My weekend delivery from an email subscription to MIT Technology Review contains reference to an article regarding the decoding of neuroanatomical causation in interpersonal conflict: The Neurological Roots of Aggression. The key takeaway from the article is that researchers are (with high precision) narrowing down the correlations between inhibited, damaged or otherwise dysfunctional neuroanatomical systems and problematic behavioural issues relating to spontaneous outburts of anger and violence. The primary practical utility of the research is in the possibility of preemptive interdiction through forensic forecasting of those individuals predisposed to outburts of violent behaviour.
The ethical consequences of the research are quite volatile in that their displacement of attribution of causation to identifiable neurological “impairment” or dysfunction. As these revelations and the inevitable asdicitechnologies of hypocranial interdiction percolate through bureaucratic administrations we should expect integrated clinical and institutional screening programs to emerge. Given the policy caricatures which have without much empathy or foresight installed systems which unwittingly exacerbate the issues they are intended to resolve in other, related, contexts of data-analytics to predictive policing and the application of algorithmically “enhanced” prison sentencing, it will be interesting to observe how this research unfolds as it is more widely disseminated.
Ethicists are generally quite articulate in identifying and exploring emerging and existing issues regarding uses and abuses of data analytics and artificial intelligence in matters of crime, surveillance and social control. There is quite a cottage industry of journalists, writers and philosophers engaged with this topic which is itself interesting in that it demonstrates some of the ways that the social and cultural turbulence and disorder generated by scientific research provides useful entropy from which the overlay of ordered information provides opportunities fir the extraction of value.
Some issues which arise from all of this are ones of: self-reinforcing paradigms of thought; of the self-propagation of implicitly-biased value systems; and, of the ways in which narrowing-down explanatory systems through functionalist reductionism tends to miss the complementarity of big-picture concepts of holism, complexity and emergence. On the third point – there are very real senses in which observations (of neuroanatomical attribution) applied to the variegated behavioural thresholds and responses of individuals under varying degrees of stress or duress is only ever able to confirm facts from within the bottom-up (part to whole) reductionism of a narrowband interpretation of social systems.
There exists an integrated gestalt of behavioural and psychological or symbolic and representational matrix constituted as the whole of a social system and its sedimented biological, psychological and normatively permissible behaviours. These social systems and all of their internal inconsistencies, divergences and distributed discontinuities have evolved and developed pari passu – together in interdependence. It is very likely that what we might from within one theoretical frame of reference identify as neuroanatomical and behavioural dysfunction or impairment is from another complementary reference frame a feature which exists because in the gestalt it serves a useful purpose for the overall self-propagation of a biological or social system.
Dissonance, turbulence, systemic volatility and the introduction of randomness as novelty and surprise is an autonomously emergent method by which global systemic self-propagation is ensured. A diversity of behavioural reaction and unexpected responses to fairly mundane stimulus allows for the continuing existence of mechanisms and information patterns which encode probabilities for the production of entropy. An emergent (yet unguided, agency-free) capacity for biological, psychological and cognitive systems to ensure diversity in their structured form and flow through the measured procurement of behavioural dissonance and entropy cultivates a higher probability of systemic metamorphosis (i.e. evolution), adaptive flexibility (as resilience), and redundancy. Entropy in this sense provides the difference and divergence which encodes diversity and cultivates difference and useful systemic change – it is an irreducible element of the way that material, organic, biological and social systems function.
Observe how an overenthusiastic mis-application of science without suitable insight, comprehension or sufficient catering for the ethical complexities and consequences of broad policy brushstrokes is a common phenomenon. Also observe, in ways similar to a generalised (and not entirely comical) endlessly recursive deployment of more bureaucracy as a solution to the systemic turbulence and entropy that bureaucracy itself creates, the tendency for organisational and administrative systems of control to unwittingly generate the problems that they themselves are intended to address. At a level of holistic or global systems analysis we can see here that even the best intentions of behavioural and criminal interdiction are just as often causes of amplification in the issues they set out to resolve.
At this meta-systems level of proliferating entropy and turbulence it is possible to attribute the erroneous application of public policy derived from scientific insight to the same underlying logical principles and feedback loops of global systems self-replication and self-organisation that generate diversity of genetic or sociological information-encoding mechanisms. Predisposing the probabilistic emergence of volatility and uncertainty in neurophysiology, behaviour and large-scale institutional interpretations and responses to the associated research and technical, technological applications is an emergent systemic complexity of logic and patterned symmetries which autonomously seeks its own self-propagation through the provision of incomplete solutions.
The logic of systemic self-replication is actually quite a lot smarter than we are. The construction of administrative redirections of behavioural flow through rational analysis only generates more of the same problems, along more refined and generally intelligible pathways. A science of predisposition towards anger does not resolve the associated social ills, it merely displaces them in ways which provide for the continuity of the administrative and bureaucratic hierarchies which orbit around (and depend upon) the existence and persistence of the object of their own purpose and reflexive self-definition.