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Morality: A Divine or Evolutionary Trait?

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posted on Dec, 12 2006 @ 12:49 PM
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In the book "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis , it is argued that a consistant Moral Law acts as the foundation for all human culture, and that this Moral Law is evidence for God. However, recent advances in neuroimaging (fMRI) as well as primate behavioral studies are beginning to show that Morality appears to be an evolutionary trait that is key to survival and advancement of an intelligent gregarious species. Additionally, further study reveals Morality to not be just one set of instructions from one part of the brain, but rather a complex and warring "tribe" of inherited and learned responses from emotional, cognitive, and predictive parts of the brain.

From the standpoint of morality being a strictly divine trait, the idea is that God passes a set of higher instructions, either directly or indirectly, to mankind. Some, such as "do not kill" are fairly basic moral standpoints that most people find logical, agreeable, and are seen as a broad-based, multi-cultural, multi-religious law, spanning the globe. Of course God wouldn't want us to kill each other, because he loves all of us. However, not all moral dictations make logical sense. One might wonder, for instance, why the Eternal Judge would condemn a man to hell for eating pork. The religious justification for it is "because God said so," and for some, this is enough. Others, citing history point to the poor sanitation standards of meat in ancient times, and how eating pork was generally a way to sign up for a horribly painful death from any number of diseases in the meat. Those whom are religious would say God made such a law to prevent man from killing himself. This does not, however, answer the question as to why God did not later rescind this prohibition once better sanitation standards allowed mankind to safely eat swine. Thus, the argument goes back to "because God said so" or, then, becomes a matter of the priesthood instituting this as a moral perogative to assist their flock in surviving.

The Bible lists a lot of sins , as does the Qu'ran, whereas the Hebrew Talmud lists significantly different types of sin. Where those three religions focus on a "God says do this, or have a bad afterlife", Buddhists and Hindus consider "sin" to be more of a cause-and-effect relationship where negative actions bring about negative results, either in this life or in a reincarnated life.

But the core moral values of each of these religions seem to be the same. Restrictions are placed upon killing, theft, sex, and intoxicants. The degree to which each are restricted or prohibited varies, not only from religion to religion, but also from faction to faction within those religions. However, the general global agreed upon norms for deep-seated morality always relate to a survival-based doctrine.

Do not kill - If one kills one's own species, including one's self, it detracts from the available gene pool, and thus the chances for survival.

Do not steal - If one steals from one's own species, it detracts from the resources available to the gene pool, which impede its ability to thrive.

Do not commit sex crimes - If one attempts to breed within their own bloodline, it damages the genes, and thus, later, the gene pool. If rape were commonly allowed, the family unit would cease to exist, and thus the nurture for the future of the gene pool.

Do not use intoxicants - If one dulls the mind or reflexes, it impairs the ability of the imbiber to handle dangers or crises, and can also result in enough loss of judgment to commit one of the other three Big moral problems.

Other sins... the minor sins... are more abstract.

Both the Bible and the IRS mention the moral obligation to pay taxes, but to the vast majority of people, the difference between the morality of killing an innocent man versus cheating on a tax return, is palpable. Why? What is it that makes humans across the board decide that killing is wrong but cheating on taxes is only questionable? Again, it relates to the difference between the survival of the species and deferrance to authority.

Dr. Joshua D. Greene has conducted a fascinating experiment whereby test subjects were asked a series of moral questions while their brains were scanned by MRI.

  • 1. A runaway train approaches the left split of a track where five workers are trapped. Beside you is a lever where the train may be switched to the right track, where only one worker is trapped. Do you pull the lever?



    The vast majority of people said "yes," without much hesitation. The scans revealed a slight firing of the emotional part of the brain, followed by a much larger firing of the cognitive part of the brain. Effectively, the brain calculated the numbers, decided the loss of one life was better than the loss of five, and that the lever could be pulled. This is also the logically correct answer, which would promote the idea that the brain was acting in the best interests of the species. The "greater good" thus, becomes a numbers game.

    However, a difference in the question brings about an entirely different response.

  • 2. You and a very large man watch from a overhead walkway as a runaway train approaches five workers trapped on the track. You know, with absolute certainty, that were you to push the large man into the track, it would kill him but save the life of the five workers. Do you push the man?



    The vast majority of people said "no," again without much hesitation. The scans revealed that this time the emotional area fired much more brightly, the cognitive area fired brightly as well, but in the end, the emotional area won out. Overall, the moral imparative against killing one's fellow man was so strong that they were willing to sacrifice five lives rather than kill one. It is a terribly illogical, but very moral decision, that is shown to exist even among primates such as chimpanzees, but more on that later.

    And that's how most moral questions play out. The abstract questions become a numbers game, the basest morality questions become a conditioned emotional response. The third question, however, throws everything for a loop.


  • 3. You and your entire village are hiding from enemy soldiers whom will unquestioningly kill all of you on sight. Your baby, in your arms starts to cry. If you quiet the baby, it will smother and die, but your village will be saved. If you let it cry, you, the baby, and the entire village will be killed. Do you smother your baby to save the village?

    At this question the test subjects brains literally exploded with activity from within; the scan literally looked as if a war for supremecy were being fought from within as one area after another lit up frantically trying to out-shout the competition. The cognative area ran the numbers again and again screaming about the many over the few. The emotional area pulsed with a resounding "NO!" And other areas of the brain previously unrelated to moral decisions sprang to life. In such difficult moral decisions, the conflict-resolution part of the brain (anterior cingulate cortex) is hard-wired to respond "Don't kill the baby!", but is then warred with by the cognative part (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), which is conditioned to respond "If you don't kill the baby, you gain nothing and lose everything".

