The Morality Instinct

What can science say about morality?

What can science say about morality? Traditionally, the distinction between good and evil has been the terrain of philosophy and of religion. But in recent years, scientists have begun to explore the complex subject of morality, with surprising results. Might morality serve an evolutionary purpose? Is it even unique to humans?

Molly Crockett is an American neuroscientist best known for her work on morality, altruism and decision-making. She is Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and is currently working on how harm aversion affects our decision-making processes. She spoke to the IAI about how neuroscience is changing the way we think about morality.

Could you outline your thesis on morality – what forms does it take and what evidence is there to show that certain elements of morality are actually instinctive?

It’s clear from research on both humans and animals that we have a very

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worldnotworld 23 January 2016

The synopsis of this article –

"We like to think that the choice between good and evil is based on philosophy and reason. The latest neuroscience research is telling us to think again."

– is sheer nonsense. No one who has thought twice about what people do in real life would ever say we make life's moral choices "based on philosophy and reason." Such choices, made in the haphazard reality of life in "real time," are always, at each second, the result of a tremendously complex interaction of intuitions, self-interest, empathy, haste, delay, rationalization, deliberation, spontaneity, philosophizing, hatred of philosophizing, emotion, etc. etc., all in different proportions at different times. We don't need neuroscience to make us think again about this ludicrous straw-man.

When we sit with some distance from a moral puzzle, *then* we may begin to reason about it – and even then these same biases arise, but might be gradually superable with thought and skepticism and argument, until we arrive at something closer to what we hope is a moral truth in some objective sense. Philosophy and reason and reflective experience play a greater part in such considered discourse, in morality as in everything else.

As they do in, for example, physics per se as opposed to everyday "folk physics." A kid playing catch does not engage in physics per se, but if you sit down with him later and begin to think about the ball moves, some interesting patterns might be discerned, and maybe even a quantifiable, "objective" science – something close to what we hope is a physical truth, one which will sit quite outside our initial intuitions and rationalizations.

Of course we like to *think* we're being throughly reasonable/rational/philosophical when it comes to moral decisions. We like to think that about most of what we do. But we know it's largely false. Again, we don't need neurologists to tell us this. A second thought is all it takes, and the word is full of ethical and religious traditions that caution us to take pause.

The insidious implication of this article lies not in its suggestion that we have certain neurological (or psychological, genetic, culturally constructed, or what have you) moral biases – of course we do. The insidiousness lies in its implicit suggestion that morality itself is a sort of epiphenomenon of the neurological (ibid.). This is as nonsensical as saying that the physical (i.e. all the laws of physics) are essentially a sort of epiphenomenon of brain activity, only more dangerous, since it abandons objective criteria for morality, replacing them with brain states beyond moral index.

It would appear that Crockett's supposed "collaboration with philosophers" has been essentially unfruitful, or she would surely protest against such abysmal interpretations of her work as this article.

Tue Pho 10 December 2015

Ý thức của đứa trẻ nằm trong một tình trạng thuần nhất. Từ đó phát sinh cảm giác cộng sinh. Do vậy, theo thông thường, tính thiện là phẩm chất đầu tiên, từ một đứa trẻ đến con người. Cái ác nảy sinh do sự phân biệt, cũng nghĩa là ý thức bán khai của đức trẻ bắt đầu hoạt động và tiếp nhận từ những gì văn hóa, xã hội để lại. Một sự kế thừa không được chọn lọc theo hướng thiện...Quan hệ giữa não và các hành vi bên ngoài là một cấu trúc gương, đối xứng. Thực chất các anh hùng giống đứa trẻ ở chỗ, họ không suy nghĩ về bản thân trong các hành vi của họ. Từ đó, biểu hiện như một hành động vị tha. Một phản ứng, hành động tự nhiên hơn là các suy tính có tính cách vị ngã...

Sangita 4 February 2015

Science is the practical and rational way to understand these intangible aspects of the human race. Further studies will enhance evolutionary progress and take away the medium of religions which often tends to obscure our understanding of life and daily counter-production of emotional strains in out lives! However I will say we are primarily here to survive and will always look to what benefits us singularly. Therefore even acts of altruism will ultimately hold an aspect of self gain in the form of inner satisfaction of being in good stead with our fellow human beings. This applies to anonymous forms of altruism as well.

binra 15 January 2015

The prime motivation of choice is always toward pleasure and away from pain as one defines oneself to be in any given situation. Self definition operates largely unconsciously within the illusion of the freedom to operate as an independent agent - which also is an effect of self-definition.
The imposition of moral coercion upon consciousness may be part of acclimatizing to the culture one is born into, but it is a corruption of true moral integrity which is a congruence of thought, word and act.
The body-brain (they cannot really be understood in separation) operates as a communicating device for the physical mind of the total personality construct - which cannot really be understood apart from the higher or non physical mind or bridge to the Consciousness of which and in which everything is being experienced.
The mythological template realities of any given culture or individual embodying such culture, operate as perspectives of experience, and communication and relationship with of course a built in survival mechanism. But survival is not the goal, but the provision of continuity in time as the unfolding story. Non-local Consciousness is not subject to time or space but extends Idea expressions within which time and space are an integral aspect of an overall congruency.
There is no time in Now. One has to utilize mind to compare now with then - which is also a construct within an entirely present totality. identification within this separated construct mind of personal consciousness, operates a virtual reality within experiential template and the body-brain is somewhat like a deep sea diving suit that facilitates accessing such experience. All experience is valid but incongruent template definitions reflects conflicted experience of discord and regardless of applied ingenuity results in joyless sense of disconnection and disintegration.
Hence the call to wake up from the outer dream to the inner template and accept ONLY the congruency of the bridging with higher or non-local Consciousness.
Neuroscience can facilitate looking at template consciousness without the filters and distortions of some of the traditional mythological corruptions. However science itself operates its own mythological themes by inheritance and reaction AGAINST Consciousness. The idea of putting aside the personal so as to discern a wholeness without bias is correct, but the personal must first be noticed and owned, in order to be released. Otherwise it runs as 'hidden agenda' and may then serve, personal (or extension of the personal to its group) reputation and success, respectability and status, power over and predictive control over externals, others, world and Life.
Wholeness embraces and includes the personal and so both/and comes to replace the either/or, but if the part seeks ascendancy over the whole, ignorance and arrogance manifest appropriate reflections to waken and realign - which we call pride coming before a fall.