October 26th, 2010

breaking bad

All in the brain

This is just the latest example of a fallacy that annoys me whenever I see it. This time it's about sex, but I've seen it said about depression and anger (though always in women).
(Brain) Scans appear to show differences in brain functioning in women with persistently low sex drives, claim researchers... The US scientists behind the study suggest it provides solid evidence that the problem (of low libido in women) can have a physical origin.

So, because a psychological experience (lack of sexual desire) has a physical corollary (electrical activity in the brain) this is 'solid evidence' that low libido is caused by the physical structure of women's brains, not by emotional and social influences on them?

This is garbage. If - as I think we all believe - mental events are brain events, then all mental events will have a physical corollary. If you have a toothache, there will be associated electrical activity in the brain. That doesn't prove the toothache is the result of the physical structure of the brain, and there's no need to go to a dentist.

I'd also ask what kind of 'erotic videos' women were shown, that they 'failed' to react to. Because most of the mainstream porn I have ever seen is designed to appeal to men, and does very little for me. Whereas watching Spooks last night... well.

Anyway, ray of sunshine: 'Other experts in psychosexual medicine are not entirely convinced'. Thank heavens for that.
breaking bad


I am continuing to enjoy this season of Spooks. There have been whole seasons that have slid off me like water off a duck's back but I am enjoying this one.

Quick digression: Law and Order Criminal Intent, like a lot of long running US shows, has a very rigid formal structure. The three minutes before the credits present a crime, usually a murder, with original characters. I am impressed each week how they manage to build characters, peril, and meaningful mystery, in about 180 seconds of screen time.

Spooks I think is similarly impressive, racing through complex storylines in a hour, without jettisoning emotional impact, and without ever achieving moral absolution for the characters. This week, for example, Lucas North was pursuing a personal scheme opposed to his official task, which in turn was adrift from central control, and all three threads - the departmental problem, his orders, and his hidden agenda, were braided tightly together, so that his scenes functioned in three different plots simultaneously. But in addition to this, I was emotionally engaged, so that these scenes had an impact as well as a function. Two in particular.
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I think the job of the best TV writing is to increase the freight of each scene. I think British telly usually does this by thickening up relatively simple and accessible material, for example by drawing on cultural baggage. Life on Mars, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, all punching above their weight by drawing on the cultural capital out there in the audience. Spooks does draw on our capital a bit, but I think it's attempting something I see more in American telly, which is to thicken a scene by making it serve multiple plot functions plus some kind of metaphorical commentary on itself. Plus nowadays some kind of reflective 'what does this say about the show, and me watching it?' I'm pleased to see the writers of Spooks emulating this model.

if it is less successful it is because the BBC is being forced to please too many masters at once, but that's another rant for another day