Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 15th, 2016

“I feel ashamed of being a European” the way immigrants are treated

Le maire de Palerme :

« J’ai honte d’être européen, quand on voit le sort qui est fait aux migrants »

Entretien (interview) avec Leoluca Orlando, maire de Palerme, dont la ville est l’une des principales portes d’entrée de l’Europe pour les migrants africains.

Leoluca Orlando, membre du parti Rivoluzione civile (centre-gauche), maire de Palerme à trois reprises (1980-1985, 1993-2000 et depuis 2013), est l’un des principaux personnages de la sphère politique sicilienne.

Député à plusieurs reprises au Parlement italien, puis européen, il s’est fait remarquer dans les années 2000 pour son engagement dans la lutte contre la mafia.

Aujourd’hui, alors que la Sicile est l’une des principales portes d’entrée des migrants en Europe, il a fait de leur cause son nouveau cheval de bataille. Il sera à paris, mercredi 12 octobre, pour participer au colloque de rentrée du Collège de France sur le thème « Migrations, réfugiés, exil ».

Lire aussi :   Medhanie l’Erythréen est-il un redoutable passeur ou un migrant pris dans une erreur judiciaire ?

Quel regard portez-vous sur l’intégration des migrants à la société palermitaine ?

Leoluca Orlando J’estime et j’affirme que tous les résidents de la ville de Palerme sont Palermitains. Il n’y a pas de différence entre les Palermitains qui sont nés à Palerme et ceux qui y arrivent, et c’est pour ça qu’il faudrait abolir le permis de séjour. Ce permis de séjour est la peine de mort de notre temps, c’est une nouvelle forme d’esclavage pour les gens qui arrivent.

Je suis convaincu que la mobilité internationale est un droit humain. Une personne ne peut pas mourir car un pays refuse de l’accueillir. C’est pour cette raison que nous avons adopté la Charte de Palerme et que nous avons créé le Conseil de la culture, qui est le seul dans le monde à représenter les migrants politiquement. Les membres de ce conseil sont démocratiquement élus par les migrants, ils sont 21 membres, dont 9 femmes. Je ne crois pas qu’on puisse parler de ces proportions au Parlement français, ni au Parlement italien !

Estimez-vous que l’Europe en fait assez pour les migrants ?

Non. Nous n’avons pas d’autre alternative que d’accueillir les migrants. Les gens qui me disent « Vous êtes fou ! », je leur réponds : « Non, je ne suis pas fou, je pense au futur ! »

Beaucoup de Palermitains vous reprochent votre engagement vis-à-vis des migrants et réclament des actions concrètes contre le fort taux de chômage de la ville. Que leur répondez-vous ?

Il n’y a pas d’intolérance et de racisme à Palerme, et vous ne me le ferez pas dire. Nous avons un problème économique, certes, mais comme partout. C’est un problème pour les Palermitains comme pour les gens qui viennent d’ailleurs. Je crois que la grande puissance de l’expérience palermitaine est que tout le monde a le même problème, tout le monde est logé à la même enseigne.

Ballaro, un quartier de Palerme, est souvent montré comme un exemple de cette mixité sociale dont la ville se réclame.

Ballaro, c’est l’endroit où des marchands issus de l’immigration ont fait arrêter des mafiosi palermitains. Voilà. (Rires). Est-il possible ensuite de parler contre les migrants ? Je ne crois pas. C’est un bon exemple, cela signifie que les personnes migrantes qui vivent à Palerme pensent que cette ville est leur ville. Et quand on fait partie d’une ville, on va la défendre. L’accueil est la plus puissante arme pour la sécurité. Par exemple, je dialogue avec la communauté musulmane pour intégrer au mieux les plus radicaux qui arrivent dans la ville.