    The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that predicts the future based upon available data. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is a very specific area of it that is largely shrouded in mystery. However, recent studies are beginning to show that the level of functionality of the DLPFC is inversely related to the severity of Schizophrenia in mental patients. In layman's terms, the DLPFC is the Chief of the Tribe among the warring member-areas of the brain, and has the capability to "silence" them in order to make the most difficult decisions. Schizophrenics, on the other hand, have no such ability, or have it at a diminished capacity.

    Those that were able to make the technically logical decision to kill the baby exhibited the highest level of activity in the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, quite possibly the most powerful area of the brain, and the most likely candidate for ensuring the survival of the species as a whole. The DLPFC is also almost entirely exclusive to humans and primates. Which leads us to the next study...

    (continued in next post)


    .




  • posted on Dec, 12 2006 @ 12:52 PM
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    Dr. Frans de Waals from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center has found chimpanzees (whom have the next most developed DLPFC) to exhibit learned culture and empathy and morality. While chimpanzees do fight, and do kill, they do not, on the whole, do those much more often than the average human. In various experiments and observations, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that chimpanzees will discourage aberrant behaviour such as selfishness, theft, murder, and abuse, among their own. In example after example, scarce resources were quickly shared out among the members of the tribe, quietly, efficiently, and for the most part, fairly.

    The religious community puts forth the argument that this does not constitute a moral decision, that just because a chimpanzee exhibits behavior that humans consider to be morally right, does not mean the chimpanzee is executing the behavior out of a sense of right and wrong. The argument states that the chimp is not thinking "I should share bananas because it is the morally sound thing to do." However, this brings into question, once again, as to what constitutes moral behavior.

    If deep-seated moral behavior is designated as that which is crucial to the survival and advancement of the species as a whole, then yes, in fact, chimpanzees are exhibiting moral behavior for the same brain-chemical reasons that humans do, if not the actual philosophical concepts behind them. If, however, one only allows morals to be defined as codified instructions handed down from a higher power to the worshipers, then chimpanzees are only exhibiting solid evolutionary traits that resemble human morality in the most important aspect: action. And actions have always spoken louder than words.

    With such a quandry presented, how can the religious among us insist that morals are strictly a divine trait?

    Did God give man's Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex a boost in size and complexity before instruction from on high? Or did the DLPFC increase in size as a result of receiving the divine instructions? Since the DLPFC and the four most intrinsic human morals exists in humans across all races and cultures around the globe, does this then mean that God is then free of all religious constraints and speaks to all religions, and if so, does that then invalidate religion as nothing more than a man-made invention? And what of the chimpanzee? Did God also deliver a moral message to the chimpanzee, and if so, what does this say for mankind's decimation of the chimpanzee? Are they then destroying an intelligent species of creature that is morally executing the words of God?

    If religion is to square itself with science in this instance, then it would seem the allegory of Buddha's gradual self-realization of morality would be a far more accurate assessment of how mankind came by morals than the mere handing over of a couple of tablets. It is, thus, more likely than not that the development of morality is an evolved trait, rather than a religious one.


    [edit on 12/12/2006 by thelibra]



    posted on Dec, 12 2006 @ 01:56 PM
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    I think morality is a combination of both genetic makeup to preserve the species, and cultural. Some people have no problem stoning people or creating inquisitions those same groups of people several years later take a different tact and then don't feel it's ok to stone people.

    I also think morality becomes more 'civil' as the environmental threats to a species deminished. Less resources to be desperate over.



    posted on Dec, 12 2006 @ 02:39 PM
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    Well, if one is going to apply it to evolution, then shouldn't everyone be moral? Look at the world we live in today. It's not exactly emblematic of a moral society. I vote no on the evolutionary process as far as morality is concerned.



    posted on Dec, 12 2006 @ 03:08 PM
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    Originally posted by BASSPLYR
    I also think morality becomes more 'civil' as the environmental threats to a species deminished. Less resources to be desperate over.


    Exactly. Hence the example of "not paying taxes" not being on quite the same moral spectrum as "killing".

    Additionally, the result of this is that one may find themselves having to overcome individual morality ingrained from generations of training, to achieve some sort of greater good (such as the baby example).



    Originally posted by SpeakerofTruth
    Well, if one is going to apply it to evolution, then shouldn't everyone be moral? Look at the world we live in today. It's not exactly emblematic of a moral society. I vote no on the evolutionary process as far as morality is concerned.


    Actually you would be surprised. On the whole, people are quite moral where the four deepest morals are concerned. As a rule, people don't go around killing, stealing, or raping, and the majority of the time, most people are sober. Certainly these crimes exist in the world, but they are committed by an aberrant few, rather than anything even remotely approaching a simple majority. (edit: except possibly in the area of intoxicants, which become less of a survivalist moral trait as society sees less and less immediate threats to life.) So I'm afraid your judgment is based off of popular perception rather than fact.

    Additionally, just because a trait is evolved does not mean it exists actively in all members of that species. Take for example dogs, whom are genetically identical in their makeup. However, it is absolutely apparent that there are different breeds of dogs, like terriers, bird dogs, hounds, etc... They are composed of the same genes, but each breed differs on what genes have been "activated" and which ones have been suppressed into dormancy, not only in look, but in behavioral patterns as well.

    In other words, a brand spanking new dog zygote is, potentially, any dog. If you could selectively turn on and off the existing genes from any freshly fertilized dog egg, you could create any breed of dog.

    Consider also mutations and aberrations and other birth defects in human kind, along with social conditioning, and one is left back at square one, where the evidence for morality being an evolutionary trait cannot be so easily dismissed.

    [edit on 12/12/2006 by thelibra]



    posted on Dec, 12 2006 @ 04:54 PM
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    Originally posted by SpeakerofTruth
    Well, if one is going to apply it to evolution, then shouldn't everyone be moral? Look at the world we live in today. It's not exactly emblematic of a moral society. I vote no on the evolutionary process as far as morality is concerned.


    speaker, are all humans incredibly smart?
    no
    they aren't
    why?
    because evolution doesn't cause a homogenous population

    and morality is quite relative

    also, societal morality and personal morality are quite different



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 08:55 AM
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    And I think that is very important and the main point. We all have our own moral values that are produced from social learning, personal experience, and biology.

