Monday, July 18, 2011

a clockwork chemistry


Video - Aldous Huxley on history's lesson

Project-Syndicate | Of course, no one is developing a “moral pill” that will transform us into saints. But the research is advancing fast, and it is almost certain to suggest new ways to reshape our moral intuitions, sentiments, and motivations.

Should we use our growing scientific understanding of the basis of human morality to try to make people morally better?

A Clockwork Orange was accused of glorifying violence, and some of its scenes are still hard to watch. But as Burgess himself argued, the novella has an almost Christian message: what makes us human is our freedom to choose both good and evil, and for society to crush individuals into servile conformity is as wicked as, and perhaps even worse than, the sadism of psychopaths like Alex.

I suspect that many will agree with this view. They will agree that our ability to distinguish right from wrong is something precious that we should safeguard, not a broken clock that scientists should fix.

Of course, most of us don’t need to be conditioned to feel repulsed by rape or torture. But this does not mean that we are morally good, or good enough. As you read this, perfectly ordinary people somewhere in the world are doing unspeakable things to others. Even in the most advanced and affluent societies, a vast concentrated effort is needed to preserve even minimal decency: think of locks, security alarms, police, courts, and prisons. And it is doubtful that we really care enough about others, or give enough to the less fortunate.

Humans are born with the capacity to be moral, but it is a limited capacity which is ill equipped to deal with the ethical complexities of the modern world. For thousands of years, humans have relied on education, persuasion, social institutions, and the threat of real (or supernatural) punishment to make people behave decently. We could all be morally better, but it is clear that this traditional approach cannot take us much further. It is not as if people would suddenly begin to behave better if we just gave them more facts and statistics, or better arguments.

So we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the suggestion that science might help – in the first instance, by helping us design more effective institutions, more inspiring moral education, or more persuasive ethical arguments. But science might also offer more direct ways of influencing our brains.

Science fiction sometimes limits rather than expands our sense of what is possible. It would be self-defeating, or worse, to try to promote morality through brutal coercion. Governments must not be given the power to control its citizens’ moral code – we know that if they had such power, they would misuse it.

It would be ideal if individuals could freely explore different ways to improve themselves, whether by practicing mindfulness, reading moral philosophy, or, yes, by taking a ’morality’ pill. But it is also true that although some people are eager to take pills that make them feel better or think faster, it is not so obvious that people would really want to take pills that would make them morally better. It is not clear that people really want to be morally better. And those who, like the psychopathic Alex, need the most help are probably those who would want it least.

These are, of course, hypothetical questions. We don’t yet know what is possible. But it is better to begin the ethical discussion too early than too late. And even if “moral pills” are just science fiction, they raise deep questions. Will we want to take them if they ever become available? And what does it say about us if we won’t?

7 comments:

nanakwame said...

Indignations very important human element - believe it has been quite low since Bush I

Big Don said...

Transhumanism is receiving some attention...?? http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/secondhandsmoke/2011/07/17/transhumanisms-solipsistic-utopianism/

Dale Asberry said...

How about we all get out and play in the dirt a bit instead?
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100524143416.htm

Big Don said...

Loving people does not require that they be guaranteed equal outcomes...

CNu said...

Loving people requires that you want for them what you want for yourself - THAT'S the golden rule - straight up, simple, and plain.

Now then, genetically intellectually inferior sub-humans are incapable of functioning acceptably in the society of humans and should be dealt with accordingly. Like beasts of the field, God has handed dominion over these chattels to his chosen ubermenschen children, who must do with them as they deem meet and right to do.

So also, in the impending trans-human inheritance of planetary stewardship/dominion, only the truly and profoundly superior natural human specimen will have any rights that God's newly chosen will be bound to recognize.   

Big Don said...

A better way to put that might be "Loving people requires that you want for them what *THEY* want for *THEMSELVES*..."  For example, if you had a friend who was childless by choice, would you want for him to have a family because that's what you might want for yourself...??  An IQ-75 is probably happier sitting around parasitically taking what society will give, rather than putting forth anything like hard work and self-discipline y'all might prefer in your own life, even though the outcomes are different... 

umbrarchist said...

Transhumanism may occur for an entirely different reason than the transhumanists think.

How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/07/ff_khan/all/1

The videos can be watched with a $100 Sylvania netbook.

So if the kids that want to learn are just supplied with cheap computers who knows what will happen?  So what would happen to the world with more people actually THINKING BETTER?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9H1StY1nU8

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,759006,00.html
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Leaving Labels Aside For A Moment - Netanyahu's Reality Is A Moral Abomination

This video will be watched in schools and Universities for generations to come, when people will ask the question: did we know what was real...