The Windbreaker of Shame.

A sexy color brain scan from Jack et al 2012. Because sexy color brain scans increase scientific credibility by at least 68.7%.

Back around the turn of the century — when I was old enough to know better, anyway — I answered a knock on the door to find an unfamiliar twentysomething  looking up at me with a disarming seal-pup expression on his face. He’d locked himself out of his car, apparently. He needed $20 to pay some tow-truck guy to jimmy the door. Once he regained access, though, he’d reclaim his wallet and return my twenty: 45 minutes, an hour tops.

I expressed polite but worldly skepticism. He offered me his windbreaker as collateral, something he truly treasured because, as he explained, it was a gift from his girlfriend. When I continued to hesitate, he waved a dismissive hand and turned away; if I wasn’t going to trust him, he said — obviously hurt and offended — he wasn’t going to waste my time.

I called him back. I gave him the twenty.

He traded me his windbreaker — just a plastic shell, really, not much of a gift from a loving partner but then again, times were tough. It wasn’t until an hour, tops had elapsed that I began to suspect what you’ve all known from the first paragraph. Another hour and that hypothesis had solidified into theory, theorem, empirical fact: that I am big fat gullible idiot.

Except now, thanks to the efforts of one Anthony I. Jack and his colleagues, all of me doesn’t have to take the rap for that. It turns out that only part of me is a big fat gullible idiot, and its name is Default Mode.

Apparently the brain contains these two Networks, Default Mode (DMN) and Task Positive (TPN). They don’t like each other much; whenever one is active, the other shuts down (Jack et al invoke the image of a teeter-totter, only one end of which can be up at a given time). The linkage between the two is indirect, though, so it’s not as though the activation of one network directly suppresses the other. They might instead talk through a neural intermediary, like fighting parents telling their child halfway down the dinner table to “ask your mother to pass the peas”. The point is, either the DMN is active, or the TPN is. They do not spark together; as a rule, they don’t even talk.

This can prove problematic when DPN is running the show, because another name for the DMN might as well be the BFGIN (Big Fat Gullible Idiot Network).

Jack et al presented their subjects with a series of written scenarios focusing either on mechanical issues (some guy riding a snowmobile fires a flare gun into the air) or social ones (Sue sneaks some candy without her mother’s knowledge, but then feels so wracked with guilt that she hurls herself off the CN Tower in a desperate bid for redemption1). They then asked questions about said scenarios (Where will the flare land in relation to the snowmobile? Did Sue’s mother know about the stolen candy all along?) And of course, all this went down while the subjects were strapped into an fMRI machine that drew sexy Technicolor Rorschach blots of brains in motion.

Jack et al discovered that the DPM woke up to deal with social issues, while the TPN took over on the mechanical ones. The TPN is Mr. Cognitive; the DMN is more empathic (and interestingly, seems to be the network that’s “on” by default). We can be analytical or we can be empathic, apparently; we cannot be both at once.

Jack et al gently suggests that the DMN, by virtue of its greater empathy, is more gullible: “tasks involving deception reliably recruit regions in the TPN associated with executive functions,” they write, and “Our hypothesis is that the inhibition between domains is driven by the need to differentiate members of our moral circle from objects suitable for manipulation.” We’re wired to give the benefit of the doubt to fellow beings; all else is mere inanimate resource.

Other commentary has taken this sentiment and run with it. “New research shows a simple reason why even the most intelligent, complex brains can be taken by a swindler’s story,” proclaims EurekAlert in Empathy Represses Analytic Thought, And Vice Versa. They go on to explore the flip side of that coin: that while we can be gullible fools while in Empathy Mode, we can also be heartless tone-deaf assholes when our analytic network is booted up (anybody remember how Tony Hayward wanted his life back?)

I’m no expert, but the study seems reasonably tight to me in terms of controls and assumptions. And the findings fit comfortably into my own preconceptions; Windbreaker of Shame notwithstanding, I’ve had a rudimentary gut-level awareness of this whole empathy-compromises-cognition thing for most of my life. (A therapist — the only therapist I’ve ever sought out on my own initiative2 — once asked what I hoped to get out of our sessions. I told him I wanted to become more sociopathic, that my sense of empathy had been doing more harm than good ever since I’d got shit-kicked at the age of eight for trying to rescue a garter snake from being ripped apart by a bunch of fifth-graders.) (Clinton Ford Elementary was a tough place to grow up, lemme tell you.)

