Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"A little bit of the right temporo-parietal junction" doesn't have the same ring to it.

I heard a story on the radio Monday that scientists have evidently isolated a portion of the brain called the right temporo-parietal junction as the "source" of moral judgment. That is, when a magnetic force is used on that area of the brain, people are less likely to make decisions based on morality.

Some scientists and lack-of-religious-belief groups are jumping for joy because they believe they have proven (or are on the verge of proving) that people do not have souls, or at the very least do not "need" a soul.

A link to a related article is provided below, but let's take a look at what this could mean in the future of mankind:

  1. All religion is based in some form of morality or another.  It doesn't matter what one's beliefs are, what religion one subscribes to, the base is the same: one believes what one does because of the "right and wrong" of their religion.  Without a moral compass, there would be no need or desire for religion.  While this may seem like great news for certain groups, it is important to remember that, like it or not, religion and a society's rules and constructs are linked together.
  2. Religion aside, society makes laws and decisions based on what is deemed "right or wrong" for that society.  Laws regarding murder, vandalism, etc, is based on what is or is not acceptable behavior within a given society.  In the studies, only the final outcome determined what was "right or wrong."   
  3. Arts and humanities.  Well, I suppose we could take the word "humanities" out of there.  Think of some of the great works of art.  What do they mean to you?  What do you see, or more importantly FEEL when you look at the ceiling of the Cistene Chapel?  How about the photographs of Ansel Adams or the works of Georgia O'Keefe?  How about stories like "The Old Man and the Sea" or "A Christmas Carol?"  Without morality, there is no reason for art other than to record the passing of human existence on earth.  And even that is no longer the case if we remove the ability for moral reasoning.  We'd have no moral obligation to bother recording our existence.
In the study, people no longer deciphered moral reasons behind a person's actions.  So, a person who intentionally poisoned her friend was seen as the same as the person who accidentally poisoned her friend.  Likewise, the person who tried to poison her friend and failed was seen no different as the person who simply gave her friend sugar in her coffee.  A person who broke five glasses accidentally might be seen as deserving more punishment than a person who intentionally broke one glass.

You see, the REASON behind the action no longer comes into play when signals are interrupted or modified through the use of magnets.  What are the implications?  Like any bad sci-fi movie, we could see the rise of a select few people manipulating what we see and do and how we react (or not) through various devices.  That would be the extreme.  To a lesser degree, I can see a general breakdown in societies.  After all, if we have nothing to help guide us in what is "right or wrong" then ultimately what do we have to keep us from our own utter destruction?

One comment on the article from DailyMail.co.uk asks if morality has suffered as a result of cell phone use.  Now, that is an interesting question, though I'm not sure whatever fields are associated with cell phones are as powerful as the magnetic fields the subjects were exposed to during the experiments.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1262074/Scientists-discover-moral-compass-brain-controlled-magnets.html

Any thoughts?

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