Sunday, August 1, 2010

Intelligence and Suffering



In Dune, the gom jabbar is a device that tests self-control; it "only kills animals". It's a box into which a person places his hand. Once the hand is in the box, the person feels a gradually growing pain which, though not tissue-damaging, eventually expands to become the most intense he's ever experienced. If at any point the person attempts to withdraw his hand, he is stung by a poisoned needle and dies.

This is related to the forbidden marshmallow impulse-control test of Mischel et al, though perhaps more dramatic. While delayed gratification is related to planning, future success and even intelligence, it's interesting and a bit dark to note that a positive behavioral attribute is measured by how much someone can make himself suffer.

6 comments:

TGP said...

Mind-Body duality problem again, Mike?

Michael Caton said...

I see what you're saying but I don't think this particular problem is related to that. However the mind-body problem did come up in this context:

http://cognitionandevolution.blogspot.com/2009/03/if-descartes-were-masochist.html

TGP said...

Frank Herbert was all over mind-body duality in Dune: the Voice, gholas, Leto II's transformation into a sandworm, Alia's possession, knife fighting techniques against shielded opponents, the prohibition on thinking machines, etc.

Characters that can't resist the impulses of their physical nature end up diseased, named "Beast," addicted to drugs, or dead.

You have to strike slowly with a knife to penetrate a Holtzmann shield. You have to stay completely still to avoid a Hunter-Killer. The fremen are terrifying because of what they are willing to do, what they are willing to endure, and who they are willing to become, not because of a super-weapon.

Being fully human in the Dune universe means being able to resist natural impulses and react to a different set of stimuli based on reason and not just direct sensory information.

Michael Caton said...

I don't know how it is that I've escaped this part of the sf canon.
I've never read it and never actually seen the movie all the way through either. I've absorbed a lot by cultural osmosis but that doesn't let me see themes as clearly.

TGP said...

Go to a used book store and pick up all the Frank Herbert Dune books.

Michael Caton said...

I'll get the Cliff's notes.