Still, there’s something a bit off about this. Empathy, social awareness, the theory-of-someone-else’s-mind — these are not all fuzzy feelings of trust and joy. Tribes contain exploiters as well as allies. Why would a neural domain evolve to fill our guts with uncritical empathy at the sight of a wounded bird, but not with unease and suspicion at the sight of a used-car salesman? Both things exist in the outer social network; shouldn’t both responses be equally available to the inner one? Why should suspicion equal cognition?

From Jack, A.I., et al., fMRI reveals reciprocal inhibition between social and physical cognitive domains, NeuroImage (2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.10.061

Jack et al wind down their paper with a conceptual model that may go a ways to resolving this, albeit in an implicit and sideways kinda way: they talk about the cognitive antagonism between dealing with animate and inanimate objects, and invoke a system whereby activation of TPN and DMN is controlled by a third system which plays off the “tension” between the two. I like this not because they provide any real evidence, or even because it clarifies uncertainty (their model actually strikes me as kind of hand-wavey). I like it because it describes cognition in terms of  conflict, and I’ve seen that before: in Ezequiel Morsella’s PRISM model, which argues that consciousness arises from the need to reconcile conflicting motor commands to the skeletal muscles.

Neither model really answers the hard question of why consciousness is conscious — Jack et al don’t even try, it’s just a post-hoc overlay I threw onto the paper myself — but this is two independent studies converging on a fundamental role for conflict in cognition. I like it when that happens.

As for me, I may not be a sociopath just yet but I am improving. Just last year another woeful-looking stranger waylaid me on the street, confessed that someone had siphoned the gas from his car, asked if I could spare a few bucks to get him back on the road. I asked where his car was parked; up by the armory, he told me. Six or seven blocks. Okay, said I, and fell into step alongside: Let’s go. Show me your car, and if the gauge reads empty, I’ll spot you the bucks.

He decided he didn’t want to walk all that way just to prove that he was honest. I told him to fuck off. I did not, however, beat in his fucking skull with a crowbar.

Evidently my TPN still needs work.


1 Okay, so I may be taking some liberties with that example.

2 The only one I’ve met who wasn’t a complete idiot. I had high hopes. If he hadn’t died less than a year in, I might be a new man by now.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday November 16 2012at 12:11 pm , filed under neuro, sentience/cognition . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

32 Responses to “The Windbreaker of Shame.”

  1. A paywall. Damn you, Elsevier!

    A sociopath might have too decided to protect the garter snake, he just would have done it because it was “the right thing to do,” not out of compassion for the creature. Lacking empathy does not necessarily make one amoral.

  2. I think we’ve all fallen for that kind of scam at least once. In my case, it was $10, and I’ve never fallen for that since.

    The things that really get me are the larger scams; the appeal for some imaginary “chits” you’ll get from working a weekend for The Company. They don’t exist, and they’ll never build up.

  3. Even though I know I’m being scammed, I still sometime consider giving money to these people, assuming they do this because they don’t really have any alternative. It’s really begging with some thin lie to save face – outright begging is an uncomfortable thing to do, emotionally. I used to toy with them – offer them a ride and see them squirm. I don’t do that anymore. I almost never give them money, but apparently my DMN network does have some residual reaction – I had a run-in with a guy who “needed help with fare” yesterday and found myself giving money to a different beggar toady.

    The experiments sound very much like some of the research done on the Trolley problem:
    http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~jgreene/

  4. Alexey,

    Maybe try #icanhazpdf tag on twitter or use http://www.reddit.com/r/Scholar ?

    Sometimes authors provide pre-prints on their websites, but I didn’t find one for this article. Here’s the lab, http://tonyjack.org clicking around will find you some pdfs for papers and posters.

  5. Somewhere on my closed-down blog, there’s a little tidbit about me ordinarily walking around in life working by a certain set of rules, a set of rules I worked hard to build on a rational basis overlaid upon my “better nature”.

