Counterfactuals and metacognition regarding ticking time bombs and torture: A lesson from Mel Gibson

Payback, a Mel Gibson thriller from 1999, is a tough and visceral film, with an extraordinary torture scene involving a hammer. Gibson plays Porter, a hardened, unpleasant enforcer and killer, who is possessed of a curious sense of honour (and seemingly lacking a forename). Payback nicely shows that torture can be used to extract information, but… Read More

Hellraiser, sadomasochism, distributed and dismembered consciousness, and the brain’s experience of pain

[My book ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’ (Harvard UP) can be preordered from Amazon (.com) – more details at end of post] Horror films sometimes feature scenes of extreme torture, as well as sadism and sadomasochism (and especially the  subgenre known as “torture porn”, which we will ignore here). I will focus on one horror film –… Read More

Sleep deprivation as the torture of choice in Koestler’s ‘Darkness at Noon’

[My book ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’ (Harvard UP) can be preordered from Amazon (.com) – more details at end of post] Orwell, in a 1944 essay on Koestler’s great novel of the show trials, “Darkness at Noon”, observes that the main protagonist, Rubashov “confesses because he cannot find in his own mind any reason for not doing… Read More

Electroconvulsive shock and transcranial stimulation as torture methods in George Orwell’s 1984

[My book ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’ (Harvard University Press) is available now from Amazon (.com) – more details at end of post] I first read George Orwell’s 1984 while in hospital for a minor operation in my early teens. It horrified me at the time, and it continues to exert a powerful hold on… Read More