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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Moral Dilemma and Neuromorality

Well have you ever thought about the impact of neurons on individual’s morality? The judgmental ability of an individual to classify what is good or bad. Neuroethics has been getting lot of attentions these days for the fact that it attempts to understand the minds of those who resort to unlawful actions. Recently at a conference of American Enterprise Institute on “The New Neuromorality” some interesting observations have been made.
The keynote address was given by renowned Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker, who described a neuromorality of personal responsibility. In Pinker’s view, the worry that a biologically based understanding of human behavior will turn into a “my brain/genes/hormones made me do it” catch-all excuse stems from a basic fallacy: the assumption that bad acts deserve to be punished only if they result from some fully autonomous “free will” exempt from biological or other causation. How can we “salvage the core of responsibility” without such mystical notions?

Another debate which has generated lot of interest is the The Source of Blackstone's Intuition: Why We Think it Better to Free the Guilty than to Convict the Innocent by Sam Vermont. It debates on the aspect of our legal structure which is happy punishing an innocent convict rather than setting them free.

Another interesting article on the ethical dilemma is by Rebecca Saxe's "Do the Right Thing "Cognitive science’s search for a common morality.She cites a case study example on the moral dilemma of a man who is faced in a piquant situation and his ethical decision making ability is put to test.

Here’s her view on Brain Imaging.

In the last ten years, brain imaging (mostly functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI) has probably exceeded all the other techniques in psychology combined in terms of growth rate, public visibility, and financial expense. The popularity of brain imaging is easy to understand: by studying the responses of live human brains, scientists seem to have a direct window into the operations of the mind.
A basic MRI provides an amazingly fine-grained three-dimensional picture of the anatomy of soft tissues such as the gray and white matter (cell bodies and axons) of the brain, which are entirely invisible to x-rays. An fMRI also gives the blood’s oxygen content in each brain region,an indication of recent metabolic activity in the cells and therefore an indirect teasure of recent cell firing.

The images produced by fMRI analyses show the brain regions in which the blood’s oxygen content was significantly higher while the subject performed one task—a moral-judgment task, for example—than while the subject performed a different task—a non-moral-judgment task.