2% The Two Percent Company
[ - ]
| Large Type Edition |
[ - ]
[ - ]
| Navigate the Rants


Special Collections
[ - ]
[ - ]
Subscribe to the
2%Co Rants:

Syndicate this site:
RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0
[ - ]
[ - ]
| The Usual Suspects
On Hiatus
Carnival of the Godless
Skeptics' Circle
Tangled Bank

Gone But Not Forgotten
Lost to the Mists of Time
[ - ]
[ - ]
| Archives (Weekly)
% 2016.11.06 » 2016.11.12
% 2009.04.05 » 2009.04.11
% 2009.03.15 » 2009.03.21
% 2009.03.08 » 2009.03.14
% 2009.03.01 » 2009.03.07
% 2009.02.15 » 2009.02.21
% 2009.01.25 » 2009.01.31
% 2009.01.18 » 2009.01.24
% 2009.01.04 » 2009.01.10
% 2008.12.21 » 2008.12.27
% 2008.11.16 » 2008.11.22
% 2008.11.09 » 2008.11.15

Archives (Monthly)
% 2016 November
% 2009 April
% 2009 March
% 2009 February
% 2009 January
% 2008 December
% 2008 November
% 2008 October
% 2008 September
% 2008 July
% 2008 June
% 2008 April
% 2008 January
% 2007 November
% 2007 October
% 2007 August
% 2007 July
% 2007 June
% 2007 May
% 2007 April
% 2007 March
% 2007 February
% 2007 January
% 2006 December
% 2006 November
% 2006 October
% 2006 September
% 2006 August
% 2006 July
% 2006 June
% 2006 May
% 2006 April
% 2006 March
% 2006 February
% 2006 January
% 2005 December
% 2005 November
% 2005 October
% 2005 September
% 2005 August
% 2005 July
% 2005 June
% 2005 May
% 2005 April
% 2005 March
% 2005 February
% 2005 January
% 2004 December
[ - ]
[ - ]
« Sign the ACLU's "Refuse to Surrender" Pledge The RantsPut Those Stickers Where They Belong »

Morality: Biological or Psychological?
2004.11.22 (Mon) 20:53

An article on Wired News, found via Stupid Evil Bastard, discusses fMRI technology and its current use in studying the functions of the human brain during a decision making process.

...the technique also holds out the promise of answering deep questions about our most cherished human characteristics. For example, do we have an inbuilt moral sense, or do we learn what is right and wrong as we grow up?


Greene, together with Jonathan Cohen, professor of psychology at Princeton, is using fMRI to look at the factors that influence moral judgment.

Already, our spider-sense is tingling. These researchers are discovering which parts of the brain exhibit more activity during the processing of particular decisions — that is an interesting question, as we can learn which portions of our gray matter contribute energy or thought to certain types of decisions.

However, the implication that morality is a trait that is hardwired into the brain belies a severe misconception of what morality is.

The American Heritage Dictionary's very first definition of morality is the "quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct." Note the word standards. In this case, standards are those rules with which we, as a society, expect all our fellow humans to comply. Therefore, morality is simply compliance with whatever we (the members of society) decide is correct conduct for a human being. There is no objective basis for morality, either; in fact, it changes from culture to culture, or from era to era.

The basic problem with either this research, or — if it is being reported incorrectly — the Wired News article, is that it purports to be about brain activity in relation to morality when it is actually about brain activity in relation to decision making. Someone is confusing the two concepts. Take, for example, one of the hypothetical decisions the researchers present to their subjects:

For example, imagine you and your neighbors are hiding in a cellar from marauding enemy soldiers. Your baby starts to cry. If he continues, the soldiers will discover your hiding place and kill you all. The only way to save yourself and the others is to silence your baby — by smothering him to death. What do you do?

Clearly, you would feel intense emotions, and this shows on the brain scan. But you would also be forced to make a logical assessment of the situation, and this shows up on the brain scan too. Areas involved in abstract reasoning and those that process emotions light up.

