Monday, 26 June 2017

Science has next to nothing to say about moral intuitions

I read the following article.  I quote the most relevant parts:
Recent research, [scientists] say, suggests that many of our moral intuitions come from neural processes responsive to morally irrelevant factors – and hence are unlikely to track the moral truth.

The psychologist Joshua Greene at Harvard led studies that asked subjects hooked up to fMRI machines to decide whether a particular action in a hypothetical case was appropriate or not. He and his collaborators recorded their subjects’ responses to many cases. They found that typically, when responding to cases in which the agent harms someone personally (say, trolley cases in which the agent pushes an innocent bystander over a bridge to stop the trolley from killing five other people), the subjects showed more brain activity in regions associated with emotions than when responding to cases in which the agent harmed someone relatively impersonally (like trolley cases in which the agent diverts the trolley to a track on which it will kill one innocent bystander to stop the trolley from killing five other people).


According to Greene, this indicates that our moral intuitions in favour of deontological verdicts about cases – that you should not harm one to save five – are generated by more emotional brain processes responding to morally irrelevant factors, such as whether you cause the harm directly, up close and personal, or indirectly. And our moral intuitions in favour of consequentialist verdicts – that you should harm one to save five – are generated by more rational processes responsive to morally relevant factors, such as how much harm is done for how much good.

As a result, we should apparently be suspicious of deontological intuitions and deferential to our consequentialist intuitions.This research thereby also provides evidence for a particular moral theory: consequentialism.


Greene’s results, however, don’t offer any scientific support for consequentialism. Nor do they say anything philosophically significant about moral intuitions. The philosopher Selim Berker at Harvard has offered a decisive argument why. Greene’s argument just assumes that the factors that make a case personal – the factors that engage relatively emotional brain processes and typically lead to deontological intuitions – are morally irrelevant. He also assumes that the factors the brain responds to in the relatively impersonal cases – the factors that engage reasoning capacities and yield consequentialist intuitions – are morally relevant. But these assumptions are themselves moral intuitions of precisely the kind that the argument is supposed to challenge.

Yes, I agree with this. When we purely use reason and shun our emotional reactions in our assessment of that which is moral, we presumably will conclude it is those actions that bring about the best consequences. But the question remains why should brain activity in regions associated with emotions yield false conclusions in morality, and in contrast, the brain activity in those areas of the brain associated with reason give correct conclusions? It presupposes that emotions will lead us astray in our judgment as to those actions that are moral. But perhaps our emotional reactions, or at least when certain characteristic emotions are engaged, point to some objective morality?

Essentially this research is presupposing
 consequentialism. But sometimes that conflicts with our intuition. Consequentialism can be kinda cold-blooded sometimes. Consequences are important, but perhaps they are by no means the sole criterion?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Buddhism and a persisting self

I recently read the following article:

What the Buddha Didn't Teach About Reincarnation

It says:

"This is not to say that “we” do not exist–but that there is no permanent, unchanging “me,” but rather that we are redefined in every moment by shifting impermanent conditions".
This appears to me to be just the same as what materialists are obliged to believe.
"Suffering and dissatisfaction occur when we cling to desire for an unchanging and permanent self that is impossible and illusory".
How do they know this? I agree it is liberating to believe this. For example, our fear of death is misplaced since we are effectively "dying" every infinitesimal fraction of a second anyway. And our everyday concerns are also misplaced. Such a philosophy, if wholeheartedly subscribed to, will lead to tranquillity, acceptance, loss of fear about all things.

However, this philosophy denies an *I* or you, or self. No reason to fear anything, but also it robs one's life and the existence of all things of any purpose. There is no point in planning ahead. It makes everything we ever do, pointless. It is, in a sense, a life denying philosophy.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The end of the age of the dinosaurs

If the asteroid that hit our planet ~ 66 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs, had hit the planet perhaps as little as 2 seconds later, it might have fallen into the ocean instead of shallow water and hence the consequences would have been very different. There would have been vastly less vaporised rock and sunlight could have still reached the Earth's surface in the following weeks and months. Hence the temperature all over the planet wouldn't have catastrophically fallen. Hence the dinosaurs might not have been wiped out. Hence human beings might never have evolved.

The fact that human beings ever came into being is an extraordinarily unlikely series of events. But then, what do we make of the notion that there is an ultimate purpose to our lives? That we were born for some ultimate purpose? On the surface, it might seem incompatible with any such purpose since we're here by sheer colossally unlikely blind happenstance.

There's stuff here I think that we're simply not understanding. Perhaps if dinosaurs had survived, they would have evolved into intelligent creatures comparable to our intelligence? Perhaps our souls might have inhabited these dinosaur descendants? Lots of questions, lots of speculations. But all very interesting -- well . . at least I find it interesting!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

What should we strive for in our lives?

OK, I put this in a facebook post last night after drinking 8 * 275ml bottles of becks.

What is meant to make a success of one's life? Earning loads of money perhaps? Or becoming some famous figure? If the latter, surely not someone like David Beckham? But what about a influential scientist like Newton or Darwin?

Is it the transient happiness of loads of money, or the feeling of satisfaction of fame, that should be the goal of life? But what happens if we achieve either of these? What happens if one becomes incredibly rich? Or incredibly famous? Will that bring some sort of ultimate satisfaction? I doubt it. We need to bear in mind that, at the end of our lives we are all equal; we either just cease to exist, or enter some strange new reality (or perhaps not so strange, I don't know).

I'm unconvinced that striving to make as much money as possible, or striving to obtain as much admiration from others as possible, is what we ought to aim towards.

I think we should try to be as honest, open, and authentic as possible. Express our feelings to others, especially anyone special in our lives. Forget putting on a mask to get on with others. If they think you're weird, so what?? Be yourself, don't pretend to be what you're not.

Walking in the Sun when topless

Unbelievably warm outside, but nevertheless I'm still the only person in existence who is out topless -- or at least in Louth, Lincolnshire, England. It appears to have the interesting consequence that people don't say hello to me when passing me. Nor do they when I'm unshaved etc.

On the other hand, if I've just been in the shower, shaved, nicely dressed etc, people keep asking me directions to places every 5 mins when I'm out walking!

Ian's tip of the day. If you're doing a timed walk, ensure you're unshaved or topless or whatever, so you don't kept being stopped by people asking directions to places.

Ian Wardell

Log Cabin

This is what I'd make if I inexplicably went back in time a ~million years or went "sidewards" in time to a parallel world ...