Watch Out! A fMRI is Watching You!
As a segue from the topic of the last posting, I would like to write about research into the neurophysiology of the various decisions and pronouncements made by ethicists themselves. And I really don’t see ethicists talking or writing about this yet. Using fMRI technique and with the background of knowledge regarding functional to anatomic correlations of brain processing, information is being developed about how people make ethical/moral decisions from a neurophysiological point of view.
For example, here is an abstract of a Sept. 14 2001 paper in Science titled
"An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment " by
Joshua D. Gree et al.:"The long-standing rationalist tradition in moral psychology emphasizes the role of reason in moral judgment. A more recent trend places increased emphasis on emotion. Although both reason and emotion are likely to play important roles in moral judgment, relatively little is known about their neural correlates, the nature of their interaction, and the factors that modulate their respective behavioral influences in the context of moral judgment. In two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies using moral dilemmas as probes, we apply the methods of cognitive neuroscience to the study of moral judgment. We argue that moral dilemmas vary systematically in the extent to which they engage emotional processing and that these variations in emotional engagement influence moral judgment. These results may shed light on some puzzling patterns in moral judgment observed by contemporary philosophers."
I have presented this only as an example of what is currently going on in neurophysiology regarding ethical decision-making. I pose these questions to ethicists or anyone making ethical/moral decisions (which virtually all of us do): What do you think about it? Do you feel uncomfortable about these scientists scrutinizing you? Do you think that the outcome of studies such as the one exampled here will be useful? Will it cause us to be more cautious regarding accepting ethical principles or the results of ethical decision-making? Will fMRIs be used, for example, to separate those ethicists who excessively use their emotions to form their conclusions? A lot of questions.. but I would be most interested in your answers. After all.. it is all about YOU and all of you. ..Maurice.