Wednesday, December 8, 2010

291: Brain and Morality 2

Some critics of Marc Hauser demand more than just a a catalogue of moral "grammatical " rules, like Chomsky did for language, but they want to see how these rules are encoded in the brain and its processes.

This is where natural sciences come in. Traditionally ethics was the playground of philosophers and later psychologists too. Morality is regarded as the differentia specifica, the unique quality of humans that makes them differ from other creatures.

It was the task of the philosopher to uncover the roots of our knowledge of good and evil. It has a long history. For a long time the Greek, like Plato and Aristotle, dominated the field with their claim that standards for good and evil were embedded in nature.

In the seventeenth century we see how the philosophical arena was split up in two parties: on the one hand we had the empiricists like David Hume and on the other hand we had the rationalists like Immanuel Kant.

In relation to ethics the empiricists are also called sentimentalists. This is because Hume didn't believe in universal moral principles. He believed in the inner sentiments of the individual.

When somebody is in need we just feel the urge to help him and not because we think that it is right to do so. Adam Smith (1790+) wrote a book with the characteristic name "The theory of Moral Sentiment".

Smith proposes a theory of sympathy, in which the act of observing others makes people aware of themselves and the morality of their own behavior.

On the other side of the wall we find Immanuel Kant with his Categorical Imperative. Moral truth cannot be derived from human emotions or nature. Rational thinking reveals for us the universal principles.

The most rational and logical principal then would be: Act in such a way that whatever you do could be formulated as a universal law. Or in other words you do right, if you can say that everybody should act like you.

In the long run this has lead to the fundamental dispute between utilitarianism and Duty ethics and we love to think binary: what is the source of morality…. sentiments OR ratio.

Joshua Greene,Assistant Professor Department of Psychology and neuroscientist at Harvard University uses natural sciences to find an answer to this question, in stead of philosophical analysis.

Think about this dilemma:
the switch dilemma: A runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks toward five people who will be killed if it proceeds on its present course. You can save these five people by diverting the trolley onto a different set of tracks,

one that has only one person on it, but if you do this that person will be killed. Is it morally permissible to turn the trolley and thus prevent five deaths at the cost of one? Most people say "Yes."

the footbirdge dilemma: Once again, the trolley is headed for five people. You are standing next to a large man on a footbridge spanning the tracks. The only way to save the five people is to push this man off the footbridge and into the path of the trolley. Is that morally permissible? Most people say "No."

Greene himself says: "there is a different neural system that responds very differently to these two dilemmas. This system typically responds with a relatively strong, negative emotional response to the action in the footbridge dilemma, but not to the action in the switch dilemma.

When this more emotional system is engaged, its responses tend to dominate people's judgments, explaining why people tend to make utilitarian judgments in response to the switch dilemma, but not in response to the footbridge dilemma. If you make the utilitarian judgment sufficiently attractive, you can elicit a prolonged competition between these two systems."

The emotional parts of the brain have evolutionary developed prior to the prefrontal cortex, which enables us to abstract thinking and reasoning.

It may be somewhat of a simplification, but the debate between Hume and Kant looks like the debate in the brain between different parts of the brain, the more emotional part and the more reasoning part.

So it seems that moral judgement can be observed by looking at the brain activity of an individual. This could have real consequences for our moral judgements about the behavior of others.

