Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Virtual Reality Therapy. Will Virtual Reality replace therapists? Raj Persaud talks to Leanne Casey and Wesley Turner

Will therapists be replaced by Virtual Reality Technology? Psychiatrist Raj Persaud talks to psychologists Wesley Turner and Leanne Casey from Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia who have just published an analysis of how effective the latest Virtual Reality psychological treatments are.


Their study is entitled 'Outcomes associated with virtual reality in psychological interventions: where are we now?' and is published in the academic journal Clinical Psychology Review (Volume 34, Issue 8, December 2014, Pages 634–644)


If you are a professional and interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, particularly from listening to this podcast, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk

After listening to this podcast if you go to the College site and answer the mcq questions there about the interview, you can obtain on line CPD points.






A recent article on other ways new technology is changing psychiatry and psychology:



Does Brain Scanning Research Reveal Your Real Religious Belief - More Than Church Attendance?



A new brain scanning study has found that high personal importance of religion or spirituality in your life is associated with thicker cortex in several brain regions.


Some of these same regions were found to be associated with a higher risk for developing clinical depression, if that part of the brain cortex was thinner.


The study, entitled, Neuroanatomical Correlates of Religiosity and Spirituality - A Study in Adults at High and Low Familial Risk for Depression, concludes that a higher importance of religion or spirituality was associated with thicker cortex in certain brain regions, possibly conferring greater resilience to the development of depressive illnesses.


The study, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association - Psychiatry, focused on those with a high or low familial risk for developing clinical depression, because of a previously strong family history of this psychiatric diagnosis.


The team of academics who conducted this Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) study, led by Dr Myrna Weissman, from Columbia University, argue that this brain finding could account for why being religious or spiritual, in certain circumstances, might contribute to improved resilience to depressive psychiatric illnesses.


Being religious or spiritual, possibly by expanding a physical brain reserve, counters to some extent the vulnerability that brain thinning in those areas poses for developing depression that runs in families.


For those attending church services this Easter weekend it may be surprising that the study found it was the personal importance of religion or spirituality in your life, but not the frequency of attendance of church, that was associated with thicker brain areas. In a sense the brain scans revealed your true faith more than church attendance did.


The same team had previously reported a 90% decreased risk, assessed over a 10-year period, of developing clinical depressive disorder in those from families where there was a high incidence of depression, if religion or spirituality was highly important to the adult studied.


Several others studies have found that intensity of religious experiences is associated with increased blood flow in similar brain regions found to be structurally thicker in this study.


The authors of this new study, Lisa Miller, Ravi Bansal, Priya Wickramaratne, Xuejun Hao, Craig Tenke, Myrna Weissman and Bradley Peterson, found that, oddly, a high frequency of attendance of religious services was not associated with brain thickness, yet rating religion or spirituality as personally important in your life was.


This appears a paradox - people who go to church a lot were not reaping the same benefit in their brains, in terms of protecting from depression, as those who believed that religion or spirituality was important to them.


The authors point out that although some may go to church in order to promote their spirituality, others may attend whether or not religion is genuinely personally important to them. In this study 49 participants reported high church attendance, yet only 21 of those also reported high importance of religion or spirituality in their lives. The remaining 28 participants may be attending services for a host of non-religious reasons, which may include social support. 


This research found that the participants who frequently attended religious services were in fact at increased risk of depression, suggesting that a subset of participants may attend religious services for comfort or management of depressive symptoms.


Although frequent attendance may express, sustain, and cultivate personal importance of religion or spirituality, these findings suggest that religious beliefs and experiences, and not overt behavior (such as attending church a lot), are associated with brain thickness.


That going to church might not be the key to the protective effect of religion or spirituality on those predisposed to depression, through a high risk family history, is further bolstered, according to Myrna Weissman and her colleagues, by other recent research. For example, those who regularly meditate also have certain thicker brain regions. Another recent study found that meditation training for eight weeks increased cerebral gray matter density in specific brain areas.


