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May 29, 2007 8:15 PM   Subscribe

You are most welcome. sigh. Bill Gates must feel like several billion dollars.
posted by longsleeves (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Way back in the day when I worked in outside sales it was a well known and used strategy to put people off guard by saying little things like "would you mind helping me with this paper" and so on just so they would be slightly doped up on feelgood vibes and thus easier prey.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:21 PM on May 29, 2007


One more unconnected data point mapped.

Infinity to go.
posted by Alex404 at 8:25 PM on May 29, 2007


Once again, Science proves common sense viable!

This is a great post, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:27 PM on May 29, 2007


I gave a huge amount of money to my now ex-boyfriend. How come i don't feel so good now?
posted by gingembre at 8:31 PM on May 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wonderful post!

*smokes a cigarette*
posted by brain_drain at 8:32 PM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


One more unconnected data point mapped.
Infinity to go.


You don't have forever.
posted by longsleeves at 8:33 PM on May 29, 2007


Makes sense. Cooperation is a much better survival strategy than competition.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:37 PM on May 29, 2007


There's no control for social upbringing. Who's to say that what is delivering the feel-good vibe is not actually a conditioned response from childhood? How do you tell the difference between something innate and something learned? Being altruistic might actually be delivering the same sort of benefit as parental approval in infancy and later years.
posted by Araucaria at 8:38 PM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Makes sense. Cooperation is a much better survival strategy than competition.

Except when it isn't, which is why watching your team beat the hell out of the other team feels great too.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:45 PM on May 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


Lends teamate extra elbow pad
posted by longsleeves at 8:54 PM on May 29, 2007


Except when it isn't, which is why watching your team beat the hell out of the other team feels great too.

In this example, you ARE cooperating ... and with both teams!

* You provide approval to your team -- you cheer them on.

* You provide disapproval for the other team, and turn yourself into their target. The other team is attempting to defeat your team and in the process, make you feel bad for doing so. Silencing you is now their goal. This goal is important, because this shared desire drives their own feelings of competition and provides something to rally around.

In both cases, you are adding value to the competition. Gladiators without a cheering, adoring crowd are just a bunch of mooks with swords. They'll fight anyway, but it's not as fun.
posted by frogan at 8:55 PM on May 29, 2007


They watched the brain activity of people who were told to imagine a scenario in which they gave someone money? Then they came to the conclusion from that, that people are hardwired for doing good things? I dunno, this seems like a tremendous leap to me.
There's simply no way to tell what, if anything, the people were imagining or how their way of imagining the topic might skew the results. If the framing of the experiment results in people imagining A) standing around holding a bag of money and B) giving the money to someone and receiving cheers/applause/adulation, then it stands to reason that B would produce more of an effect in the brain. I would imagine you'd get different results for A) spending the money on hookers and blow B) anonymously dropping a bag of money in an orphanage's mailbox.
posted by nightchrome at 9:04 PM on May 29, 2007


and it would be a big help if you were to, uh, just turn up the voltage dial.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:06 PM on May 29, 2007


Cooperation is a much better survival strategy than competition.

Now we need to see an experiment to test for different responses to voluntary cooperation vs. coerced cooperation.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:15 PM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


All good and fine, but I worry about every single last human tendency being reduced to a quantifiable chemical reaction.
posted by Skygazer at 9:34 PM on May 29, 2007


Um, Yuck. Are you talkinng about torture?
posted by longsleeves at 9:37 PM on May 29, 2007


I worry about every single last human tendency being reduced to a quantifiable chemical reaction.

That's just the hormones talking.
posted by brain_drain at 9:43 PM on May 29, 2007


I second nightchrome. And this line from the journalist seems kinda dumb to me: "Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable."

