Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Parasites Running You Like a Robot

Here is Robert Sapolsky talking about Toxoplasma gondii:

At 16:20 he starts talking about the US military and its interest in this parasite's ability to take control of a human and do risky things (like make troops run out and get shot down in one vast orgy of defeat).

This video is taken from issue 307 of Edge.

In this same issue there is an interesting essay by Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard. He talks about the the human moral sense. Contrary to what religious teachers claim, religion doesn't give us our morality, the morality is built int:
Recent discoveries suggest that all humans, young and old, male and female, conservative and liberal, living in Sydney, San Francisco and Seoul, growing up as atheists, Buddhists, Catholics and Jews, with high school, university or professional degrees, are endowed with a gift from nature, a biological code for living a moral life.

This code, a universal moral grammar, provides us with an unconscious suite of principles for judging what is morally right and wrong. It is an impartial, rational and unemotional capacity. It doesn't dictate who we should help or who we are licensed to harm. Rather, it provides an abstract set of rules for how to intuitively understand when helping another is obligatory and when harming another is forbidden. And it does so dispassionately and impartially.


Consider the psychopath, Hollywood's favourite moral monster. Clinical studies reveal that they feel no remorse, shame, guilt or empathy, and lack the tools for self-control. Because they lacked these capacities, several experts have argued that they lack the wherewithal to understand what is right or wrong and, consequently, to do the wrong thing. New studies show, however, that this conclusion is at least partially wrong. Psychopaths know full well what is right and wrong but don't care. Their moral knowledge is intact but their moral emotions are damaged. They are perfectly normal jurists but perfectly abnormal moral actors. For the psychopath, other humans are no different from rocks or artefacts. They are disposable.


... living a moral life requires us to be restless with our present moral norms, always challenging us to discover what might and ought to be. And here is where nurture can re-enter the conversation. We need education because we need a world in which people listen to the universal voice of their species, while stopping to wonder whether there are alternatives. And if there are alternatives, we need rational and reasonable people who will be vigilant of partiality and champions of plurality.
Go look at the Edge issue to read this essay if for no other reason.

No comments: