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#383320 - 06/02/09 07:38 AM "Right can be wrong."
TraceLines Offline


Registered: 04/28/09
Posts: 58
Loc: Upstate South Carolina, USA
While reading some rather old news, I came across this bit of science news, courtesy of an author/biologist Peter Watts. Thought that some of you would enjoy this particular article and what it has to say about 'morality'.

Originally Posted By: Peter Watts
Six people careening down the track in an out-of-control trolley, heading for a cliff. You can save them by rerouting to a new track, but there's someone standing along that route and they won't be able to get out of the way in time. Do you kill one to save six?

Most people say yes, without hesitation.

Now say there's no alternate track, but you're standing on a bridge next to a grotesquely obese person who is large enough to stop the trolley if pushed onto the tracks in time. (We presume a fairly small trolley here.) Do you kill one to save six?

Most people say no. Despite the fact that both algebra and agency of death are the same. Only the means of execution changes— and logically, that should make no difference at all.

It makes a hell of a difference. Even those who say yes take a significantly longer time to come to that decision, as they strain against the instinctive "right" answer. And the part of the brain that decides what's "right" and "wrong" in these cases? The emotional centers. Not the cognitive ones. Our vaunted human morality comes from the gut. Stephen Colbert would be proud.

This is old news. (I cited it way back in ßehemoth; it was all tied in with Guilt Trip and Absolution and the various other neurochemical chains inflicted upon CSIRA's 'lawbreakers.) But now, in Nature, we see that the right kind of brain damage can free us from these inconsistent and indefensible moral impulses. Here is the study : here is a nontechnical summary*. And here is what they say: People with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex experience none of the cognitive dissonance of the trolly paradox. Emotions do not blind them; they see the equivalence. They understand that killing one to save ten is a bargain, no matter what sarcastic ol' Leonard McCoy said back in "Operation: Annihilate". They have been freed from making the "right" choice; they make the correct one.

Perhaps you would call them heartless. Perhaps you would say this loss of emotion dehumanises them somehow, and you would be right: but you would say it as though it were a bad thing, and in that you would be mistaken. These are not sociopaths— they were no more likely than "healthy" individuals to claim that they'd abandon a baby to avoid the burden of caring for it, for instance. But they did appear more willing to sacrifice that baby— even their own baby— if doing so would save a greater number of lives. These cold-eyed pod people would save more lives with their heartless rationality than you with all of your motherhood issues.

The authors conclude that emotions play a "necessary role" in the formation of "normal judgments of right and wrong". I find their careful wording notable. "Normal judgments" are not necessarily "good judgments".

Right can be wrong.


Am I the only one that sees a correlation in what is stated here and what LaVey has put into print almost 30 years prior to the posting of this article?

Original content at: http://www.rifters.com/real/newscrawl_2007.htm
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#383338 - 06/02/09 11:49 AM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
reprobate Offline

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Registered: 06/05/02
Posts: 7140
Loc: Canada
Notice the assumption that killing one to save six is the "correct" answer in both cases. Equivalence only requires us to say that the answer should be the same in both cases; it doesn't tell us which of the two is the morally correct one.

The original study doesn't call the choice respondents make the "correct" one; it calls it an "abnormally utilitarian" outcome. If ethics isn't utilitarian, this is a consistently wrong outcome.

However, maybe the damage is of such a nature that it only removes emotional biases that blind us to the equivalence, without favoring a utilitarian bias in its place. If that's true, then the remaining consistent utilitarian answer is probably a function of cultural biases, education, or some other factor in human nature that isn't emotional but isn't exactly logical.
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#383339 - 06/02/09 11:57 AM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
Roho_the_Rooster Offline
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Registered: 03/10/05
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Originally Posted By: TraceLines

Am I the only one that sees a correlation in what is stated here and what LaVey has put into print almost 30 years prior to the posting of this article?



I have no idea if you are or not.

As to the scenario, if the one is someone I know and/or feel some connection with, the six strangers are out of luck.
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#383343 - 06/02/09 01:16 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: Roho_the_Rooster]
Rodim Offline


Registered: 03/18/07
Posts: 239
Quote:
As to the scenario, if the one is someone I know and/or feel some connection with, the six strangers are out of luck.


