Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Robert Scherrer's "Descartes's Stepchildren" (novelette): What if some people are biologically incapable of conscientious behavior?

It's a bit of mad scientist story.

Story summary.

A neurologist has discovered experimentally that neurons in a specific region of the human brain are active whenever person's own identity is involved in a thought (e.g., when you're looking at a mirror). Then he discovers that there are some people, about 20% of population, for which it doesn't happen.

And then there is a drug that can make the region not light up even in people in which it normally lights up. And when the region doesn't light up, the same person has a very different personality - cold, calculating, unconscientious.

So he generalizes that some people are conscientious, while others lack the biological infrastructure to be conscientious. And a simple test can be devised that can be administered by any trained doctor to determine if an individual has this facility.

Story explores the social implications of this knowledge.

See also.

  1. Ted Kosmatka's "Divining Light": Physical universe distinguishes between animals with consciousness(?) (something - I don't remember) or not, & a physical test can be devised to determine if a certain animal is has this attribute, or exactly when a developing human fetus gets this attribute.

Fact sheet.

First published: Analog, January/February 2013.
Rating: B.