    Yet put me out on the block of some sketchy city streets a bit or more after midnight, and another rule-set is unlocked and it’s far less trusting and diplomatic than the rule-set that’s kind to strangers and has endless patience dealing with the crowds of the elderly at the local grocery store.

    I’d probably enjoy my life more if I had a lower threshold switching to the TPN mode when confronted with people trying to manipulate me, or maybe I’d spend lots of time in prison. The TPN is task-active mostly for survival… but the DMN is a real pushover of a teddy bear. At times the DMN rather regrets being so easy-going and agreeable… but knows better than to unlock the TPN outside of extremely specific situations.

    Maybe I read the blog post too fast, but did these guys have any findings about integrating the modes? Or will Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde remain poles apart, and not capable of ever conversing?

  6. > 2 The only one I’ve met who wasn’t a complete idiot. I had high hopes. If he hadn’t died less than a year in, I might be a new man by now.

    If this post were a Gene Wolfe story…

  7. It wasn’t by rescuing the snake that your empathy got you into trouble, it was by not coshing the bullies from behind with a rock, then rescuing the snake. So says my TPN.

  8. I don’t think you made the wrong decision with the guy at the door. I think more often people are too loss averse in situations like this.

    I think of it like a poker hand. It costs me a few bucks if I’m wrong. But the potential payout — the value to someone who is genuinely in distress — it many many times that amount. So even if I think there’s only a small chance of it being legit it can still be +EV.

    I think it’s even less rational if I were so defensive and concerned about being ‘ripped off’ for less money than I spent on coffee today that I turned down these offers. If I stop and think, what if I’m wrong about trusting this guy, it usually becomes clear that it’s just a irrational urge not to feel like I got fooled or played by someone. But in reality the actual loss barely matters so confidence can be low in this decision.

    (Note: if these situations happened every day it’d be different I imagine, where I live, something like this is maybe a couple times a year event for me)

  9. Alexey:
    A paywall. Damn you, Elsevier!

    I have a pdf of the preprint. Anyone who wants a copy can e-mail me off-list.

    gwern: If this post were a Gene Wolfe story…

    Then I’d be Gene Wolfe. Let’s not go there; I’m old enough as it is…

    Jon: I think of it like a poker hand. It costs me a few bucks if I’m wrong. But the potential payout — the value to someone who is genuinely in distress — it many many times that amount.

    The problem in this case is that I didn’t have to gamble. I could’ve just offered to accompany the guy to his car, as I finally learned to do that last time. Of course, I’d’ve had to put on some pants first.

    Come to think of it, it was probably the pantlessness that inspired him to knock on my door in the first place. Back then, my office back then had a window onto the street.

  10. First I want to say, be careful about following someone. That can be dangerous.

    Jon,

    (Note: if these situations happened every day it’d be different I imagine, where I live, something like this is maybe a couple times a year event for me)

    I see panhandlers almost every day and I still give money to some.

    I work downtown, where there are tourists. I hate the con artists who target tourists or naive looking people with fast talking and imposing body language. It’s threatening. Especially if it’s late and dark. I don’t give them money.

    I give money sometimes to people who have “shifts” standing at spots during rush hour. No patter, sometimes a sign sometimes a chant, with a cup. I pass them by each day, and sometimes have change sometimes not.

    I used to get a street newspaper from a homeless woman, but she’s vanished. Sometimes she’d disappear for a while but show up after a season. I haven’t seen her for a few years. She’d be lucid sometimes, but would have phases where she looked glassed over. would warn about chemtrails and other conspiracy theories. Most likely she has an untreated mental illness.

  11. Peter Watts writes, in-part: Still, there’s something a bit off about this. Empathy, social awareness, the theory-of-someone-else’s-mind — these are not all fuzzy feelings of trust and joy. Tribes contain exploiters as well as allies. Why would a neural domain evolve to fill our guts with uncritical empathy at the sight of a wounded bird, but not with unease and suspicion at the sight of a used-car salesman? Both things exist in the outer social network; shouldn’t both responses be equally available to the inner one? Why should suspicion equal cognition?

