well. Some people have even met up, become engaged, all before physically meeting.

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Others have married after meeting physically meeting (and presumably become engaged). This seems to me to be incredibly risky, but for a growing number of people this works. But one reference that I found reckons that one third of US marriages have followed “online dating”. There is even a suggestion in that article that such marriages are in fact happier.

Discussions on Facebook tend to be very “robust”. This is because of the separation that the Internet provides means that people “say” things on the Internet that they would not say face to face, and they may use more “robust” language.

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Facebook friendships may not last as long as face to face friendships, as it is a matter of a click to de-friend someone, whereas breaking a real world friendship could be complex and time consuming. On Facebook, where people tend to “speak” more robustly, it is common for someone to take offence at something “said”, and de-friend the person who said it. Often it is only a misunderstanding and any insult or slight is unintentional.

Facebook as a forum allows people of different political colours or world views to meet and interact. This could be a good thing, but unfortunately what often happens is that both sides in a discussion become entrenched in their views, becoming more extreme, and the arguments becomes contentious and extreme, leading to no meeting of minds.

Français : gravure d'un assassin confronté ave...
Français : gravure d’un assassin confronté avec sa victime (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eventually the argument will peter out. The world views of the racially tolerant and the racial supremacist briefly collide, then part again, with no real passage of understanding between the parties. This is somewhat sad and implies that extreme or divergent views will always be with us.

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Consciousness continues to amaze and elude

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I make no excuse for returning to the topic of consciousness. It’s a phenomenon that, apparently, everyone experiences, and almost certainly some animals experience it too. However, it is the ultimate in subjectiveness. No one except yourself knows how you experience consciousness.

It can’t currently be measured and we can only detect it by the behaviour of a person. The old chestnut of a comatose patient coming round with hovering relatives and medical staff is familiar to all. “He’s coming round!” says a person at the bedside as the patient’s eyes flicker and his muscles twitch.

English: Man in coma still not responding to s...
English: Man in coma still not responding to stimuli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is not a reliable way of determining consciousness. People have surfaced from comas or anaesthetics and have reported that contrary to the physical evidence they were in fact conscious for at least some of the time when they were comatose. Also, deep brain scans have shown changes which may indicate that the patient was responding to question in that his brain patterns changed, which has led to a medical furore. There is disagreement as to whether or not the changes in the brain indicate that the patient was in fact conscious.

Definition of “Conscious”

a. Characterized by or having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations,and thoughts. See Synonyms at aware.

b. Mentally perceptive or alert; awake: The patient remained fully conscious after the local anesthetic was administered.
2. Capable of thought, will, or perception: the development of conscious life on the planet.

The fact that consciousness is an objective phenomenon (so far as we can currently tell) means that we can only subjectively assess if it exists in a person. Even if a person behaves as if he or she were conscious, feeling pain, drinking beer, doing all the things that a conscious person would do, how does one know that this person is actually a conscious person? It is conceivable that what looks like a person is a sort of zombie, programmed to behave exactly like a conscious person would behave.

English: zombie
English: zombie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(These philosophical zombies are not like the usual cinematic concept of a zombie – they look like ordinary people, they have not died and revivified, bits do not fall off them, and they don’t have a hunger for brains. It’s a technical philosophical term).

The short answer is that there is currently no objective was to tell. Everyone except yourself might be a zombie. Erm, although I subjectively know that I am not, which might mean that I am the only conscious person in a world of zombies. It’s probably simplest to argue, that I am conscious, and I appear to be little different to everyone else, so it would be silly to argue that everyone else is a zombie. It’s much more likely that we are all subjectively conscious in our own heads.

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Consciousness appears to be an aspect of the brain/mind. If parts of the brain are destroyed, or momentarily shocked by a blow, consciousness ceases and the person becomes unconscious. As above, though, it is conceivable that a person might not be able to move or respond, but still be conscious in the prison of their skull. It sounds like a particularly unpleasant fate.

Consciousness appears to be an emergent property of the brain/mind, because there does not appear to be a particular part of the brain that is related to consciousness as such. I think that it is fair to say this, though I haven’t delved into the subject much recently, though I do read things as I write these posts. In doing this I read an article on The Time website which hits many of the same high notes as I’ve hit here. It’s nice when I find an article that does that!

Emergent (software)
Emergent (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An emergent phenomenon is something like a family or a sports team or a termite nest. The emergent phenomenon is not implicit in individual members of the family or the sports team or the termite nest, but all the members make up a new entity which has an identity of its own.

Emergent phenomenon rely on the synergistic effect of all the members working in a concerted way to achieve more than a single individual can achieve by themselves. (Emergent phenomenon are not restricted to social interactions – water is wet, though an individual water molecule cannot really be considered to be wet in itself).

Synergy-reaching-with-kite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It follows that, just as the higher animals band together into families, bands and packs, which is an emergent phenomenon seen in humans societies, that the brains/minds of some animals are likely to experience the emergent phenomenon of consciousness, as they behave as if they do. It is highly unlikely that consciousness only evolved in one species, though of course it is possible.

Opponents of the idea that animals may exhibit consciousness suggest that we are anthropomorphising when we detect conscious behaviour in animals, and that they may be be zombies (in the philosophical sense of the word), and that the apparent consciousness is merely behaviours that are instinctive.

English: A German Shepherd dog Polski: Owczare...
English: A German Shepherd dog Polski: Owczarek niemiecki (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, no one knows for sure if animals do experience consciousness or not. I rather feel that it is likely that they do, and the extent to which they do is determined by how sophisticated their minds and brains. Certainly, I feel it is unlikely that consciousness is controlled by a genetic on/off switch and that it evolved in animals in the same way as any other trait, that is gradually, and our near relatives on the genetic tree are to some extent at least conscious.

If this is so, then consciousness in animals other than ourselves inform ethics – we should treat animals as if they are conscious beings, as far as we can. I read a science fiction story once in which every being on the earth got a boost in brain function as a result of the earth leaving any area of space where a brake was put on brain function by some physical field or similar phenomenon.

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The human race immediately became super-intelligent, and apes became at least as intelligent and conscious as we were. Also other animals, which we used as food sources became to some extent aware. As the story ended one of the characters was musing on this fact and suggested that maybe a religion of self-sacrifice could be given to these animals so that we could continue to eat them. I’d suspect that, more likely, the human race would become vegetarian! Or possibly, as suggested in the story, we would employ the apes to do the dirty work for us.

Animal husbandry
Animal husbandry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)