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By Susan Goldenberg, The Guardian, August 22, 2008

Barack Obama, who is generally regarded as a gifted orator, would do well to find time to unwind before he delivers the speech of his lifetime at the Democratic party’s convention next week.

A new analysis of the Obama’s voice patterns and the delivery of his speeches made available to the Guardian yesterday, found the Democratic candidate somewhat restricted in his range of facial expression.

Entire article here.

Wittgenstein said that the path to truth can be traced through an investigation of error. Taken liberally, he encourages us to take note of differences and similarities in a concept by considering a diverse range of cases.

If the meaning of adult facial expression is to be understood, it may therefore be benefical to consider the experiences of adults with facial disfigurement. And if you want to understand pain facial expression, it may be worthwhile to consider the case of adults and children with congenital facial paralysis.

Comparing radically different cases may serve to highlight forgotten niches of concepts.

Studies using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS; Ekman & Friesen, 1978) reveal a combination of facial expressions that appear to be specific to acute pain and that reveal the connection between pain facial expression and pain (Craig, 1980; Prkachin, 1992; Prkachin and Solomon, 2008). Core action units (AUs) in adults are brow lowering (corrugator: AU 4), cheek raise and lid tighten (both parts of orbicularis oculi: AU6 and 7), nose wrinkle and upper lip-raise (both parts of levator labii: AU 9 and 10), and eye closing (AU43) (Craig et al., 1992). It has been suggested that pain facial expression is a combination of the core actions along with a limited range of other actions; an expression that is better described as an indeterminate set than a fixed prototype (Prkachin & Craig, 1995). In naturalistic settings, we find it easier to describe a person as ‘in pain’ than to describe his facial features or behavior in precise physical terms, and we do not typically infer psychologically relevant descriptions of pain from austere physical ones (Wittgenstein, 1980a, 1992). For we often know the conclusions of such alleged inferences without knowing their premises (Wittgenstein, 1980a).

Objections to the specificity of the pain face suggest that it forms part of a whole body defensive response to pain, an effort to withdraw from the stimulus and to protect the body. Salzen (2002) claims that pain facial expression consisting of tension in the facial flexor muscles, contraction of the eyes, retraction of the lips, and clenched teeth is part of a general body flexor reaction. This is based on the idea that pain facial expression is a ‘sensory-motor feeling state’, which is ‘aversive’, but separate from secondary distress due to the continuation of pain despite the initial response. Pain facial expression seems to be part of a global flexor contraction of writhing or squirming, which may spill over into the facial musculature (Frijda, 2002; Panksepp and Pasqualini, 2002). One difficulty facing this challenge is that no such whole body behaviors have been described that are specific to pain in humans or in domestic or laboratory animals (Williams, 2002).

Moreover, given that the face is the primary target of visual attention between humans and provides a dynamic, embodied expression of pain and emotion in human interactions (Cole, 1997, 2001), some justification is required for collapsing pain facial expression into gross motor activity in connection to stimuli (Williams, 2002). Wittgenstein (1958b) makes a related point that if a person has hurt his hand, he may nurse his hand, but we comfort him: ‘…if someone has a pain in his hand, then the hand does not say so (unless it writes it) and one does not comfort the hand, but the sufferer: one looks into his face’ (Wittgenstein, 1958b, §286). It is not the body that is in pain, but the human being. Available evidence shows that the face in pain is highly salient for observers who ranked the eyes the most important feature, followed by brows, eyelids, mouth, head, forehead, and then other body parts (Prkachin et al., 1983).

Closely related to the question of a specific pain facial expression in the individual is its detection and interpretation by observers. Judgment of pain in another person relies heavily on facial cues: brow lowering, eye blinking, cheek raise, and upper lip raise are used consistently by observers to judge pain in adults and in children (Craig et al., 1991). There is evidence of reasonably accurate identification of pain expression in adults and infants employing these facial cues (e.g., Prkachin et al. 1994).

