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Morality: A Divine or Evolutionary Trait?

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posted on Dec, 16 2006 @ 10:57 AM
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Originally posted by thelibra
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?


In the morality area it seems to be shown to be important in a few cases. In clinical neuropsychology, the DLPFC is predominately associated with working memory and planning - thus individuals with damage to these area will fail on on tasks that involve planning and manipulating explicit information and show reductions in intellectual abilities (but maybe not IQ). But show no real social deficits as far as interaction goes. They show perseveration which is disinhibition of cognitive responses (shown in tasks like the stroop), it's mainly number, words, and space deficits - the abstract functions. Thus they have difficulty with simple everyday tasks.

Whereas people with damage to OMPFC do show what has been called 'acquired sociopathy'.



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.


Antonio Damasio suggests it's where we represent and alter 'somatic markers' which is a weak form of William James' bodily-feedback theory of emotion. I don't really hold to this hypothesis and see the OMPFC as where the value of reinforcing stimuli is represented within the brain allowing adjustment and reversal learning (i.e. learning that bad has now become good etc) without the need for bodily responses.

Thus using a restaurant menu will require this area, as the food is a reinforcer. We will associate positive and negative emotional values with the selection of food (some will be rewarding, some not). Say from state of hunger we see chocolate, the OMPFC will represent the current incentive value of this stimuli, at this point it may be highly rewarding. If we eat chocolate to satiation, we will find that the OMPFC has reassessed its incentive value and now chocolate's value will be much less. We have even seen particular neurons firing at different rates for such cases (this is still quite simplified as we are showing the OMPFC to have areas of fairly distinct functionality).

People with damage to the OMPFC do not usually show perseveration or cognitive disinhibiton or any reduction in intellectual faculties that are shown in DLPFC patients on tasks such as the wisconson card-sorting task. It seems to be predominately deficits in the emotional and social arena (apathy, lack of empathy, poor assessment of trustworthiness, generally poor social decisions etc.)

Many say it is where emotion and reason interact.




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?


There is also the very rough distinction of the hemispheres of the brain. Some suggest the right hemisphere is the emotional side - thus we see damage to the left hemisphere language regions associated with pure language deficits but damage to the same right sided areas mainly deficits in the emotional aspects of language (prosody etc). So it makes sense that the R-DLPFC would be involved in emotional processes of higher cognition (likely response inhibition of incentive like the more lateral areas of the OMPFC).



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.


Well, of course, they are separated and taught by conditioning what each response provides. But it is interesting that they do seem to prefer reduction of suffering of a conspecific to a reward. It might just be because they can't eat in the presence of a suffering conspecific rather than a purely altruistic act.


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]

We must be wary of applying a phrenological analysis to the brain (this area for justice etc). We know that many areas act together and very important in lesion studies is the fact that connections between lower and higher areas (descending and ascending connections) pass through other areas, thus we can't be sure that a lesion in a particular area causes a particular deficit, it may just be a disruption of a pathway between two areas that pass through this particular area.

As I said, it is all very complicated but we are starting to see the functional basis of many areas of the brain which we had little idea about. For example, BA10, which is another part of the PFC, was a complete mystery 10 years ago, we know a little about its function now.

[edit on 16-12-2006 by melatonin]




posted on Dec, 16 2006 @ 12:51 PM
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Thank you for the reply, I hope you had a good time. After reading it, I'm going to need to look several things up before responding. Not that I want you to dumb anything down for me, this is how I learn, so please continue in the same vein.

However, one question I had to ask right away.

Are there credible research institutions out there where I can volunteer to have my brain studied if I take damage to it, where they won't lock me in a cage somewhere?

For example, say I take an axe to the head in a nasty woodchopping accident. I live through it, but I sustain a brain lesion, the effects of which are not entirely known by me or the attending physician.

Who would I then contact to, say, go in every so often and have them run batteries of tests to figure out what areas I'm impaired in? Or to simply act as a willing test subject to further the science? I mean, obviously y'all can't inflit brain lesions to test human subjects, and so each lesion is presumably an accident, each one severing slightly different areas in different places, at different depths, etc. So I would think it'd be hard to come up with good live subjects to test with.

The reason I ask isn't because anything has happened, but rather it'd be nice to know my options and have them considered ahead of time before I'm not capable of making a choice.

A second question I only just now thought to ask is whether or not I should call you Doctor, rather than your username. I know some doctors and their titles have their own unique branch of etiquette, others don't care one way or the other. Obviously though, I'm taking you at your word that you're a doctor, regardless, and don't want to inadvertantly offend you down the line, which I've inadvertantly done to PhD's before.

Third question, what was the IAT? You've mentioned it in other posts in this thread, and I keep forgetting to ask, and the acronym brings up a LOT in searches.



posted on Dec, 16 2006 @ 01:27 PM
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Originally posted by thelibra
However, one question I had to ask right away.

Are there credible research institutions out there where I can volunteer to have my brain studied if I take damage to it, where they won't lock me in a cage somewhere?