Les musulmans qui vivent en banlieue parisienne parlent-ils avec leur maire ? Est-ce qu’il les intègre dans une représentation politique ? C’est la marginalisation, l’ostracisme, qui sont un problème. Chaque fois que les gens sont tentés de faire une distinction entre les migrants et les Palermitains, je leur réponds qu’il faut garder à l’esprit que les migrants ne votent pas. Nous sommes dans une dimension utilitariste de ces gens, il faut que la politique européenne comprenne que cet utilitarisme est en contradiction totale avec le respect des droits humains.

Vous pensez que les migrants devraient voter ?

Ce n’est pas encore possible aujourd’hui. Mais oui, j’ai espoir qu’un jour, toutes les personnes qui vivent en Italie, de nationalité italienne ou non, puissent voter et participer à la vie démocratique de ce pays. Mon premier acte en tant que maire a été de déclarer citoyens honoraires tous les habitants de Palerme. Tous, pas seulement le dalaï-lama, pas seulement le roi Juan Carlos… mais tous les résidents, italiens ou non.

Mais Ballaro, par exemple, c’est aussi le repaire d’une nouvelle mafia nigériane…

Oui, et c’est la preuve qu’il n’y a pas de différence entre les Palermitains et les Nigérians ! Il y a des Nigérians mafiosi, il y a des Nigérians bons citoyens. C’est pareil pour les Palermitains. Il ne serait pas normal de n’avoir que des Nigérians bons citoyens, et que des Palermitains criminels (rires). La grande chance de Palerme est sa normalité. Palerme est devenue une ville normale, sans sa mesquinerie politique d’autrefois.

Qu’est-ce qui manque pour que l’accueil des migrants soit efficace ?

Il manque la normalité des migrations, partout. Palerme est une ville migrante : il est possible d’y voir des monuments arabes, français, baroques, espagnols… Il y a quelque temps, des journaux anglais et allemand ont écrit : « En pensant à Palerme, l’Europe devrait avoir honte. »

Aujourd’hui, je dis que j’ai honte d’être européen, quand on voit le sort qui est fait aux migrants. Je suis européen mais, dans les valeurs migratoires, je suis surtout palermitain. Nous sommes responsables d’un génocide en mer Méditerranée. Nos petits-fils nous diront qu’on a tué des milliers de personnes. Et nous ne pourrons pas dire que l’on ne savait pas.

Vous sentez-vous plus palermitain qu’européen ?

C’est parce que je suis fier d’être européen que je me permets de mal parler de l’Europe quand elle fait des erreurs. Mon premier ennemi est celui qui a la même identité que moi. Mon ennemi, ce n’est pas l’imam rigoriste qui soutient les terroristes, mon ennemi, avant lui, c’est le cardinal catholique qui soutient les mafiosi.

Quel regard portez-vous sur l’accueil des migrants en France ?

Aujourd’hui, en France, les migrants ne pensent pas avoir trouvé leur nouvelle maison. Il y a un vrai problème, car, si je ne pense pas être chez moi, pourquoi me lèverai-je pour défendre une maison qui n’est pas la mienne ?

Je ne défends pas la maison où je pense qu’il ne m’est pas possible de vivre, je ne défends pas la maison de mon ennemi. Je pense que c’est la situation dans laquelle est bloquée la France. Je ne comprends pas pourquoi la France a changé.

Parlez mal de Palerme, de sa mafia, mais en même temps, s’il vous plaît, parlez mal de la France ! Une Europe des droits ne peut pas exister sans la France, il faut que la France change de position sur les migrants.

Nous vivons dans un temps qu’on appelle la globalisation, avec une mobilité financière, une mobilité industrielle, une mobilité économique…

Mais comment peut-on penser pouvoir vivre dans un monde qu’on dit globalisé sans une mobilité des êtres humains ?

Les migrants ont donné un visage à la globalisation, parfois tristes, parfois heureux, mais ils ont donné un visage. Avant, la globalisation était égoïste, financière. Aujourd’hui, il faut remercier les migrants pour avoir donné un visage à cette globalisation.

