Thursday, January 13, 2005


Oxford engaged in torture "studies"

Manchurian Candidate, anyone?

Is science good for mental and physical health? At times I wonder. Just today I heard of a series of experiments (financed to the sound of TWO MILLION dollars by a certain John Templeton Foundation, a US organisation that supposedly funds research on spiritual discovery) that will seek "volunteers" who will submit to torture, being burned on their skin, and then asked to "think of religious symbols" while it's going on, so that the brain can be monitored to see if the threshold for pain, or at least something that scientifically resembles that on a scan, is heightened.

Despite the legal and moral questions, (torture is ILLEGAL, unless you are Mengele), I wonder what sort of group this will be, and how representative they are of the general population. Would someone willingly submit to physical maltreatment as a volunteer? Yeah, if they get off on pain. Unless the pleasure principle has lost me someplace, most "normal people" will avoid pain by whatever means necessary. There is some unavoidable pain, such as childbirth, or the pain that one usually undergoes after surgery when the medications start to wear off. But, this sort of pain is with the mental knowledge that the body will not suffer permanent damage, and that some objective good will be the outcome of this pain. Therefore, these are subjects who would willingly avoid pain if they could, and do not "seek" it. But pain is a physical response to the body being damaged or pushed beyond its limits, and it is identical to other sorts of pain. Why couldn't the scientists have used these sort of situations? Why do they seek information on reaction to torture? And, isn't there enough torture already around in the world without creating more? Or, would they feel shitty inside if there they were with their cat scans and Magnetic Resonance Machines while someone in some jail was having his fingernails pulled out?

Are these volunteers being paid for submitting to such an experiment? If so, they also enter into another category, "professional guinea pigs" or "permanently hard up" types who go from one expediency to another, often beyond their desire to do so, but still, it is out of necessity, in order to rub two coins together. I don't think this group is that representative either... Unless.... unless the pain that is caused to people like this is considered somehow "acceptable" by the mighty scientists of Oxford. It's a group very much unlike themselves, in fact, people who just might end up being tortured somewhere along the line.

There is also a mental stigmata that accompanies torture. One is somehow being punished, accused or in some way expected to surrender an intimate part of himself, including information. There is a sense of injustice, of fear and incertainty that heightens the state of panic. These are elements that are present in torture, and I don't think they can be ethically tested in a clinical setting. In that case, what good would this experiment be? It doesn't even attempt to reproduce the mental state that is present in those who are submitted to torture, so how could the results have any scientific validity?

In the New York Daily News, it was written:

"The experiments will be conducted by a multidisciplinary team of scientists under strict ethical rules, researchers said. The pain might be inflicted by a 140-degree heat pad applied to the back of the hand, or by chili powder gel.

Scientists will seek to determine whether the religious imagery better distracts from pain than placebo pills, or thinking mundane thoughts. The experiment will be the first in a series for the center, which also will bring philosophers and neurologists together in a bid to use science to learn how people think.

Oxford University researchers will monitor the subjects' agony using brain scans to see if belief does them any good.

"We're very interested in the power of belief, the power of prayer, God concepts," said Pamela Thompson, vice president of the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation, which funds research on spiritual discovery and financed the center with $2 million.

"We do take it for granted, this wonderful inner world that no one else can hack into," neurologist and center director Susan Greenfield told the BBC. "This marvelous amazing phenomena is somehow caused by this sludgy physical brain. And ... we neurologists are getting very impatient about how it's happening."

Sure..... they're getting impatient... can't seem to find any natural or inflicted pain out there, so they have to go and create it, (TO THE SOUND OF TWO MILLION DOLLARS!)

In The Guardian we find this interesting bit:

"The experiment is one in a series that sees scientists join forces with philosophers, theologians and brain surgeons to tackle some of the most profound questions of the human condition: what is the nature of consciousness and how do religious beliefs manifest themselves in our brains? "

Ah.... so there is no other way of obtaining information as to the nature of consciousness and how religious beliefs manifest themselves in our brains? How silly of me to not have just understood that. I guess that's why I'm not a scientist after all.

This is the blub from the John Templeton Foundation Home page:

"The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise. Using "the humble approach," the Foundation typically seeks to focus the methods and resources of scientific inquiry on topical areas which have spiritual and theological significance ranging across the disciplines from cosmology to healthcare. In the human sciences, the foundation supports programs, competitions, publications, and studies that promote character education and the exploration of positive values and purpose across the lifespan. It supports free enterprise education and development internationally through the Templeton Freedom Awards, new curriculum offerings, and other programs that encourage free-market principles."

So, burning someone is the "humble approach"... Or maybe we have Oxford to blame? I am going to write letter to Mr. Templeton and question his giving money to an experiment of the sort. I'll post if they write back.....

Now, onto the purposes: this from

"The study is considered of vital importance in the present world climate, given the role of religious fundamentalism in international terrorism. A better understanding of the physiology of belief, the conditions that entrench it in the mind and its usefulness in mitigating pain could be crucial to developing counter-terrorist strategies for the future."


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