Agreed.
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#383346 - 06/02/09 02:05 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
verszou Offline



Registered: 09/05/07
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In the first case you can claim to not have seen the person and having acted in the best interest of the persons in danger, while in the second case you risk being held accountable for murder.
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#383351 - 06/02/09 03:14 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: Roho_the_Rooster]
TrojZyr Offline
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Registered: 07/25/01
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Thirded.

I have a difficult time with these sorts of scenarios, because I always want to learn more about the people involved. This is because, to my mind, six is not necessarily greater than one, if, say, you're talking about six meth addicts, or six pedophiles, or six fundamentalists of practically any variety, or if the One in question is someone I care about (and/or is a doggie or a kitty wink ).



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#383353 - 06/02/09 03:37 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: Roho_the_Rooster]
TraceLines Offline


Registered: 04/28/09
Posts: 58
Loc: Upstate South Carolina, USA
Originally Posted By: Roho_the_Rooster
As to the scenario, if the one is someone I know and/or feel some connection with, the six strangers are out of luck.


That isn't the point of the exercise. I think its more of an issue of how distant one is from the consequences of the decision. Its much easier to pull a lever to switch the tracks than it is to personally shove a fatass onto the tracks ( I know, people have tried to push me before... not on to tracks, just in general wink ).

The reason that I bring all of this up is a quasi-relation to the essay 'The Necessity of Evil' (Anton LaVey, The Devil's Notebook) with respect to positive change as a result of a possibly 'evil' action. Maybe the relation is a bit strained, however.

If one refuses to purposefully kill one person ( a generally 'evil' act ), it results in the death of six. The scenario is supposed to be taken in the idea that nothing is known about any of the subjects. Even following LaVey's idea that no man is equal to the next, its simple statistics that six is better than the one (In that you have 6 chances for excellence instead of 1).

More thoughts?
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#383359 - 06/02/09 04:09 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
Fnord Offline


Registered: 06/19/08
Posts: 211
Loc: Texas
Originally Posted By: TraceLines
I think its more of an issue of how distant one is from the consequences of the decision. Its much easier to pull a lever to switch the tracks than it is to personally shove a fatass onto the tracks ( I know, people have tried to push me before... not on to tracks, just in general wink ).


I'm reminded of the videos that were widely circulated at the inception of the Iraq war that showed the screens that the military personnel were looking at to target enemies. There were thermal images of people that sort of disintegrated when they were struck by fire. I often wondered if looking at a representation of a person made it easier to punch the button. Having never faced that I wouldn't know.

Nice response Roho... you're an honest man!

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#383360 - 06/02/09 04:14 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: Fnord]
TraceLines Offline


Registered: 04/28/09
Posts: 58
Loc: Upstate South Carolina, USA
Originally Posted By: Fnord
I'm reminded of the videos that were widely circulated at the inception of the Iraq war that showed the screens that the military personnel were looking at to target enemies. There were thermal images of people that sort of disintegrated when they were struck by fire. I often wondered if looking at a representation of a person made it easier to punch the button. Having never faced that I wouldn't know.


Going strictly off of the information and generalizations of the article above, it definitely seems that way. I understand dehumanization is a standard tactic in both modern warfare and terrorism (I lack sources for such a statement currently).
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Too much zeal clouds judgment.

Lack of zeal results in doing nothing worth judging.

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#383362 - 06/02/09 04:26 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
Ebenezer Scrooge Offline


Registered: 11/04/08
Posts: 140
Loc: New England
trolleys(trollies?) still go on tracks? confused

I thought those were all motorized now;they were where I'm from.


Well,since I couldn't care less about 7 strangers(picked to live together... grin ) who I do not know, I do not care how they handle it. Kill 6, kill 1 or kill all 7, unless I know them, or one can cure cancer(pick some other world changing thing) makes no difference to me.

Of course, if it was, say, six topless woman/strippers or six cheerleaders (Save a cheerleader, save the world grin) Then I might...MIGHT, feel different about it.

Of course if I have a legal obligation to make a choice, then It depends on who is going to die. No way would I push a beautiful woman in front of a trolley to save a bunch of guys

I would push a guy into a trolley full of woman though.

If its a loved one on the other track, no dice for our six friends. If it is loved on on the trolleys, sorry guy on track two.