Beaucoup de personnalités appellent à une coopération plus importante entre les pays européens d’accueil des migrants et les pays d’Afrique d’où ils partent. Qu’en pensez-vous ?

En tant que maire de Palerme, j’ai beaucoup de relations avec les maires africains. Fin septembre, j’ai signé un nouveau jumelage avec Grand-Bassam, en Côte d’Ivoire. Nous avons des relations avec des maires libyens, des maires tunisiens, marocains…

Je crois qu’il est nécessaire d’aider ces maires et ces pays, de les aider pour permettre à leurs habitants de participer au développement de leur pays sans avoir besoin de venir en Europe.

Les migrations ne sont pas un problème sicilien, il est tragique qu’on pense comme cela aujourd’hui. C’est un problème européen, c’est un problème mondial.

Comment voyez-vous la Sicile dans dix ans ?

Est-ce que cela sera un problème s’il y a plus d’Italiens d’origine africaine que de natifs italiens ? Non. Est-ce que cela sera un problème si quelqu’un peut dire un jour : « La majorité des Palermitains ne sont pas nés à Palerme » ? Non. Palerme est une ville migrante. Nous sommes une ville multiculturelle, comme Beyrouth, comme Istanbul.

Can we Not lose control over Artificial Intelligence?

Scared of super-intelligent AI? You should be, says neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris — and not just in some theoretical way.

We’re going to build superhuman machines, says Harris, but we haven’t yet grappled with the problems associated with creating something that may treat us the way we treat ants

Sam Harris. Neuroscientist, philosopher. Full bio

I’m going to talk about a failure of intuition that many of us suffer from. It’s really a failure to detect a certain kind of danger.

I’m going to describe a scenario that I think is both terrifying and likely to occur, and that’s not a good combination, as it turns out. And yet rather than be scared, most of you will feel that what I’m talking about is kind of cool.

0:36 I’m going to describe how the gains we make in artificial intelligence could ultimately destroy us. And in fact, I think it’s very difficult to see how they won’t destroy us or inspire us to destroy ourselves.

And yet if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that it’s fun to think about these things. That response is part of the problem. OK?

That response should worry you. And if I were to convince you in this talk that we were likely to suffer a global famine, either because of climate change or some other catastrophe, and that your grandchildren, or their grandchildren, are very likely to live like this, you wouldn’t think, “Interesting. I like this TED Talk.”

Famine isn’t fun. Death by science fiction, on the other hand, is fun, and one of the things that worries me most about the development of AI at this point is that we seem unable to marshal an appropriate emotional response to the dangers that lie ahead.

I am unable to marshal this response, and I’m giving this talk.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
ted.com|By Sam Harris
It’s as though we stand before two doors. Behind door number one, we stop making progress in building intelligent machines. Our computer hardware and software just stops getting better for some reason.
Now take a moment to consider why this might happen. I mean, given how valuable intelligence and automation are, we will continue to improve our technology if we are at all able to.
What could stop us from doing this? A full-scale nuclear war? A global pandemic? An asteroid impact? Justin Bieber becoming president of the United States?

The point is, something would have to destroy civilization as we know it. You have to imagine how bad it would have to be to prevent us from making improvements in our technology permanently, generation after generation.

Almost by definition, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened in human history.

the only alternative, and this is what lies behind door number two, is that we continue to improve our intelligent machines year after year after year. At a certain point, we will build machines that are smarter than we are, and once we have machines that are smarter than we are, they will begin to improve themselves.

And we risk what the mathematician IJ Good called an “intelligence explosion,” that the process could get away from us.

this is often caricatured, as I have here, as a fear that armies of malicious robots will attack us. But that isn’t the most likely scenario.

It’s not that our machines will become spontaneously malevolent. The concern is really that we will build machines that are so much more competent than we are that the slightest divergence between their goals and our own could destroy us.

Just think about how we relate to ants. We don’t hate them. We don’t go out of our way to harm them. In fact, sometimes we take pains not to harm them. We step over them on the sidewalk.