    Peter, it might be more a case of cognition equals suspicion, or lack thereof. How so?

    The funny thing about baby birds with broken wings, or cats found in alleys who have clearly gotten a long series of boots in the ass from life, outside of the birds giving you lice or the cats giving you rabies, there’s not a lot they can do to harm you. Think for an instant in the risk-assessment mode, and empathy is allowable and frankly I think that most people really rather prefer the warm-fuzzy feeling of being maternal to being charged to near the knife-edge of either an adrenaline rush or that cold cold feeling of understanding that you’re in a game where perhaps lives are at stake. Or the rent’s at stake, or the night’s beer-and-pizza money, or the credit rating, etc. I suppose we could run with Jack et al and the notion of needing some unspecified third internal process, one which does whatever thinking is necessary to sort out if we should be feeling all motherly or feeling all on edge.

    But how can you test for that “third entity”? Maybe test reaction times versus pulse rates and blood pressure? Encounter the stimulus, pulse rate hammers for an instant, the assessment is made, and either we enter the state of fearing not, or we enter the state of furious analysis and war-gaming, trying to figure out the possible angles of scam or attack.

    For what it’s worth, just a few days ago, one of the “gas money” hard-luck-story ladies tried to get a twenty off of me. The thing is, I remember the exact same lady getting me good a few times maybe 25 years ago, and failing miserably thereafter, even though her story has gotten better as has the delivery. This time, she’s out of gas, she lives “two cities up the interstate highway”, she’s on a budget and left her credit cards at home, but her daughter’s school is getting locked down Code Blue and she really needs to get home and pick up this daughter. Riiiiight. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong weep wail swoon. She might have thought me an easy mark for having driven up in a pickup truck with country-western music blasting out of the window. I had her pegged as a gypsy working the marks before I was all of the way in the parking lot. Hey, I’m all out of pocket money, I sent it to the disaster-relief effort in the Mid-Atlantic, so sorry lady.

    Experimentally, I wonder how my reaction might have differed if she’d had a skinny puppy as a prop for the con. The theory being, sad pets turn on the empathy circuit and disarm the defensive-thinking mechanism. Hey, it works for frat boys… ;)

  12. Funny you should post about this, Peter. Our lab was just looking at this paper, and we’re thinking of testing Jack et al’s hypothesis with respect to how the two networks are engaged in gaming. It’s easy enought to surmise that there should be a straightforward correlation between object-oriented games and TPN activation, and gaming involving high levels of player interaction and activation of the DMN. Where it gets interesting is when you consider games that run the two together–say, games with high levels of avatar manipulation that also require a pronounced degree of cooperation and intentionality tracking. If Jack et al. are correct, these latter games should prove cognitively quite difficult. Naturally, Jack et al. have inserted a weasel clause into the paper suggesting that in some contexts the there can be co-activation of both networks–something that surely undermines their whole claim.

    Another thing worth looking at might be how the DMN and TPN are activated in different types of fiction: does SF, for instance, engage the TPN (all that geeky tech-talk), when chick-lit hits the DMN (Pleistocene social monitoring with Armani and a nice chianti)?

  13. I’ve been studying narcissists for years after colliding with a few in business and private life.

    Narcissists don’t do empathy EVER. The Jack theory suggests an experiment – to determine if there is any. Or relation between a degree of narcissism and the relative strengths of the DMN/TPN constructs?

    My guess would be that raving narcissists would be operating in TPN mode rather than DMN mode much more than a control sample of “normal” people.

  14. @Lodore, writing in-part: Where it gets interesting is when you consider games that run the two together–say, games with high levels of avatar manipulation that also require a pronounced degree of cooperation and intentionality tracking. If Jack et al. are correct, these latter games should prove cognitively quite difficult. Naturally, Jack et al. have inserted a weasel clause into the paper suggesting that in some contexts the there can be co-activation of both networks–something that surely undermines their whole claim.

    If we go back to the claim that it’s rather like a teeter-totter, where only one end can be up at a time, does it have to be so totally binary? Exclusive of partial states? Can’t the teeter-totter be in a wobbly state somewhere in between?