So, if it feels good to do something, it can't be moral? Because I enjoy helping someone, it no longer becomes a good act?
posted by papakwanz at 10:20 PM on May 29, 2007


papakwanz - the idea is if it feels good, then you may be conditioned to do it in anticipation of that reward even if you don't consciously plan it that way. The selfless act is one without any consideration for the self. As such, there are no selfless acts.
posted by Gyan at 10:24 PM on May 29, 2007


Someone got their Puritanism in my altruism.
posted by loquacious at 10:39 PM on May 29, 2007


Pope Guilty - "Cooperation is a much better survival strategy than competition;

Only if you're the cheater gaming the system.
posted by porpoise at 10:48 PM on May 29, 2007


All good and fine, but I worry about every single last human tendency being reduced to a quantifiable chemical reaction.

I think this already. But I also know that I like life better if I'm nice to people around me and people are nice to me. I therefore don't understand why people find it so hard to believe that doing things to benefit others around you feels good. Social contracts are a group survival tool as well as a general aid in day-to-day life. So much discussion surrounds survival, and yet 99.999% of our lives is concerned with quality of life rather than simple preservation. Doing good deeds increases the quality of life around us. This is good, and it should feel good to do it. True altruism vs. self interest is a largely useless discussion.

Furthermore, I don't give a shit whether someone thinks they're doing good things because the baby Jeebus will approve. Those who say that I can't live a moral life without religion can go fuck themselves. Suffering is real, and tangible. I can understand that and try to consciously prevent it while still acting in my own best interest.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:55 PM on May 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Those scientists are doing some great work, but they are too keen to shout too loud thigs that are way too far from any practical results.

Watching part of brain activity with Petscan and other stuff only shows what Petscan can see, what about all those "infra-Petscan" things that happen inside our brain.

jumping on conclusion is very bad, and it seems that in these sad time where scientists to get money for research must show some results, even if they have no results at all, sad.

It's like genes, what the hell those introns are for, hmmm a lot of scientists, just some years back, affirmed that they are useless.

But hey that's fun
posted by zouhair at 11:28 PM on May 29, 2007


Ha! Showed those whiny old men and their complaining about society going to hell because of an "if it feels good, do it" attitude!

In your face, conservative scolds!

hey, that didn't feel good. hmmmm.... (ponders)
posted by dglynn at 11:33 PM on May 29, 2007


A hindsight 20/20 thread. This isn't an obvious result -- it would be easy to convincingly argue the opposite.

I'm impressed. Score one for those wacky humanists.
posted by dreamsign at 12:23 AM on May 30, 2007


This isn't an obvious result -- it would be easy to convincingly argue the opposite.

Why is this not an obvious result? People routinely say that helping other people feels good, I would have been shocked if the pleasure centers didn't light up when people where doing altruistic acts.

Brain imaging is one of the most useless research tools out there because it only confirms stuff we have already known. I don't know the literature, but I am willing to bet there are already massive amounts of work on the psychology of altruism that have basically came to the same conclusion. I hate how the article paints this straw man of "rational morality", like that is what everyone believed in until FMRIs came around. "Why we are moral" is probably the oldest and most profound philosophical question and this study doesn't really add anything to the centuries long debate.
posted by afu at 1:42 AM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you're interested in morality, check this Radio Lab episode
posted by zouhair at 1:53 AM on May 30, 2007


Hardly surprising. Pompous charity-charity-all-day-long types are often some of the most selfish people around.
posted by reklaw at 3:10 AM on May 30, 2007


The results are showing, unexpectedly, that many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain.

Unexpected by whom? I can't imagine why anyone would find it all that surprising. At least, not anyone who'd previously studied evolution. Was there still some branch of evolutionary theory that would've ruled out this kind of thing?
posted by sfenders at 3:17 AM on May 30, 2007



So, if it feels good to do something, it can't be moral? Because I enjoy helping someone, it no longer becomes a good act?


This sounds like something I learned in Sunday school. If it feels good, it must be wrong. Morality lies in suffering. blah blah blah.
posted by nax at 3:35 AM on May 30, 2007


Morality lies in suffering. blah blah blah.

see, you should have been listening more carefully.
posted by quonsar at 4:06 AM on May 30, 2007


I don't really need a brain imaging system to tell you that being altruistic feels good, and I'm surprised anyone would. I'm sure the work they're doing is useful, but this sure is some breathless science writing. I hardly see how this research can change our views on morality.

