Did Roth miss the Epigenetic Boat?

This post is a follow-up to Chana McCarthy’s keen insights in her guest post.  Allegiant was not the book I expected; and I must admit it is not love at first sight. But, having read the bombshell ending yesterday, and with a little recovery time I am liking it more and more. I am eager to go back for a re-read, so I can’t hate it too much.  I’ll come back with a post about what I did like later.

Right.

But, like Chana, I was most disappointed in the science of it, particularly when the psychology and neuroscience were so well handled in Divergent and Insurgent. The “genetic engineering study gone bad” is simply not believable on any level, even from the basic test they do in the lab. Helllooooo? If you need to do a genetic test on someone, it is far easier to take a cotton swab and scrape out some cheek cells than it is to inject your subject with some sort of micro-computer-packed serum.

Wrong.

I’m quite sure that the technology of basic cheek cell harvesting, of the type practiced in 9th grade biology classes all over, is not going to be lost over the next 300 years, no matter how many Purity Wars we have. The compound scientists may be reasonably well off financially, but there is no need for them to waste resources on a complicated serum when a Q-tip will do.

Second, if you have the technology to go in and “knock out” certain genes (for cowardice, low intelligence or whatever) it stands to reason that you would have the technology to reinsert the original sequences. It’s done with mice all the time. A basic understanding of DNA replication should make it clear that there is no reasonable mechanism for “healing” genes over time… the only way to “heal” a mutation is to rewrite the DNA sequence to get the original gene back: not something to be done one step at a time, over generations.  In fact, assuming the “experiments” started out with a population of diverse broken genes (some intelligence, some courage, etc) the last thing you want to do is isolate them and let them interbreed with each other for generations.  You are just as likely to wind up with people carrying multiple mutations that they inherited from different parents as you are to see people “healed.”  There is only one good reason for isolating genetic undesirables together: to make it easier to exterminate them all.

Interestingly, there is one hot new area of science that could have been used to make a bit more sense out of this storyline: epigenetics. Which is, in a nutshell, modifying not the DNA itself, but how it is packaged, to make certain genes more or less expressed or silenced entirely. [Read more…]

Help one of your Hogpro Faculty on a research project.

Hunger Games readers and movie fans are needed for a study being conducted at Mary Baldwin College on empathy for fictional characters. If you are age 13 or older and a native speaker of English, you are eligible to participate. It will involve taking an anonymous online survey (Click here for the link) and should require no more than 30 minutes to complete. This study is approved by the Mary Baldwin College Institutional Review Board.

PS.  If you run into any problems with the survey, please alert me at lfreeman@mbc.edu  Thank you, friends!

Game Theory: A New Key to Young Adult Fiction?

There’s a new book out that I would love to read and discuss with HogPro regulars: Jane Austen, Game Theorist.  Game theory and neuroeconomics are a relatively new interest for me in my field, psychology ( though hormones and neuroscience will always be my first love), but that interest has grown thanks to an Honors Course (Phil/Psych 306) I have been privileged  to teach a few times with a colleague in the Philosophy Department.  We recently completed a class research project using the Ultimatum Game.

According to the reviews, Dr. Chwe seems more interested in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which makes since.  The Prisoner’s Dilemma has been getting a lot of popular press of late, even serving as the basis for a popular game show (I’ve only seen it once, and, yes, both contestants defected and went home with nothing).  But with themes like trust, loyalty, betrayal and survival bearing at the heart of so many of our favorite series here at Hogpro, it is likely game theory could give us some fresh insights.

Other writers have already applied the Prisoner’s Dilemma to the Hunger Games.  Brent Keller points out that a district who trusted each other could request unlimited tesserae without increasing the probablity of any individual child dying the the Games…  as long as everyone requested the same number. The economics blog Centives explains Tribute alliances in terms of the Prisoners Dilemma, as does Samuel Arbesman of Wired Magazine.

Ally Condi’s Matched series refers to the Prisoner’s Dilemma as one of the limited game choices the youth can play during their free time, although, in the Society’s version, it purely a game of chance that will, statistically, result in equal numbers of wins and losses for both players.  Only Ky, the Aberration, knows that the original game involved a human decision-making process and that a favorable outcome depended on two partners absolutely trusting each other.

As a fairly recent Psychology student, Veronica Roth likely encountered game theory.  Did it, like personality theory and biopsychology, make it into her books?  That is something I will consider after I have read Dr. Chwe’s book, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

But, it is likely in my own economic best interest to get my semester grades turned in first.

