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Tuesday, September 18, 2007Where do moral rules come from?
Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.
At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?
In a series of recent articles and a book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics.
Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) began his research career by probing the emotion of disgust. Testing people’s reactions to situations like that of a hungry family that cooked and ate its pet dog after it had become roadkill, he explored the phenomenon of moral dumbfounding — when people feel strongly that something is wrong but cannot explain why.
Dumbfounding led him to view morality as driven by two separate mental systems, one ancient and one modern, though the mind is scarcely aware of the difference. The ancient system, which he calls moral intuition, is based on the emotion-laden moral behaviors that evolved before the development of language. The modern system — he calls it moral judgment — came after language, when people became able to articulate why something was right or wrong.
The emotional responses of moral intuition occur instantaneously — they are primitive gut reactions that evolved to generate split-second decisions and enhance survival in a dangerous world. Moral judgment, on the other hand, comes later, as the conscious mind develops a plausible rationalization for the decision already arrived at through moral intuition.
Moral dumbfounding, in Dr. Haidt’s view, occurs when moral judgment fails to come up with a convincing explanation for what moral intuition has decided.
So why has evolution equipped the brain with two moral systems when just one might seem plenty?
“We have a complex animal mind that only recently evolved language and language-based reasoning,” Dr. Haidt said. “No way was control of the organism going to be handed over to this novel faculty.”
He likens the mind’s subterranean moral machinery to an elephant, and conscious moral reasoning to a small rider on the elephant’s back. Psychologists and philosophers have long taken a far too narrow view of morality, he believes, because they have focused on the rider and largely ignored the elephant.
Dr. Haidt developed a better sense of the elephant after visiting India at the suggestion of an anthropologist, Richard Shweder. In Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa, Dr. Haidt saw that people recognized a much wider moral domain than the issues of harm and justice that are central to Western morality. Indians were concerned with integrating the community through rituals and committed to concepts of religious purity as a way to restrain behavior.
On his return from India, Dr. Haidt combed the literature of anthropology and psychology for ideas about morality throughout the world. He identified five components of morality that were common to most cultures. Some concerned the protection of individuals, others the ties that bind a group together.
Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity or sanctity.
The five moral systems, in Dr. Haidt’s view, are innate psychological mechanisms that predispose children to absorb certain virtues. Because these virtues are learned, morality may vary widely from culture to culture, while maintaining its central role of restraining selfishness. In Western societies, the focus is on protecting individuals by insisting that everyone be treated fairly. Creativity is high, but society is less orderly. In many other societies, selfishness is suppressed “through practices, rituals and stories that help a person play a cooperative role in a larger social entity,” Dr. Haidt said.
Read More at:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/science/18mora.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5090&en=b2e3366b4c299aa6&ex=1347768000&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss
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A fat man leading a group of people out of a cave on a coast is stuck in the mouth of that cave. In a short time high tide will be upon them, and unless he is unstuck, they will all be drowned except the fat man, whose head is out of the cave. [But, fortunately, or unfortunately, someone has with him a stick of dynamite.] There seems no way to get the fat man loose without using [that] dynamite which will inevitably kill him; but if they do not use it everyone will drown. What should they do?
Since the fat man is said to be "leading" the group, he is responsible for their predicament and reasonably should volunteer to be blown up. The dilemma becomes more acute if we substitute a pregnant woman for the fat man. She would have been urged by the others to go first out of the cave.
The Overcrowded Lifeboat
In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivors were crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7. As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved. Some people opposed the captain's decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning. Since the only possibility for rescue required great efforts of rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action. If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?
Scrutinizing wrinkles probably won’t tell you a person’s exact age, but as researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have found, it may very accurately reflect the properties of thin films. Simple and inexpensive, their optical method allows rapid thickness and elasticity assessments.
Narayanan Menon and colleagues began their investigation by spinning molten plastic blobs into thin sheets. X-ray reflectivity analysis showed that the sheets ranged from 31 to 233 nm in thickness.
Wrinkles emanating from a drop of water placed on a raft of thin plastic sheeting can do more than dazzle the eye — they also can reveal key properties about the film in which they form. Courtesy of Jiangshui Huang, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
On top of water in a dish, they placed 1- to 2-cm-diameter circular cutouts of the film. While observing the floating cutouts under an Olympus stereomicroscope, they depressed the center of each using a tiny water droplet or a metal disk, or by poking with a needle. These perturbations produced a pattern of wrinkles radiating from the center of the film, as shown in the image. Through one eyepiece of the microscope, the scientists captured images using an Olympus digital camera.
Closely examining the photos, they counted wrinkles and determined their length for each trial. Both the number and length of wrinkles, they discovered, increased with water droplet diameter. Droplets induced the fine lines predominantly by capillary action, whereas solid objects exerted no capillary force and thus had to be heavier to produce the same effect. Metal disks and needle prodding also caused the film to stretch significantly, while water did not. Because of these effects and the ease of applying water to the surface, the researchers chose droplet-deformed samples for further analysis.
Combining wrinkle count and length with observed droplet diameter, surface tension and other values, the investigators mathematically derived the thickness and elasticity of the selected membranes. Thickness estimates closely approached those obtained with the x-ray measurements, and elasticity was near that calculated using complicated machines. A summary of the work appears in the Aug. 3 issue of Science.
The scientists note that the method could aid in the examination of thin coatings, polymeric materials and even protein layers, such as those that form on the top of heated milk. The technology also can be applied to monitor the time it takes for wrinkles to relax in substances exhibiting both liquid and elastic behavior, permitting assessment of their traits as well. In all of these settings, the system offers the advantages of wide availability and low cost.
Couple divorce after online 'affair'
A Bosnian couple are getting divorced after finding out they had been secretly chatting each other up online under fake names.
Sana Klaric, 27, and husband Adnan, 32, from Zenica, poured out their hearts to each other over their marriage troubles, and both felt they had found their real soul mate.
The couple met on an online chat forum while he was at work and she in an internet cafe, and started chatting under the names Sweetie and Prince of Joy.
They eventually decided to meet up - but there was no happy ending when they realised what had happened.
Now they are both filing for divorce - with each accusing the other of being unfaithful.
Sana said: "I thought I had found the love of my life. The way this Prince of Joy spoke to me, the things he wrote, the tenderness in every expression was something I had never had in my marriage.
"It was amazing, we seemed to be stuck in the same kind of miserable marriages - and how right that turned out to be.
"We arranged to meet outside a shop and both of us would be carrying a single rose so we would know the other.
"When I saw my husband there with the rose and it dawned on me what had happened I was shattered. I felt so betrayed. I was so angry."
Adnan said: "I was so happy to have found a woman who finally understood me. Then it turned out that I hadn't found anyone new at all.
"To be honest I still find it hard to believe that the person, Sweetie, who wrote such wonderful things to me on the internet, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years."