Daniel Dennett has it right

PZ Myers has survived urgent elective heart surgery and is back to writing on his blog with “A fistful of stents“.

First of all, I’m not dead yet. Let’s get that out of the way.

Yesterday morning was the big event here in hospital-land: I was to get an angiogram, this procedure where they thread wires up your femoral artery to you heart and start poking around with dyes and things to figure out what’s going on….  I resolved to use my keen scientific mind to observe and report back later on what it was like.

Go to PZ’s link to read his amusing description of surgery from the point of view of a semi-conscious patient.

… soon enough I’ll be off to resting at home, beginning the cardio therapy the doctor will no doubt be putting me on, and back to classes and writing. Expect blogging to be on the light side, though, while I catch up on rest and other pressing projects that were interrupted by this surprise event.

Daniel Dennett sums up my feelings most eloquently: “Thank goodness!

Daniel C. Dennett

I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence  is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea,  India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other’s work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who’s counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning  out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.

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Compression garments reinforce proprioceptive sense

Pressure on the skin surface helps us to tell where our limbs are. Compression reduces muscle vibration and thus muscle damage.

‘I’m only faking it: I’m not really making it’

‘…This feeling of fakin’ it—I still haven’t shaken it.’

Simon and Garfunkel had a point there. Scientific American Mind for September 2010 has an article on the costs of faking it.

Faking It: Why Wearing Designer Knockoffs May Have Hidden Psychological Costs
Polishing your self-image with counterfeit goods may lead to lying, cheating and cynicism

By Wray Herbert

… Three scientists—Francesca Gino of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University… want to find out if counterfeit labels might have hidden psychological costs….

To do that, they ran a couple of different studies. In one, young women were given expensive Chloé sunglasses to wear. The women were randomly divided into two groups: half of them were told that they were wearing counterfeits of the designer product.

The researchers wanted to see if wearing counterfeit shades—a form of dishonesty—might make the women act dishonestly in other ways.

They asked the subjects each to solve a complicated set of mathematical puzzles, but deliberately did not give them enough time to finish. They then asked the subjects to report their own scores and accept payment for each puzzle solved.

The women who thought they were wearing the fake Chloé shades cheated more—considerably more. Fully 70 percent inflated their performance when they thought nobody was checking on them—and, in effect, stole cash from the coffer. By comparison, “only” 30 percent of the group who knew they wore authentic Chloés cheated.

In another test, the subjects were asked to report the distribution of dots on a video screen.

Choosing “left” earned them half a cent, and choosing “right” earned them five cents, regardless of whether the answer was correct. In other words, the task forced a choice between a correct answer and the more profitable answer. And again the women wearing what they believed to be knockoffs pocketed the petty cash much more often than did their peers who knew they wore the authentic shades…. it was the very act of wearing the so-called knockoffs that was triggering the dishonesty.

The scientists went on to find that wearing “counterfeit” sunglasses turned people cynical:

…if wearing counterfeit stuff makes people feel inauthentic and behave unethically, might they see others as phony and unethical, too? To test this, the scientists again handed out genuine and supposedly counterfeit Chloé shades, but this time they had the volunteers complete a survey about “people they knew.” Would these people use an express line with too many groceries? Pad an expense report? Take home office supplies? There were also more elaborate scenarios involving business ethics and a series of statements (“my GPA is 4.0”) that the volunteers had to rate as likely to be true or more likely to be a lie. The idea was that all the answers taken together would characterize each volunteer as having a generally positive view of others—or a cynical one.

The result? Cynical, without question. Compared with volunteers who were wearing authentic Chloé glasses, those who had been told that they were wearing knockoffs saw other people as more dishonest, less truthful and more likely to act unethically in business dealings.

So what’s going on here? Ironically, as the scientists reported in the May issue of Psychological Science, wearing counterfeit glasses not only fails to bolster our ego and self-image the way we hope, it actually undermines our internal sense of authenticity. “Faking it” makes us feel like phonies and cheaters on the inside, and this alienated, counterfeit “self” leads to cheating and cynicism in the real world.

Counterfeiting is a serious economic and social problem, epidemic in scale. Most people buy these fake brand-name items because they are a lot cheaper than the real deal, but this research suggests that a hidden moral cost has yet to be tallied.

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