The Discussion

[13:22] herman Bergson: Thank you....
[13:22] herman Bergson: If you have a question or remark...the floor is yours :-)
[13:23] herman Bergson: Main issue of today is that there are two brain systems involved in moral judgements...
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: that is difficult to understand moral judgement can be observed in the brain activity
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: before or after an action is taken?
[13:24] herman Bergson: Well can be done by MRI scanner.....
[13:24] herman Bergson: At the moment of evaluating the situation Gemma
[13:24] herman Bergson: There was a patient with serious brain damage....
[13:24] itsme Frederix: I like this topic.
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: but maybe the interpretation is not what the person means to do
[13:24] herman Bergson: This man was not able to feel.....
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: i would like to see the study
[13:25] AristotleVon Doobie: in the switch dilemma, I would consider the number of folks potentially harmed and weigh the possibility that one would be more than likely to avoid the trolley over the more numerous....the footbridge is a hands on, no doubt of the consequences
[13:25] herman Bergson: He wasn't able to show social behavior anymore
[13:26] itsme Frederix: Ari be rational and think like Kant, if you were the one on the alternative track you certainly would not that the switch was set to your track.
[13:26] herman Bergson: Well Aristotle....point in the dilemma is that when we have contact with the victim it seems to be less worse than when we just pull a switch...
[13:26] herman Bergson: Hauser observed the same regarding how people choose in such situations
[13:27] AristotleVon Doobie:this dilemma is still a rational decision for me, either one either summons the sentiment or negates it
[13:27] herman Bergson: The subject of today is just the tip of a veil.....
[13:27] herman Bergson: this kind of brain research has just started
[13:28] herman Bergson: But what they observe is that in moral judgements there are two brain systems active...
[13:29] herman Bergson: But the more rational a person is, the more he tends to choose a utilitarian solution
[13:29] herman Bergson: the more impulsive a person is he tends to make an emotional choice
[13:29] herman Bergson: or one on principles
[13:29] herman Bergson: For instance....
[13:30] herman Bergson: cells from embryos can be used for research....
[13:30] herman Bergson: stem-cells they are called I guess
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:30] herman Bergson: Is this morally allowed or not?
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: well as long u don't harm the embryo i say its ok
[13:30] herman Bergson: They are taken from human beings
[13:31] herman Bergson: that is impossible Bejiita
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: and as long u do it for good things
[13:31] itsme Frederix: what is good?
[13:31] Beertje Beaumont: who can be sure of that?
[13:31] herman Bergson: Well there you choose the Utilitarian solution Bejiita...for the good of the greatest number...
[13:31] itsme Frederix: saving Hitler when almost dead born?
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: dont know how that research works but i know stem cells can repair the entire body sort of
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes Bejiita...that is the goal of that research...
[13:32] itsme Frederix: stem cells is a great topic
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: bur taking out the cells should do no harm in that case
[13:32] herman Bergson: But when you are a universalist you say ..all human life is sacred....
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: :) it seems we are describing a 'moral scale' wher we weight the most harm and choose the the least amount of harm
[13:33] herman Bergson: so it is immoral to use embryos for research...
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: if u for ex kill the embryo in the process its not good
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: then have to find some other way
[13:33] herman Bergson: I think these embryos come from in vitro ferilisation...
[13:33] itsme Frederix: Bej what if the embryo was there because it could serve for stem cels
[13:33] itsme Frederix: just because for that convicted?
[13:34] itsme Frederix: there you are
[13:34] herman Bergson: Then we are close to breading embryos for research Itsme
[13:34] herman Bergson: But what my point is here is....
[13:34] itsme Frederix: yep, the same we do with pigs for meat to eat
[13:34] Beertje Beaumont: how old are these embryos?
[13:34] herman Bergson: in philosophy we have this utilitarian and Duty ethics dichotomy…
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: do we say 'now if I were an embro, would I want to be trearted like that?' or is it impossible to empathise that scenario?
[13:35] Bejiita Imako: hmm tricky question, its not right to create a life form for that reason if that life form wouldn't be allowed to live and develop as human afterwards
[13:35] herman Bergson: and in the brain there seems to be some kind of analogue division
[13:35] Bejiita Imako: its really tricky
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: i think we will learn much more as time goes
[13:36] herman Bergson: Yes GEmma...I have no answer here...
[13:36] herman Bergson: But another consequence is....
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: i hadn't minded i think if they had done that on me as long they didn't harmed me but let me live and grow up just like the person I am now
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: just like any other
[13:36] itsme Frederix: Gemma you mean we as students in this class, or we as humans?
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: the argument of not using embryos is like the Pope's stance on contraception
[13:36] herman Bergson: what about guilt when we see in a brain scan that some part of the brain of a person doesn't work...
[13:37] herman Bergson: Now we just judge and convict a person because he is guilty...based on evidence of his action
[13:37] herman Bergson: Imagine that a brain scan showed that the person had no ability of rational control?
[13:37] herman Bergson: or only very weak
[13:37] itsme Frederix: I read an article last week about "guildless justice", that is a totally other view and conseqeunce if you say we have no such thing as "free will".
[13:38] herman Bergson: Yes Itsme...this is closely related withthe Free Will problem
[13:39] herman Bergson: A number of neurobiologists say that free will is an elusion...
[13:39] itsme Frederix: It was a Belgium author who wrote about it, seems that this kind of justice is in high study at the moment
[13:39] herman Bergson: It is on the list of future lectures
[13:39] itsme Frederix: oke
[13:39] itsme Frederix: But partly we already have accepted such things,
[13:40] herman Bergson: Yes we take into account personal circumstances , the personal history and things like that
[13:40] itsme Frederix: Oke, but herman I've certainly missed something (mea culpa) what is the central topic this course?