The authors of this study, from Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, are not claiming that religion or spirituality generally protects you from depression. Instead, they are suggesting that if you consider that religion or spirituality in your life are important, then that appears to confer a neuroanatomical resilience. And that is in those who otherwise are predisposed to developing depressive illness, due to a strong family history for this kind of psychiatric problem.


Previously, we reported some other new research, from a team of academics led by Professor Michael King from University College London, where over 8,000 people were investigated, revealing that those who held a religious or spiritual understanding of life, had a higher incidence of depression compared with those with a secular life view.


Entitled Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study, the investigation had been published in one of the most respected academic psychiatric journals, Psychological Medicine.


Perhaps one way of resolving the differing results is that the Psychological Medicinestudy was conducted on populations outside the USA - in the UK, Spain, Slovenia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Chile. It could be that how important religion is in your country and culture, as well as the particular population studied, also has an impact on your brain and psychology.


Generally speaking Europeans are perceived as less religious than North Americans.

In the Psychological Medicine study, their findings varied by country; in particular, people in the UK who had a spiritual understanding of life were the most vulnerable to the onset of major depression. Yet, regardless of country, the stronger the spiritual or religious belief at the start of the investigation, the higher the risk of onset of depression over the next year.


In the specific situation of where you inherit a brain that might be predisposed to developing depression, it appears that higher importance of religion or spirituality in your life, perhaps in the USA at least, could be protective. It is also notable that the more recent brain scanning study found it was sustained interest in religion or spirituality, over a longer period, which was most strongly associated with thicker brain structures, rather than reporting a high level of spirituality at only one point in time.


However, given the not dissimilar findings on the brain effects of meditation, whether these structural brain changes and protective effect of religion or spirituality, are something specific to beliefs in God, is open to question.


Science is revealing that merely attending religious services may not deliver brain or mental health benefits, instead these appear linked to what you really believe.


Neuroscientists might now be able to tell, by examining your nervous system using the latest brain scanning technology, what you really believe, in the inner depths of your 'soul', but which you keep hidden from the rest of the congregation.


A private inner space that was supposedly only before accessible to God?




Raj Persaud is joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.

Download it free from these links:




The police use of tasers - discussion between firearms police officers and Raj Persaud

Most people tend to become compliant when ordered to do so by a police officer in a high-stakes type of predicament. But perhaps those suffering severe mental illnesses are more likely to be non-compliant - maybe due to decreased awareness of what is going on around them? Could this explain the seemingly apparent proneness for tasers to be used by the police in these predicaments? Dr Raj Persaud - consultant psychiatrist - discusses the way the metropolitan police use tasers with police officers Matthew Fox and Adam Smith of the Specialist Firearms Command.


If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk


Check out the taser website for the metropolitan police: 





A Taser is a non-lethal single shot weapon used by MPS officers to temporarily incapacitate a suspect through the use of an electrical current. It is a hand-held weapon similar in shape and size to a pistol, but is bright yellow and black in colour.







Welcome to the Taser site

Welcome to the Taser website. I’m Dave Musker, Commander in charge of armed policing and Taser within the Metropolitan Police.

Taser has been available in the UK since 2003 and is probably one of the most discussed and controversial topics on the use of force agenda. It is with this in mind that I think its essential we provide as much information we can regarding Taser through all forms of media and this website.

The Metropolitan Police has acknowledged the controversy surrounding Taser and have implemented a raft of measures to ensure we get it right. I believe we have the best training in the world with extremely robust policies and procedures to manage the day-to-day operational deployment of the device.

Whilst we are confident we have such comprehensive procedures in place, we are not complacent and we have a dedicated team of officers who continually review what we do and how we do it. I am also keen to continue to engage with all communities and interested parties in London as this will help us to understand the concerns that are out there and deal with any emerging issues.

We have formed a Taser Reference Group with a wide, independent and constructively critical membership to help me oversee the use of taser in London - see related link within Professional training and scrutiny section.