    Thus someone may say it is immoral to lie. I would say it depends on the circumstances, I would readily lie to save a life of an innocent.

    A great example of the group oreintated and relativity of morals was illustrated by an Israeli researcher. He gave the story of Joshua's genocidal acts at Jericho and asked the children whether the acts were justifiable. around 70% said yes. However, the same acts when presented with 'General Lin' and by a 'chinese kingdom' was only deemed jusitifiable by 7% of the children.

    Why was this moral attitude so group-orientated and relative?

    Because moral values are a product of empathy and altruistic mechanisms that evolved to aid the reproductive success of an individuals kin. 'Help those who are your relatives', 'feel the pain of your relatives', in the ancient societies that we would have found ourselves, we would have lived in small extended familial groups. Social groups need order and individuals within groups to confrom to some rules to enable social success. Anarchy will not a successful group make.

    The killer observation is that empathy and altruism can readily fail for out-groups and in periods of extreme emotion. People who show the most immorality in everyday society are psychopaths, a condition that shows dysfuntion of the medial frontal lobe - an area that underlies moral and social behaviours, they lack empathy for others. People who suffer lesions to this area can become socially inappropriate and change personality.

    So, what we see is the ability to dehumanise out-groups. This underlies most of the most sick group acts in human history, whether it be nazi's, catholics, or the current islamophobia that enables 'collateral damage' to mean little. If they are less than human or 'not like us', empathy will not be an issue.

    In the modern society, whilst social groups are much larger, the same mechanisms are in place. Thus I may perfrom altruistic acts to people in my vicinity, as in the past they would have been kin.

    There is no moral law separated from people, morals are values that are basically emotions related to specific acts and behaviours - some acts are deemed bad, some are deemed good but they are quite contextual.

    [edit on 13-12-2006 by melatonin]

    Mod Edit: Big Quote – Please Review This Link.

    [edit on 13/12/2006 by Mirthful Me]



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 09:40 AM
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    Originally posted by madnessinmysoul
    and morality is quite relative

    also, societal morality and personal morality are quite different


    Indeed!

    I would even go so far as to say that, in human, there are SEVERAL layers of morality, perhaps even hundreds.

    For instance, there is also a split in morality based upon the time factor as well as the immediacy of the outcome, even if survival is involved.

    IMMEDIATE: Will someone die?
    NEAR FUTURE: Will someone be endangered?
    FAR FUTURE: Will this come back burden someone later on?


    Then there is the disassociative influence as well...

    IMMEDIATE: Will I be affected?
    NEAR: Will he/she be affected?
    FAR: Will someone else be affected by the person I am affecting?


    There is morality related to numbers:

    MANY OVER THE FEW: Is it okay if 1 person is traded for 1000?
    EYE FOR AN EYE: Is it okay to trade people on a 1 for 1 basis?
    NO ONE LEFT BEHIND: Is it okay to trade 1000's for 1 person?


    Then there's the relation clause:

    IMMEDIATE: Is it me?
    NEAR: Is it family?
    DISTANT: Is it a fellow citizen?
    FAR: Is it human?
    REAL FAR: Is it living?


    And so forth...



    Originally posted by melatonin
    Thus someone may say it is immoral to lie. I would say it depends on the circumstances, I would readily lie to save a life of an innocent.


    Ah, but then that begs the question, is lying a matter of morals or ethics? And what is the difference between the two, if any.

    The cognitive part of almost any healthy brain will calculate the value of an "innocent life" as being higher than "speaking a falsehood". The emotional part might still say "no..." but the DLPFC will easily be able to silence it for the greater good because the calculation is so skewed to one side.

    Where it really gets complex though is in a situation more like this:

    Say your child kills another person. You have the opportunity to take their place in prison by skewing the evidence to make it look like you did it, before the police arrive. You have no way of really knowing if your child killed the other person on purpose or on accident. Do you take the fall for your child?

    In such a scenario, you don't really know if the child was innocent, the child is your own flesh and blood, there's lying, but there's also self-sacrifice which is a virtue, but would it be to save a cold-blooded murderer? Even if it was an accident, would it make a healthier future for the child to have to own up to their actions?


    Originally posted by melatonin
    So, what we see is the ability to dehumanise out-groups. This underlies most of the most sick group acts in human history, whether it be nazi's, catholics, or the current islamophobia that enables 'collateral damage' to mean little. If they are less than human or 'not like us', empathy will not be an issue.


    This is a common byproduct of the military as well. I know the U.S. Army de-humanizes just about every enemy with a one or two syllable epithet. And it makes sense. If you're training a group of men to kill without question, then you need to find a way to bypass the conditioned and evolved moral resolve not to kill another human.



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 10:00 AM
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    TheLibra, your philosophical musings are always so......philosophical.

    I would hope that there is a Divine component to morality but I'm less sure that there is actually a "Divine" as time progresses. I pray that there is a God, karma and an afterlife; other wise my moral code was worthless and I might have been much happier as a hedonist.



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 10:19 AM
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    Originally posted by whaaa
    TheLibra, your philosophical musings are always so......philosophical.


    Heheheh... I try, man, I try...


    Originally posted by whaaa
    I would hope that there is a Divine component to morality but I'm less sure that there is actually a "Divine" as time progresses. I pray that there is a God, karma and an afterlife; other wise my moral code was worthless and I might have been much happier as a hedonist.