But whenever their presence seriously conflicts with one of our goals, let’s say when constructing a building like this one, we annihilate them without a qualm. The concern is that we will one day build machines that, whether they’re conscious or not, could treat us with similar disregard.

I suspect this seems far-fetched to many of you. I bet there are those of you who doubt that superintelligent AI is possible, much less inevitable. But then you must find something wrong with one of the following assumptions. And there are only three of them.

Intelligence is a matter of information processing in physical systems. Actually, this is a little bit more than an assumption. We have already built narrow intelligence into our machines, and many of these machines perform at a level of superhuman intelligence already.

And we know that mere matter can give rise to what is called “general intelligence,” an ability to think flexibly across multiple domains, because our brains have managed it. Right?

I mean, there’s just atoms in here, and as long as we continue to build systems of atoms that display more and more intelligent behavior, we will eventually, unless we are interrupted, we will eventually build general intelligence into our machines.

It’s crucial to realize that the rate of progress doesn’t matter, because any progress is enough to get us into the end zone. We don’t need Moore’s law to continue. We don’t need exponential progress. We just need to keep going.

The second assumption is that we will keep going. We will continue to improve our intelligent machines. And given the value of intelligence — I mean, intelligence is either the source of everything we value or we need it to safeguard everything we value.

It is our most valuable resource. So we want to do this. We have problems that we desperately need to solve. We want to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.

We want to understand economic systems. We want to improve our climate science.

So we will do this, if we can. The train is already out of the station, and there’s no brake to pull.

Finally, we don’t stand on a peak of intelligence, or anywhere near it, likely. And this really is the crucial insight. This is what makes our situation so precarious, and this is what makes our intuitions about risk so unreliable.

just consider the smartest person who has ever lived. On almost everyone’s shortlist here is John von Neumann.

I mean, the impression that von Neumann made on the people around him, and this included the greatest mathematicians and physicists of his time, is fairly well-documented. If only half the stories about him are half true, there’s no question he’s one of the smartest people who has ever lived.

So consider the spectrum of intelligence. Here we have John von Neumann. And then we have you and me. And then we have a chicken.

There’s no reason for me to make this talk more depressing than it needs to be.

It seems overwhelmingly likely, however, that the spectrum of intelligence extends much further than we currently conceive, and if we build machines that are more intelligent than we are, they will very likely explore this spectrum in ways that we can’t imagine, and exceed us in ways that we can’t imagine.

And it’s important to recognize that this is true by virtue of speed alone. Right?

So imagine if we just built a superintelligent AI that was no smarter than your average team of researchers at Stanford or MIT.

Well, electronic circuits function about a million times faster than biochemical ones, so this machine should think about a million times faster than the minds that built it.

you set it running for a week, and it will perform 20,000 years of human-level intellectual work, week after week after week. How could we even understand, much less constrain, a mind making this sort of progress?

The other thing that’s worrying, frankly, is that, imagine the best case scenario. So imagine we hit upon a design of superintelligent AI that has no safety concerns. We have the perfect design the first time around.

It’s as though we’ve been handed an oracle that behaves exactly as intended. Well, this machine would be the perfect labor-saving device. It can design the machine that can build the machine that can do any physical work, powered by sunlight, more or less for the cost of raw materials. So we’re talking about the end of human drudgery. We’re also talking about the end of most intellectual work.

what would apes like ourselves do in this circumstance? Well, we’d be free to play Frisbee and give each other massages. Add some LSD and some questionable wardrobe choices, and the whole world could be like Burning Man.

 that might sound pretty good, but ask yourself what would happen under our current economic and political order?

It seems likely that we would witness a level of wealth inequality and unemployment that we have never seen before. Absent a willingness to immediately put this new wealth to the service of all humanity, a few trillionaires could grace the covers of our business magazines while the rest of the world would be free to starve.

And what would the Russians or the Chinese do if they heard that some company in Silicon Valley was about to deploy a superintelligent AI? This machine would be capable of waging war, whether terrestrial or cyber, with unprecedented power.

