Science and Morality

Mind Control?

This may already be old news to some but new research has appeared in the March (2010) edition of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that has sent a few ripples out in the rarified world of the neuroscientist as well as further afield.

Researchers used powerful magnetic imaging[not ordinary magnets] to identify a region in the brain that is active when a person considers moral questions. It turns out that the imaging has some affect on how we think about a moral question. It seems this 'scrambling' made it harder for people to separate innocent intentions from harmful outcomes. Led by Rebecca Saxe, MIT scientist Dr Liane Young and a team of colleagues, researchers applied magnetic signals to the test subjects craniums which altered their judgements of moral culpability. Liane said "It's one thing to know that we'll find morality in the brain...It's another to knock out that brain area and change people's moral judgments."

When we judge a moral action, most of us consider intention as well at outcome...was the harmful action intended etc? Was it understood by the perpetrator? It is for this reason we tend to judge less harshly those who may have diminished responsibility, such as children or the insane or those mentally impaired in some way.

The Moral Centre?

Through neuroimaging, scientists have been able to demonstrate that at least some of our moral decision making---the part that concerns the assumptions we make about other people's intentions, occurs in a part of the brain called the RTPJ...the right temporo-parietal junction. Scientists reasoned that if they could temporarily disturb this region, it may affect moral reasoning. Evidently the magnetic interference made it harder to distinguish intention and led participants to focus more on outcome. This is a particularly interesting find, as the study provides further evidence that the right RTPJ, [above and behind the right ear] is crucial for making moral judgments. Although the interference didn't completely reverse people's moral decisions, it did markedly bias them.

Could morality be just above our right ear? Or is that just where one particular process occurs? No-one knows, as it's still early days in this kind of research, but findings like this are bound to stir a few pots. The research scientists have already been accused by some of having 'an agenda' by trying to find a 'morality module' in the brain. At the very least this news might perk up all those paranoid conspiracy theorists who may now be thinking they were right all along and we keep screwing up here on Earth because a race of highly intelligent aliens are scrambling our brains through giant magnetic fields.(joke)

Anyone interested in further information about the research can find it at the PNAS website [for a fee] or the MIT website.

Sources

MIT News Office

PNAS

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Comments 27 comments

logic,commonsense 6 years ago

I've met quite a few people who have been exposed to magnetic fields way too long. They not only lost their sense of morality, but any commonsense they may have started out with as well!

Your hubs are thought provoking and enjoyable to read as well! Thank you for sharing and looking forward to more!


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Now I know why my right ear area seems to keep pulling me to the right? ha Seriously though, I am certain we are not alone and that Aliens do walk amongst us. Why not? how selfish can us humans be to think we are the only life force in this of many galaxies. Hollywood knows the answer as they keep making scifi movies...the truth definitely is out there..like a magnet it pulls us closer and closer. Good post, most interesting subject. We are getting closer to full disclosure.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol...


Lee B profile image

Lee B 6 years ago from New Mexico

I tend to give some credence to this research just because I know that brain damage can drastically change a person's ability to make decisions and can change some very essential elements of personality. Also children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome lie and steal due to the damage they have suffered.

How interesting to know exactly where this area is in the brain! Fascinating to think of the implications of this research. Great hub!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

That's true Lee..and I agree it is fascinating. FAS is so incredibly sad...all brain damage is of course, but this one is avoidable.


wyanjen profile image

wyanjen 6 years ago from Wyandotte Michigan

Great hub! We are not above the chemicals and electrical pulses that form our own thoughts. This is a difficult concept for some. Using your example of children or mentally impaired, society easily distinguishes and accepts those who are incapable of higher abstract thought. It is clearly a brain function issue. But when higher brain function is researched, pots do tend to get stirred.

I think sometimes the reason is folks don't like to think that their own consciousness is nothing more than a biological electrical storm.

It's interesting that the test didn't affect the overall perception, but the subtle reasoning.

I'm the kind of person who is more afraid of the LESS intelligent alien race. I figure, the highly intelligent ones at least know what they're doing. The dumb aliens are just screwing around. HA

Thanks for this hub, it is a good one ;)


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

wyanjen,

The again, the highly intelligent ones might regard us as we do ants....beneath their consideration.

Your right, the consciousness/biological machine idea is a hard thing to take in...I can understand the resistance. It means we're not really responsible for anything! Which of course throws everything into chaos...the law, religion...etc....our sense of who/what we are. Even if were scientifically indisputable, we'd probably just keep on living in denial.

Appreciate the comments.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Thanks for the source references Jane you are a real literary charmer. This subject reminds me of the magnetic force field generator that the U.S. government has been researching for the past decade. That's where I first heard about the electromagnetic field being able to affect mood. Not that it's a good introduction, but as a reference, you can see images of the array on one of Jesse Ventura's Conspiracy shows, if you can handle watching Ventura long enough to get a view of the array.

As for the conspiracy theorists, it reminds me of that saying I've seen crocheted into old-timey oven oven mits and in that Nirvana song, "Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they're not after you."

If in fact electromagnetism affects our moral fibers that would explain neons role in less-than-moral environs!!!!!!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Ben...a "literary charmer"...lol. I don't think I've ever had a better compliment.

I've heard about that government magnetic force field..apparently they tried it out during those first Bush elections. Scrambled people's brains right up!

I'll check out the Conspiracy show.

Cheers


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Beware the Ventura conspiracy show is hard to watch, sort of like cheap whiskey, just a little and definitely not often. Read von Daniken for the best of the best of that genre.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Ben,

I couldn't find those images...there was alot to wade through! I see what you mean about the cheap whiskey. I had to leave...I was getting drunk on conspiracy. 5 minutes longer and I'd be totally paranoid.