    On the contrary, even if there were no God, and morality were just an evolutionary trait, look where it's gotten us. I mean, granted, the world's not a perfect place, and a lot of bad things happen, but on the whole, the world's a pretty good place, and humanity is decent...or at least decently advanced. The species chance of survival is really high, provided nothing outright destroys or poisons the planet. Once we got off planet and colonize other worlds, there really won't be much to stop us. As far as life forms go, that's sort of the ultimate goal... to be so diverse, so widespread, that no one cataclysm can erase that life from existance. That's pretty uplifting to me.

    However, I personally believe in God and Evolution. Of course, my basis for what defines "God" isn't quite the same as other people's... I pretty much define God as "the most powerful being in the universe at that particular moment"... as long as there's even one consciousness left in the universe, that means something out there is God... even if it might not know it.



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 11:52 AM
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    Originally posted by thelibra

    Originally posted by melatonin
    Thus someone may say it is immoral to lie. I would say it depends on the circumstances, I would readily lie to save a life of an innocent.


    Ah, but then that begs the question, is lying a matter of morals or ethics? And what is the difference between the two, if any.

    The cognitive part of almost any healthy brain will calculate the value of an "innocent life" as being higher than "speaking a falsehood". The emotional part might still say "no..." but the DLPFC will easily be able to silence it for the greater good because the calculation is so skewed to one side.


    I think even calculating the value of environmental stimuli and behaviours is an emotional process, most emotions occur below the level of consciousness. We rationalise above the level of consciousness, but most of our motives are not exactly consciously driven - this is one area that Freud was correct and research in neuroscience is accepting this - there is a whole unconscious world that we know little about. A lot of the conscious rationalisation is just post-hoc stuff. Thus when we lie to save another, we have used the orbitomedial PFC capacity to track the emotional value of environmental stimuli well before the conscious decision. We may disregard it following conscious assessment, but the implicit process is at work guiding and driving decisions.

    I see you are quite read on this, and the agreement we see on many of these moral conundrums suggests that we do have general hard-wired responses in particular situations, but that these are context-driven both external and internal (and conscious and unconscious).

    The higher level processes you outline are the conscious processes (DLPFC - used for working memory and planning), thus we know that there are subcortical processes that can act below the level of consciousness and drive attentional resources and biology. The emotions clearly show this, thus on seeing a fearful stimuli, subcortical processes have readied the fight-flight-freeze response even before the same signals reach the neocortex. Attention/vigilance will be raised, I will then process the environment in a more detailed approach and either run/fight/freeze (if the threat is real) or dampen down the emotional amygdala response via the higher neocortical process (DLPFC etc). Anxiety is a disruption of this process (overactivation of amydala and poor dampening of these processes).

    Nisbett & Wilson's 70's/80's studies show how what we think drives behaviour and what the reality is is rather different, we make most of the rational explanation post-hoc. The rope puzzle experiment is a good example of this. Not sure if you know of it.

    Another example of the need and presence of implicit emotion in judgement and decision-making is the Iowa Gambling Task, this would probably interest you most - we can make advantageous decisions even before we can rationalise that we are, suggesting the presence of implicit emotion driving judgement in complex real-world situations.

    There is also the moral IAT, which shows how morality is in many cases implicit and automatic. We will make post-hoc rationalisations that may or may not follow these implicit responses. The normal IAT shows how we hold automatic prejudices and how this can effect behaviour, even though we may honestly claim we hold none and can consciously ameliorate the explicit behavioural effects of these biases, however, in situations of complexity and ambiguity, they may appear.



    Where it really gets complex though is in a situation more like this:

    Say your child kills another person. You have the opportunity to take their place in prison by skewing the evidence to make it look like you did it, before the police arrive. You have no way of really knowing if your child killed the other person on purpose or on accident. Do you take the fall for your child?

    In such a scenario, you don't really know if the child was innocent, the child is your own flesh and blood, there's lying, but there's also self-sacrifice which is a virtue, but would it be to save a cold-blooded murderer? Even if it was an accident, would it make a healthier future for the child to have to own up to their actions?


    Well this would be a perfect situation for emotions to drive decisions. I guess it would depend on the level of attachment you have and your social learning. If you make a fast decision, emotions will predominate, if you sit down and rationalise, you may go against your 'gut feeling' dampening and establishing emotional values. It can almost be seen as an algorithm weighing emotional values of the agents and outcomes.

    Probably showing my slightly reductionist approach to psychology here - but we already know that many complex decisions are made automatically, moral decsions such as when to shoot for policemen are guided by automatic processes (e.g. they will shoot a black man more often and quicker than a white man, also making more false positives). The more we look, the more we see the predominance of unconscious motives/emotions in our behaviour...

    [edit on 13-12-2006 by melatonin]



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 12:54 PM
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    Great work thelibra.


    IMO - 'morality' in humans is paralleled by 'interdependency' and similar concepts in biology. Science is discovering that species survival and success is far less about being "the fittest," and much more about working cooperatively with others - not just ones' own family or species, but other lifeforms in the environment.

    Illuminating stuff.



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 01:44 PM
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    Originally posted by melatonin
    I think even calculating the value of environmental stimuli and behaviours is an emotional process, most emotions occur below the level of consciousness.


    Exactly. And I think that's how neuroscience is beginning to view emotion, the voice in the brain that speaks before thinking. Almost like a reflex, except that reflexes typically are almost instantly calculated in the base of the brain. Perhaps our capacity for emotion is an evolution of mental, rather than physical, reflexes.

    In other words, if I'm standing on a sidewalk, and someone bumps into me from behind, my first and physical reflex is going to be to re-balance myself, without even thinking about it. My brain doesn't get a chance to argue with itself because it's controlled at a level that hasn't even reached the brain yet. My next almost as immediate reaction will be to become immediately angry. Again, this is calculated before I even have time to realize what happened. The emotion is logically brought about by the mind jolting me into a mentality of "DANGER, fight or flight, here's some adrenaline, do something now!" because in the past, having something suddenly ram into my back would have likely been an attack by a predator, rather than a careless businessman. My final reaction, after balancing and getting angry, is to assess the situation and figure out what just happened. The cognitive portion of my brain then kicks in and says "Wait, no it's just some dummy who wasn't watching where he was going, no need to kill."

