Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Guy Kahane - Is, Ought, and the Brain

Guy Kahane (Deputy Director & Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford) argues that Neuroscience, contra Sam Harris and Patricia Churchland, can play only a small role in the formation of a normative ethics.

Guy Kahane - Is, Ought, and the Brain


It would be nice to know more about what happens in our brains when we judge what we morally ought to do. But for normative ethics, this kind of scientific research is of interest only if it could tell us something new about what we ought to do. On this question, opinions are sharply divided. In this talk, I show how scientific claims about moral psychology can give non-trivial support to substantive claims in normative ethics. There are in fact several types of arguments that can validly take us from empirical findings to novel normative conclusions. It turns out, however, that these arguments leave only a fairly peripheral role to neuroscience.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Observations on The Ego Trick

I've been reading Julian Baggini's The Ego Trick over the past few days, since my flight over here. At first I thought maybe I was musing more philosophical due to being tired on the plane, but it has continued since I've been here, so maybe it's the continent. Anyway, I've been jotting some random thoughts as I read the book, and here are the first few.

The Ego Trick: In Search of the Self, Julian Baggini

Maybe it is my fatigue, but at the moment I do not feel as though I am a Self. I have perceptions and sensations, and there is some seeming continuity to the experiences I call my memories (although even these seem to belong to a collection of various Bills with only some common features to connect them, such as this body, my name, and some essential characteristics others may identify as Bill).

My sense is that there are multiple parts or adaptive strategies that have been created to navigate in the world, one of which is the central narrative thread that carries the name Bill as its marker. There are many others that may be identified as roles to be played, orienting principles by which this brain makes sense of the world (masculine, strong, caring, compassionate, and so on), many of which are socially embedded constructions, and identities that have been adopted and co-created through expectations, actions largely based on prior experience, and the conglomeration of "values" unique to this body-brain (these would include boyfriend, scholar, counselor, personal trainer, and once included others such as brother and son).

However, none of these feel (and of course we are dealing with subjectivities here) solid enough, if that is the correct word, to be thought of as a coherent and persistent sense of Self. For example, the sense of this body-brain embedded in temporal, physical, subjective, and interpersonal space is very different now than it was before I began school, and more so from when it came to Tucson 10 years ago, and so on, especially in relation to the alien creation that called himself Bill from the ages of 13 to 19.


Now I am wondering about Ken Wilber's model of the Self, composed of the proximate self (subjective I), the distal self (objective me), and the anterior self (witness or core self). The perceived unity of these selves comprises the Self stream or line of development. Perhaps each of these is the experiential result of all the other developmental lines (affective, cognitive, interpersonal, moral, spiritual, and so on) being organized by the brain - along with previous experience (both memory and un- or pre-conscious), genetic and epigenetic influences, plus biopsychosocial and temporal-environmental context - into some sense of a coherent whole, which we call a Self?

Then there is also the issue of conscious and unconscious selves - or as Daniel Kahneman describes it, Type 1 (fast, below the threshold of awareness) and Type 2 (slow, within our awareness field) thinking. How does this fit into the existing models of how we define a Self? Do we have an unconscious self and a conscious, but with the stipulation that the unconscious self is less a Self than it is a collection of neural processes and default patterns through which the brain takes shortcuts when confronted with situations that fit previously encountered data? For example, when the visual field detects a long, cylindrical object that seems to be moving through the desert, and which the auditory network then detects to be making a rattling noise, it shortcuts immediately to flight mode, back away, DANGER, this is a rattlesnake. No conscious thought is required, before my awareness registers "rattlesnake," my body is already in action.


Thinking about myself, or the person whose memories are encoded in my brain cells and who people knew as Bill, as a teenager, it (he) feels more like someone who was a friend, but not a reliable or particularly nice person, not someone with whom I now would be friends. Perhaps there is some continuity between that person and the one typing these words, but even our bodies Xerox different - this one looks similar, although leaner and more muscular, more gray hair and wrinkles, but there is not one shared cell between that 17-year-old body and this 45-year-old body. Every cell has been replaced during that time, and most many times over.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Integral Leadership Review - June 2012 Issue Now Online

The June 2012 issue of the Integral Leadership Review is now online, and as usual it contains a plethora of wonderful material. If you have limited time and would like a synopsis of this issue, then be sure to check out the current issue of Particles, the "cliff notes" for the new edition.

Documentary - A Virus Called Fear

This is an interesting documentary on the nature, and especially on how not understanding the mechanisms of fear allows it to be used as a weapon or at the very least to manipulate people.

A Virus Called Fear


Fear is apparently a universal emotion; all persons, consciously or unconsciously, have fear in some sort. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it. Very few people understand the programming of fear, and why it distorts our perceptions. While fear is a program used for our survival, fear also creates irrational beliefs that cause larger systems of fear like politics, religion and the media.

A Virus Called Fear is short film about the conditioning of fear, and what irrational fears can lead to. Written and directed by Ben Fama Jr.

Watch the full documentary now