For example, say I take an axe to the head in a nasty woodchopping accident. I live through it, but I sustain a brain lesion, the effects of which are not entirely known by me or the attending physician.

Who would I then contact to, say, go in every so often and have them run batteries of tests to figure out what areas I'm impaired in? Or to simply act as a willing test subject to further the science? I mean, obviously y'all can't inflit brain lesions to test human subjects, and so each lesion is presumably an accident, each one severing slightly different areas in different places, at different depths, etc. So I would think it'd be hard to come up with good live subjects to test with.

The reason I ask isn't because anything has happened, but rather it'd be nice to know my options and have them considered ahead of time before I'm not capable of making a choice.


You can volunteer for experiments anyway. I know my own school of psychology are always looking for community participants for all kinds of research, whether it be plain behavioural tests or more neuroscientific tests involving neuroimaging/ERP/TMS etc. You should get paid for your time and travel expenses


For community patients, it is usually the neurologist/neuropsychologist who will have details of researchers interested in such work. They may themselves be associated with research.

If you are interested, find the nearest big university and contact the relevant departments. Many have details on their websites, other don't, depends on the school/department.


A second question I only just now thought to ask is whether or not I should call you Doctor, rather than your username. I know some doctors and their titles have their own unique branch of etiquette, others don't care one way or the other. Obviously though, I'm taking you at your word that you're a doctor, regardless, and don't want to inadvertantly offend you down the line, which I've inadvertantly done to PhD's before.


Hmmm, never been asked that before, just username for me, I don't even expect students to address me that way, too formal I reckon. Most PhDs I know would never use the label in public arena outside of their work.


Third question, what was the IAT? You've mentioned it in other posts in this thread, and I keep forgetting to ask, and the acronym brings up a LOT in searches.


It's the Implicit Association Test. It measures implicit bias in areas of social psychology (and also consumer psych). You can take part on the harvard website, they do online experiments (google 'harvard IAT' and you should find it).



posted on Dec, 19 2006 @ 08:34 AM
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Pre-ordination / predestination

Amongst the excellent answers so far , the biggest on that has not been addressed is the issue of predetermination . its going slightly off topic , but as divine will has been invoked as the root of morality .

In example one [ the train and points ]

You could argue that although a greater tragedy , the death of the 5 is the correct outcome – as that is the “ natural outcome “ , And that the man on the spur should live .
And intervention to save the 5 and doom the one is a perversion of this “ destiny “

An even more interesting alternate would be :

If the train carries on straight – it will run over a cliff and all aboard [ 200 passengers and crew ] will be killed , but if the points are thrown – it will divert onto a safe track , but there is a man [ just one ] tied to that track – he will die , but the passengers on the train will live

Intervention seems logical as it saves 250 at the expense of one , but the 250 were going to die , was it destiny that caused the points to be set to run the train over the cliff ?

If you do not intervene , “ natural order “ will prevail , does intervention stymie the will of a divine architect ?

In example three [ the baby ]

The baby is going to die , that is a given – question is does every one else ?

Smothering the baby is an act of self preservation , but are you not destined to die with the baby , if you were meant to live – the baby should not have cried

If only the baby was meant to die , should it not have had a heart attack ?

Any Calvinists on the list ?



posted on Dec, 19 2006 @ 12:42 PM
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Originally posted by ignorant_ape
And intervention to save the 5 and doom the one is a perversion of this “ destiny “

(snip)

...Intervention seems logical as it saves 250 at the expense of one , but the 250 were going to die , was it destiny that caused the points to be set to run the train over the cliff ?...

(snip)

...If you do not intervene , “ natural order “ will prevail , does intervention stymie the will of a divine architect ?


Any interesting question, but one with (presumably) a simple answer. In theory, God's plan is immaculate because of its omniscience. Mere man cannot sully God's plan because God knows everything that happens at every point on every timeline, everywhere.

Thus, if one were to assume that it was divine will the train were to kill the five people on its present course, instead of just the one man, then while the observer might choose to pull the switch to get the train onto the alternate spur, the lever would break and the train would continue on course anyway.

Of course the problem with this is that of free will. The Bible clearly states that man has been given free will to do as he pleases. But if God already has a plan, and the universe runs according to that plan, then all man can do is act as if he had free will, but the end result would always be the same.

In a similar fashion one might presume that if the person by the switch successfully diverts the train to the second track, then the 1 person on that track was meant to die, and thus, the person who threw the switch was the temporary avatar of God's plan, by their own free will. But had they never thrown the switch, would it disrupt God's plan? Or would the train somewhow just jump track at the right minute and still plow down the alternate route instead of the first one. And if that's the case, what's the point of giving us free will or a sense of morality?

This is the problem with assuming that: there's a God, we have free will, and there is a divinely immaculate plan.

