Are there ways to directly strengthen fairness and moral cognition in the prefrontal cortex, and weaken the cognitive biases bubbling up from the amygdala? Research on the genetic correlates of moral cognition, and the effects of psychoactive drugs, and of electrical and magnetic manipulation of the brain, suggest there are ways to enhance fairness and impartiality.
Fairness is a liberal virtue rooted in instinctive aversion to cheating and inequality, but then filtered through prefrontal cognition. Since the spread of Enlightenment values fairness has grown in importance as a virtue, especially for liberals with stronger prefrontal cortices and weaker amygdalas. Fairness finds less support among conservatives for whom respect for authority, ingroup loyalty and disgust/sanctity are more neurologically salient. What impact do social policy and individual practices have on the influence of fairness and cognitive biases?
I’m trying to wrap my head around the extended mind hypothesis (EMH). I’m doing so because I’m interested in its implications for the debate about enhancement and technology. If the mind extends into the environment outside the brain/bone barrier, then we are arguably enhancing our minds all the time by developing new technologies, be they books and abacuses or smartphones and wearable tech. Consequently, we should have no serious principled objection to technologies that try to enhance directly inside the brain/bone barrier.
Opposition to IUD’s, like opposition to vaccines, is putting American families at risk—and a Colorado controversy shows that misguided faith and scientific ignorance are to blame. When a pilot program in Colorado offered teens state-of-the-art long acting contraceptives—IUD’s and implants—teen births plummeted by 40%, along with a drop in abortions. The program saved the state 42.5 million dollars in a single year, over five times what it cost. But rather than extending or expanding the program, some Colorado Republicans are trying to kill it—even if this stacks the odds against Colorado families.
On January 20, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced the Apollo 1201 project, an effort to eradicate digital rights management (DRM) schemes from the world of Internet commerce. Led by well-known activist Cory Doctorow, the project aims to “accelerate the movement to repeal laws protecting DRM” and “kick-start a vibrant market in viable, legal alternatives to digital locks.” According to EFF, DRM technologies “threaten users’ security and privacy, distort markets, undermine innovation,” and don’t effectively protect so-called “intellectual property.”
One can rarely find four thinkers as distinct from one another as Gorbachev, Kissinger, Chomsky, and Ron Paul, and yet, for all of their differences, each of them is clearly guided by a systematic, thoroughly considered intellectual framework. All four of these thinkers have concluded, starting from different practical and moral premises, that further escalation of the Ukraine crisis by the United States would be a dangerous, deeply inadvisable behavior.
Let us now consider the view that morality rests upon religion. Assuming that a relationship between some God and morality exists, how do we characterize it? A classic formulation of this relationship is the divine command theory which states that “morally right” means commanded by God, and “morally wrong” means forbidden by God.
Our moral codes are rooted in preconscious feelings of disgust at people who hurt others, cheat, are disloyal, disobey authority, and violate social taboos. Some of these moral feelings support modern Enlightenment ideas of morality while others are in contradiction with modern values of individual rights and critical thought. By illuminating the ways that our value systems are shaped by prerational impulses we can make more conscious choices about how to build a fair society and practice the civic virtues of fairness and engaged citizenship. But we also can begin to experiment with ways to enhance our moral reasoning with drugs and devices to become even better citizens than previously possible.
How’s this for a 21st century Valentine’s Day tale: a group of religious fundamentalists want to redefine human sexual and gender relationships based on a more than 2,000 year old religious text. Yet instead of doing this by aiming to seize hold of the cultural and political institutions of society, a task they find impossible, they create an algorithm which once people enter their experience is based on religiously derived assumptions users cannot see. People who enter this world have no control over their actions within it, and surrender their autonomy for the promise of finding their “soul mate”.
In “Virtual reality a new frontier for religions,” published yesterday on Hypergrid Business, I argue that massively popular virtual churches, place of worship and spiritual communities in Virtual Reality (VR) will be developed with next-generation VR systems.
If morality is not relative to culture, might it be relative to a person’s beliefs, attitudes, emotions, opinions, desires, wants, etc.? Personal relativismis a theory that holds that moral judgments are relative to, conditioned by, or dependent upon, individuals. This theory has ancient roots, but it’s also popular today.2 These remarks capture the basic idea:
Taken as a package, the Bible sends mixed messages about slavery, which is why Christian leaders used the Good Book on both sides—including in the lead up to the American civil war. Should a person be able to own another person? Today Christians uniformly say no, and many would like to believe that has always been the case. But history tells a different story, one in which Christians have struggled to give a clear answer when confronted with questions about human trafficking and human rights.
Unless you’ve been under a rock or on a boat in the middle of the ocean1, you’re aware that the United States is in the middle of a measles outbreak that has, so far, infected over 100 people, and was traced back to December Disneyland visits.
We all, as individuals and members of societies, dedicate a lot of effort to finding ways to cope with the idea of death. Most believers in traditional Western religions imagine resurrection in an afterlife, where they will be forever reunited with loved ones. Most believers in traditional Eastern religions and spiritual traditions think that, while an otherworldly realm beyond physical reality may eventually be attained, most people go through a long string of lives here on Earth (reincarnation).
