Monday, 31 May 2010

Killing cows and Quantum Karma- Temple Grandin and Christopher Badcock

Temple Grandin suffers from autism. Unable to have close emotional ties with other people, she uses her great intellectual gifts to re-design slaughter houses, making them more efficient and profitable for their operators, but only so as to minimise the pain and suffering of the cows in their last moments of life.

She has a theory of karma based on Quantum theory.-
'Doing something bad, like mistreating an animal, could have dire consequences. An entangled subatomic particle could get me. I would never even know it, but the steering linkage in my car could break if it contained the mate to a particle I disturbed by doing something bad. To many people this belief may be irrational, but to my logical mind it supplies an idea of order and justice to the world.
‘My belief in quantum theory was reinforced by a series of electrical outages and equipment breakdowns that occurred when I visited slaughter plants where cattle and pigs were being abused. The first time it happened, the main power transformer blew up as I drove up the driveway. Several other times a main power panel burned up and shut down the plant. In another case, the main chain conveyor broke while the plant manager screamed obscenities at me during an equipment startup. He was angry because full production was not attained in the first five minutes. Was it just chance, or did bad karma start a resonance in an entangled pair of subatomic particles within the wiring or steel? These were all weird breakdowns of things that usually never break. It could be just random chance, or it could be some sort of cosmic consciousness of God.
“Many neuroscientists scoff at the idea that neurons would obey quantum theory instead of old everyday Newtonian physics. The physicist Roger Penrose, in his book the Shadows of the Mind, and Dr. Stuart Hameroff, a Tucson physician, state that movement of single electrons within the microtubules of the brain can turn off consciousness while allowing the rest of the brain to function. If quantum theory really is involved in controlling consciousness, this would provide a scientific basis for the idea that when a person or animal dies, an energy pattern of vibrating entangled particles would remain. I believe that if souls exist in humans, they also exist in animals, because the basic structure of the brain is the same. It is possible that humans have greater amounts of soul because they have more microtubules where single electrons could dance, according to the rules of quantum theory.
“However, there is one thing that completely separates people from animals. It is not language or war or toolmaking; it is long-term altruism. During a famine in Russia, for example, scientists guarded the seed bank of plant genetics so that future generations would have the benefits of genetic diversity in food crops. For the benefit of others, they allowed themselves to starve to death in a lab filled with grain. No animal would do this. Altruism exists in animals, but not to this degree. Every time I park my car near the National USDA Seed Storage Lab at Colorado State University, I think that protecting the contents of this building is what separates us from animals.”

This is a strange statement for a scientist to make! The work of Price, Hamilton & Maynard Smith does not rule out animals behaving in a manner consistent with what she would term 'long term altruism'- indeed, it is a statistical certainty that some animals did do and still do so. It just isn't an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, that's all, and so over time (as random shocks even out) genes dictating such behavior would be bred out of the population. Temple is world famous as the woman 'who knows how cows think'- as for herself, if any organism can truly think, if any organism truly acts autonomously upon moral grounds, rather than being the meat puppet of some selfish gene- then it is she much more than an ordinary bloke like me.
She goes on to write
“I do not believe that my profession is morally wrong. Slaughtering is not wrong, but I do feel very strongly about treating animals humanely and with respect. I've devoted my life to reforming and improving the livestock industry. Still, it is a sobering experience to have designed one of the world's most efficient killing machines. Most people don't realize that the slaughter plant is much kinder than nature. Animals in the wild die from starvation, predators, or exposure. If I had a choice, I would rather go through a slaughter system than have my guts ripped out by coyotes or lions while I was still conscious. Unfortunately, most people never observe the natural cycle of birth and death. They do not realize that for one living thing to survive, another living thing must die.'
It is an autistic trait to consider death to be something real, pain as being other than the phenomenological equivalent of a forged Doctor's prescription for Medical Marijuana?
Temple describes how she recovered her faith- which she had lost when, as a publicity stunt, she swam in a cattle dip full of dangerous chemicals
“When the combination of organophosphate poisoning and antidepressant drugs dampened my religious emotions, I became a kind of drudge who was capable of turning out mountains of work. Taking the medication had no effect on my ability to design equipment, but the fervor was gone. I just cranked out the drawings as if I were a computer being turned on and off. It was this experience that convinced me that life and work have to be infused with meaning, but it wasn't until three years ago, when I was hired to tear out a shackle hoist system, that my religious feelings were renewed.'
'It was going to be a hot Memorial Day weekend, and I was not looking forward to going to the new equipment startup. I thought it would be pure drudgery. The kosher restraint chute was not very interesting technically, and the project presented very little intellectual stimulation. It did not provide the engineering challenge of inventing and starting something totally new, like my double-rail conveyor system.
'Little did I know that during those few hot days in Alabama, old yearnings would be reawakened. I felt totally at one with the universe as I kept the animals completely calm while the rabbi performed shehita. Operating the equipment there was like being in a Zen meditational state. Time stood still, and I was totally, completely disconnected from reality. Maybe this was nirvana, the final state of being that Zen meditators seek.'