    For example: ask yourself about the internal network systems of someone working for, for example, a social services agency dealing with spouse-abuse/child-abuse problems in the context of divorce (or extramaritally, separation) proceedings. Empathy is the main driver when you’re talking about child-rescue or abused-partner situations… yet so very many people in these contexts are aggressively trying to “play” the systems, and although the professionals may be inspired by empathy, they have to have their game hat on, so to speak. Working with any assumption other than that they are getting played, that will get them played.

    Now that I’ve asked the question, I wonder if there would be any use in writing a set of games that could be used for training social-workers. Something to teach them to balance the empathy which they need to drive them in the workplace, against the cold analytics and scam detection they need to survive and be effective.

  15. this
    “Now that I’ve asked the question, I wonder if there would be any use in writing a set of games that could be used for training social-workers. Something to teach them to balance the empathy which they need to drive them in the workplace, against the cold analytics and scam detection they need to survive and be effective.”

    Leaps out at me. Not just relevant to social workers.
    I find myself wondering what facial and physical cues from our interlocutors tell us whether they are lying or not, and what relation that ability to read them has to the TPN and DMN split. If perhaps when we look at a person as a thing we can read them more easily, making a social interaction analytical. Like folks who need to learn social cues by rote.

  16. demoval,

    That kind of thing ends up going on my list of interesting things to make when I win the lottery and don’t have to work in a real job. So, I have bookmarks on stuff like that.

    Talking in color: imaging helps social skills

    What if your laptop knew how you felt? Researchers train computers to ‘read’ emotions, which could help with teaching, security, people with autism – and cranky users.

  17. @Demoval, who writes in-part: I find myself wondering what facial and physical cues from our interlocutors tell us whether they are lying or not, and what relation that ability to read them has to the TPN and DMN split. If perhaps when we look at a person as a thing we can read them more easily, making a social interaction analytical. Like folks who need to learn social cues by rote.

    It might also be useful to wonder if various people have a Default mode that’s a lot more cautious and analytical than other people. Technically, I suppose that this might be considered “paranoia” although that word implies pathology rather than “situational healthy caution”.

    I don’t have any ideas on how to set up an experiment for this, but it might be that some folks have to adopt a professional mindset wherein they have a relaxed and genial default mode, which shifts into the tactical mode at the first sign of prevarication. This might be comparable to the mindset seen in a lot of deep city police officers, or active duty military for that matter. Here’s an enlightening article by a Los Angeles police office to give an example.

    Obligatory SF reference: “Clans of the Alphane Moon“, by Philip K Dick. Summarized, some generations ago, a hospital starship was brought down on a habitable planet, and its cargo of mental patients manage to survive and develop their own society. The hebephrenics are relegated to service roles in jobs where it doesn’t matter if anything actually gets done, the paranoids are in charge of defense, the bipolars take care of arts and entertainment, etc. Dick does a pretty good job with the portrayal as it is in fact his oeuvre, though coming from circa 1954-1964 it’s a bit dated by our modern “neuro” viewpoint on mental disorders.

    Yet the present discussion makes me flash back to that, and wonder how society would fare if the majority of people — or even a significant minority — in that society were “stuck” in any variation of TPN. (If anyone suspects that I might be referring to my lovely hometown of the suburbs of Washington DC, they might be right.) If everyone is being aloof and trying to be inscrutable while examining everyone and everything else for evidence of attempts at manipulation or victimization, it might be that very little is accomplished that might be thought to be remotely beneficial.

    So, how does one get visual cues as to mental state from someone who spends all of their time walking around with a bad case of “paranoid mask”?

  18. @Mr Non-Entity: I agree with your point; in fact, I’d predict exactly what you describe, in that I suspect both networks act in tandem all the time. My own feeling is that Jack et al have seriously overstated the exclusionary principle they announce in the paper. Our purpose in looking at the gaming scenario is to find a relatively succinct counter-example to what these guys are claiming.

    As for your bigger point, I guess there’s a good case to be made for games along the lines you describe. My only fear would be that every game will get trumped by noisy real-world situations for which there is no ‘right’ answer.