Maybe descriptions of Hell are so horrific to keep people from thinking about how hellish popular versions of the Christian Heaven would be—even without Pat Robertson in the mix. Most Westerners are at least vaguely familiar with the popular Christian version of Heaven: pearly gates, streets of gold, winged angels and the Righteous, with their bodies made perfect and immortal, singing the praises of God forever. What’s surprising is how few people have actually thought about what a nightmare this kind of existence would be.
I am a Cyborg. No, I don’t have any technological enhancements just yet, though I plan on doing so very soon with help from my friends within the DIY grinder community. Even then, my “choosing” to identify myself as a cyborg is more than a mere desire for cyborg enhancements, but is an identity that I feel deeply within myself – a longing to express myself in ways that my current biological body cannot.
So much anti-religious dogmatism, so much misrecognized religiosity, so little time. It's a wonder to me that some clearly sophisticated persons can express such unsophisticated opinions about religion. Maybe it's just because we all have vested interests? On the one hand, those who have distanced themselves from tradition seek to justify their choice, as those who have continued to embrace tradition likewise would justify themselves. What's to be made of the strange creatures, arguably not so uncommon now or ever, that reject any notion of the choice being all or nothing or even mutually exclusive?
Here is a brief summary of a piece by B.C. Johnson, “Why Doesn’t God Intervene to Prevent Evil?” It offers a devastating critique of the possibility that there is an all powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving god. Are there any good excuses for someone (or a god) not saving a baby from a burning house if they had the power to do so? It will not do to say the baby will go to heaven, since one suffers by burning to death.
In the fall of 2014, a young dying woman, Brittany Maynard, captured the hearts of millions around the world. Now her husband and mother have teamed up with a national advocacy group, Compassion & Choices to honor her final wish—that aid in dying be available to terminally ill Americans in every state.
Here it was again. This holiday weekend we saw a lot of media coverage of Martin Luther King, Jr. But we heard very little about who he really was – a brave and visionary leader whose vision is as relevant today as ever. Dr. King’s life and legacy stand as a challenge to an entrenched society of privilege and injustice. Here are nine quotes that reflect that legacy.
The challenges of governing emerging technologies are highlighted by the World Economic Forum in the 2015 edition of its Global Risks Report. Focusing in particular on synthetic biology, gene drives and artificial intelligence, the report warns that these and other emerging technologies present hard-to-foresee risks, and that oversight mechanisms need to more effectively balance likely benefits and commercial demands with a deeper consideration of ethical questions and medium to long-term risks.
I’ve met Erik Parens twice; he seems like a thoroughly nice fellow. I say this because I’ve just been reading his latest book Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing and a Habit of Thinking, and it is noticeable how much of his personality shines through in the book. Indeed, the book opens with a revealing memoir of Parens’s personal life and experiences in bioethics, specifically in the enhancement debate. What’s more, Parens’s frustrations with the limiting and binary nature of much philosophical debate is apparent throughout his book.
It’s hard to get your head around the idea of a humble prophet. Picturing Jeremiah screaming to the Israelites that the wrath of God is upon them and then adding “at least I think so, but I could be wrong…” or some utopian claiming the millenium is near, but then following it up with “then again this is just one man’s opinion…” would be the best kind of ridiculous- seemingly so out of character to be both shocking and refreshing.
I have recently been working my way through some of the arguments in Derk Pereboom’s book Free Will, Agency and Meaning in Life. The book presents the most thorough case for hard incompatibilism of which I am aware. Hard incompatibilism is the view that free will is not compatible with causal determinism, and, what’s more, probably doesn’t even exist. In previous entries, I’ve looked at Pereboom’s critique of non-compatibilist theories of free will. In this post, I want to look at his famous argument against compatibilism.
The term “libertarianism” is used in two senses in philosophical circles. The first, and perhaps more famous sense, is as a name for a family of political theories that prioritise individual freedom; the second, and perhaps less famous (except among the cognoscenti), is as a specific view on the nature of free will. It is the latter sense that concerns me in this post.
What makes us free, if we are free? In other words, what conditions must be satisfied in order for us to say of any particular agent that he/she has free will or doesn’t? This is something that philosophers have long debated. Indeed, the free will debate is almost nauseating in its persistence and intricacy.
Bergson claims that free will exists. It occurs in moments when a living being experiences duration, which is tuning into the internal sense of an experience, and a freely-determined action flows from this state. His reasoning is that “if duration is heterogeneous (if we are tuned into the internal sense of experience), the relation of the psychic state to act is unique, and the act is rightly judged free.
There’s a pervasive notion that monogamous relationships are the end-all-be-all – the default pact in human couplings that keep the fabric of society from being torn apart. But growing numbers of scientists believe monogamy is not our biological default; and may not even represent the best road to happiness.
Looking back on my early experience as a young engineer, I am reminded how little my colleagues and I appreciated that what we did would change the world, for good and for bad. I am also reminded how Marcel Golay, one of my early mentors understood the duality of technology and how this feature plays large in its application for the right purpose.