The overlap between pain and other emotions concerning the activated facial action units, however, challenges the evidence for the detection of the pain face. After all, when people are in pain, their faces may express a blend of emotions including fear, anger, disgust, surprise, and so on, reflecting a ‘fuzzy’ emotional state of distress or discomfort, rather than expressing the specific experience of pain. It does not follow, however, that sharing of AUs across expressions renders observers unable to distinguish anger from fear or sadness. After all, detection and interpretation only have to be effective, not perfect (cf. Wittgenstein, 1958b, §79d). This may support the claim, made earlier, that the pain face expression is accurately described as an indeterminate or ‘fuzzy’ set than a fixed prototype.       

Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy
September 18-20, 2008, Stony Brook Manhattan
401 Park Avenue South

The realities of cognitive disability pose a significant challenge to certain key conceptions philosophers have held. Philosophers have conceived of the mark of humanity as the possession of rational cognitive capacities. They have traditionally extended the mantles of equality, dignity, justice, responsibility, and moral fellowship to those with these abilities, whom they speak of as ‘persons.’ What then should we say about those with severe cognitive disabilities?  How should we treat these individuals and what sorts of entitlements can they claim?  Should we grant the arguments of some philosophers who want to parse our moral universe in ways that depend on degrees of cognitive capacity, not on being human? How do claims for the moral consideration of animals bear on the question? Is it morally acceptable to consign some human beings to the status of ‘non-persons’?  Philosophers have rarely faced these questions squarely and systematically.

Speakers include public intellectuals such as Michael Bérubé, Ian Hacking, Martha Nussbaum and Peter Singer. The conference will explore philosophical questions about three specific populations—people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease and those labeled ‘mentally retarded’ —and will raise ethical and foundational questions on regarding both theoretical and practical matters.

More here.

The Australian, August 6, 2008

I have had the good fortune to know a philosopher. He was my teacher. In his prime he had the happy sprightliness of a youth; he continued to have it, I believe, even as a very old man. His broad forehead, built for thinking, was the seat of an imperturbable cheerfulness and joy. Speech, the richest in thought, flowed from his lips. Playfulness, wit and humour were at his command. His lectures were the most entertaining talks. His mind … comprehended equally the newest works of Rousseau … and the latest discoveries of science. He weighed them all, and always came back to the unbiased knowledge of nature and to the moral worth of man. The history of men and peoples, natural history and science, mathematics and observation, were the sources from which he enlivened his lectures and conversation. He was indifferent to nothing worth knowing … He incited and gently forced others to think for themselves; despotism was foreign to his mind. This man, whom I name with the greatest gratitude and respect, was Immanuel Kant.

AS student evaluations go, Johann Gottfried Herder’s evaluation of Kant would seem hard to top. So much so that it would be natural to suppose that any who thought themselves philosophers would aspire to being thought of in similar terms. It must therefore come as a surprise to discover that, on the whole, Australian philosophers do not aspire to such standards. This is not because Australian philosophy is an intellectual backwater. On the contrary, it enjoys a hard-won reputation for high-quality work. But these achievements have been bought at the cost of narrow horizons.

Admittedly, philosophy is not only the name of an ancient concern with knowledge and wisdom in general, it is also the name of a modern academic discipline. So, to describe oneself as a philosopher implies an interest in theories of knowledge, language and mind, rather than with natural science, social theory, etc. Still, the sense that philosophy is concerned with a synoptic grasp of the whole and of its meaning for us, has not disappeared, even among academics. Moreover, Kant was an academic, so if he was “indifferent to nothing worth knowing”, why should this not remain a professional ideal? Nevertheless, among Australians, it is not.

This lack of breadth is most easily illustrated with a few anecdotes. A few years ago, I met a young visiting lecturer from Cambridge, fresh off the plane for a stint at the University of Sydney. “Why is Australian philosophy so good?” he asked, a little breathlessly. To which I replied, just a little sourly, “Well, it’s good at what it’s good at.” Six months later, at the end of his time with us, he went off to the annual Australian philosophy conference. “How did it go?” I asked him on his return. He replied: “I’ve never heard so many papers about David Lewis in my whole life!” (Lewis was an influential American professor who regularly attended the local conference.) I took it that he had come around to my point of view.