    In other words, I don't think emotion really calculates anything except quite possibly what is most needed at a survival level, and which might sometimes be the worst response.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    Nisbett & Wilson's 70's/80's studies show how what we think drives behaviour and what the reality is is rather different, we make most of the rational explanation post-hoc. The rope puzzle experiment is a good example of this. Not sure if you know of it.


    I don't, actually, please enlighten me, sounds very interesting.



    Another example of the need and presence of implicit emotion in judgement and decision-making is the Iowa Gambling Task, this would probably interest you most - we can make advantageous decisions even before we can rationalise that we are, suggesting the presence of implicit emotion driving judgement in complex real-world situations.


    VERY interesting. This is the first time I heard of the Iowa Gambling Task, and I just read a wiki on it. It's fascinating, and ties in really closely with an experiement by
    Dr. V.S. Ramachandran involving free will and the wiggling of a finger.

    Now, I tried to track down some more concrete info on this, but the best I can offer is the link to the RadioLab Podcast that interested me in the experiment in the first place.

    www.wnyc.org.../radiolab/radiolab030405.ra

    I seriously recommend listening to the whole show, but the meat of the particular segment I'm referring to was an experiment Ramachandran conducted whereby he monitored test subject's brains and then asked them to "move they finger when they wanted to."

    The result was literally like this:

    1. DING! (Brain prepares to move the finger)

    2. Hmmmm...

    3. "I think I'll move my finger."

    4. Wigglewigglewiggle.


    Invariably, the brain prepared to move the finger before the person had consciously decided to move it!!!

    Which of course then begs the question: do we have free will? If so, where is that free will coming from, if not from the conscious mind? If our free will stems from the unconscious mind, can it still be called free will?

    Very very disturbing yet fascinating stuff.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    Well this would be a perfect situation for emotions to drive decisions. I guess it would depend on the level of attachment you have and your social learning.


    Well now, thing is, if the emotional response is reflexive and subconscious, that means the decision is already "made" at the moment you see the question mark, by your emotions. Whether your emotions cry out "Yes!" or "No!", it is then the job of the cognative brain to make a case as well, and then for the DLPFC to silence both, and make the decision on its own, based of the advisement, but not the limitations of, the other two... or rather the other two hundred, since the more complex a moral dilemna gets, the more areas of the brain light up to shout their decision over the rest.


    Originally posted by melatonin
    If you make a fast decision, emotions will predominate, if you sit down and rationalise, you may go against your 'gut feeling' dampening and establishing emotional values. It can almost be seen as an algorithm weighing emotional values of the agents and outcomes.


    Yes, yes! Exactly! So you could almost say that our advancement as critical and logical beings was in spite of our emotions rather than because of them. What therefore sets us apart from the beasts then is not that we display great emotions, but rather our ability to suppress them...

    ...and...er...somehow in all of this, morality is formed by the battle between the two. As if morality were our link to when we were mere beasts....hmmm... interesting.

    I'm left to wonder if morality is holding us back as a species as merely a transitional tool to calculating the best overal results according to the math.



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 03:06 PM
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    Originally posted by thelibra
    In other words, I don't think emotion really calculates anything except quite possibly what is most needed at a survival level, and which might sometimes be the worst response.


    You'd be surprised. The medial PFC follows the reinforcement value of stimuli and outcomes, good and bad, and actually enables reversal learning which is the reassessment and learning of new values of stimuli and outcomes. So, emotions don't do the calculating, but emotions are the basis of the calculation. We almost categorise all stimuli as good/bad whether it be explicit or implicit. It can be a good guide or bad, depending. Same goes for cognitive processing where heuristics also rule the roost.




    I don't, actually, please enlighten me, sounds very interesting.


    Yah, OK. It was an early study in the 30's that gave people a puzzle that required parallel thinking. There's a good summary here

    It basically shows that people will rationalise post-hoc to explain their behaviour.

    Wilson's book "strangers to ourselves: discovering the adaptive unconscious" is well worth a read about the unconscious world of behaviour.



    VERY interesting. This is the first time I heard of the Iowa Gambling Task, and I just read a wiki on it.


    I use variants of it in my research. It's quite amazing when you see a person perform perfectly but have no idea how the task works even after 100 cards, most do know the rules around 40 though.


    I'm referring to was an experiment Ramachandran conducted whereby he monitored test subject's brains and then asked them to "move they finger when they wanted to."

    Invariably, the brain prepared to move the finger before the person had consciously decided to move it!!!

    Which of course then begs the question: do we have free will? If so, where is that free will coming from, if not from the conscious mind? If our free will stems from the unconscious mind, can it still be called free will?

    Very very disturbing yet fascinating stuff.


    It is. I wouldn't worry too much about free-will. The unconscious is still part of us, it is based in our innate biology, social learning, and memories, experiences etc. I think we just feel uncomfortable not believing that everything we are and do enters the explicit content of the mind.

    But, Ramachandran's stuff is very interesting research, his book 'phantoms in the brain' is a fantastic study of the neurpsychology of the mind and exotic conditons such as anosognosia, capgras syndrome etc. There is one case in his 'beyond belief' talk when he talks of an individual has undergone a split-brain procedure and one side of the brain believes in god, t'other doesn't, which bit goes to hell I wonder


    There's a lecture series about his book and ideas here



    Well now, thing is, if the emotional response is reflexive and subconscious, that means the decision is already "made" at the moment you see the question mark, by your emotions. Whether your emotions cry out "Yes!" or "No!", it is then the job of the cognative brain to make a case as well, and then for the DLPFC to silence both, and make the decision on its own, based of the advisement, but not the limitations of, the other two... or rather the other two hundred, since the more complex a moral dilemna gets, the more areas of the brain light up to shout their decision over the rest.


