Brain Scan for President(s)

The president of the United States has the power to destroy life on earth. It follows that we should have some assurance that the president has a healthy brain, and that the public should therefore be entitled to view brain scans of candidates.

Dr. Daniel Amen is sitting on a database of 29,000 brain scans, including those of healthy people, drug addicts, schizophrenics, liars, geniuses, alcoholics, and the mentally challenged. No one has a better picture of the connection between healthy brains and functioning humans.

In a talk he gave at Accelerating Change 2005, Amen lays out the connections in stark terms, arguing that allowing children to play tackle football or to hit soccer balls with their heads is tantamount to child abuse (from a brain health perspective), that techniques for developing and maintaining healthy brains should get more emphasis in schools than all the mundane stuff we’ll never use later in life, and that lawyers need to stop fighting to keep brain scans out of court cases for fear of muddying the prevailing idea that either we have free will or we don’t (Amen argues that brains span a huge spectrum of health levels, and that damaged brains exert less predetermined action (free will) than healthy brains).

Amen can tell at a glance how well an individual is functioning in life just by looking at their brain scan. The correlation between the appearance of the brain on a scan and the functional health of the individual is direct. So Amen also argues that Descartes — who made the point that the mind and brain were functionally separate — was wrong. In fact we now have the technology and the data to see for ourselves exactly how wrong Descartes was; the mind/brain connection is not a matter of philosophical debate, but of direct analysis.

The descriptive text at IT Conversations doesn’t do justice to the power of the talk. Juicy. Worth 45 minutes of your time.

Music: Steve Coleman :: zec

13 Replies to “Brain Scan for President(s)”

  1. I suppose that depends on which aspects of his talk you mean – he covers a lot of ground. And I think he’s more of a clinical psychologist sitting on a lot of data than a pure researcher.

  2. I can’t say I endorse his conjecture. To use brain scans in the way that he suggests is just another way to measure “intelligence”. Based on these measurements we can then ensure that life is further limited because it has been labeled based on our subjective and limited understanding of the human condition.

    Yes, we are limited by our biology. But, we are also capable of overcoming our limitations through practice, time, and courage.

    To say, “…we should have some assurance that the president has a healthy brain, and that the public should therefore be entitled to view brain scans of candidates”, and statments like it, is the modern equivalent of demanding that we see someone else’s SAT score in an earlier age, when it was thought to measure “intelligence” not “achievement.”

    Brain scans will help us understand our predisposition better than we do today, but we must also be cautious to not let it become a tool of subjective classification.

    Letting it become a tool of subjective classification would ultimately be more limiting to our society than our biology.

  3. To me, this smacks of the sci-fi movie “Gattica” where brain/gene scans done at birth determined your position in society.

    The president of the United States has the power to destroy life on earth.

    while the office of the President may have that power (as does the leader of most freely elected countries, btw), it can only be used after it has been granted to him by Congress.

  4. Gilbert – I’m not sure I see the connection to intelligence you’re drawing here. Amen certainly doesn’t say anything about that, and I don’t think he implies it either. There was no intimation that his scans could give visual represenations of intelligence levels.

  5. Javahead – Perhaps, but I would say the value of knowing that a president does not have violent tendencies, or a frontal lobe disorder, or a history of drug abuse, etc. is very high. He’s not proposing it for everyone – just for people who run the world. We hire the president. We should have a right to hire people for the position with some assurance that they’re even-keeled.

  6. Well, we pay for public schools. How about not wasting our taxpayer dollars on potential pupils that are too unintelligent for all but menial labor?

    Brain scan them, give them aptitude tests, and if they fail, send them to Car Wash University.

    Very slippery slope, dude.

  7. mneptok, what is the connection you’re drawing between world leaders and students?

    We have a vested public interest in running schools that help people maximize their potential, regardless what they come in with. What would we gain by brain scanning students?

    We also have a vested interest in having ideal brains running the world. Why in the world wouldn’t we want to do this?

    The situations are diametrically opposite. Where is the slipperly slope?

  8. The slippery slope is that saying a brain scan is determinite of ability. A brain scan of John Nash would have put him into an institution and deprived the world of a Nobel laureate.

    If you’re willing to brain scan the President to determine his ability to lead, then it seems likely you’re willing to brain scan others to make dterminations about their abilities. And ability isn’t always about nature.

    I don’t want a machine telling me who a person is. I want to make my own decisions.

  9. Well, no one said a brain scan should be anyone’s only criteria, or that any particular result would knock anyone out of the running. Only that the information be made available to the public. There are requirements for physical health in order to hold the office. And the brain is part of the body… a very, very important part of the body.

  10. Ah, you’re right. Not sure why I thought there was a physical health requirement. Still, you know Americans wouldn’t hire a president in poor physical health (not since FDR anyway), and how much more important is brain health than physical health to that office?

  11. FDR? JFK had a very bad case of Addison’s disease throughout his entire presidency, and he was consequently on a daily regimen of barbiturates, amongst many other things. All of this was widely known amongst politicians and the press, but never reported on while he was in office.

    We should mandate that all future Presidents be one-time junkies. That way, they’ll intrinsically understand world politics quite well.

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