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File Under “Completely Ridiculous”

March 31, 2010

NPR has an interesting, if largely naive, story out about morality and MRI research. Check this out:

Scientists have found a surprising link between magnets and morality. A person’s moral judgments can be changed almost instantly by delivering a magnetic pulse to an area of the brain near the right ear, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Okay, I see. One can observe, and maybe even manipulate, the brain function of some people such that they get confused and flustered and offer different evaluations about the same scenario. Interesting. So mind control is possible. Awesome, we can make people do all manner of crazy and Manchurian things. Apparently, this is also reason to throw the entire basis of morality (and, ultimately, law) into the dustbin:

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.”

Is it standard for psychologists to just flip between “morality” and “moral judgment” without a care that the two might be distinct? I would expect more from Josh Greene.

Further:

If something as complex as morality has a mechanical explanation, Green says, it will be hard to argue that people have, or need, a soul.

It’s hard to argue that people have or need a soul even if morality [sic] doesn’t have a mechanical explanation. What the hell?

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