  19. If Jacks et al. have results that are supportable about an exclusionary principle, I wonder if that could tie in, in really extreme cases, to Dissociative Identity Disorder (also known as “dissociative personality disorder”, or “multiple-personality disorder”)?

    DID (“DPD/MPD”) often has a characteristic of a default personality or set of personalities, often characterized as childlike in nature, with alternative personalities (“alters”) some of which may be “caretaker” or “avenger” personality types. A variety of people claiming to be suffering from the disorder allege that the caretaker/avenger personality emerged as a result of childhood abuse, often alleged to be of an exploitative sexual nature. The response to that sort of thing might be thought to fall within the oeuvre of TPN. Yet most people who have been through such abusive situations don’t seem to reach this extreme of dissociation, which I could posit would represent the extreme of a dichotomy (with excluded middle) between DPN and TPN. For most people, I would suggest, there would be internal processes integrating the two modes towards a state generally somewhere between the extremes, though probably anyone is capable of moving anywhere along the spectrum between the extremes, on a temporary basis as exigencies might demand.

    Sorry to be obsessive here, but this is a fascinating subject (“DID/DPD/MPD”) which has interested me for quite a long time.

  20. Coming back to the thread to post a hilarious yet tangential behavioural experiment showing a possible advantage for pathological character traits.

    The advantage of having an anxiously attached person on your team

    The higher that participants scored on anxious attachment, the more likely they were to seek help about the virus with single-minded focus. They more often than others refused to do the survey, shrugged off the photo-copying request, sought help rather than waiting outside the lab manager’s office, and left the student to pick up their own papers from the floor. In contrast, the personality variables of extraversion and neuroticism were not related to this single-mindedness.

    Ein-Dor and Tal have nicknamed anxiously attached people “sentinels”. In past research they’ve shown that they, like people of a generally anxious disposition, are quicker to detect threats (e.g. smoke in the room). This new result confirms the researchers’ further prediction that anxiously attached people are also particularly motivated to seek help from others, to raise the alarm – a tendency that “in many real world situations, might save others from a serious threat”. Concluding, Ein-Dor and Tal said their study offered “a new perspective on the strengths of individuals who have long been viewed as deficient and poorly adapted.”

  21. Well, first of, I’m not that sure if your initial assumption is right, e.g. the DMN is the empathic gullible idiot, while the TPN is the analytical hard-boiled private eye.

    E.g. in your initial example, your first (or a very early) reaction (likely to be the “Default Mode”) was scepticism, and it took some negotiation and a security (which I guess is somewhat “Task Positive”) to get the money. So the DMN might be somewhat more linked to our TOM, but there is quite some indication TOM is the result of an arm race to deceive and identify deceivers.

    I’m also not that sure if a sociopath would be less gullible, there are some confidence schemes which rely on the dishonesty of the mark:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiddle_game

    Though if the DMN is also involved in irrational distrust, the “applications” are even wider. Three-Minute Hate, anyone?

    BTW, how does this relate to System 1 and System 2 in “Thinking, fast and slow”?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow

    System 1 sounds quite like the DMN, System 2 like the TPN. If this identification is valid, we could mine this somewhat more “classical” psychology for the biases in question.

    Just talked about it with my shrink, err. ;)

  22. Mr Non-Entity: But how can you test for that “third entity”?

    More fMRI, I guess. But I’m still interested in why those networks should be incompatible in the first place; just a legacy constraint of ancient wiring? Some more functional reason I’m not seeing?

    Experimentally, I wonder how my reaction might have differed if she’d had a skinny puppy as a prop for the con. The theory being, sad pets turn on the empathy circuit and disarm the defensive-thinking mechanism.

    I’ve seen a few rubbies with kittens and dogs. I’ve always wanted to rescue the quadrupeds from the horrible life on the street their humans are giving them.

    Lodore:
    Funny you should post about this, Peter.Our lab was just looking at this paper, and we’re thinking of testing Jack et al’s hypothesis with respect to how the two networks are engaged in gaming.It’s easy enought to surmise that there should be a straightforward correlation between object-oriented games and TPN activation, and gaming involving high levels of player interaction and activation of theDMN.Where it gets interesting is when you consider games that run the two together–say, games with high levels of avatar manipulation that also require a pronounced degree of cooperation and intentionality tracking.If Jack et al. are correct, these latter games should prove cognitively quite difficult.