I also hate the argument that because being altruistic feels good, it's fundamentally "selfish." That just irks me because it's essentially defining all acts as "selfish" and therefore making the term mean nothing at all.
posted by delmoi at 4:49 AM on May 30, 2007


delmoi: That just irks me because it's essentially defining all acts as "selfish" and therefore making the term mean nothing at all.

But it doesn't mean "nothing at all". Colloquially, 'selfish' relies on a certain conceptual boundary of self-interest, whereby some intentional acts were thought of as outside, and called altruistic. This experiment goes on to show such acts also affect the self, and in such a way ("feel good") that self-interest may come into play. It isn't an ad-hoc redefinition.
posted by Gyan at 5:31 AM on May 30, 2007


papakwanz - And this line from the journalist seems kinda dumb to me: "Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable."

So, if it feels good to do something, it can't be moral? Because I enjoy helping someone, it no longer becomes a good act?


To the contrary, I would translate it more as, "it feels good to bee moral." The author is saying that we are wired to naturally "be good" in certain ways, but that the prevailing viewpoint is we have to work to suppress selfishness to "be good."


delmoi - I hardly see how this research can change our views on morality.

This finding suggests that the "rules" of morality may not be as arbitrary as those opposed to religion have claimed. At the same time, this suggests that the lack of an imposed system of morality (which is how many people view atheism) does not necessarily equal amorality. So it attacks the issue of secular and religious morality from both sides.

While the idea that altruism is hard-wired may not be terribly surprising, it's still exciting to see evidence for that idea. That's why we celebrate Mendel's pea plant experiments. Obviously, physical characteristics are passed on from one generation to the next, but Mendel proved that there was a quantifiable physical factor involved (genes/alleles); it wasn't only the mysterious will of God.

If anyone would like to RTFA, this experiment is used as a launching point for an interesting discussion about the idea that "morality" is physically innate.
posted by zennie at 7:00 AM on May 30, 2007


So, basically they might have proved Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.
posted by dios at 7:19 AM on May 30, 2007


Here are the first couple of sentences of Smith's TMS:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.
posted by dios at 7:23 AM on May 30, 2007


I had figured this out a long time ago: true altruism does not exist. We actually WANT to do things for others seemingly without gain. The gain is there, though.

:-)
posted by grubi at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2007


A great book to read on this subject is "The Gift" by Lewis C. Hyde, which is a more philisophical look at what the altruistic nature of a gift economy is.

Philisophically I see this kind of research as being problematic, as it subordinates what is considered "the greater good." As far back as Plato, the greater good has been seen as superceding the architect. (eg. God does this because it is inherently good, not because because God said so). Plato pretty much lays out a good part of the groundwork needed for the religious and philisophical studies of morality, which I suppose were really his gifts to future philosophers such as Kant, Hume, etc.

In other words, even if this research is eventually proven, it does not necessarily turn a lot of ideas on morality (not just purely religious) upside down. It might instead have us question which comes first, the chemical reaction or the act of good? This experiment may very well lead us back to a classic chicken or the egg debate...nothing really changes.

Of course quite a few philosphers and scientists don't always like to get along. Just coming out of a course on the philosophy of religion, I would say psychology is potentially a dead end enterprise when used theraputically, as viewing human nature objectively removes the human values inherent with morality; that there's definitely a lot more than simply the chemical reaction that indicates feeling good about one's choices. And on the same note the religious approach to gift giving and morality is fundamentally more than simply viewing the chemical reactions of altruism. It is something that can be transforming, life changing, and ultimately in tune with the act of creation itself. Who knows though, I look forward to what they find.
posted by samsara at 8:14 AM on May 30, 2007


Philisophically I see this kind of research as being problematic, as it subordinates what is considered "the greater good." As far back as Plato, the greater good has been seen as superceding the architect. (eg. God does this because it is inherently good, not because because God said so). Plato pretty much lays out a good part of the groundwork needed for the religious and philisophical studies of morality, which I suppose were really his gifts to future philosophers such as Kant, Hume, etc.