This is a winner-take-all scenario. To be six months ahead of the competition here is to be 500,000 years ahead, at a minimum. So it seems that even mere rumors of this kind of breakthrough could cause our species to go berserk.

one of the most frightening things, in my view, at this moment, are the kinds of things that AI researchers say when they want to be reassuring. And the most common reason we’re told not to worry is time.

This is all a long way off, don’t you know. This is probably 50 or 100 years away. One researcher has said, “Worrying about AI safety is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars.” This is the Silicon Valley version of “don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

No one seems to notice that referencing the time horizon is a total non sequitur. If intelligence is just a matter of information processing, and we continue to improve our machines, we will produce some form of superintelligence.

And we have no idea how long it will take us to create the conditions to do that safely. Let me say that again. We have no idea how long it will take us to create the conditions to do that safely.

 if you haven’t noticed, 50 years is not what it used to be. This is 50 years in months. This is how long we’ve had the iPhone. This is how long “The Simpsons” has been on television. Fifty years is not that much time to meet one of the greatest challenges our species will ever face.

Once again, we seem to be failing to have an appropriate emotional response to what we have every reason to believe is coming.

The computer scientist Stuart Russell has a nice analogy here. He said, imagine that we received a message from an alien civilization, which read: “People of Earth, we will arrive on your planet in 50 years. Get ready.” And now we’re just counting down the months until the mothership lands? We would feel a little more urgency than we do.

Another reason we’re told not to worry is that these machines can’t help but share our values because they will be literally extensions of ourselves.

They’ll be grafted onto our brains, and we’ll essentially become their limbic systems. Now take a moment to consider that the safest and only prudent path forward, recommended, is to implant this technology directly into our brains.

this may in fact be the safest and only prudent path forward, but usually one’s safety concerns about a technology have to be pretty much worked out before you stick it inside your head.

The deeper problem is that building superintelligent AI on its own seems likely to be easier than building superintelligent AI and having the completed neuroscience that allows us to seamlessly integrate our minds with it.

And given that the companies and governments doing this work are likely to perceive themselves as being in a race against all others, given that to win this race is to win the world, provided you don’t destroy it in the next moment, then it seems likely that whatever is easier to do will get done first.

I don’t have a solution to this problem, apart from recommending that more of us think about it. I think we need something like a Manhattan Project on the topic of artificial intelligence.

Not to build it, because I think we’ll inevitably do that, but to understand how to avoid an arms race and to build it in a way that is aligned with our interests. When you’re talking about superintelligent AI that can make changes to itself, it seems that we only have one chance to get the initial conditions right, and even then we will need to absorb the economic and political consequences of getting them right.

13:44 But the moment we admit that information processing is the source of intelligence, that some appropriate computational system is what the basis of intelligence is, and we admit that we will improve these systems continuously, and we admit that the horizon of cognition very likely far exceeds what we currently know, then we have to admit that we are in the process of building some sort of a God. Now would be a good time to make sure it’s a god we can live with.

For Highly Sensitive People: Flotation tanks?

Flotation tanks isolate us from all external stimulation by blocking out sound, light, and touch.

When all outer distractions are removed our senses are disabled, so the only thing that is being stimulated is our conscious mind.

There is nothing to hear, see or feel so our mind is free to explore the areas that are usually suppressed or forgotten.

Flotation tanks were originally called sensory deprivation tanks, and were developed in 1954 by neuroscientist Dr. John C. Lilly, who also studied dolphin communication.

Lilly’s purpose for creating them was so to find out what kept the brain stimulated when all external stimuli was disconnected.

Tonnie Ch shared this link

All I want for Christmas 🎶 Me too.

These tanks are highly recommended for anyone who is highly sensitive to their environment.

As all external stimuli is removed so that the body and mind can fully balance, relax and heal aches and pains. We can also achieve absolute peace and serenity.

