Beyond Belief 3: Candles in the Dark, From early in October, 2008, video is on line. The program invites scientists to discuss ways in which science can enlighten society.
The first sessions I’ve watched so far are part of the Panel on “This Is Your Brain on Morality.”
Jonathan Haidt, describes morality as,
“Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, practices, institutions, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible.”
He notes that human societies serve to to control the free riders who do not contribute, the selfish, or those who do not display altruism and/or who harm others. They do this by encouraging moral values such as:
1. Harm/care (Discussion in other segments identifies this as equaling empathy.)
2. fairness/reciprocity (This is later called fairness.)
3. In-Group loyalty (altruism or the cooperation in large unrelated groups)
4. Authority/respect (humans, unlike animals, don’t depend on just fear, but involve feelings of love)
5. Purity (Proper use of the human body,not necessarily sex, but in terms of drug use, too. He notes that Liberals are likely to consider purity in food very important.)(I thought about the way that smoking has become unacceptable.)
Haidt says that “Any nation is a miracle in evolutionary terms,” since large scale cooperation among unrelated groups is not seen among animals, as it is in humans. He believes that traditional societies tend to use all 5 foundations to control “free riders” or the selfish, while liberals tend to use the first two and discount the other three.
An example and a way to understand this concept described by Haidt is to note that “E pluribus unum” is the national motto of the United States. He believes that Liberals are easily painted by “the right” as obstacles in the unity or coherence of society by emphasizing their love for rebellion, autonomy, individuality. (Or “Change” vs. “Country First”? Well, so much for that.)
Haidt has some really clear ideas about good and bad and insight into politics that I’d never thought of, before. Watch the faces of the audience, especially during the last few minutes: I think they’re having the same experience.
And then, Sam Harris (“Can We Ever Be Right on Right and Wrong?”) proceeds to confront Jonathan Haidt while sucking all the joy out the audience when he starts talking about the failure of science to “demolish” the idea that science can’t guide society on morality.
(Harris may have been angered by the teasing he took about how long he’s been working on his Ph.D.)
Harris flatly states that there are moral truths, and believes that the study of “human brain science” can inform society on what “goodness is in the public domain.” He focuses on religion and seems to imply that religion is a poison.
Harris embraces what he calls “bounded utilitarianism,” without regard to Haidt’s values as they could shed light on the morality of his examples, including empathy, fairness, and then, altruism. Just as most people are ignorant about “biology, history, chemistry, and everything else worth understanding,” most of them are “ignorant about the basis for human well being.” He claims that some day, it will be scientifically correct to say that some societies are better than others, because they produce “lives worth living” vs. “lives barely worth living.” I believe that he fails in his argument – and chooses poor phrasing as above) and very weak examples that are easily proven immoral by such values as Haidt’s.
Harris contrasts morality as “well being among conscious human beings” vs. “superstitious beliefs.” He refutes the claim that people can know whether they are happy other than how they fit within their society and absolutely equates conservative religious Americans with the Taliban in Afghanistan — with no recognition that he is calling on “empathy,” “fairness,” as his own values and discounting them in others. (And he displays his ignorance about fundamental evangelical Christianity by describing “The Rapture” incorrectly. That makes me wonder about those of his examples that I’m not familiar with.)
The videos can also be viewed (and turned into MP4’s) on Google videos.