If I am on the trolley, those people are on their own. TUCK AND ROLL! grin

If I am on the other track, the idiot that tries to push me better be willing to fight me onto the track, or go down with me, cause the SOB pushes me, I'm taking him with me.
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#383366 - 06/02/09 05:07 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
HellofallHells Offline
CoS Warlock

Registered: 11/01/05
Posts: 3524
Before we get more "I'd do it to save a loved one" answers, the presumption, as I understand it, is that they are all strangers.

The crux of his argument seems to be that a person with brain damage to the area of the brain that regulates emotion gives a different answer to the question than a person with a "normal" brain. Of course emotion is a significant factor in our decision making and determining right from wrong, but I honestly don't see a logical equivalency between the two scenarios. The cause of the man on the rails and the fat guy's death are fundamentally different. Physically pushing someone to their death is something even an emotionally deficient person probably wouldn't do lightly, even to save others, no matter what they say in a questionnaire. Hypothetical scenarios and real life are two different things.

And what's with expecting everyone to be familiar with a quote from an obscure episode of Star Trek? crazy
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#383367 - 06/02/09 05:12 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
HellofallHells Offline
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Registered: 11/01/05
Posts: 3524
Quote:
Maybe the relation is a bit strained, however.


I'm failing to see it. Could you elaborate?
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#383368 - 06/02/09 05:19 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
reprobate Offline

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Registered: 06/05/02
Posts: 7140
Loc: Canada
Quote:
its simple statistics that six is better than the one (In that you have 6 chances for excellence instead of 1).

Ethics ain't statistics.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that the two cases are different enough in morally relevant ways that they deserve different answers.

The rule of double effect comes into play. When you shove a person into the path of the trolley, you're killing as a means to an end. When you switch tracks, such that someone dies as a result, that's a collateral effect and not a means to the end.

A more difficult problem would involve a case where you have to save one person, and in so doing, allow six to die; or, through inaction, allow the one to die so that the six will be saved. In other words, would you help the fat guy off the track? That choice seems to me to be morally equivalent to the choice as to whether to shove him into the path of the train. And so I'd give the same answer: You have to save that one, even if the six die.


Edited by reprobate (06/02/09 05:22 PM)
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#383369 - 06/02/09 05:19 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: HellofallHells]
TraceLines Offline


Registered: 04/28/09
Posts: 58
Loc: Upstate South Carolina, USA
Originally Posted By: HellofallHells
I'm failing to see it. Could you elaborate?


In that murder, which could very well be applied to either decision (or lack of decision), can be used to save the lives of more people. Murder, at least in the eyes of most of the world, is a generally immoral act. And often called 'evil'.

The act of killing one ( an 'evil' act ) can result in the saving of six lives ( a 'good' act ). Was simply suggesting that LaVey hit on this very subject with the aforementioned essay in The Devil's Notebook. That 'evil' is necessary in some situations.
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Too much zeal clouds judgment.

Lack of zeal results in doing nothing worth judging.

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#383370 - 06/02/09 05:20 PM Re: "Right can be wrong." [Re: TraceLines]
John Prophet Offline

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Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 993
Loc: My suburban lair
Originally Posted By: TraceLines
'The Necessity of Evil' (Anton LaVey, The Devil's Notebook)


I think that you’re referring to “On the Importance of Being Evil” ( which is probably my single most favorite essay, or at least the one I’ve found to be the most powerful, by the Doctor).

It has been stated many times that Satanism is comprised of an amoral Philosophy and this is probably what I like most about it. My own personal motto is “practicality over principle”.

I have written at length on my own site about this issue of morality and why it is an often illogical and ultimately subjective concept. In my mind, ideas of “right and wrong” are irrelevant (regardless of whether they fall under the category of, what this article refers to as “normal judgments of right and wrong” or not).

As LaVey himself said- Good is what you like and evil is what you don’t like. So, although I doubt that humanity as a whole is likely to get rid of ideas such as right and wrong; an intelligent person should recognize that these things are basically opinions and the real issue is always about what works, what makes sense and what ultimately serves your purposes.

In this train scenario, there is no clear element of personal gain or loss (without making some other assumptions) and no clear logical or practical benefits either way. So the only factors to be considered are the presence of some sort of irrational social obligation or guilt.

Personally, I’m not fond of either of those concepts.



Edited by John Prophet (06/02/09 05:26 PM)
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