    Yup, we are a mileu of both. We are driven by our emotional selves, but we have cognitive control to overcome conflict between different outcomes and decsions. In some circumstances, emotions are ideal, others not so.


    Yes, yes! Exactly! So you could almost say that our advancement as critical and logical beings was in spite of our emotions rather than because of them. What therefore sets us apart from the beasts then is not that we display great emotions, but rather our ability to suppress them...


    Sometimes the emotions are more 'rational' than our explicit rationalisation. There are studies showing that the more we think before we make a decision, weighing up pros and cons, the less satisfied we are, haha. Emotions know what we want


    Gladwell's book 'blink' has a fair summary of research in the area of the implicit mind and decisions/judgements.

    This study shows how the DLPFC underlies justice and punishment. It's all very complicated and we are only just uncovering much of this stuff.

    The only bit I would conflict with is the notion that DLPFC is more important than the OMPFC for morals, we need both, and I would tend towards OMPFC being more essential. People with dysfuntion of the OMPFC are generally very immoral and lack empathy (psychopaths). DLPFC doesn't seem that as important in this regard (but damage may cause deficits on occasion, particularly the R-DLPFC). Phineas Gage is a good example of someone with damage to the OMPFC - 'Gage was no longer Gage'.


    ...and...er...somehow in all of this, morality is formed by the battle between the two. As if morality were our link to when we were mere beasts....hmmm... interesting.

    I'm left to wonder if morality is holding us back as a species as merely a transitional tool to calculating the best overal results according to the math.


    We do still have much to learn. It is possible that even rats show empathy - if a rat has the choice between food or taking away the pain of a conspecific in the cage next to it. They tend to ignore the food and reduce the pain of their neighbour.

    I think the relativity of morals is obvious in the zeitgeist aspect, but we do seem to be moving towards a better world in the area of human rights etc, slowly but surely and with a few blips here and there.

    I wonder if this will continue and where it will take us. If we didn't have the emotional aspect of morality, I would fear for us...

    [edit on 13-12-2006 by melatonin]



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 05:38 PM
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    You have voted melatonin for the Way Above Top Secret award. You have one more vote left for this month.


    This is one of the best responses I've read to any thread in a month. I look forward to reading it again when I'm sober, but big props. I'm going to enjoy discussing things with you on ATS a lot, I can tell.

    Anyway, like I said, I'll give you a much better line-by-line response when I'm sober, but first, your most left me with three questions, in no particular order.

    1. Are you a doctor or student (or both?) -

    I couldn't help but notice that you not only know a heck of a lot more than I do on this subject, but also that you mentioned "your research" in reference to actual test subjects. I'm neither doctor nor student at the moment, but rather a rabid learner when fascinated with a subject.


    2. Is sleep the subconscious "awake" time, then?

    I mean, yes aside from the obvious part about our dreams and the subconscious, is the whole reason we need to sleep is because it's the only way our subconscious can have any "awake" time to actively process information in the same way that our conscious mind processes it while we're awake.

    And if that were the case, if one only assumes the five basic senses, then the subconscious mind can't interact directly with the world around it, but instead must use the conscious mind as a scout, basically, to retrieve the information it needs to really run the show. What does that say for what we consider to be our "real" lives?

    Whew... I'm really going to need to sober up before considering this much further.

    3... (wanders off)...



    posted on Dec, 13 2006 @ 06:37 PM
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    Originally posted by thelibra
    1. Are you a doctor or student (or both?) -

    I couldn't help but notice that you not only know a heck of a lot more than I do on this subject, but also that you mentioned "your research" in reference to actual test subjects. I'm neither doctor nor student at the moment, but rather a rabid learner when fascinated with a subject.


    Yeah, I'm a post-doc researcher in social & affective neuroscience at university, I'm currently studying emotion/prejudice and decision-making and use variants of the Gambling Task and also the IAT. I also test lesion patients with emotional dysfunction, usually OMPFC and anterior cingulate and see the odd anosognosic and confabulator (we have one at the moment who spins a very convincing yarn in that he flies helicopters on the farm he works).

    It's great you're interested. It's a very young & active area of research. Social Neuroscience is only several years old, and affective neuro only a bit more than that. So we are really pushing the boundaries of knowledge at the moment but we must be wary of making strong conclusions at this point.



    2. Is sleep the subconscious "awake" time, then?

    I mean, yes aside from the obvious part about our dreams and the subconscious, is the whole reason we need to sleep is because it's the only way our subconscious can have any "awake" time to actively process information in the same way that our conscious mind processes it while we're awake.

    And if that were the case, if one only assumes the five basic senses, then the subconscious mind can't interact directly with the world around it, but instead must use the conscious mind as a scout, basically, to retrieve the information it needs to really run the show. What does that say for what we consider to be our "real" lives?

    Whew... I'm really going to need to sober up before considering this much further.


    I think the most convincing theories about sleeping focus on memory consolidation. But there are various phases of sleep, each may have it's own function.

    Dreams also seem to be implicated with the OMPFC. Quite a few patients with damage to this region actually stop dreaming altogether. There is some tentative research that REM and dreaming are controlled by dissociated systems (separate but interacting).

    Some believe these systems to be involved in hallucinatory and delusional states suggesting a degree of wish-fulfillment in dream-states (yeah, very freudian I know, not everyone is convinced by this argument, but the likes of ramachandran, Damasio, Panksepp are actually quite accepting of freudian ideas on emotion and motivation - not so much the oedipal rubbish though, haha)

    I think it is rather the other way round, we are generally on 'automatic pilot' guiding our explicit attention and cognition to the important environmental information for further analysis. The systems work together but whilst the adaptive unconscious systems are pretty rigid, they are numerous; the conscious system is quite flexible but unidimensional. The idea of us being 'cognitive misers' sums it up pretty well.

