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 BRAIN TIME 2007 The following 6 articles are taken from TIME January 29, 2007.  To view graphics and videos click on the source link which follows every article.


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Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007



When it came to moral "reasoning," David Hume emphasized the quotation marks. We like to think our views on right and wrong are rational, he said, but ultimately they are grounded in emotion.

Philosophers have argued over this claim for a quarter of a millennium without resolution. Time's up! Now scientists armed with brain scanners are stepping in to settle the matter. So far it looks like Hume was onto something; though reason can shape moral judgment, emotion is often decisive, and that explains some strange quirks in our moralizing.

Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene does brain scans of people as they ponder the so-called trolley problem. Suppose a trolley is rolling down the track toward five people who will die unless you pull a lever that diverts it onto another track--where, unfortunately, lies one person who will die instead. An easy call, most people say: minimizing the loss of life--a "utilitarian" goal, as philosophers put it--is the right thing to do.

But suppose the only way to save the five people is to push someone else onto the track--a bystander whose body will bring the trolley to a halt before it hits the others. It's still a one-for-five swap, and you still initiate the action that dooms the one--but now you are more directly implicated; most people say it would be wrong to do this deal. Why? According to Greene's brain scans, the second scenario--the "up close and personal" intervention, he calls it--more thoroughly excites parts of the brain linked to emotion than does the lever-pulling scenario. Apparently the intuitive aversion to giving someone a lethal push is stronger than the aversion to a lethal lever pull.

Further studies suggest that in both cases the emotional aversion competes for control with more rational parts of the brain that take a utilitarian view, emphasizing the net savings of four lives. In the up-close-and-personal scenario the emotions are usually strong enough to win.

And when they lose, it is only after a tough wrestling match. The few people who approve of pushing an innocent man onto the tracks take longer to reach their decision. So too with people who approve of smothering a crying baby rather than catching the attention of enemy troops who would then kill the baby along with other innocents.

These cranial wrestling matches could be televised. As people ponder a moral dilemma, brain scans show changing activity levels in a part of the brain linked to abstract reasoning and cognitive control. In brains that take the utilitarian path, this part strengthens until dominant; in brains that refuse to kill one innocent to save many, it weakens until emotion has won.

Greene explains his findings in Darwinian terms. Back in the hunter-gatherer environment of human evolution, you killed people directly, not by the triple bank shot of pulling a lever that shifted a plate that rerouted a train. So an evolved aversion to the killing of an innocent might be especially sensitive to visions of direct physical assault. Imagining the triple bank shot impacts us less viscerally, causing a weaker aversion that is more easily outweighed by calculation.

Princeton philosopher Peter Singer cites Greene's work in arguing that we should re-examine our moral intuitions and ask not just whether these impulses still serve their original evolutionary logic, but whether that logic merits respect in the first place. Why obey moral impulses that evolved to serve what Richard Dawkins calls the "selfish gene"--such as sympathy that gravitates toward kin and friends? Why not worry more about people an ocean away whose suffering we could cheaply alleviate? Isn't it better to save 10 starving African babies than to keep your 90-year-old father on life support?

Singer's radically utilitarian brand of moral philosophy has its work cut out for it. In the absence of arduous cranial wrestling matches, reason may indeed be, as Hume famously put it, "slave of the passions."

Wright is a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation and author of Nonzero and The Moral Animal

Regarding so-called brain death: Human beings who suffer bodily injury and are damaged must never be viewed as some sort of organic property whose death should be hastened in order to donate body parts that would increase the survival chances another human being considered by some as more worthy of life.  We are not created to become body parts for another, however we agree it is morally acceptable to donate non vital organs and tissue.1  We were not created to serve others first, but to first serve our Creator 2 

We are created in God's image.  We are created with a purpose -  to worship Him only.  "Serve the Lord with gladness;  Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord,  He is God;  It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture." (Ps. 100:2-3) We are created to be a steward of the life God gave us, and have no ownership over our own body.  In Deuteronomy 32:39 the Lord says "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand."

1. Organ donation CHN approves of:

 A living person can give non-vital organs and tissues to another person without causing death, severe injury, or disabling mutilation to self. For example, one might give one of two kidneys, or bone marrow.

 Tissues including corneas, heart valves, bones, skin, ligaments and tendons can be taken after death, that is, after the heart is no longer beating and there is destruction of the vital systems, including circulatory, respiratory and central nervous systems. Vital Distinctions in Transplantation Organ and tissue donation by Paul Byrne, MD  


2. Matthew 22:36-40  "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." 

The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.  JOB 33:4

For in him we live, and move, and have our being  Acts:17:28



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