Last week The Wall Street Journal ran an article about a discovered “link” in the wiring of our brains to morality. According to the article, results from an experiment by neuroscientists at Harvard, Caltech and USC suggest that our convictions of right and wrong come not from our principles but from the “brain trying to make its emotional judgment felt.”
The scientists discovered if certain brain cells are missing due to something like a tumor or stroke, the ability to understand some issues of right and wrong can be “permanently skewed." In other words, there is a “neurobiological basis for morality.”
Of course, decisions are based on one’s family values, beliefs, heritage, etc. These tests weren’t refuting that. But the scientists found these results by studying six men and women who had injured neurons in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. These people appeared normal and intelligent, yet they also proved not as easily embarrassed or likely to feel guilty when they answered certain questions: To save yourself and others would you throw someone off a lifeboat? Or smother a crying baby? Or push someone off a bridge? They answered a total of 50 moral dilemma questions, and their answers were “essentially identical” to other participants, except for these “to save yourself or others” questions. To those questions they displayed no moral compunction in sacrificing one life for the good of all. Their inhibition to make such a choice had been lost.
Neuroscientist Marc Hauser looks at this and other experiments as evidence that the brain may be hard-wired for morality. Testing his theory, he gathered data from thousands of people in many countries and found that all display a remarkable unanimity in their basic moral choices. The article says he came to the conclusion that “a shared innate capacity for morality may be responsible.”
Many scientists think the theory needs more proof. Even so, the article concludes, “it would be curious if, in the neural substrates of morality, we find common ground.”
Where’s C.S. Lewis when ya need him?
On blog tour this week: Orchard of Hope by Ann Gabhart