Tag: column

Happy Holidays! What better way to celebrate than with a column on overthinking and terrorism? In summary, this post is essentially just one gigantic middle finger to human emotion and irrationality.

Sex and violence. Violence and sex. Two majestic beasts, when boiled down to the very basal level are actually rather simple. Take for example, sex. I’ll save you the gory details, mainly because I know my mother is probably reading this, but essentially sex works as follows: “Hey wanna have sex?” To which the other responds yes or no. That’s it! There is not even uncalled for pussy grabbing involved, surprise, surprise! Violence too, is essentially as black and white, except in this instance; a person may ask, “Is there any other means to which I can get this person to work with me?” Violence inherently tags along with a negative answer.

No, it’s not until you are in bed alone on an early Sunday evening replaying the previous evening in your mind as your phone sits as quite as a mime next to you, when emotion comes lurking up under the covers and grabs you, that relationships become hard. Emotion beats the living shit out of your memory or interpretation of your relationship, simultaneously transforming it and weighing it down, anchoring you to a malicious carbon copy of something that was once so beautiful and simple.

Emotion uses the same tactics in political violence. Political violence is merely a statement, or rebellion until emotion, disguised as mass fear, is invited to the party. Emotion aggrandizes single acts of political violence, painting perpetrators as grandiose colonels of an unknown but powerful aggressor, ultimately yielding an effective tactic known as terrorism. Terrorism then, is a byproduct of emotion.

This is why humans suck. But lucky for us, we also come equipped with this handy little thing called logic.

The other day, I was Facetiming with my best friend, bawling my eyes out because I witnessed a man I was VERY interested in fall for my much cooler other friend. (I know what you must be thinking here 1) this seems to be a reoccurring theme with Jamie’s columns and 2) we need to find Jamie a different pool of men… and to be honest, I would agree with both of those thoughts). Anyway, I digress. As I was crying, she interrupted me and told me to think of the situation in a logical manner. She and I then went through the situation point by point, wiping away the damage done by emotion with logic, her pointing out essential things such as “he isn’t going to be around much longer because he is moving so it doesn’t really matter anyway” that emotion had completely blurred from my mind. After our conversation I instantly felt a sense of relief and was able to move on.

Why then, can we not apply the same tactic to terrorism? When hyperbolic images of seemingly irrational acts of chaos and destruction inundate our news feeds with a label of “terrorism” haphazardly plastered to them, logic can trump fear. Logic would suggest that sensational reactions are exactly the goals of terrorist attacks, and by not providing that, terrorism begins to fail. Only when people begin to use logic to see terrorism as the emotional phenomenon it is will terrorism begin to become less and less prevalent in today’s society.

Photo Courtesy of James Xue (SEAS ’17)

And we’re back! Hi folks! I apologize for my recent absence of posts; I was traveling and then what I like to refer to as the “election explosion of chaos” occurred. I know what you’re all thinking… “Great, another article on Trump”. But fear not! I promise to only mention our good ol’ president elect once.

Today I want to talk about a concept I’ve been wrestling with recently: the role of age in relationships. My findings would suggest that things do in fact get better with age, BUT our proclivity for conflict also increases, essentially just making relationships a gigantic pain in the ass. So, “you’re going to suffer… but you’re going to be happy about it.” (Please note that this is definitely a Harry Potter reference, and not some weird/kinky Fifty Shades of Grey bullshit.)

There is a tendency in today’s society to think that younger people are more reckless, ready to throw the first punch or spit the first insult. However, recent Conflict Resolution Researchers have disproved this stereotype. After examining 100,000… I repeat, 100,000 cases, throughout the years, these researchers came to the conclusion that “in general, as the age of leaders increases, they become more likely to both initiate and escalate militarized disputes.” Insert a worried glance towards our post-January, and every so wrinkly, future White House here.

While at first I found these conclusions profound, the more I thought about them in terms of dating, the more obvious they became. As a twenty year old, I can safely say that I have been in maybe one serious relationship conflict. And honestly, that makes complete sense. In comparison to an older dating pool, I simply don’t have as much time or experience, two very potent ammunitions for conflict. Basically, there is a lot more to be pissed off about the longer you’re around.