    Wilson's book talks about all this stuff.

    Cheers for the WATS


    [edit on 13-12-2006 by melatonin]



    posted on Dec, 14 2006 @ 11:50 AM
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    Whew... okay, sorry about yesterday, but it's been a really hard couple of weeks with most of my family being hospitalized, and so I felt a couple sniffs of scotch were in order after work. There's no way I wanted to try and tackle a thread like this in such a state. I'm hard pressed to follow while sober. I will, however, do my best to keep up.


    Originally posted by melatonin
    The medial PFC follows the reinforcement value of stimuli and outcomes, good and bad, and actually enables reversal learning which is the reassessment and learning of new values of stimuli and outcomes. So, emotions don't do the calculating, but emotions are the basis of the calculation.


    So I guess my first question then is, does the anterior cingulate cortex generate emotion and the medial prefrontal cortex regulate it? Or do they relate to each other at all as far as emotion is concerned? Secondly it seems we're on the same page about emotions being the raw data used to calculate our outcomes. While it seems now to make perfect sense, if you'd asked me a week ago what the basis for my brain calculating the best outcome and what I'd do next, emotion would have ranked pretty low on the list, and what I would have qualified as emotion would have been vastly different.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    We almost categorise all stimuli as good/bad whether it be explicit or implicit. It can be a good guide or bad, depending. Same goes for cognitive processing where heuristics also rule the roost.


    That makes sense. Perhaps that's why our computers are based off of binary responses, because ultimately our brains categorize data in the same way. It makes sense as the most space-efficient way to store information, and provides a logical internal database tree search for our minds to follow.

    I hope I'm not over-simplying this too much, but it sounds sort of like 20 questions. Perhaps we are not thinking in terms of "this object is red, round, crunchy, sweet, tart, fist-sized and juicy" but rather:

    Animal, vegetable, or mineral?: Vegetable.
    Is it poisonous?: No
    Is it ball-shaped?: Yes
    Is it larger than a bread-box?: No...etc. etc. etc.

    Till after less than 20 subconscious categorizing yes/no questions, we've neatly compartmentalized that which defines an apple using the same questions that, with different responses that might otherwise categorize it as an orange, or banana, etc.

    If I understand you correctly, you're saying the Medial PFC basically does the same thing with emotions?

    Me, Him, or Them?
    Will someone die?
    Will someone get hurt?
    Will someone benefit?
    ...etc...

    ...until an emotion gets compartmentalized into a series of yes/no responses until it can be classified as a labeled response.

    Which is interesting, because if that is, in fact, the way emotion works, that would explain why different languages have words for emotions that other cultures don't. Such as "the feeling one gets when one doesn't know how to exit a room", which apparently there is a word for in the German language, but not in English. It would also imply a depth to emotions that is on par with the complexity implicit in trying to categorize tangible objects. Instead of there just being a few basic emotions like "pleasure, pain, fear, love, hate" and variations of them, there are, instead, a countless number of emotions that are just as categorizable and different as apples are from oranges.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    Yah, OK. It was an early study in the 30's that gave people a puzzle that required parallel thinking. There's a good summary here

    It basically shows that people will rationalise post-hoc to explain their behaviour.


    So if I understand the experiment correctly, even though the test subjects were given a rather blatant subliminal cue for the answers, they did not consciously realize they'd been cued, and then made up reasons as to how the idea popped into their head?

    If so, that lends a whole new perspective on "make them think it was their idea" I shudder to think what could be accomplished if one were to use this in a more devious fashion.


    Originally posted by melatonin
    Wilson's book "strangers to ourselves: discovering the adaptive unconscious" is well worth a read about the unconscious world of behaviour.


    Thanks for the tip, I'll try and find a copy. Sounds like a great read.


    Originally posted by melatonin
    I use variants of it in my research. It's quite amazing when you see a person perform perfectly but have no idea how the task works even after 100 cards, most do know the rules around 40 though.


    I can see how it would prove really useful. Has there been any research yet to combine a variant of the IGT with fMRI monitoring?



    Originally posted by melatonin
    It is. I wouldn't worry too much about free-will. The unconscious is still part of us, it is based in our innate biology, social learning, and memories, experiences etc. I think we just feel uncomfortable not believing that everything we are and do enters the explicit content of the mind.


    So we still have free will, but the subconscious is what actually controls the free will, and the conscious mind has the illusion of free will. The subconscious mind decides to move the finger, sends the signal to the finger to prepare to move while at the same time alerting the conscious mind that it's time to move the finger. The conscious mind interprets it as a desire to move the finger, and then the finger actually moves. Yes?

    That's still... eerie, though. What that implies is that our whole conscious mind is little more than a relay station for the subconscious...and the personality I consider to be "me" is actually just an... an echo of a deeper mind? This is a very disturbing prospect. Fascinating, but disturbing. It's almost like coming to realize that I'm just a Sim, being played by a gamer somewhere.

    Okay, another new question along the way, do neuroscientists know now where the subconscious is physically anchored in the brain?



    Originally posted by melatonin
    But, Ramachandran's stuff is very interesting research, his book 'phantoms in the brain' is a fantastic study of the neurpsychology of the mind and exotic conditons such as anosognosia, capgras syndrome etc. There is one case in his 'beyond belief' talk when he talks of an individual has undergone a split-brain procedure and one side of the brain believes in god, t'other doesn't, which bit goes to hell I wonder



    He's definitely another one I'll be reading more of. As for the split-brain heaven vs. hell question... I dunno, I guess it depends on God's sense of humor (or the Devil's, for that matter, heh).