I would also like to point you in the direction of some interesting documents and pages in this website. You will find a recent document published by the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee called ‘Arming the Met’ - see related documents.   We are engaging with the committee to ensure we meet, discuss and address the recommendations within. We are grateful to the Committee for their suggestions which are constructive and provide a good direction for the MPS to follow.

The College of Policing website, which details how police officers across the UK are trained is also a valuable source of information - see related link for College of Policing website.

Raj Persaud is joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists - you can listen to this conversation and others with a new free app on iTunes and Google Play Store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.

Download it free from these links:









Does The Great Train Robbery Explain How Villains Became the New Heroes?


The anniversary of the Great Train Robbery is being marked in various ways - The Times newspaper reports that a Monopoly set, played by the Great Train Robbers using real cash, while they eluded capture by hiding on a farm, has turned up on the TV programme Antiques Roadshow. Apparently, The Times reports, it was fingerprints on this board game, which later helped convict the gang.

That such an item could become revered, might be part of a modern glamorisation of villainy. Ronnie Biggs and fellow gang members began to be portrayed as romanticised folk heroes. Was the Great Train Robbery the beginning of a process which lead to popular TV series such as The Sopranos and Dexter, where hero and villain often appear inverted?

If heroes were supposed to be moral enough to still do the right thing, despite facing difficult predicaments, does the modern transformation of criminal to hero reveal something deeply troubling about our era?

Psychologist Derek Rohleder has published a dissertation entitled The shadow as hero in American culture: A Jungian analysis of the villain archetype transformed.His thesis is that in modern popular culture the villain has frequently been transformed into a heroic figure. Dr Rohleder uses examples including Hannibal Lecter the cannibal psychiatrist who has become the 'hero' of blockbuster movies including The Silence of the Lambs.

The 'rogue' or 'rebel' has long been a key element of heroic character in fiction and real life, perhaps part of the confusion here is that we assume the outlaw is naturally an underdog.

George Goethals and Scott Allison from the University of Richmond, Virginia, USA, in their analysis of who the public regards as heroic, have found that a key ingredient is the notion of the underdog. In a paper entitled Making Heroes: The Construction of Courage, Competence and Virtue, they state how they found people root for, identify with, and are most fond of, underdogs. Those who must struggle to achieve their objectives.

Their paper published in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychologyexplains that this liking and rooting for perceived underdogs, is so deep-rooted, it even holds for inanimate objects, whose movements on a computer screen activate scripts of struggle and effort against more powerful rivals.

They discovered in their own surveys of the public that when asked if they had any heroes, 95% listed at least two heroes, and two-thirds listed six or more in just a few minutes. Roughly a third of heroes, from this research, are family members, a third are real public figures, but the last third are fictional, often from TV and film.

This indicates the media representation of heroic status is extremely important.

Political strategists now make a standard attempt to cast even the most wealthy, institutionalised candidates as actually battling rebels, fearlessly taking on vested interests.

Our deep psychological needs for heroic individuals to idolise, who triumph over adversity, is revealed by the structure of modern popular stories in fiction and film. It's never 'systems' or 'committees' which ride out of the sunset, to the rescue of those in distress, but instead it's the rebel loner.

Disobedience and defiance are also deliciously childish pleasures, which the Freudians would probably contend are part of the romantic allure of those who disregard rules.

Modern cynicism about our rulers is revealed in anti-heroes who dissent and refuse to follow edicts.

The rise of the vigilante hero - who takes the law into their own hands and meters out justice themselves, without waiting for due process to creak into action, also reveals a lack of faith in 'the system' to see injustice is punished.

But the reality of criminals, beneath the veneer of glamour which Hollywood and paperback fiction likes to gloss over them, is that these are often the immature and inadequate who want to take short-cuts.

They yearn for comfort and luxury without sweating through hard work or delaying gratification required by scrimping and saving. There is a part in all of us who is attracted to the short cut, which might partly explain the allure of the criminal as hero. It's the same draw as 'get rich quick' schemes.

However, Hollywood blockbusters today depict heists of labyrinthine complexity, requiring such complex skills and hard work from the heroic con artist or criminal, one wonders why they didn't just get a high paying job that rewarded them legitimately for their breath-taking sophistication.

Instead, the plots require us to believe that being an outlaw, dodging and diving outside the system, might be an inherently preferable. The villain as hero is also more free than the law-abiding rest of us, they don't care what others think of them and this liberty from constraint or judgement suggests they possess an independence of spirit, the rest of us crave.

The irony is that in pursuing this supposed self-determination, the criminal ends up behind bars. How free is a fugitive anyway - someone who has to keep looking behind his shoulder?

But the recent inversion of criminal and hero is important if the heroic are vital in guiding and inspiring us. Should our idols become those who are self-indulgent and selfish, we should beware. True heroes are those who make huge personal sacrifices for noble causes.

In the film Casablanca, at first it seems that Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, will not assist the Allied war cause. He famously declares "I stick my neck out for nobody" and "I'm the only cause I'm interested in". He appears the archetypal anti-hero, sulky, self-centred and running what appears to be a shady night-club.

But in the climax of the story, he makes huge personal sacrifices for someone he loves, and the Allied side.

It's psychologically intriguing that for Bogart to play one of the greatest cinematic heroes of our time, he has to at first appear bitter, selfish, dodgy.

The danger is, if we get confused over who are true heroes, as opposed to those who just look rebellious, dangerous and glamorous, we will lose out on truly inspiring figures.

We will end up being robbed.

Direct download: DR-100_0066.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 6:21pm UTC

The funny die first. Why do the funniest comedians die first? Dr Gil Greengross discusses with Raj Persaud

Raj Persaud discusses new research on the mortality of comedians with Dr. Gil Greengross an evolutionary psychologist and anthropologist at Concordia University in Montreal and formerly at the University of New Mexico. His interdisciplinary research bridges traditional fields of study such as psychology, anthropology and biology, and his studies focus on the adaptive value of humor and laughter, mainly in the context of sexual selection and mating.


Dr. Greengross is also fascinated by the life and personalities of stand-up comedians as we can learn a lot from people who have extreme humor ability.


Dr. Greengross won the 2007 Graduate Student Award at the International Society for Humor Studies conference and was invited to give two lectures at the International Summer School and Symposium on Humor and Laughter. He has also designed and taught several popular college level classes on the psychology of humor.


Dr Raj Persaud is now joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world. You can hear this interview on the app and read the article below on this subject.


Download it free from these links:






Why the funniest comedians die first


Raj Persaud and Professor Adrian Furnham




A study about to be published in the ‘International Journal of Cardiology’ has found that the funniest comedians suffer dramatically reduced longevity, compared to their relatively less funny counterparts.


The research, from the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia, analysed the life span of 53 male British comedians born between 1900 and 1954. A key finding is that the higher the score by which the comedian was rated as funny, also the higher the mortality rate. 

The Psychology of Comedians

Of the 23 ‘very funny’ comedians, 78% had died, versus 40% of the rest. Average age at death for the comedians adjudged as ‘very funny’ was 63.3 years old versus 72.3 for the rest.


Those working in comedy duos (e.g. Morecambe and Wise) or teams (e.g. Monty Python) were also designated, for the purposes of this research, as the “funny” or “straight” man in that comedy team.


Within comedy teams, those identified as the funnier member(s) of the partnership were more than three times more likely to die prematurely when compared to their more serious comedy partners. 


Examples that bear out this newly established macabre law that the funny man in a comedy team always dies first, include Ernie Wise being the straighter comedian in the duo, living to 73, while his funnier partner, Eric Morecambe died at 58. Ronnie Barker died at 76 while his straight man Ronnie Corbett is still alive and now past 84 years old.


Graham Chapman died at 48, while all the other original members of the Monty Python comedy team, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones remain alive, yet it is widely understood that Chapman was the most surreal, or the funniest, of this uniquely surreal comedy team. 


