We have four dogs living at our house. Dogs, it turns out, have the equivalent neural network capacity of a two-year-old toddler. As you might imagine, four dogs, like four toddlers, are a handful. And like toddlers, dogs produce … a LOT of poop. Disposing of dog poop turns out to be a thing, a something thing that I sometimes get tired of dealing with. When I do, my moral compass occasionally takes me in a wrong direction: when I make my twice-weekly poo cleanup rounds, I sometimes find myself tossing a lot of dog poo into the neighbor’s salal that borders our property.
Such actions come with a lot of rationalizations, of course – no one will ever see it; it will break down over time; and besides, it’s good fertilizer. How can good fertilizer harm “the plant of persev-erance”? If all of this were actually true, a judge might ask, why not simply toss it into the salal … on my side of the property line? Good question, judge.
A True Tech Marvel
Well, there’s good news for me on the moral horizon – neuroscientists at the Harvard Medical School have at last come up with a non-invasive way to get the 80 pounds of monthly dog poo painlessly deposited on my side of the property line using … biomedical enhancement! Biomedical enhancement can be used to catapult any number of neural capacities beyond normal. Cognitive enhancement involves using drugs or non-invasive brain stimulation to improve things like memory, attention, executive functions, or other cognitive operations beyond how they usually operate. Here’s how the Harvard neuroscientists can already reverse my moral turpitude: they simply point a big magnet at my forehead. Which is a simple way to say that they used “repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on my dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC).” When they do, I do the right thing with the poo. Does it work every time? No. But it works often enough so that I might grow my own wiring such that I no longer need to be a poo miscreant (a pooscreant?).
Now, if this kind of mechanical intervention can work to change my moral behavior – and repeated research evidence is increasingly suggesting that it can – the implication is that there’s a deficit in my brain wiring that ends up making me a pooscreant. I can’t help myself. My brain made me do it. And even though I know it’s something I wouldn’t like my neighbor doing – tossing her dog’s poo onto my property – when I’m out there making the rounds with the potty paddle, a complete lack of impulse control takes over. Especially if the dogs have deposited the poo close to the property line already. Then it’s just a simple flick of the poo paddle to toss it over the line. I can blame it on the dogs!
A Paradoxical Intervention
This ability to know what I should do, and at the same time often be unable to do, is a fundamental structural neural vulnerability – a wiring deficit for many of our brains. It’s poor impulse control feebly wired into the Executive Function area of the brain.
It’s what makes me buy stocks at high prices and sell them when they go down. It’s what makes other people impulsively thumb-type tweets and send them at 3 o’clock in the morning. This struc- tural vulnerability is something I call The Prefrontal Paradox. The good news is there are things you can do to change your brain’s wiring without having to travel to Cambridge, MA and visit Harvard’s medical school. Go HERE to see a list of them.
Of course, if Executive Functioning is something that can be easily addressed and skillfully remedied, why am I still a pooscreant? Well, it turns out that … I’m not. I gave up that behavior about six months ago. We now have two plastic buckets to deposit dog poo in. Twice a month I gather them up and deliver them to our local dog park where they have waste receptacles for people like I’ve long longed to be and that my Vigilant Sentinel is glad I’ve become – morally integrated. At least where dog doody is concerned.
That all said, it’s time for another Enchanted Loom. Click HERE to enjoy a graphic review of Michael Lewis’s new book, The Undoing Project. To reflect the topic of this blog column, the book might be better titled: The UnDooDooing Project! 😉