Narrow interests are supported by complacent attitudes. Thus a recent visitor to a leading Australian university was startled to hear a successful Australian philosopher, known for having views that derive from the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, cheerfully admit in a public conversation that he didn’t really know anything about Hume. The visitor was startled to discover the Australian’s complete lack of interest in the originator of his kind of outlook and his lack of shame at his ignorance. He would have had less cause for surprise if aware that ignorance can be a badge worn with pride: “Never read anyone whose corpse is cold” is the explicit principle of one highly promoted Australian.

My final anecdote concerns limited cultural horizons. A highly regarded Australian philosopher found himself, for reasons of departmental solidarity, at a seminar on the Oedipus complex. He interrupted the paper to find out who Oedipus was, and what he had done.

Of course, such extremes of cultural ignorance are not typical, nor do they show professional incompetence. There are plenty of nerdy guys in maths and physics who would be similarly ignorant, and whose ignorance would be found amusing rather than shocking. A cultural deficit is not always an intellectual deficit.

Entire article here.

The Australian, August 6, 2008

…Wittgenstein was proud that his philosophy classes (in 1930s Cambridge) were attended by convinced Communists and convinced Catholics, and devotees of his thought have included highly conservative judges, Marxist-Leninists and every shade of liberal between. Like many a rigorous liberal educator before and since, he had a professional ethic that made it his primary duty not to tell students what to think, but how to think clearly and well, not to teach students what to believe, but how to argue for and defend what they believed in the most rigorous possible way. Most of the student theses I analyse in my new book, The Trouble with Theory, espouse leftish views and causes (views and causes with which I have a fair amount of sympathy) but the desperately question-begging way in which they do so does nothing to win them converts. And had they been right-wing or conservative in orientation, the same would have been true.

Entire article here.

I thought of this in connection with visible facial difference (e.g., people with Moebius Syndome, facial disfigurement):

Rebecca writes:

Appearance distress and visible differences have been associated with a number of problems including depression and anxiety, low self-esteem and negative body image and interpersonal problems. However, not all individuals with a visible difference report a negative experience, some report the minor role it plays in their lives and its positive consequences.

This project is concerned with identifying factors associated with the ability to adjust to a visible difference. Demographic variables and the physical nature of the visible difference have been repeatedly found not to predict distress. However, it has been found that individuals who place greater importance on their appearance use strategies to cope with their visible difference that are maladaptive. Furthermore, individuals who have easy, recurring access to a negative schematic representation of their appearance are more likely to be poorly adjusted. What seems to play a crucial role in why some individuals lend more psychological importance to appearance is their interactions with others from an early age. Thus, the feelings of people around us, which as a child is mainly our family, are assimilated into a child’s perception of their visible difference, and subsequently affects their ability to cope.

For more, go here.

By Angela Thompson, Illawarra Mercury, August 2, 2008


Leigh Scully and Baxter. Photo by SYLVIA LIBER

To the outside world, Baxter Scully looks like a serious boy, but it is not only his tender years that are stopping him from telling people how he is really feeling. 

For the boy who cannot smile, misunderstanding is a danger every day, even for his own mother. 

Baxter, of Cambewarra, was born with a mask-like face as a result of moebius syndrome – abnormally developed cranial nerves. 

A clear-cut diagnosis has been difficult for Baxter’s parents to come by because, unlike other children with moebius syndrome, he has none of the other telltale signs such as hand and feet abnormalities, respiratory problems and weak upper body strength. 

His mother Leigh Scully is grateful her son’s condition is confined to what doctors call bilateral facial paralysis, but she hopes scientists may one day unlock enough of the secrets of the human body to make Baxter’s condition history. 

On Jeans for Genes Day, yesterday, it was a denim-only affair at the Scully household.  

“Developmentally Dexter’s been doing all his milestones, but even when he’s laughing – he might be chuckling away at something – you wouldn’t know,” Mrs Scully said.  

“His face would just go bright red and his jaw would drop but there was no change in facial expression. 

“If Baxter goes on to have children, it could happen to his children.  

“The more research the better.”

Entire article here.

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