Baroness Susan Greenfield was dragged through the press last week for knocking up debt at The Royal Institution through her ambitious renovation project. Reports said she was “escorted off the premises” and locked out of her grace-and-favour flat: http://gulfnews.com/news/world/uk/top-scientist-told-to-quit-her-job-1.566237
I have to say The Royal Institution is looking fabulous (I’ll admit I didn’t see it before its revamp) and I have never sat in such a conducive lecture hall as the one I sat in last night. They should build more lecture halls after the fashion of anatomy theatres, fit them with purple cushioned seats and allow for plenty of leg room. (I don't mean more anatomy theatres at The Royal Institution, though, but elsewhere.)
So, Dr Guy Kahane, Research Fellow at The Oxford Centre for Neurotics, gave a lecture on evidence supporting a neural basis for morality at The Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, London, last night. He argued that a radically different picture of morality has been emerging since 2001 and that it is still too early to determine whether ethics will be revolutionised by the findings of neuroscience.
Dr Kahane showed us images of activity occurring in different areas of the brain when people make moral decisions based on Utilitarian principles (Mills and Singer) and non-Utilitarian principles (Kant). To give an example: a Utilitarian would be interested in the consequences of an action; so a Utilitarian would lie if it were for the greater good, forming a decision based on counter-intuition. A non-Utilitarian would not lie under any circumstance; a non-Utilitarian’s morality is intuitive.
Dr Kahane said that neuroscience does not favour one way of thinking over another, but there was vocal support from some audience members for Utilitarian principles and James Crabtree, managing editor of Prospect Magazine, who chaired the lecture (and did a great job), added his magazine’s support to Utilitarianism.
I was interested to know what the work of neuroscience would mean for the subconscious. Dr Kahane asked me what I meant. I said I meant the subconscious in terms of its psychoanalytic definition. There was an immediate default to Freud (which irks me slightly as psychoanalysis has had mothers since Freud). “We are studying the subconscious, but it is not necessarily in the way Freud would approve,” Dr Kahane said. Hmm. I can’t see why he would disapprove. Freud worked on a scientific model for his theory. I am interested to know whether neuroscience will ignore it or not. I hope that the origins of emotions won’t be oversimplified in researchers’ pursuit to identify their neural locations.
Africa Oyé 2018/Father’s Day
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