Nothing really works logically anymore if all three of those are true. It removes the whole point to life. What is the point of ever making a choice with our free will if the answer has already been known and accounted for from the beginning of time. We are born, play our part in life to bring about the needed outcome, and then die and go to heaven or hell, based entirely off of the choices of a God long before we ever physically existed. It would make even the most sick and depraved lunatic justified in the eyes of god because he was, after all, just playing his part. It would mean there were no more holiness or special bits to any of the saints because they were, after all, just playing their part.



posted on Dec, 19 2006 @ 02:33 PM
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One problem with the theory that morality is evolution based is that animals do things to eachother that are "immoral" and these immoral things help advance the species. Furthermore, if people did these same things, they would advance their own blood lines and would be immoral at the same time.

Animals kill and commit violence against their rivals and their rivals' offspring, they steal food from other animals, they may commit "rape" i.e. mate with partners who are not receptive to mating or do not acquiesce to mating, and they may even kill their own young. All these acts can help an animal survive in the wild, and can even help individual people promote their own blood lines.



posted on Dec, 19 2006 @ 03:00 PM
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Originally posted by hotpinkurinalmint
One problem with the theory that morality is evolution based is that animals do things to eachother that are "immoral" and these immoral things help advance the species. Furthermore, if people did these same things, they would advance their own blood lines and would be immoral at the same time.

Animals kill and commit violence against their rivals and their rivals' offspring, they steal food from other animals, they may commit "rape" i.e. mate with partners who are not receptive to mating or do not acquiesce to mating, and they may even kill their own young. All these acts can help an animal survive in the wild, and can even help individual people promote their own blood lines.


I think we do the same things. We just say many of them are wrong, others not (i.e. we can steal food from other species and kill rivals (other species) for food or sport).

It doesn't preclude an evolutionary source for our own sense of morality.

[edit on 19-12-2006 by melatonin]



posted on Dec, 23 2006 @ 02:52 PM
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Evolutionarily speaking, people could advance their own bloodlines by stealing, killing, raping, and doing other immoral acts to other people. We would both agree that evolutionarily speaking, a society as a whole could advance itself if their were some "moral" order in place, i.e. people were not running around murdering, stealing, etc. from one another. This moral order is highly obvious in totalitarian regimes. Sometimes this "moral" order violates a seemingly higher law. In Nazi Germany, petty thuggery by Germans against Germans was not tolerated, yet it was acceptable for pure blooded Germans to commit the most horrible acts against anyone who was not a pure blooded German. In this example, the "moral" order which advanced the Aryan race, not suppressed immoral acts by Aryans against Aryans, but led to acts that were obviously immoral against people that were not Aryan.



posted on Dec, 27 2006 @ 07:31 AM
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Originally posted by hotpinkurinalmint
Evolutionarily speaking, people could advance their own bloodlines by stealing, killing, raping, and doing other immoral acts to other people.


To a point, yes, but even then, only on an individual family basis, which is not enough for a viable gene pool or the advancement of the entire species. Gregarious animal communities have evolved to the point where it is realized through either an instinctual or learned level that rape, theft, and murder are more detrimental to the survival of the species as a whole. Once a species decides to become gregarious and live together, they must decide to work together as well, or the whole thing falls apart.



Originally posted by hotpinkurinalmint
In Nazi Germany, petty thuggery by Germans against Germans was not tolerated, yet it was acceptable for pure blooded Germans to commit the most horrible acts against anyone who was not a pure blooded German. In this example, the "moral" order which advanced the Aryan race, not suppressed immoral acts by Aryans against Aryans, but led to acts that were obviously immoral against people that were not Aryan.


I would say that this is further evidence of why cooperation and morality on an increasingly broader scale are neccessary for the long-term survival of a species, and that the successful species as a whole is self-correcting in its physical and mental evolution. The Nazis went backward, evolutionarily speaking, in terms of their moral treatment of other human beings. They were, therefore, seen as a threat to the rest of the species by their fellow man, and as such were beat down into submission until their morality was more in line with what would advance, rather than harm, the species.


Melatonin, I haven't forgotten about your response, I just haven't had time to look up anything in light of everything else going on at the moment.

[edit on 12/27/2006 by thelibra]



posted on Dec, 29 2006 @ 12:01 PM
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EDIT 2: Bleh. I wrote this part horribly, just read below and skip my first 2 or 3 paragraphs, which I just replaced with this. They need rewriting.

Religion and three laws you said, the instinctive ones, don't go together. Being able to think isn't a sign of God, it's a sign of billions of years evolving our minds from single-cells to fish through to cave men and now to us... Something that could, yes, could be God, but I doubt it.
To say that it is God or related to him, simply means it is beyond our understanding. The only reason evolution isn't in the bible is because the bible is millenniums old, they had no other explanation but everything being God.

The same goes for morality. Something that, along with the mind, isn't understood perfectly, and so many claim it is god.

If it isn't explained, it's God. Hate that so much...

In its entirety, this is well prepared work the OP has done!

EDIT: This is a direct comment geared towards the first post.

[edit on 29-12-2006 by gaming]

[edit on 29-12-2006 by gaming]



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