The researchers also found that “in personalist autocratic regimes… as the leader’s age increases, the relative risk of conflict declines relative to the rising risk of conflict associated with aging leaders in other types of regimes.” I think this conclusion is very suggestive of a certain phenomenon in the age-relationship rhetoric, i.e. the cougar. I must admit, while writing this I couldn’t get a picture of Putin dressed as a Mrs. Jones character, listening to “Forever Young” out of my mind.

After fighting for so many years, I think both the dictator and the cougar are just looking for some sweet simplicity in their lives (obviously using slightly different tactics to achieve this). While dating a younger partner is sometimes frowned upon, I think it provides an understandable reprieve from the war caused by time that inevitably surrounds the elder’s more typical relationships.

All that being said, I personally look forward to getting older. Not because I am looking forward to more conflict in my life, but because I think conflict so often yields growth. I am ready to fight, and consequently grow, my way into a relationship that is right for me. And hell, if that doesn’t work, I’ll start taking notes from Mrs. Jones or Madonna. The following link provides more information on the research I’ve discussed in this article.

“Sex and the City… and Deterrence” runs alternate Fridays. To contact the writer or submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

Although I had intended to continue the series on the neuroscience of education, when I sat down to write a column a day before the United States votes for a new president, many new senate members, and hundreds of ballot measures, I’ve found that this election has truly consumed us all. So instead, today’s column will be dedicated to the young realm of neuropolitics – and what ramifications neuroscience may have for tomorrow’s vote.

Although contentious elections are nothing new, this cycle certainly feels more polarizing than years past. Many people on both sides are in disbelief as to how supporters of the opposing candidate could possibly overlook the horrible things they’ve said or done. Both sides are utterly confident that not only are they correct, but that all the facts support their position. Here is where fMRI has an answer.

In one of the first studies of its kind right before the 2004 elections, 30 self-identified ‘strong’ Democrats and 30 Republicans reviewed John Kerry and George W. Bush making self-contradictory statements while having their brains imaged. In an experience familiar to anyone who has tried this tactic against a member of the opposing party, the participants were critical of the hypocrisy in the opposing candidate while letting their own candidate off easy. While that result is predictable, the fMRI results were not at all.

The participants achieved this feat of mental gymnastics by quieting down the part of their brains necessary for impartial reasoning like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and instead lighting up emotional circuitry such as the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula, which will all be important later. Specifically, an area of the brain called the basal ganglia lit up, which is, among other tasks, responsible for rewarding selective behaviors with dopamine. Effectively, partisan brains were triggering dopamine rushes for ignoring the issues in their own candidates’ statements and criticizing their opponents. Once entrenched, it seems very difficult to combat confirmation bias by rational arguments when the ‘rational argument’ part of the brain is offline during these discussions.

The differences that divide us seem to run deeper than confirmation bias. A growing body of research shows some fundamental wiring differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives. One study was actually able to use brain regions of interest from an fMRI to determine political affiliation with 83% accuracy, which is over 10% higher than the next-best factor of parent’s ideology. In general, a conservative brain will more strongly react to disgust and react with more emotionality to uncertain concepts or events, thanks to a larger and more active insula and right amygdala.

Liberals, on the other hand, are less fearful of new stimuli and less reactive to negative events, and more likely to adapt to changes in established patterns. Some of these effects can be attributed to their larger and more reactive anterior cingulate cortex, which has long been known to monitor and mediate conflicting information. From the psychology side of things, personality data shows that conservatives value loyalty, stability, and are both risk- and change-averse.

Meanwhile, liberals are more likely to change their opinions and base decision-making on new information, specifically the kind of fact-heavy information that activates the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Without placing a value judgement on either ideology, it seems that biological differences in how people process and respond to information aligns with ideological differences.

Of course it’s important to keep in mind that the brain is a highly plastic structure, so there’s a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem in play here. Twin studies, long the gold standard for measuring genetic influence, attribute somewhere between 40 to 60% of political preference up to genetics, as manifested by differences in brain structure. It’s also possible, even likely, that slight anatomical differences might snowball into bigger ones if those neurological pathways are strengthened by continued exposure to politically charged information.

As with much of neuroscience, it’s sometimes unnerving to think about how our decisions are so frequently based on the activation of subcortical structures, not conscious thought. While we may find it difficult how someone could possibly vote for the other candidate, perhaps political neuroscience can contribute some understanding to the underlying motivations that determine political choices. So as we decide on a new president this Tuesday, give a thought to those scientists trying to figure out what’s going on in your brain while you’re making that oh-so-important choice.  