    Originally posted by melatonin


    What therefore sets us apart from the beasts then is not that we display great emotions, but rather our ability to suppress them...


    Sometimes the emotions are more 'rational' than our explicit rationalisation.


    (nodnod) Such as, for instance, the urge to not violate the 4 basic morals. While they can be overcome with rationalization, it's more often a bad idea to do so.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    There are studies showing that the more we think before we make a decision, weighing up pros and cons, the less satisfied we are, haha. Emotions know what we want



    That would make sense... If I see a $20 bill on the ground, and immediately pick it up and pocket it, I'm in a good mood. I just found $20! If, however, I see it, look around to see if anyone has realized they just dropped a $20, pick it up like a dead fish, so as to be obvious I'm not doing anything wrong, and then ask "did anyone drop a $20?" and don't get an answer before guiltily pocketing it (or giving it away to the person who said "yeah, I did"), I'm not going to be nearly as happy with the results, even though the result is exactly the same. The assumption would be that, in the 2nd case, I would continue to feel as if I had done something wrong.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    Gladwell's book 'blink' has a fair summary of research in the area of the implicit mind and decisions/judgements.


    More to add to my "need to read" list.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    This study shows how the DLPFC underlies justice and punishment. It's all very complicated and we are only just uncovering much of this stuff.


    FOR GREAT JUSTICE!!

    Sorry... (reads the article) Holy crap! I guess the $20 scenario is rather universal. Seriously, I hadn't read this before I typed the part about finding a $20 bill.


    from New Scientist
    Researchers had suggested this was because the region somehow suppresses our judgement of fairness.

    But now, Ernst Fehr, an economist at the University of Zurich, and colleagues have come to the opposite conclusion – that the region suppresses our natural tendency to act in our own self interest.


    Wow. So there's at least two camps on what the DLPFC does then, but both agree its purpose appears to be to suppress other thought processes related to emotion, like what Dr. Greene was saying. And, if I'm reading this right, it is the portion of the brain that would also make the final decision for self-sacrifice.

    (more next post)



    posted on Dec, 14 2006 @ 11:52 AM
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    from New Scientist
    They used a burst of magnetic pulses called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – produced by coils held over the scalp – to temporarily shut off activity in the DLPFC.


    Holy crap!!! They can DO THAT?!?!?! My God... that's... that's just mind blowing. I'm quite at a loss for words.... (continues reading)...

    So the DLPFC is responsible for our sense of morality, our pettiness, and our justice? And just as the DLPFC supresses processes by other parts of the brain, like our own self-interests, it can, itself, be suppressed.

    So what would happen in a society of people who (edit: HAVE) no DLPFC?


    Originally posted by melatonin
    The only bit I would conflict with is the notion that DLPFC is more important than the OMPFC for morals, we need both, and I would tend towards OMPFC being more essential. People with dysfuntion of the OMPFC are generally very immoral and lack empathy (psychopaths).


    Admittedly, I had no idea what the orbital and median prefrontal cortex did before this post, but after doing some searches on it, I see that no two scientists seem to agree exactly on what it does other than "something to do with decision making" and "something to do with pocessing memories". These do indeed sound like two very important factors in figuring morality... I'm curious what your take on the role of the OMPFC is.



    Originally posted by melatonin
    DLPFC doesn't seem that as important in this regard (but damage may cause deficits on occasion, particularly the R-DLPFC).


    That would make sense if the right half is the one that deals with punishment and justice. Thus, the brain might still be capable of suppressing its own self interests with the L-DLPFC, but not know what to do about it...which might explain schizophrenia. Instead of being able to take the data from all screaming parts of the brain and calculate an appropriate response, instead, it has to just let one of the screaming parts of the brain take over...or is that reading too much into it?



    Originally posted by melatonin
    We do still have much to learn. It is possible that even rats show empathy - if a rat has the choice between food or taking away the pain of a conspecific in the cage next to it. They tend to ignore the food and reduce the pain of their neighbour.


    Really?!?! I'd have expected them to try and EAT their neighbor. My brother is a rat wrangler for a lab. I wonder what sort of interesting observations he's seen so far in regards to such things as morality and empathy. I'll have to ask. He probably hasn't even thought to look for it, as he's not a doctor or anything, he's just a lab tech, but he still might have seen some interesting bits.


    Originally posted by melatonin
    I wonder if this will continue and where it will take us. If we didn't have the emotional aspect of morality, I would fear for us...


    I'm picturing a very odd Catch 22 type situation. On the one hand, it seems that humanity would do better to remove the aspect of pettiness and punishment that permeats the R-DLPFC, but by the same token, acting exclusively on one's own self-interest would seemingly bring about a collapse of cooperative behavior...or would it? If cooperation led to a benefit for onesself, then they might still cooperate, but there would be no projects for "the common good"...or would there? Would people be able to think deeply enough about the common good indirectly benefitting them through several disassociative steps?

    I could think myself in circles on this one.

    [edit on 12/14/2006 by thelibra]



    posted on Dec, 14 2006 @ 01:46 PM
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    Hey thelibra,

    I'll answer tomorrow probably, I have some stuff I must do tonight, it's also my sons b-day tomorrow so bare with me. I'll get a good response to you soon.

    I also U2U'd some links to recent review articles about the current research into the neural basis of morality.

    But on the TMS research, yeah, it's a currently quite active area of study. I nearly used it a while back along with the Gambling Task, to knock out the DLPFC, but other stuff came up. There's a lot of fMRI research with the IGT and also PET and ERP. I can probably upload a few articles for you.




    posted on Dec, 14 2006 @ 02:48 PM
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    No worries, friend. I look forward to your response. Enjoy the time with your son, and answer at your leisure. They grow up quick. I'll read those articles you sent and check the book store for that Wilson book you mentioned.



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