With the only thing to focus on being our breathing, our brainwave pattern shifts from our waking state, to beta then onto alpha brainwaves.

From there we can enter into theta waves. Theta is the type of brainwave that is usually associated with advanced levels of meditation and this state is achievable within the very first flotation session.

Although we are in a deep state of relaxation, the brain remains alert, offering reflection while also improving mental clarity.

We can then enter into a dream-like state similar to one that is achieved just before we go to sleep.

It is believed that two hours in a flotation tank gives the same benefits that we would receive from an eight-hour sleep.

Epsom salt is added to the water to simulate zero gravity, which increases buoyancy and allows the body to rise to the surface to replicate the feeling of floating in mid-air.

We achieve a comfortable sensation of weightlessness and this helps the brain to relax as we use a large amount of our brain’s energy to cope with gravity. 

The water is set to skin temperature so that it is difficult to distinguish between the water and our physical being.

There is no dependence on the outer environment as all external energy sources are disconnected. Therefore, the stimuli to our brain is isolated so the brain has the opportunity to decelerate.

The effect that is created deprives us of all our vital senses so that our brain does not have to work hard to process information.

This enables the logical side of our brain to relax and slow down so it can harmonize with our creative side.

We can fully relax and enable our mind to drift into a state of “nothingness” or we can remain alert and consciously infuse our subconscious with inspirational thoughts, creativity, introspection, insight or positive affirmations. When we are at our most relaxed state, the subconscious is better able to absorb data. (Multinational financial data too?)

Our imagination and visualization abilities are also heightened.

Studies have shown that heart rate and blood pressure are lowered which dramatically reduces the release of anxiety and stress related chemicals in the body.

While we are cocooned in the tank, “feel-good” endorphins are released which encourage a general overall feeling of wellbeing and they are also provide natural pain relief.

Flotation tanks offer a unique and profound experience where we can be alone with our mind and quickly cross between the conscious path to the unconscious.

It evokes a myriad of sensations, thoughts and inner and outer explorations, that depend entirely on how we are feeling at each present moment during the experience.

During any period where there may be higher than normal levels of anxiety or stress, a flotation experience can be the perfect antidote to calm, soothe and relax the body and mind.

We can either have a one off experience in a tank, or book again for repeated visits. Every session will be entirely different depending on what is taking place in our lives (and minds) at that current time.

Flotation tanks not only alleviate aches and pains, they also reduce anxiety, stress, tension and fatigue as our heart rate settles into a gentle, natural rhythm enabling us to receive emotional, mental and physical therapy all at the same time.

What makes you believe that you are more altruistic than others?

Someone once saved my life by putting his own life in danger

Giving a kidney to a stranger

Why do some people do selfless things, helping other people even at risk to their own well-being?

Psychology researcher Abigail Marsh studies the motivations of people who do extremely altruistic acts, like donating a kidney to a complete stranger. Are their brains just different?

Abigail Marsh. Psychologist. Question: If humans are evil, why do we sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to help others even at a cost to ourselves? Full bio

There’s a man out there, somewhere, who looks a little bit like the actor Idris Elba, or at least he did 20 years ago.

I don’t know anything else about him, except that he once saved my life by putting his own life in danger. This man ran across four lanes of freeway traffic in the middle of the night to bring me back to safety after a car accident that could have killed me.

And the whole thing left me really shaken up, but it also left me with this kind of burning, gnawing need to understand why he did it, what forces within him caused him to make the choice that I owe my life to, to risk his own life to save the life of a stranger?

what are the causes of his or anybody else’s capacity for altruism?

0:58 But first let me tell you what happened. That night, I was 19 years old and driving back to my home in Tacoma, Washington, down the Interstate 5 freeway, when a little dog darted out in front of my car. And I did exactly what you’re not supposed to do, which is swerve to avoid it.

And I discovered why you’re not supposed to do that. I hit the dog anyways, and that sent the car into a fishtail, and then a spin across the freeway, until finally it wound up in the fast lane of the freeway faced backwards into oncoming traffic and then the engine died.

