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Morality is a function of your brain

Scientists have published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which they use a high-powered magnetic field to suppress brain activity in the right temporoparietal junction in their participants, using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation, and discovered the participants exhibited impaired moral judgement abilities. The study involved reading a story about a woman who either accidentally poisoned her friend, or intended to poison her friend but failed, and found that the participants exposed to the magnetic stimulation considered the accidental poisoning to be more morally wrong than the intended but failed poisoning. In other words, our ability to empathize and to recognize other people’s mental states and intentions is entirely dependent on the function of a section of your brain.

Raise your hands if you’re surprised that morality comes from your brain.

The fact that scientists can adjust morality with a magnet may be disconcerting to people who view morality as a lofty and immutable human trait, says Joshua Greene, psychologist at Harvard University. But that view isn’t accurate, he says.

“Moral judgment is just a brain process,” he says. “That’s precisely why it’s possible for these researchers to influence it using electromagnetic pulses on the surface of the brain.”

It’s also disconcerting to people who think that morality is imposed by a higher power, I should think. That morality is a function of your brain is self-evident to anyone who has studied mental function. And anyone who’s heard of Phineas Gage probably already figured it, though this is the course of science — to suss out evidence for what is seemingly self-evident, so as to slap said evidence onto the window and mouth “whaddaya think of them apples?” to the creationists clinging to their fallacious beliefs on the other side.

Comments

  1. Miranda says

    Of course morality is controlled by the brain, that just seems like common sense to me. Whether you believe in a higher power or not. Anyway, I don’t believe I have the proper verbal skills to accurately make my point or make my own opinion understood here. So I’ll just say this in support of the morality as a function of the brain argument.

    There was a show I watched called Most Evil: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_Evil, for those who are interested. They did a special specifically on this topic, more specifically the one I remember is about Charles Whitman: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Whitman for those who are interested. The theory, as shortly pointed out in the above noted article, that there was a tumour found in his brain during autopsy. The show theorized that this tumour was the cause of what he eventually did. I undertand that the tumour was pressing on the part of his brain that would have controlled said morality functions.

    Anyway, an interesting thing to look into. I find the workings of the human mind and what makes people do the things they do absolutely fascinating.

  2. says

    I didn’t realize that the case of Phineas Gage was fairly well known. I remember seeing an article about him in a journal that I was cataloging and being so fascinated that I had to stop and read part of it.

    I wonder if the fact that phrenology was so popular in the 19th century and turned out to be total quackery actually delayed the willingness of scientists to consider that specific areas of the brain could be connected to specific aspects of consciousness.

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