Call For Papers: “Of Fairy-stories, Fantasy and Myth” Gonzaga/Whitworth Seminar on Faith, Film and Philosophy

I thought this event might be of interest to HogPro regulars:

Call for Papers: Faith, Film and Philosophy– “Of Fairy-stories, Fantasy and Myth”

October 11th & 12th, 2013

Gonzaga University’s Faith and Reason Institute and Whitworth University’s Weyerhaeuser Center for Faith and Learning are pleased to announce their Seventh Annual Seminar on Faith, Film and Philosophy, entitled “Of Fairy-stories, Fantasy and Myth.”

The past decade has seen film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as well as three of C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” and, most recently, Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Although the immediate inspiration for our seminar is the release of the first part of Peter Jackson’s cinematic treatment of The Hobbit, our interest is neither solely nor primarily in Jackson’s films. Instead, we wish to explore a variety of cinematic treatments of myth, fairy-story, and fantasy, and to explore philosophical and religious questions raised by such films.

The Star Wars saga, the various incarnations of the world of Star Trek, the imaginative world of Pan’s Labyrinth, the Narnia films, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, Wrath of the Titans, How to Train Your Dragon, Arrietty, Ponyo, Hugo, Shrek, Knowing, The Road, After Earth…. These are but some of the films that fall within the purview of our seminar. Even apart from the content of these films, the genres touched upon in our title raise very general questions about art, reality, meaning, and truth.

For example, is film an appropriate art form for mythopoesis? What is the nature of the reality portrayed in these films? What truth, if any, can films of this sort explore or convey?

Possible topics for seminar papers include the following, although proposals on other topics or questions of relevance are certainly welcome and encouraged.

• What constitutes a literary fantasy?
• What motivates literary fantasies? Is there a psychological payoff? If so, what is it?
• What is the underlying neurological basis for fantasy? Why do we fantasize in the first place and what evolutionary value might this have?
• Gender identity in fantasy and science fiction.
• Social functions of fantasy literature, including political functions.
• Cinematic treatments of sexual fantasies.
• Revenge fantasies.
• Heroic figures and our fantasies of being like them. (What do Iron Man and I have in common?)
• Fantasies of the end of the world, their characteristics and functions.
• Fantasies and reality: since most fantasies are never realized in actuality, why do we keep having them?
• What’s the difference between a fantasy, whether literary and filmic and outright hallucination or delusion?
• Criticisms of the work of Peter Jackson.
• Epistemological issues: what can be known by means of a fantasy that might not be known otherwise?

• The Life of Pi as fantasy.

• Fantasy and possible worlds.

We are particularly interested in popular films from the last 20 years, although the program committee will certainly consider exceptions to the 20-year rule.

Seminar sessions will take place on Friday (October 11th) and Saturday (October 12th). Public lectures and other events associated with the seminar will take place in the days leading up to the seminar. One of the public lectures will be on the evening of October 11th, when one of our invited speakers will give a keynote address. The invited speakers include Michael Foley (Baylor University), Richard McClelland (Gonzaga University), and Katherin Rogers (University of Delaware). These invited speakers will also participate as resident “experts” during the seminar discussions.

Proposals not longer than two pages (double-spaced), and in Word format, should be submitted electronically to Dr. Brian Clayton at clayton@gem.gonzaga.edu no later than 30 June 2013, and should include title, author(s), institutional affiliation (if any), mailing address, email address, and the text of the proposal. The seminar organizers will send acceptances by 8 July 2013.

The seminar and its associated public events are part of a series of jointly-sponsored programs focused on “Faith, Reason and Popular Culture.” The conviction behind these programs is that if Christian institutions of higher learning are to respond properly to their charge to be places where faith seeks understanding, then they must engage contemporary popular culture. Film is among the most powerful and important forms of popular culture. Thus, the seminar organizers seek scholars who will engage in two days of discussion investigating issues of faith and philosophical import raised by contemporary popular film. Presenters need not have any formal academic appointment.

For further information please contact Dr. Brian Clayton, Director, Gonzaga University Faith and Reason Institute at clayton@gem.gonzaga.edu.

A Zip to the Marshland: The significance of Tris’s high flying adventure.

When I compared the slide down the Chicago zip line to the swing of the Dauntless faction from stability to instability, it was an afterthought to my previous posts on personality theory. But I have recently had occasion to look through that scene in more depth and I have concluded that the significance of that outing is far greater than I realized.

Usual spoiler warnings apply. But if you haven’t read these books already, you really should! [Read more…]