[13:41] herman Bergson: Read the first introduction in the Weblog, Itsme...
[13:41] herman Bergson: but in a few words....
[13:41] herman Bergson: Theme is : We are our brain
[13:41] herman Bergson: A materialist view on reality
[13:41] itsme Frederix: I'm reading more than I can stand at the moment. Be comprehensive.
[13:41] itsme Frederix: Got it.
[13:42] herman Bergson: But don't worry...the free will issue from a neurobiological point of view will certainly be one of our subjects...
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: :_)
[13:42] herman Bergson: On my desk I have a brand new book: Free Will does Not exist
[13:43] herman Bergson: That is the title...!
[13:43] herman Bergson: So you'll hear about it
[13:43] Beertje Beaumont: is free will the same as free choice?
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: all this neurobiology is so very cold...I wonder if neurobiologist ever fall in love
[13:43] BALDUR Joubert: many books about that.. neurobiologists love to make philosophical conclusions
[13:43] Beertje Beaumont: they don't...
[13:44] herman Bergson: smiles
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: surely they mustn't
[13:44] itsme Frederix: Ari sure they do, neurological - some electric between the brains and they enjoy it
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: then love is just a synapse
[13:44] herman Bergson: Yes baldur...nowadays it is impossible as a philosopher to ignore the neurobiolological evidence that is growing rapidly these days
[13:44] itsme Frederix: Ari yes
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: oh my, how depressing
[13:45] herman Bergson: The question of Beertje : Is free will free choice....
[13:45] herman Bergson: no....
[13:45] itsme Frederix: think of the times you failed in love - out it was - that helps I guess just a synapse
[13:45] BALDUR Joubert: you are right about the 5th revolutioon.. but as with all revolutions.. takes time to understand the meanings:)
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: it will revolutionize our thinking about affection
[13:46] herman Bergson: Oh absolutely Baldur....
[13:46] herman Bergson: but that is the exciting thing of this project....
[13:46] herman Bergson: we are in the frontlines of the takes place this very decade
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: 'I love you because my brain cell was stimulated'
[13:46] itsme Frederix: so we have a nice winter tale coming up Herman!?
[13:46] BALDUR Joubert: smile.. there i agree.. and the approaches are so varied it is more then exiting..
[13:46] Beertje Beaumont: lol
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: such poetry will come from neurobiology
[13:47] herman Bergson: We will come to that Aristotle,,,but you are mixing up two languages in your declaration of love ^_^
[13:48] herman Bergson: It is the same as saying I am glad you enjoyed the want another glass?
[13:48] herman Bergson: Smiles...
[13:49] herman Bergson: Your synapses don't respond, Aristotle?
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: I am still confident of the two parts of the brain working with each other, I think the modern approach is to dismiss our primal urges
13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: and the cerebral control of them
[13:49] herman Bergson: In a sense you could be right aristotle....
[13:50] herman Bergson: If the future is the dominance of the prefrontal cortex.....where our rationality resides...
[13:50] herman Bergson: We are just a moment in evolution.....
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: I fully believe that we can only cover up those primal instincts, we will never remove them
[13:51] herman Bergson: Well...This was just the tip of an iceberg that is awaiting us in the future...
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: no matter how intelligent we fool ourselves into believing
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: i think so too
[13:52] herman Bergson: I agree Aristotle....for it would mean to remove parts of the brain
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: yes
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: aaa
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: 'a frontal lobotomy'
[13:52] Beertje Beaumont: but other parts can take over
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: or a 'rear one'
[13:52] herman Bergson: ouch....that is a weird operation Aristotle...
[13:52] Beertje Beaumont: and the primary parts can shrink
[13:53] herman Bergson: I read about an effect of lobotomy....
[13:53] herman Bergson: creepy.....
[13:53] itsme Frederix: Herman that has been done before, remember the explosive guy in US years ago
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: wonder if those folks had moral issues
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: have to go now
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: see you thursday i hope
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: ok cu Gemma
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Gemma
[13:54] Beertje Beaumont: take care Gemma
[13:54] itsme Frederix: me to, I wonder what is coming of us as human?
[13:54] herman Bergson: Yes really is an interesting wuestion...
[13:54] herman Bergson: question
[13:55] itsme Frederix: I most certainly will attempt to follow the next course thursday. I promise. Bye all
[13:55] Beertje Beaumont: bye Itsme
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: ok bye Itsme
[13:55] Ciska Riverstone: bye itsme
[13:55] herman Bergson: Time to dismiss the class I would say...
[13:55] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation
[13:55] itsme Frederix: good luck, and ... don't worry to much about all these things. Its also fun!
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: thanks Professor
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:56] Beertje Beaumont: Thank you Herman
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: :), fun is just a brain cell
[13:56] Beertje Beaumont: lol Ari
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:56] Beertje Beaumont: i hope it's much more
[13:56] Ciska Riverstone: Thank you Herman
[13:56] herman Bergson: Just one Aristotle?
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: I am not happy, my brain is
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: LOL
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:56] Ciska Riverstone: as long as it feels like it does- who cares?
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: yeah, ciska...thats right
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: smiling
[13:57] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:57] herman Bergson: Well sweet brains.....enjoy your day then ^_^ . Class dismissed.
[13:57] Bejiita Imako: haha
[13:58] Bejiita Imako: I will
[13:58] Ciska Riverstone: *ggg*
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: regardless of wher it is or where it came form, just love and enjoy life :)
[13:58] herman Bergson: that is the idea, Aristotle !
[13:58] Ciska Riverstone: dito Aristotle
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