Intensive interrogation doesn’t lead to information

390px-Theresiana-LeiterThe use of harsh interrogative techniques by the U.S. government has been a hotly debated topic in the global media in recent months. The debate is especially intense with respect to the moral significance of such techniques. As significant is the controversy about the veracity of the information acquired through the application of these techniques.

These two issues are often considered to be related. The weight of our moral considerations is likely to be inversely related to the utility of the practice (though followers of Kant would reject this claim). In other words, if we find that reliable and crucial information can only be obtained by inflicting significant harm to a single purportedly depraved individual, our moral responsibility towards that individual seems diminished. If, on the other hand, milder techniques are just as effective, our reasons for employing harsh interrogation seem morally suspect.

New research reported on the BBC website indicates that the harsh interrogative techniques in question are not only ineffective at eliciting reliable and crucial information, but also that they have a negative long-term effect on the possibility of obtaining that information. The research shows that, under conditions of extremely high stress, detainees Continue reading “Intensive interrogation doesn’t lead to information”


Memory as storage space

DrawersFindings published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, and reported in Wired, add to the evidence that remembering ought not be conceived as the retrieval of an item from a store.

Psychologist Kimberly Wade performed an experiment in which subjects played a gambling task, in pairs. Each member of the pair was entrusted to keep track of her own score. Afterwards, footage was doctored to give the impression that one member of a pair had cheated. The partner of the framed subject was found to show a strong willingness to testify that they themselves had seen their partner cheat, once shown the doctored footage.

The results add to the evidence against a conception of memory as storage of passive vehicles of content. The misremembering in this experiment is not the result of deteriorating memory but rather of further experience. This suggests that what one experiences after the event is perhaps as epistemologically relevant to the quality of the memory as the conditions at the time the memory was formed. Nonetheless, the store metaphor is still popular in fields like philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. Is that a mistake?

For the article in Wired go here.

Related articles:
£1.99 - small Neuroethics: Ethics and the Sciences of Mind
By Neil Levy , University of Melbourne
(Vol. 3, December 2008)
Philosophy Compass