For example, perhaps the most famous Monty Python sketch of all, the ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch started off being written by John Cleese as about a man returning a toaster, and it is reported that it was Chapman who inspired the idea it should be about the attempt to return a dead parrot.


The findings of this study are particularly intriguing because, consistent with the inherent nature of comedy tandems and teams, individual members were predominantly born around the same time, and come from the same social class and economic background.  


The authors of the study, Dr Simon Stewart and Dr David Thompson, conclude that elite comedians are at increased risk of premature death, compared to their less funny counterparts. 


The study involved ranking all 53 comedians according to their ability to make people laugh on a scale of 1 to 10. Those scoring 5 and below were considered to be relatively funny, 6-7 pretty funny and 8-10 ranging from very funny to hilarious. This last group would be considered ‘elite’ comedians and include John Cleese and Billy Connolly.



The study used a popular website that ranks the best of only British and Irish Comedians, on purpose, because the researchers focused on a group of comedians from one geographical part of the world. This ensured the similarity of background meant the key issue being investigated was whether there was something about purely being funnier, as opposed to any other differences between comedians, is linked to higher mortality rates.


Dr Simon Stewart and Dr David Thompson argue that a preliminary examination of the comedy scene outside of the UK suggests that their study reveals a more universal phenomenon. 


For example, the survival profiles of famous and celebrated comedy duos such as Abbott (funny man who died aged 52) and Costello (straight man who died aged 78) suggest these findings may hold true across the Atlantic. 


Dr Simon Stewart and Dr David Thompson point out that previous research has established that comedians score high on measures of psychotic traits, and display an unusual personality structure characterised by ‘introverted anhedonia’ combined with ‘extraverted impulsiveness’. 


One theory is that there is something about the kind of personality and psychology involved in being particularly funny, which is also linked to this high mortality rate. 


The authors of the study point out that many comedians have publically admitted to being depressed, or manic, or sometimes even both. 


Examples include John Cleese, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan and Kenneth Williams. In the case of some like Tony Hancock (widely regarded as a genius comic) this resulted in taking his own life. 


The study was partly inspired by the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams.


But suicide alone cannot account for this finding, as many of the comedians who died early, did so from natural or medical causes, not suicide, including the recent death, aged just 56 years old, of funny man Rik Mayall. 


However, it may be they manifest self-destructiveness in some more long term ways – Graham Chapman died of cancer possibly secondary to smoking, and was reportedly a heavy drinker.



Psychologists Gil Greengross and Geoffrey  Miller from the University of New Mexico, United States, compared the personalities of 31 professional stand-up comedians with those of nine amateur comedians, 10 humour writers and 400 college students.


The study entitled, ‘The Big Five personality traits of professional comedians compared to amateur comedians, comedy writers, and college students’ found that, surprisingly, comedians are more introverted than other people. 


Gil Greengross and Geoffrey Miller argue that you would expect comedians’ pursuit of fame and attention to mean they are bound to be highly extravert, like we know actors tend to be. 


The intriguing result, published in the journal ‘Personality and Individual Differences’, suggests that comedians do not seek fame the same way as actors. 


While the authors of the study acknowledge that the public perceive comedians as ostentatious and flashy, perhaps their persona on stage is mistakenly seen interchangeably with their real personality.


The jokes they tell about their lives might be considered by many to contain a grain of truth in them, however, the results of this study suggest that the opposite is true. 


Gil Greengross and Geoffrey Miller speculate that perhaps comedians use their performance to disguise who they are in their daily life. Comedians may portray someone they want to be, or perhaps their act is a way if defying the constraints imposed on their everyday events and interactions with others.


The authors speculate that ‘impulsive dis-inhibition’ is at the core of the comedic personality, and is necessary to come up constantly with weird new ideas that are funny. Comedians also need this to violate social rules by publicly declaring unconventional sentiments. But does this ‘impulsive dis-inhibition’ end up killing them, because they then don’t look after themselves properly?