I was sure in that moment that I was about to die too, but I didn’t because of the actions of that one brave man who must have made the decision within a fraction of a second of seeing my stranded car to pull over and run across four lanes of freeway traffic in the dark to save my life.

after he got my car working again and got me back to safety and made sure I was going to be all right, he drove off again. He never even told me his name, and I’m pretty sure I forgot to say thank you.

 before I go any further, I really want to take a moment to stop and say thank you to that stranger.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
ted.com|By Abigail Marsh

I tell you all of this because the events of that night changed the course of my life to some degree. I became a psychology researcher, and I’ve devoted my work to understanding the human capacity to care for others.

Where does it come from, and how does it develop, and what are the extreme forms that it can take?

These questions are really important to understanding basic aspects of human social nature. A lot of people, and this includes everybody from philosophers and economists to ordinary people believe that human nature is fundamentally selfish, that we’re only ever really motivated by our own welfare.

But if that’s true, why do some people, like the stranger who rescued me, do selfless things, like helping other people at enormous risk and cost to themselves?

Answering this question requires exploring the roots of extraordinary acts of altruism, and what might make people who engage in such acts different than other people.

But until recently, very little work on this topic had been done.

The actions of the man who rescued me meet the most stringent definition of altruism, which is a voluntary, costly behavior motivated by the desire to help another individual.

So it’s a selfless act intended to benefit only the other. What could possibly explain an action like that?

One answer is compassion, obviously, which is a key driver of altruism. But then the question becomes, why do some people seem to have more of it than others?

And the answer may be that the brains of highly altruistic people are different in fundamental ways.

to figure out how, I actually started from the opposite end, with psychopaths.

A common approach to understanding basic aspects of human nature, like the desire to help other people, is to study people in whom that desire is missing, and psychopaths are exactly such a group.

Psychopathy is a developmental disorder with strongly genetic origins, and it results in a personality that’s cold and uncaring and a tendency to engage in antisocial and sometimes very violent behavior.

Once my colleagues and I at the National Institute of Mental Health conducted some of the first ever brain imaging research of psychopathic adolescents, and our findings, and the findings of other researchers now, have shown that people who are psychopathic pretty reliably exhibit three characteristics.

First, although they’re not generally insensitive to other people’s emotions, they are insensitive to signs that other people are in distress. And in particular, they have difficulty recognizing fearful facial expressions like this one.

And fearful expressions convey urgent need and emotional distress, and they usually elicit compassion and a desire to help in people who see them, so it makes sense that people who tend to lack compassion also tend to be insensitive to these cues.

The part of the brain that’s the most important for recognizing fearful expressions is called the amygdala. There are very rare cases of people who lack amygdalas completely, and they’re profoundly impaired in recognizing fearful expressions.

And whereas healthy adults and children usually show big spikes in amygdala activity when they look at fearful expressions, psychopaths’ amygdalas are underreactive to these expressions. Sometimes they don’t react at all, which may be why they have trouble detecting these cues.

Finally, psychopaths’ amygdalas are smaller than average by about 18 or 20 percent.

all of these findings are reliable and robust, and they’re very interesting. But remember that my main interest is not understanding why people don’t care about others. It’s understanding why they do.

the real question is, could extraordinary altruism, which is the opposite of psychopathy in terms of compassion and the desire to help other people, emerge from a brain that is also the opposite of psychopathy?

A sort of antipsychopathic brain, better able to recognize other people’s fear, an amygdala that’s more reactive to this expression and maybe larger than average as well?

As my research has now shown, all three things are true.

And we discovered this by testing a population of truly extraordinary altruists. These are people who have given one of their own kidneys to a complete stranger.

So these are people who have volunteered to undergo major surgery so that one of their own healthy kidneys can be removed and transplanted into a very ill stranger that they’ve never met and may never meet.