There is a notion, promoted by Prof. Baron Cohen  that autism results from an 'extreme male brain'- if so, Temple's curious choice of profession and Zen epiphany at the kosher slaughterhouse (she points out that Solomon's temple was a huge abattoir) reveals, perhaps, something of what it means to be a Man, and the type of empathy that arises as an emergent from the Male mind's relentless sytematising.
Dr. Christopher Badcock, an energetic polemicist for the Freudian theory of history in the 70's and early 80's, has developed a new theory about the relationship between autism and psychosis. He regards them as being mirror images of each other. Autism results from the dominance of paternally imprinted genes, whereas psychosis is the product of dominant maternally imprinted genes. Paternal genes have an interest in getting the mother to invest more resources in the progeny by increasing physical growth- leading to a bigger more lateralized brain- whereas the mother's genes would seek to reduce the maternal investment by inhibiting growth (in the same manner as malnutrition resulting from famine would)- leading to lower birth weight and smaller brain size.
Badcock had been seeking a way to save the Freudian theory of history by founding it upon the new Evolutionary biology. He has now accepted that Freudianism is itself a type of paranoia- a 'hyper-mentalism' of the high functioning psychotic savant.
Badcock replaces the neurosis/psychosis distinction in Freud- itself arising from the divergent economic implications of treating hypochondriac nuerotics, whose ability and willingness to pay is in inverse proportion to any real disability or deficit they suffer, and hypnochondriac psychotics whom one is paid to police- with an autism/psychosis spectrum which, once again, has a similar economic dichotomy.
This is because therapy is a scarce resource, if defined nuerotically or autistically, becoming non-rival and non-excludable (indeed, behaving like a nuisance good which is over-produced and costly to prevent oneself from consuming) from a hyper-mentalist perspective. However, the reality is that, ceteris paribus, a therapy behaves like any other oligopolistic product viz. its advertising is a nuisance good, over-supplied, and mendacious in creating a product differentiation which does not exist, ceteris paribus w.r.t goods in joint supply like pills and O.T, at the level of outcome.

In Badcock's view, Autism is hypo-mentalist, hyper-mechanistic, truthful, Male, Western (or at least not 'African')and the characteristic form of advanced, affluent, technological Society. Psychosis is hyper-mentalist (i.e. schizophrenics have more not less theory of mind) hypo-mechanistic, female, dishonest, self-deluding, African and likely to decline with rising prosperity and technological progress.
Badcock identifies himself, as well as Hamilton, as falling within the autistic side of the spectrum in precisely the manner that Freudians proudly identified themselves with the Oedipal neurotic while holding themselves aloof from the schizophrenic, who rather than (as is right and proper) secretly wanting to fuck Mum and kill Dad- hoped to get pregnant by God the Father with the unfortunate consequence of founding Religions like Christianity and Hinduism.
Badcock contrasts Temple Grandin's Quantum Karma with Rupert Sheldrake's notion of morphic resonance. Sheldrake, like Jung, is pointing to a direct connection, an entanglement, between minds. Grandin refers only to an entanglement at the level of quantum particles. Thus, Grandin's thought is still Scientific, Western, and Male while Sheldrake (who spent some time in India) is Mentalistic and Female.

Grandin's thought is founded upon the ontological primacy of pain and death and gains peace from the contemplation of the properly conducted sacrifice of an ever moving conveyor belt of cows. Sheldrake's mentalism, at least potentially, can rise above pain and death because if minds are directly connected to minds then they have an avenue of escape from the contingencies imposed by embodiment in a meat-suit.
Notice that a Sheldrake type hyper-mentalism solves things like the Hegelian 'struggle for recognition', the Girardian problem of 'mimetic desire', or the Satrean problem of scarcity as mediating the relationship of man and man. Briefly, mentalism, denying the mediation of things, permits full and non-rival appropriation of the other as well as altruistic self offering immune from one's own sacrifice- whether as food or pharmakos.
Thinking good thoughts is the duty that Sheldrake type hyper-mentalism requires of us as a society. Improving slaughter houses is Grandin's autistic hypo-mentalistic categorical imperative for the individual.
Thankfully, in these Humanity's latter days, the lion will lie down with the lamb- thinking good thoughts is a 'farz-e-kifayya'- a communal duty which can be delegated to autonomous, hypo-mentalist technogeeks devising swifter and more silent conveyor belts to humanitarian guillotines.

Except, biology tells us this is shite. Pain and Death are incidental and ephemeral, Sex and Morphology- Love and Beauty are fundamental and abiding.

I say nothing against nuerotic or autistic people- though I lack the brilliance and civilizationally vanguard role attributed to them. But, the truth is pain and death aren't worth worrying about. That Life goes on, remains, I need hardly say a nightmare from which none awake.

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