    Oooh. You’ll come back and tell us what you find, right? A sneak preview, just in general terms? Like, before the 18 months or whatever it is now that you have to wait between acceptance and actual publication? Because there seems to be a lot of cool stuff happening with studies on brain-game interactions, and this stuff could have some profound implications.

    Naturally, Jack et al. have inserted a weasel clause into the paper suggesting that in some contexts the there can be co-activation of both networks–something that surely undermines their whole claim.

    I got that sense too. If we are, in fact, dealing with mutually-incompatible subsystems that both play a role in a given situation, I can imagine a kind of time-sharing arrangement where focus flickers back and forth between the two, and this regulatory circuitry (if it exists) holds the respective state variables in cache. Kind of how we can flicker back and forth between seeing the duck or the rabbit, but not both simultaneously.

    I still want to know why the two systems aren’t better integrated, though.

    Another thing worth looking at might be how the DMN and TPN are activated in different types of fiction: does SF, for instance, engage the TPN (all that geeky tech-talk), when chick-lit hits the DMN (Pleistocene social monitoring with Armani and a nice chianti)?

    My guess would be yes — just given how other studies have characterized reading as a kind of vicarious experience in its own right (various bulbs lighting up in the Penfield humunculus when we read sensual descriptions, that kind of thing). But that’s no reason not to apply for additional grants to do the work…

  23. >I wanted to become more sociopathic, that my sense of empathy had been doing more harm than good

    Have you read R. Scott Bakker’s Neuropath? You’ve mentioned Bakker before, and in my mental catergory of “stuff similar to Watts” is Bakker’s Neuropath and Disciple of the Dog.

  24. Walrus: My guess would be that raving narcissists would be operating in TPN mode rather than DMN mode much more than a control sample of “normal” people.

    That’s an interesting thought; it also implies that narcissists would be more analytically competent than controls, as well, which is a disquieting thought.

    demoval: I find myself wondering what facial and physical cues from our interlocutors tell us whether they are lying or not, and what relation that ability to read them has to the TPN and DMN split. If perhaps when we look at a person as a thing we can read them more easily, making a social interaction analytical.

    What you’re suggesting is that we can more efficiently parse the human by treating them as inanimate systems. Which is another disquieting thought. But if these findings are legit, then I’m skeptical; because the flip side of these findings is that the folks who do act this way — the CEOs who “rationally” decide to “right-size” their work forces, for example — are not especially adept at predicting the emotional responses that result from such actions. I’m not saying I buy that interpretation (I think it’s more likely that they’re completely cognizant of the suffering and outrage that occurs, they just don’t give a shit because it doesn’t affect them), but that line of reasoning implies that you need access to your own DMN to fully internalize how other people’s DMNs will respond.

    Mr Non-Entity: it might be that some folks have to adopt a professional mindset wherein they have a relaxed and genial default mode, which shifts into the tactical mode at the first sign of prevarication. This might be comparable to the mindset seen in a lot of deep city police officers, or active duty military for that matter. Here’s an enlightening article by a Los Angeles police office to give an example.

    That’s an interesting article (and I’m kind of amazed that stuff from 1991 is still online for free); given the findings of various independent reviews into police behavior on this continent, I’m tempted to regard it more as a piece of PR than as a piece of unbiased insight. I take your point abut thermostat set-points, though; they adjust to suit the habitat.

    Trottelreiner: I’m also not that sure if a sociopath would be less gullible, there are some confidence schemes which rely on the dishonesty of the mark:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiddle_game

    Huh. Not sure how often that scam would pay off in real life. I note, however, that my huckster also left cheap collateral as insurance; I suppose I should consider myself lucky that his accomplice didn’t show up ten minutes later and tell me the windbreaker used to belong to Elvis and is worth a cool half-million at Sotheby’s…

  25. Nick de Vera,

    I read Neuropath in draft, for blurbing purposes. But as far as I know, they never used the blurb I offered.

    That’s happening more than it used to, actually.