“Why would anybody do this?” is a very common question.

And the answer may be that the brains of these extraordinary altruists have certain special characteristics. They are better at recognizing other people’s fear. They’re literally better at detecting when somebody else is in distress.

This may be in part because their amygdala is more reactive to these expressions. And remember, this is the same part of the brain that we found was underreactive in people who are psychopathic.

And finally, their amygdalas are larger than average as well, by about 8%.

together, what these data suggest is the existence of something like a caring continuum in the world that’s anchored at the one end by people who are highly psychopathic, and at the other by people who are very compassionate and driven to acts of extreme altruism.

I should add that what makes extraordinary altruists so different is not just that they’re more compassionate than average. They are, but what’s even more unusual about them is that they’re compassionate and altruistic not just towards people who are in their own innermost circle of friends and family. Right?

Because to have compassion for people that you love and identify with is not extraordinary. Truly extraordinary altruists’ compassion extends way beyond that circle, even beyond their wider circle of acquaintances to people who are outside their social circle altogether, total strangers, just like the man who rescued me.

I’ve had the opportunity now to ask a lot of altruistic kidney donors how it is that they manage to generate such a wide circle of compassion that they were willing to give a complete stranger their kidney. And I found it’s a really difficult question for them to answer.

I say, “How is it that you’re willing to do this thing when so many other people don’t? You’re one of fewer than 2,000 Americans who has ever given a kidney to a stranger. What is it that makes you so special?”

They say, “Nothing. There’s nothing special about me. I’m just the same as everybody else.”

I think that’s actually a really telling answer, because it suggests that the circles of these altruists don’t look like this, they look more like this. They have no center.

These altruists literally don’t think of themselves as being at the center of anything, as being better or more inherently important than anybody else.

When I asked one altruist why donating her kidney made sense to her, she said, “Because it’s not about me.” Another said, “I’m not different. I’m not unique. Your study here is going to find out that I’m just the same as you.”

I think the best description for this amazing lack of self-centeredness is humility, which is that quality that in the words of St. Augustine makes men as angels. And why is that?

It’s because if there’s no center of your circle, there can be no inner rings or outer rings, nobody who is more or less worthy of your care and compassion than anybody else.

And I think that this is what really distinguishes extraordinary altruists from the average person.

I also think that this is a view of the world that’s attainable by many and maybe even most people. And I think this because at the societal level, expansions of altruism and compassion are already happening everywhere.

The psychologist Steven Pinker and others have shown that all around the world people are becoming less and less accepting of suffering in ever-widening circles of others, which has led to declines of all kinds of cruelty and violence, from animal abuse to domestic violence to capital punishment.

And it’s led to increases in all kinds of altruism.

A hundred years ago, people would have thought it was ludicrous how normal and ordinary it is for people to donate their blood and bone marrow to complete strangers today.

Is it possible that a hundred years from now people will think that donating a kidney to a stranger is just as normal and ordinary as we think donating blood and bone marrow is today? Maybe.

10:46 So what’s at the root of all these amazing changes?

In part it seems to be increases in wealth and standards of living.

As societies become wealthier and better off, people seem to turn their focus of attention outward, and as a result, all kinds of altruism towards strangers increases, from volunteering to charitable donations and even altruistic kidney donations.

But all of these changes also yield a strange and paradoxical result, which is that even as the world is becoming a better and more humane place, which it is, there’s a very common perception that it’s becoming worse and more cruel, which it’s not.

And I don’t know exactly why this is, but I think it may be that we now just know so much more about the suffering of strangers in distant places, and so we now care a lot more about the suffering of those distant strangers.

But what’s clear is the kinds of changes we’re seeing show that the roots of altruism and compassion are just as much a part of human nature as cruelty and violence, maybe even more so, and while some people do seem to be inherently more sensitive to the suffering of distant others, I really believe that the ability to remove oneself from the center of the circle and expand the circle of compassion outward to include even strangers is within reach for almost everyone.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2016
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