Uniquely Human runs alternative Mondays. To submit a comment or a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

Several days before the Nobel Prize Committee awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the current Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, a referendum took place in Colombia that rejected the peace deal made by Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This result put the Nobel Prize Committee in an awkward position, as the committee awarded Santos “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end,” yet the millstone on the peace journey was just rejected by Colombia’s population. Though people rejected the peace deal mostly because they were unsatisfied with the conditions set in the peace deal, such as releasing FARC officers who are currently in custody, the rejection still reveals the immaturity of peace in Colombia and poses questions on Santos’ legitimacy of the award.

Besides the awkwardness from the referendum rejection, people also question whether Santos’ contribution is significant enough to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The conflict between Colombia government and FARC could be traced back to 1960s, when the left-wing revolutionary force was established in the wave of communism in Latin America. The conflict was brutal and inhumane, and claimed the lives of more than twelve percent of Colombia population. However, due to the relieved tension between United States and Latin America countries, as well as the diminishing power of FARC that could no longer stand for more aggression, a peace deal seems to be inevitable to resolve the conflict that both parties could no longer support.

The Nobel Peace Prize endorses those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” yet it has been criticized for being too political. Some critics believe that the reasons for awarding is based on the contemporary significance, which makes the prize lack eternality. Current president Barack Obama has been awarded “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” only nine months after his presidency, and it is doubtful how the committee could examine the effectiveness of his international diplomacy in such a short period of time, as the increasing tension in Syria and the rise of ISIS raise more questions of the legitimacy of his award.

A political Nobel Peace Prize does not endorse its original purpose, as it is supposed to endorse some higher stakes that go beyond contemporary politics. It should be more humanitarian, more cosmopolitan, and more inclusive. In terms of this year, the Syrian Civil Defense organization, which was nominated but not awarded, may have been a better choice, as the group continues humanitarian rescues in the most dangerous country with no assistance from other political groups. Getting rid of influences from politics and political norms is hard for the Nobel Peace Prize, but it is necessary to keep the prize’s eternal significance.

Perspectives of a Math Major runs alternate Wednesdays. To contact the author to submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

The Chinese community has been cheesed off recently by the Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, as the correspondent Jesse Watter came to Chinatown in Manhattan and asked stereotypical and racist questions. Social media exploded after the segment was broadcasted on national television, and Chinese protesters gathered demanding an apology. Yet, Bill O’Reilly remains standing by Jesse Watter and refers the outrage from the public as an “organized campaign.”

I watched this footage. I asked the same question as Ronny Chieng does on the Daily Show: how is this thing news? And among all the disrespectful things he did in Chinatown, what I find the most shameful is the moment when he questioned two old Chinese people who couldn’t understand English. He thought it was funny to show some awkward silence when talking to someone who didn’t understand the language, but what he actually did was challenge the most basic and fundamental respect and politeness this society values.

Language is important in shaping a community and identifying a community member. Common language is the basis for communicating, sharing opinions, collaborating and even debating. However, people are forgetting the fact that speaking is fundamentally an ability, just as walking or seeing. It should not be taken for granted that everyone in this country has enough language proficiency to express his or her opinions and utilize speaking as a way to defend his or her rights. As in O’Reilly Factor, when facing a man asking racist questions in a language they don’t know, the old Chinese people could not, even if they wanted to, retaliate the ridicule imposed on them. They could only respond to Jesse Watter with an awkward smile, half friendly and half puzzled.

And it is not them to blame. If we can respect people who can’t walk, if we can respect people who can’t see, why can’t we respect people who can’t speak? We have made great effort to make our facilities and infrastructures accessible to people who have special needs, yet it seems that we forget how to make our society accessible to those who have difficulties in speaking for their rights. We have emphasized making an environment comfortable enough for those who have physical disabilities, yet our community is shying away from those who can’t express their opinions properly.

The barrier of language may be more deep and severe than the barrier of race and identities, but there is less awareness of it, because the victims suffering from this do not have a voice and cannot confront the injustice they face, and so we may never hear their stories. It is difficult to protect their rights and keep them from bullying in terms of language. We can only count on our conscientiousness and our humanity. But for a civilized community, it is necessary.

Perspectives of a Math Major runs alternate Wednesdays. To contact the author to submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.