  26. Peter Watts: Not sure how often that scam would pay off in real life.

    Me neither, but the added bonus is that in that case you just paid for a meal, which means no additional cost, except when the mark is so greedy his food is totally overprized. BTW, I originally read about this con in Gaiman’s “American Gods”.

    On a wider scale, greed is quite exploitable a characteristic, see Ponzi schemes etc. Bonus points for drowning any qualms in “they deserved it”.

  27. @Peter

    Oooh. You’ll come back and tell us what you find, right?

    I’d be only too happy to–if we get the go-ahead. We have some money and we have access to the equipment, but it will take some linguistic torture to make the grant money talk to the equipment in the right way. If we can get the lab Obergrüppenführer on side it will happen, but he’s a bit vintage and will need to be convinced.

    I can imagine a kind of time-sharing arrangement where focus flickers back and forth between the two, and this regulatory circuitry (if it exists) holds the respective state variables in cache. Kind of how we can flicker back and forth between seeing the duck or the rabbit, but not both simultaneously.

    Snap to that, and the analogy is liable to be stolen. Kind of thinking now that it might be an idea to fire off a few emails to R&D in Sony, EA Games or Nintendo. What with their obscenely large amounts of money, money, money, chucking us a few quid to advance the frontiers might be amenable to them. Or not.

  28. If a loser asks me for $20, with a story, I would be inclined to give it. Happens to me every few months. Plus I drop my lose change in a begging jar (3rd world) when I walk by.

  29. As for why we didn’t evolve to be more suspicious, I expect that the survival of “the group” depended on gullibility. The exploiters were likely to notice others who noticed exploiters and weed them out rather quickly (doctors and “witches” in Salem, for example).

    As for getting “better”, there is something recursive about trusting a head shrink to to make you less trusting. All you need is an electomagnet (I’m telling you, neuroscience had made psychology fairly obsolete):

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1262074/Scientists-discover-moral-compass-brain-controlled-magnets.html

    I’m guessing that emulates the frontal damage that may cause sociopathy to begin with.

  30. Its good to see I am not the only gullible Default Mode out there.
    And yes – I still have the cheap digital watch that I bought from a desperate man trying to get home to his kids and was even willing to sell his new Watch for a very good deal.
    But sometimes it does work out. Years ago I was driving home on a Sunday morning after some early shopping. My Mother-in-Law (bless her soul, she has promised I can turn off the machines if she is ever in a coma) was with me. Driving out of town, I noticed a neatly dressed man walking along the road, with a soda bottle filled with that definitive gasoline tinge. Now there has been cases of hitchhikers travelling up and down that strip of road asking for just a few bucks to tide them over. And I should mention that this was South Africa in the late 90’s and he was black. But I decided to rather play this one by ear, and pulled over to ask if he needed help. My Mother-in-hell was making very pointed comments and I knew I’d get it if we got home.
    His car – it turned out – was just up the road. And as we drove off he said ‘Thank you for helping. The congregation must be getting worried.’ It turns out he was the preacher for a local Church. The angry silence from the front passenger seat turned a decided shade of embarrassed. Needles to say – pedal was put to metal – and we got to his car at just the same time as a delegation from the church – who had become worried where their shepherd was.
    I drove home with the reassurance that the congregation of a country church had me in their prayers that day. Second time someone has done that for me. But seeing as the first time was the staff of a Christian Book store after I inquired after the Necronomicon – this one will probably carry more weight.
    PS. The best beggars in the world can be found in Durban – South Africa. They are masters of deception, timing, opportunism and ambush tactics.

  31. pG: Its good to see I am not the only gullible Default Mode out there.

    I think I may have been suckered last night again. Alzheimer’s Society. Although this time I at least have the excuse of having been sick and feverish for a week.

    pG: The best beggars in the world can be found in Durban – South Africa.

    That’s unfortunate for them, because I think the best marks might be here in Toronto…

  32. I’m a sucker for a good story. I admire the creativity that goes into it, the gravitas of the performance, the commitment to maintaining the integrity of the fiction. It seems like good value for money. I get to participate in random absurd street theatre. I also vicariously enjoy the satisfaction and extra sweetness the druggie con tastes with his hit, knowing he has conned a citizen.