In other words, even if this research is eventually proven, it does not necessarily turn a lot of ideas on morality (not just purely religious) upside down. It might instead have us question which comes first, the chemical reaction or the act of good? This experiment may very well lead us back to a classic chicken or the egg debate...nothing really changes.

That's interesting to note; I see no reason to conclude that this will lead to any more of a chicken-or-egg debate than already exists around the concept of free will. The value of this research is to add detail to our understanding of human nature.

Here we have evidence that concern for "the greater good," i.e. empathy, has a physical component. I think that this provides some much-needed common ground between the philosophical and the scientific, rather than taking ground away from any side. The question of why empathy would have a physical component is, to me, entirely separate.
posted by zennie at 9:22 AM on May 30, 2007


The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy.

In other news, churches worldwide apologize for centuries of mistreatment of women, gays, and any other religion.

They were quoted as saying "Empathy? Really?"

Jesus could not be reached for comment, but sources indicate that both he and Mohammad are pleased with this finding.

In an impromptu interview Buddha said, "No shit Sherlock, just figuring this out now, are you? It's about fucking time."
posted by quin at 9:25 AM on May 30, 2007


Well, add another arrow to the quiver of platitudes that insufferably selfish pricks will use to justify their greedlust.

Interesting read, thanks.
posted by Busithoth at 9:40 AM on May 30, 2007


"Makes sense. Cooperation is a much better survival strategy than competition."

certainly each has its appropriate place, but I would have a hard time declaring one the victor. I would say (and i may very well be wrong) that cooperation is great for sustaining and competition for progress. Compassion for your fellow man will easily part a man with a bit of his money, but working 80 hours a week in a laboratory is usually fueled by a desire for fame/wealth.
posted by nihlton at 10:05 AM on May 30, 2007


The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy.

I feel like this observation should have some sort of implication for social conservatives in general and BushCo in particular, but I can't put my finger on it. Hmmm....
posted by oncogenesis at 10:07 AM on May 30, 2007


Hmmm. Interesting. When research implies Evolutionary Psychology says something nice about humanity (IE: doesn't infer something negative about the pet class du jour) it seems nobody complains all that much.
posted by tkchrist at 10:13 AM on May 30, 2007


Finally! Now we can all agree that priests, fire fighters, police officers, teachers, and other assorted do-gooders are all in it for themselves. There no better than lazy, selfish jerks like myself, they just get off on different things.
posted by Crash at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2007


Brain imaging is one of the most useless research tools out there

I can't begin to formulate an intelligent response to this, as I'm seething with rage. If only I knew more about the neurological bases of anger, perhaps I could learn to moderate it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2007


This finding suggests that the "rules" of morality may not be as arbitrary as those opposed to religion have claimed. At the same time, this suggests that the lack of an imposed system of morality (which is how many people view atheism) does not necessarily equal amorality. So it attacks the issue of secular and religious morality from both sides.

Who opposed to religion claims that morality is arbitrary? If morality was arbitrary, then any religious moral system would be just as valid as any other theory of ethics. Perhaps you are making the mistake of conflating secular morality with moral relativism?

What I do think this study undermines are moral rationalists, like Hobbes and Kant. Of course, I must confess a bias in favor of David Hume and Adam Smith's theories of moral sentiment.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2007


Conflating what with the what what? (Ha... I'm clearly not smart enough for this place.)

I didn't mean that morality is arbitrary, although I won't pretend to understand the philosophical terminology. I only meant that one argument against religion runs along the lines of, "I reject your rules of right and wrong conduct because your method of delineating rules is not based in logic." But it seems that at least some of the rules endorsed by some religions are built into the system. This fact would be a type of logical support that most religious arguments, needing to be based in faith, previously did not have available.
posted by zennie at 2:36 PM on May 30, 2007


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