The very funniest, who bring the house down, also seem to pull the curtain down early.


The story of the novel - Michael Schmidt converses on his new book - 'The Novel: A Biography'

Michael Schmidt is editor of a new book entitled: 'The Novel
A Biography' published by Harvard University Press.



Amongst the topics of conversation with psychiatrist Raj Persaud include: whether novelists are more prone to mental illness - why do we appear to have an insatiable psychological appetite for stories - can novels serve a psychological function - can they cheer us up? Can they be therapeutic? Novels are meant to be about the human condition, or human conditions, and yet so also are psychology and psychiatry, but the two don't seem to intersect - novels don't drive psychological research and are novelists moved by developments in psychology and psychiatry?

From the Harvard University Press Website: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.ph...

The 700-year history of the novel in English defies straightforward telling. Geographically and culturally boundless, with contributions from Great Britain, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Southern Africa; influenced by great novelists working in other languages; and encompassing a range of genres, the story of the novel in English unfolds like a richly varied landscape that invites exploration rather than a linear journey. In The Novel: A Biography, Michael Schmidt does full justice to its complexity.

Like his hero Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature, Schmidt chooses as his traveling companions not critics or theorists but “artist practitioners,” men and women who feel “hot love” for the books they admire, and fulminate against those they dislike. It is their insights Schmidt cares about. Quoting from the letters, diaries, reviews, and essays of novelists and drawing on their biographies, Schmidt invites us into the creative dialogues between authors and between books, and suggests how these dialogues have shaped the development of the novel in English.

Schmidt believes there is something fundamentally subversive about art: he portrays the novel as a liberalizing force and a revolutionary stimulus. But whatever purpose the novel serves in a given era, a work endures not because of its subject, themes, political stance, or social aims but because of its language, its sheer invention, and its resistance to cliché—some irreducible quality that keeps readers coming back to its pages.


A related article which may be of interest - first published in The Huffinton Post:



At the Edinburgh International Science Festival: Aliens as Revealed by Hollywood


By Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham


Janne Korhonen from the Department of Organization and Management at Aalto University in Finland has just published an academic paper exploring whether we should really be trying as hard as we currently are, to make contact with extra-terrestrial intelligences; our assumption that aliens 'out there' would be benign, could be wrong.

The history of our own planet is that civilizations boasting advanced technologies have subjugated and exploited the vulnerable. Should that guide our thinking on how aliens might treat us?

The paper, published in an academic journal, 'Acta Astronautica' (sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics and devoted to the scientific study of space) advocates that we should be getting inside the minds of extra-terrestrial intelligences, before we naively continue to send probes, and high powered communications, out into space, attempting to make contact with whoever, or whatever, might be out there.

The possibility that extra-terrestrial intelligences (ETIs) could be hostile means we should be lying low, and not signalling our presence to the universe.

One theory as to why when we currently peer into deep space, we can't see any evidence of other civilisations, although statistically speaking just our own galaxy should be teeming with life, is that everyone else out there is camouflaged, and hiding.

All except us in the universe have already calculated the inherent risks of making contact with strangers.

The paper entitled, 'MAD with aliens? Interstellar deterrence and its implications' contends that the risks of an extra-terrestrial attack are not properly debated because of an assumption that we cannot analyse the decision making of an alien civilization.

Janne Korhonen argues, however, we can draw some inferences from the history of deterrence and war on our planet. The acronym 'MAD' in the title of the paper comes from 'Mutually Assured Destruction' - which was the poker game that appeared to keep the Soviet Union and the USA from blowing the world to bits during the Cold War.

In particular, Korhonen advocates special caution for proposed interstellar missions, as star-faring capability itself might be seen as a threat. Paranoid ETIs might also consider the possibility that our messages are a deception designed to lure out hostile civilizations, and pre-emptively destroy them. This would explain why no one has been answering us back, as we try ever harder to make contact.