Killing your baby or not, when you're hiding in the cellar so the soldiers won't find you, is not a "moral decision" — it is affected by your sense of morality, but the decision is also affected by your instinct for survival. The survival instinct dictates that you kill the baby; your morality (we hope!) dictates that you do not.

The fact that morality is involved in this decision, however, does not suggest that morality is a function of biological organisms. What is suggested by this study is that decision making is an inbuilt mental process, which has evolved to take into account many different factors. Once we evolved to the point where we indulged, as a community, in the practice of conceiving morality and moral behavior, we simply added that factor into the mix, so it is one of the factors we consider when making a decision.

The only extent to which morality is biological is in the twin biological imperatives to: a) protect our genetic legacy; and b) protect our own existence. The concepts of cooperation and mutual benevolence simply aid us in achieving those goals. Our survival instinct and our drive to protect the genetic legacy are the only "biological basis" for morality — but morality also has a "societal basis" (which encourages cooperation) and a "psychological basis" (which encourages mutual benevolence).

People are having far too difficult a time defining "morality," and it leads even intelligent people to think that morality is anything other than a concept. Morality is not biological — even though it is influenced by our biological imperatives — and it is not an objective thing. It simply is whatever society as a whole decides it is. Frankly, it's a rather beautiful democratic process that results in a society's moral code and social mores; whereas some people feel the need to reduce it to a fascist dictatorship, with some magical invisible superhero in the sky dictating what is or is not moral. In an allegedly freedom-loving world, that's a rather discouraging thing to witness.

— • —
[  Filed under: % Religion  % Science & Technology  ]

Comments (4)

Anticultist, 2006.06.10 (Sat) 00:00 [Link] »

If morality is simply whatever society as a whole decides it is, then there should technically be no moral absolutes, i.e. nothing is can be considered as always right/wrong (what's right in one society may be wrong in another and vice versa).

If that's the case, then I'm trying to think of a hypothetical situation in which it might be considered a good thing to, say, molest, kill and cannibalize a child - 'cause I'm pretty sure that's always wrong, so that has to be a moral absolute. What do you think? Did I miss something?

The Two Percent Company, 2006.06.12 (Mon) 10:28 [Link] »

The thing you're missing (but we're pretty sure you'd get it if you thought about it for a moment) is the fact that what you describe as "always wrong" is only perceived as such through the tinted glasses of your own societal norms. You've put together a list that's hard to imagine being accepted as a whole in any society, but individually, it's possible to see how a society might be okay with each of these acts.

There are various examples of cultures or behavioral codes that accept (by choice or by fiat) every one of the actions you've listed. Off the top of our heads, "molestation" — as Western society would define it — is the status quo in cultures like those indigenous to Brazil. In China, we've all heard the horror stories of rampant and frequent infanticide, at least where female children are concerned. And no less a personage than Jonathan Swift modestly proposed eating children, with an excellently reasoned (and thereby all the more creepy) treatise in 1729. The point is, it isn't hard to do a little research and find exceptions to the "absolute" morality of not molesting, killing and/or eating children — whether you look at the very young Pharaohs of ancient Egypt being "molested" by their older concubines, or the ancient Meso-American tribes who routinely practiced human sacrifice, and appeared to have no reservations about using children in the main event. Even if you want to go with the "biological" definition of morality, in the animal kingdom there are far too many instances to count of molestation (again, by Western standards), infanticide, and cannibalism of a competing progenitor's offspring (or, particularly among reptiles, even one's own offspring!).

Now, do we think that all of these things are "bad"? Yeah, we do. And we also wouldn't want to be members of a society in which these acts were acceptable or routine. Of course, our own revulsion at such behaviors is more than likely a product of our own cultural biases! To be brutally honest, according to our reasoned and reasonable worldview, once a human being is dead, it's nothing more than meat...so our own squeamishness at the idea of eating this meat just reveals our distinctly Western roots.

