The following quotations are from a 2005 article from The New York Times. The article is titled: “A Career Spent Learning How the Mind Emerges From the Brain.” It features a brief conversation with Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, a Psychologist (Cognitive Neurosciece) at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
While I recommend that you read the article in full I will quote some of what I consider to be the highlights.
Emerging ethical responsibilities
In the article Gazzaniga reminds us that we have a growing responsibility to keep ourselves informed about new developments in science and how they are affecting or will be affecting our lives.
In The Ethical Brain “Dr. Gazzaniga argues that understanding the latest developments in neuroscience is essential for the public to make sound decisions about the promise and dangers of advances in medicine. Neuroscience is even shedding light on how moral beliefs take shape in our brain. ”If people learn more about what the underlying brain story is, I think it will help them think more clearly about the situation,” Dr. Gazzaniga said in an interview at his Dartmouth office.”
Another version of rationalizing?
Gazzaniga goes on to explain how our brain’s hemispheres may have significantly active roles in the way we interpret and rationalize phenomena:
“Dr. Gazzaniga hypothesized that [the participant's] left hemisphere made up a story to explain his actions, based on the limited information it received. Dr. Gazzaniga and his colleagues have carried out the same experiment hundreds of times since, and the left hemisphere has consistently acted this way.”
The brain and its translators
“[the brain's interpreter] tells the story line of a person,” Dr. Gazzaniga said. ”It’s collecting all the information that is in all these separate systems that are distributed through the brain.” While the story feels like an unfiltered picture of reality, it’s just a quickly-thrown-together narrative.”
A built-in moral compass?
“Neuroscience’s biggest contribution to ethics, Dr. Gazzaniga predicted, is only just emerging: a biological explanation of morality. ”In the next 20 years, we’re probably going to define why our species seems to have a certain sort of moral compass,” [Dr. Gazzaniga] said.”
Built-in human empathy?
Human caring and understanding of one another may be such an important quality to our survival that even at our biological levels we seem to have signs of its facilitation:
“Current research suggests that this moral compass appears to be the product of the human brain’s intricate circuitry for understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings. Just looking at pictures of people stubbing their toes in doors, for example, activates the same regions of the brain that switch on when people stub their own toes. ”When I have an empathetic moment, I literally feel your pain,” Dr. Gazzaniga said.”
Built-in empathy and its association with “nurture”
“Dr. Gazzaniga argues that when we experience [empathy], the brain’s interpreter produces rational explanations for them. The particular explanation it produces depends on a person’s particular upbringing. ”Each culture may build up a theory, and that may be passed down as traditions and religious moral systems.”…[Gazzaniga]”the basic reason you don’t kill is because your brain tells you it’s not a good idea to kill.”
Nature and Nurture and built-in sustainability?
Cognitive Neuroscience seems to be unvailing phenomena that exposes our non-verbal intra-human communication system. At the same time we may be learning how this communication system also has interpersonal (social) value that may be essential to our human survival.
The social value of our possible (built-in wisdom?) seems to be reinforced through our social “nurture” systems. Cognitive neuroscience may be showing us examples of how nature and nurture work together to shape the human system. This type of science may also be showing us how nature and nurture work together to improve the chances of our common survival.
Built-in intelligence ?
I would consider this type of “built-in empathy” as a built-in intelligence. I am inclined to consider this biological trait as an intelligence contributing to the emergence of “intuition” (a group of intelligences all lumped together into the fuzzy term of “intuition”). I am also inclined to recognize the need for “empathy literacy” as part of an interdisciplinary education in our schools.
Zimmer, Carl. “A Career Spent Learning How the Mind Emerges From the Brain.” New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: May 10, 2005. pg. F.3
Related blog posting on this blog
Mirror Neurons and our non-verbal communication system