Do you have a link?


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

How can this be? A Jane Bovary hub I haven't violated yet.

This study was really interesting to me, because--believe it or not--my profession is actually ethics. I haven't been scanning the academic journals, but I'm guessing someone is already starting to make some philosophical hay out of this. I'm definitely keeping an eye out for further results on this one.

Of course, just because the brain's processing of something can be impared does not imply that there is no objective reality. You can damage to part of the brain that processes images, but the reality outside of the distorted image remains what it is.

For my philosophical persuasion, it's only good news that morality can be pinned to a part of the brain. Not that the study necessarily precludes the possibility of some Platonic, objective moral truth. I'll just stop there before I get caught up in a dialectic.

Nice work!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I agree...there still could be an objective morality.

I just cant bring myself to be a relativist...though relativism is handy for lightweight choices.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

That's weird. One of those three paragraphs was supposed to have been deleted. I repeated the same point about objective morality. So nice, I said it twice.

Relativism seems to me even more endangered by this study than objective morality. Relativists like to claim that all morals could be explained by culture and socialization. So different cultures are justified in having distinct moral practices. Therefore the morality of Western society could be seen as purely arising from the cultural context of Christianity and Greco-Roman thought. But if you can show that parts of the brain naturally carry out moral judgments, there is a certain homogeny in morality that has been difficult to prove on purely philosophical grounds, or on grounds of observing behaviour (since all these observations occur within cultural contexts).


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

That's a thought....although it probably won't shift the cultural theorists, who seem stubbornly intent on rejecting all forms of universal knowledge. Anyway, if there is a reality based morality out there, with objective properties, I guess we can only get at it through rational evaluation.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

I found this very interesting indeed. Could it be justification for a materialist view of morality?

Love and peace

Tony


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Tony,

I don't know. We probably shouldn't get ahead of the research...it's only one small experiment and coming to you through a non-scientist at that. If you are interested Tony you can go to the PNAS research and get the information from the horses mouth. Thanks for the comment [I like the new photo]

http://www.pnas.org/


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

That's a very good point. The followers of Foucault, which most cultural theorists are, reject the truth of scientific findings altogether, seeing even that as culturally determined. Have you heard of Bruno Latour? I have to admit I admire his work. But he basically makes an argument for the social creation of scientific facts in the laboratory, much the way myths were socially created facts. Well, there's more to him than that, but that's the way he was mostly interpreted.

I'll have to write a hub on some of this stuff. As the great Muse Urania, you reflect the light of inspiration to your fellow writer. lol you can tell I've been talking to epigramman.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Don't.....hahaha....I'm still laughing at epigrammans description of you in the other thread. You should print it out and stick it to your fridge.

I try to avoid the big C theorists. I had to spend 3 years with them and only escaped this year. Bruno Latour rings a bell..but I can't say I'm familiar with him. Mostly I just pretended to read them..I mean who can read Daniel Derrida..?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I mean Jaques Derrida..lol...


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

Mm hm, oh I will print it; it's brilliant. He's saying what we've all been thinking. Feel free to put it on your fridge too; I won't mind.

I haven't even tried to read Derrida. I stuck to analytic philosophy, like Bertrand Russell and Quine. That said, like in my article on Heidegger, I find if you can dig through all the Theory jargon and get down to their basic insights, they all do have some good ideas buried in there. Foucault is the only big cultural theorist I've really read, and I found he did have some really good ideas. But I don't have much patience for their flighty systems and obscurantist language.

P.S. haha glad you added that, 'cause I had my correctin' fingers ready. Jacques. Ahem.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I don't mind Foucalt....he called Derrida a 'terroriste obscurant'.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

lol interesting. Heidegger hated Sartre's Being and Nothingness. I think he called it kindling. It's amusing when philosophers get snarky with each other.

So you had to spend 3 years with cultural theory. What did you study, exactly?

I guess I'll find out tomorrow sometime, 'cause I'm off to bed. 7am! I'm such a degenerate. Later alligator!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I don't think he was being narky...just telling the truth.

I went back to study like the reckless fool that I am to get a completely useless MA. My original degree was in Art History, Cinema Studies and English Lit...what a bludge eh? See you.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

Well, had he said, "Derrida uses needlessly obscure language" he'd be just telling the truth. Calling him a terrorist is snarky.

Art history, cinema studies, and English lit are all more practical than philosophy. At least you can get a job as a critic, or, in Canada anyway, there are loads of community colleges that'd hire you. Philosophy opens no doors at all until the doctoral level. I guess that's pure Gen.-Y: overeducated and terribly impractical. A generation of Algernon Moncrieffs.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Algernon...actually he was being a little ironic since Derrida apparently had a pre-occupation with terrorism. His remark,which he confided to Searle, [a blabbermouth it seems] in full was this:

"He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, "You didn't understand me; you're an idiot." That's the terrorism part."

That's not too narky [we say narky not snarky in Aus.].. and since Derrida did act that way...it's also true.

A good example of narkiness is when Truman Capote called Jack Keroac a "good typist".


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

Ahoy Sailor,

Oh right, thanks for clarifying. No, that's too long-winded and reasonable to be snarky. But 'terrorist', given how we generally use the term today, seems hyperbolic, at any rate. And for some reason I have difficulty imagining Foucault and Searle really getting on. Go figure.

Incidentally, compared to Lacan, Derrida is a model of clarity.

Oh, and if you don't follow Mike Lickteig already, give his hubs a look-see: http://hubpages.com/profile/Mike+Lickteig

p.s. Like the Capote line. He was a (s)narky one indeed.

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