One other thing we'd note is that, in many cases, acts that we find horrific, but which are accepted in other societies, are often accepted specifically in concert with religious beliefs. Far too often, it is religious nutbaggery that overrides the basic notion of the Golden Rule, leading to the acceptance of such "immoral" behaviors.

Buhlah Halhub, 2006.11.01 (Wed) 23:14 [Link] »


Ever see anything evolve?

Has anyone ever seen anything evolve?

If all evolutionists combined all their scientific abilities, could they make anything evolve?

If you believe in something that you have never observed, then you are a person of faith and you are only deceiving yourself to say you are scientific.

Ever see anything created?

Has everyone seen something created?

If all creationists combined all their scientific abilities, could they create something?

If you believe in something you have observed, then you are scientific. You are not a person of faith.

On the basis of scientific observation, it appears that Creationists are scientific while Evolutionists are people of faith. One can observe things being created, but cannot observe anything evolving.

But I have an open mind. So, if any evolutionist can evolve something, please let me know. I truly want to believe you are not just another stupid person of faith.

I will stay up tonight and wait for your flood of email messages.

If it's not asking too much, I have an old Pinto I'd like for you to evolve into a new Lincoln.

So, bring your rain dance outfit or whatever you have to make things evolve and I'll be waiting.


The Two Percent Company, 2006.11.02 (Thu) 10:01 [Link] »

Buhlah, you are pretty clearly devoutly ignorant and/or the most utterly dense person we have ever come across. And considering the assortment of folks we deal with on our site more frequently than we'd like, that's saying something.

At the very least, you might like to try altering your script a bit more. Instead of just parroting the talking points you've picked up from Answers in Genesis, the Discovery Institute, or whatever fuckhole planted them in your brain, how about you do what we fucking told you to do last time and go read up on evolution before you make an ass of yourself yet again. Seriously, stop throwing your ignorant bullshit at us and go read. We're not wasting any more fucking time with idiots like you.

If you truly think that evolution hasn't been observed, then all you are demonstrating is your own utter lack of awareness of scientific research for the past century. The findings of research in antibiotics, pesticides, ecology, enviromental sciences and other extensive scientific fields suggest that you are not just an arrogant fuck, but also a completely uneducated moron. But we expect as much from someone who "challenges" us to evolve a Pinto into a Lincoln, as if evolution by natural selection has anything to do with objects that cannot self-replicate.

This leads us to another point. If you truly do believe that evolution is bullshit, then it should follow that you don't go to doctors and don't take any medications. You see, fuckhead, modern medicine — like all of the biological sciences — is grounded quite firmly in evolutionary theory, and if you don't believe in evolution, then modern medicine must also be a crock of shit. So stop fucking going to doctors and stop fucking taking medication. We're sick of idiots like you ignorantly dismissing evolution, then reaping the benefits of the scientific work based on it every time you get sick. Frankly, put the fuck up or shut the fuck up, dickhead.

Quite seriously — we're not kidding — if you can't be bothered to read up and understand what the hell it is you're talking about, and how completely you misrepresent science and scientific theories, then you simply aren't intelligent enough or educated enough to bother with. If you comment here again, and it is clear to us that you have not done the requisite reading in order to participate in an intelligent discussion of evolution and/or science, any further comments from you will be relegated to our Urinal, where idiotic diatribes go to die.

— • —

[ - ]

Terms of Use — • — Privacy Policy — • — FAQ
[ - ]
| Protecting our Civil Liberties
EFF: Support Bloggers' Rights!

Bullshit Busters
JREFSkeptic's Dictionary

[ - ]
[ - ]
[ - ]
[ - ]
Buy 2%Co Products
2%Co Stores

Visit the 2%Co Wish List
[ - ]
[ - ]
[ - ]
[ - ]
[ - ]
[ - ]
| Where can you find 2%Co?

Site MeterGlobe of Blogs
Atheism OnlineThe Truth Laid Bear

2%Co Search Rankings

Link to our Rants
2%Co Rants

Link to our Allison DuBois: Debunked! collection
Allison DuBois: Debunked! (2%Co)

The 2%Co Rants powered by
[ - ]