Even if a superior civilization found our technology appeared puny compared to theirs - it's possible they might be wary - considering this a classic military deception strategy. We could be appearing weak and vulnerable to draw out the enemy, before striking with overwhelming previously concealed firepower.

Novels and movies have portrayed aliens as compassionate and helpful (eg ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), but extra-terrestrials don't have to be particularly paranoid or xenophobic, according to Korhonen, for it to be simply logical to preventively destroy other species, before they can pose a threat.

Korhonen analyses the risks of the most disquieting scenario: that an ETI would, upon detecting advanced civilization on Earth, launch an unprovoked preventive attack, aimed at destroying humanity.

The paper points out an expansionist civilization which is busy 'strip-mining' solar systems for resources, is unlikely to be interested in our fragile globe, as the resources available across galaxies are so vast.

However, a species of extra-terrestrial confined to just a few planets would likely feel more vulnerable.

Korhonen assesses that just ordinary interaction between two inter-galactic adversaries could inadvertently destroy or seriously damage one of them, through transmission of diseases, invasive species, computer viruses or even, merely undesirable information (there is no God).

Also any spacecraft capable of interstellar voyages in reasonable time becomes an inadvertent weapon of mass destruction through sheer momentum. Relatively simple interstellar probes -within our capability soon - would be devastating warheads.

To illustrate this argument Korhonen calculates the kinetic energy for each 1000 kg of spacecraft mass at different velocities, demonstrating how easily one simple probe could exceed the entire global nuclear stockpile. So even primitive interstellar probes, travelling at an appreciable fraction of light speed, could be extremely dangerous to planet-bound civilizations.

Given human history's tendency for 'cock up' as a cause of killing, it is easy to imagine a scenario where a human 'fly-by' probe to a supposedly uninhabited system accidentally damages a civilization that had chosen to remain quiet, perhaps due to paranoid fear of detection. Said civilization might strike back in order to stop further ''attacks.''

But Korhonen contends it's the possibility of retaliation which renders preventive attacks a flawed strategy. Interstellar civilizations would be disinclined to knowingly initiate hostilities using this logic.

Yet this reasoning appears to have escaped those here on earth who are currently planning a pre-emptive strike against Iran, and who launched these against Iraq and Afghanistan. The psychology of war-mongering governments is to persuade the public to sanction pre-emptive strikes. This is achieved by avoiding considering post attack consequences in the propaganda for war.

Korhonen acknowledges his analysis does not cover irrational attacks - including those motivated by ideology or xenophobia - but why might alien civilizations not be prone to the same irrationalities as we have been?

Korhonenn relies on previous calculations from astronomers and planetary scientists that there may be between a hundred thousand to one million other civilisations in our galaxy alone. In which case the key question is not why have we not detected other civilizations out in space, but how come we haven't yet been eradicated?

He believes the aliens have made a critical calculation - which is around fear of retaliation. This is the essential deterrence and also explains why no state has yet initiated a preventive nuclear attack against another on our own planet. Deterrence is reliable if it can inflict ''unacceptable'' damage to the attacker.

Apparently in the poker game of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' between the Soviet Union and the USA, it was the capability to destroy any ten cities in retaliation after a surprise attack, which was seen as reliable and adequate nuclear deterrent.

However, the miscalculation of those who advocate pre-emptive strikes is that survivors and witnesses, in the longer term, take revenge and eventually strike back. This is why we must discourage our leaders from the irrationality of pre-emptive strikes. We are still alive today, and have not been wiped out by a bolt from the sky, because intelligence in outer space has already calculated the foolhardy nature of the pre-emptive strike.

If Korhonen is right, we do have something to learn from the silence of the aliens.

If you are interested in taking part in a brief on-line psychology experiment in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Science Festival, exploring how Hollywood handles science with the implications for us - plus attend a talk on the subject - visit this link here www.sciencefestival.co.uk/whats-on/categories/talk/creating-a-monster-geeks-on-film



Download it free from these links:





Direct download: DR-100_0065.mp3
Category:(2) General Podcasts -- posted at: 1:11am UTC