Special Issue: A Hypatia special issue on “Animal Others” has now gone live which brings together leading feminist animal studies scholars, Lori Gruen (author of Ethics and Animals: An Introduction) and Kari Weil (author of Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now), and presents exciting new work on the intersections of sex, race, gender, and species.
Online Symposium:As co-editors of the special issue, Gruen and Weil have recruited six scholars to reflect on some of the lively debates occurring within this burgeoning new field of scholarship. The symposium will start officially on Monday 9th July.
A full list of authors and topics can be seen below, and you are encouraged to join the discussion and engage with the editors and discussants.
In this post: some sexy news about the female brain, then, some careful caveats about brain claims in general.
First off, Time reports on the first three-dimensional movie of a female orgasm. Captured by a team of researchers led by Barry Komisaruk at Rutgers University, the movie shows the brain activity correlated with the orgasm of a single subject. Like most fMRI captures, the ‘heat’ of the colours is correlated with oxygenated blood movement, and thus brain activity – the more rufous the colour, the higher the activation. In the case of an orgasm, the entire brain is dense with activity. (By the way, if you are interested in what it is like to achieve an orgasm in an MRI – the guardian has the scoop here)
In his as-of-yet-unpublished findings, presented to the Society for Neuroscience conference, Komisaruk speculatively links the sequence of brain activation to (presumably, though not mentioned) first-person experiences of such orgasms, third-person observations, and previous literature on orgasm and brain circuitry. This yields some pretty titillating conversation for a scientific finding, such as:
…facial expressions during orgasm (the “O face”) are often indistinguishable from those made in pain, and suggests this may be explained by activity in the insula.
Recent neurobiological research has shown that viewing art stimulates the brain in a way that mirrors the experience of romantic love. The study, conducted by Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroaesthetics at University College London, scanned and mapped the brains of participants who had been asked to look at a variety of paintings from such artists as Botticelli, Turner, Monet and Cezanne. It was found that experiencing art releases into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain a significant quantity of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a biochemical associated with love, happiness and sociability, as well as drug use and certain psychological disorders.
The result comes at an ideal time for the art world in Britain, which has felt itself to be targeted by the extensive cuts in public spending. The correlation between aesthetic experience and happiness gives extra leverage in justifying the arts according to standards of public interest, a justification which normally consists in pointing out the economic benefits of the revenue which art institutions can generate. Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Stephen Deuchar, director of the arts charity Art Fund, said:
I have always believed art matters profoundly so it is exciting to see some scientific evidence to support the view that life is enhanced by instantaneous contact with works of art
Professor Zeki’s work in neuroaesthetics also stands to be of high value to the philosophy of art. This latest link between art and love is just one of many discoveries made by Zeki which coincide almost seamlessly with what artists and theorist about art have said for centuries, perhaps even for thousands of years. Plato, in his dialogue The Symposium, recounts a speech in praise of Love (Eros) made by Socrates which describes a journey of ascent from sexual love, through aesthetic appreciation of the body, to a spiritual love of the soul, arriving finally at the contemplation of the Platonic Form of Beauty itself. Continue reading “Art for Love’s Sake”
Early Wednesday afternoon, when Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, moved to introduce a Bill to ‘require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes’, she set alight to the feminist blogosphere (See here, here, here, and here, for examples).
Central to the feminist criticism is the clear gender asymmetry contained in the proposal, as immediately pointed out by her detractor Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda (a transcription of the debate is to be found here). ‘For a start, the Bill is just about girls,’ complained Bryant, ‘I am not an expert, but it seems axiomatic to me that if we want to tackle teenage pregnancy, we have to talk to the boys and the girls.’ Continue reading “A Lesson in Abstinence”
A Portuguese celebrity, Carlos Castro was recently found dead in a New York hotel room. He had also been castrated. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/10/portuguese-model-killing-carlos-castro?INTCMP=SRCH. Though who killed Castro, and what their motive was, is yet to be proven, it is thought that Castro may have been murdered by his lover, and that the motive may have been sexual jealousy. If this is true, Castro is not the first victim of jealousy. As Wilhelm Stekel remarked in 1921: ‘Has anyone counted the victims of jealousy? Daily a revolver cracks somewhere or other because of jealousy; daily a knife finds entrance into a warm body; daily some unhappy ones, racked by jealousy and life weary, sink into fathomless depths. What are all the hideous battles, narrated by history, when compared to this frightful passion jealousy?’
To give one more example of the victims of jealousy, on June 28th 2008 a 17 year old boy called Simon Everitt was tied to a tree, made to drink petrol and was then doused in it and set alight. He was so badly burned that it took a week to identify his remains. The motive for the murder was said to be sexual jealousy – two of the three murderers had previously been in a relationship with Simon’s girlfriend, Fiona Statham http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8048281.stm A few months after these killers were convicted, peers in the House of Lords voted 99 – 84 against a bill which would have stopped people from being able to use sexual infidelity as a partial defence for murder. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8329444.stm.
Sexual jealousy deserves consideration. Though the murders mentioned above are clearly extreme cases, few people are lucky enough not to have suffered the torments of sexual jealousy at some point in their lives. It is the ‘green ey’d monster’ (Othello, Act 3, Scene 3) that can destroy relationships and take over lives. Jealousy seems to be an inevitable part of life, tied to our need to be loved and to the fear of losing love. Indeed, jealousy is often seen as a sign of caring, hence the practice of ‘making someone jealous’ in order to induce loving and protective feelings in them. However, whether jealousy is natural and inevitable or otherwise, allowing sexual infidelity to be used a partial defence of murder seems to be based on out-dated assumptions about marriage partners being each other’s property. If not, then why shouldn’t other anger-inducing behaviours (leaving your clothes all over the floor, spending all of your joint money in the pub etc.) also count as partial defences for murder? Allowing jealousy to occupy such a privileged position in society serves only to make us less likely to try and control our jealous urges and the subsequent destructive behaviour they may cause.
Tyler Doggatt: Recent Work on the Ethics of Self-Defence
A court in British Columbia is currently deciding whether Canada’s anti-polygamy laws are unconstitutional. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11776534) Those in favour of the legalisation of polygamy suggest that by not allowing it, Canada is failing in its duty to guarantee the freedom of religion for its citizens (there is a large Mormon community in Canada). If polygamy is legalised, then Canada will become the first developed country to allow it.
82% of Canadians oppose legalising polygamy, but this is not due to sheer disgust for alternative lifestyles. The opponents argue that polygamy harms women and that the men who are ‘leftover’ will be unable to secure a wife for themselves. Interestingly, the debate has not focussed on the more fundamental issue of how far the state should be able to intervene in determining how adults arrange their lives. Furthermore, the lawyers are Continue reading “‘I now pronounce you man and wives’: Canada and polygamy”
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