Moral Dumbfounding

Towards Day 25 of Evolving Systems course

  from Jonathan Haidt's book, The Happiness Hypothesis:
Buddha compared the mind to a wild elephant: "In days gone by this mind of mine used to stray wherever selfish desire or lust or pleasure would lead it. Today this mind does not stray and is under the harmony of control, even as a wild elephant is controlled by the trainer"....I was the rider on the back of an elephant...When the elephant really wants to do something, I'm no match for him....the conscious, reasoning part of the mind has only limited control of what the elephant does. Nowadays, we know...a few ways to help the rider and the elephant work better as a Buddha said, "Our life is the creation of our mind."

I. a teaser for-- and welcome to --President McAuliffe!
(let's tell her what we've been up to...?)

in this context: Tuesday we just began a conversation about
Haidt's essay on "The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail,"
unpacks two illusions:

1) We believe our moral judgment is driven by our moral reasoning

when, actually, moral reasoning is an ex post facto process:

moral intuitions come first and directly cause moral judgments -->
(slow, "cool," "more cognitively expensive")
rationalization of (quick, "hot," "cheaper") gut feelings

(tested that hypothesis w/ our own surprising reactions to the sibling incest story)

2) AND/analogously (where we'll pick up today)
we expect successful rebuttal of opponent to change their mind:
as if forcing a dog's tail to wag by moving it
with our hand will make the dog happy (!)-->
explicates bitterness, futility, and self-righteousness of most moral arguments

reasoning is rarely used to question one's own attitudes or beliefs
we use "my-side bias," "makes-sense epistemology,"
engage in
a one-sided search for "a priori causal theories"
to find a conclusion that fits our prior beliefs
the principal difficulty in objective moral reasoning: biased search for evidence

**most cognition occurs outside of consciousness,
so conscious argumentation won't work:
we need to seek out discourse partners to trigger conflicting intuitions

(for this reason:) attempts to directly teach thinking and reasoning in a
classroom generally show little transfer to activities outside

my BIG question is how Haidt's argument might affect the way we think
about education (Bryn Mawr's structure, our own way of going about it?)

What does/might Haidt's claims have to do w/ the education you have been getting this semester, and w/ the education that is ahead of you??

your posted thoughts on these and related topics:

FluteSound4: 'knowing too much will destroy us'... I think unknowing is the best for the human race....

All throughout class yesterday I was constantly fighting with my mind to pay attention... I began trying to convince myself that I wasn't tired and that I wasn't stressed out to see if I could get my mind to focus. It actually worked for a little bit....I felt like I was having a little experiment with our discussion while I was sitting there silently in my seat.... when we began to refer to our individual selves as "we" instead of "I". I thought this was appropriate though because we've been discussing so many parts of our brains such as the conscious, unconscious, rational, and intuitive. I feel like all of these parts are actually just individual "I"s in my head that all want a say in what I do.

SarahAnn: in class on Tuesday. When we began referring to our individual selves as "we," it was very uncomfortable for me. I've been trying to figure out why. Perhaps it's because the conscio us part of my brain knows it's what I'm referring to when I say I, and it doesn't want to lose what little distinction and power over the unconscious brain that it has (seeing as the conscious can't access many unconscious functions, but the unconscious can control the conscious). Perhaps it's just uncomfortable for me to acknowledge that something I thought I was sure of, "me" or "I", is actually even more complicated than previously thought. Complication and extra self-discovery are really not things I need going into my first college finals week!

LemonKoala: I am kind of lost and feel powerless during our several discussions. However, I have to say that I am really inspires by all the wired questions I probably won’t spend any time wondering usually. I always believe to be a  good learner. It’s about making progress every day and pushing the edges constantly along the way of pursuing knowledge [Kirsten’s depression problem and "the disturbing story"...] Unable to fit myself in this story make explain my indifference to this incident.

Bingqing:I reminded of one of topics we had discussed before—whether we want to be totally aware of what is going on. The result of our discussion is that this depends on whether we prefer surprise to control. Actually, during the whole semester, we make progresses unconsciously. Gradually, I found that three-page weekly paper is not that difficult, weekly reading assignment may not have me stay up late to finish, and speaking out is not stressing. Those are what we gain from our unremittingly studying and unconsciously or consciously learning. We keep unaware of these until we look back the “identifying journey” we travel. We then get excited, inspired and motivated. If we are always conscious about everything, we will lose these positive moods—excitement, self-affirmation and so on. Unconsciousness enlarges our sense of satisfaction with consciousness. It reminded me of an old adage in China,Diligently studying is like seeds in spring, without obvious increasing, grow everyday; Dropping out of school is like sharpening stones, without apparent decreasing, lose everyday.” Education is a continuous process which enables people unconsciously to make significant process and functions in people’s future life.

Olivia: we discussed that we make judgements or decisions mostly through unconsciousness, and that how education focus too much on the consciousness. I actually think the education has focused on the right side. Because the consciousness can shape our unconsciousness, and if we can learn to have a better consciousness, we will accordingly develop a better unconsciousness, which can make better decisions and judgements. Furthermore, right now human beings have no direct access to the unconscious part that can allow us to shape the unconsciousness as we do to the consciousness through education. Right now, I just realize how powerful education is. It can shape human beings' consciousness and unconsciousness and therefore our evolutions as human beings in general. However, since education/consciousness can control the direction of our evolution, where will education/consciousness lead us? Which direction are we going? Is it a right direction? or a disaster? ... educations/cultures/knowledge are ways of rewriting brains for all human beings. There seems to be two different kinds of rewriting, on different dimensions. And I think the later rewriting process is the evolution of our... souls?brains?consciousness and unconsciousness? (I really don't know how to name the subject that evolves)

schu: Education, education, education.....What is the goal of education? As we learn about the brain, and consciousness, unconsciousness, I believe the education to be the methods to train our consciousness to be more well-developed in width and depth, and make it more interactable with our unconsicouness to think for all possibles and behave responsably. Sometimes education represents more possiblities, but sometimes it also means restrain or limit, just like evolution.... Education is training our brain, exploring our brain and make it more skillful at its job of consciousness and unconsciousness. We need to leave space for the unconsious part of the brain to be free and creative,which can hardly be controlled by syllabus and textbooks, but the knowledge and studying methods we learn from education provide the rich soil for the free and creative ideas to grow.

Aimee: I once read a book titled The Accidental Mind, written by David Linden, a neuroscientist. Linden posits that the brain is actually "an inelegant and inefficient agglomeration of stuff," ...built like an ice cream cone...Through evolutionary time, as higher functions were added, a new scoop was placed on top, but the lower scoops were left largely unchanged," (Linden 21). Thus, humans have a brain that is both new and antiquated; we have the automatic functions of a frog, the social skills of chimpanzees, and unique higher level thinking skills.... our brains are NOT perfect.... I am particularly perturbed by the brain's ability to hallucinate or form delusions...The presence of the unconscious mind limits our understanding of the world around us. Everything is filtered and processed before we consciously know it. Yet, this limitation is note entirely bad. In some ways, our limitations are empowering. When we understand that our knowledge is limited, we seek further understanding. We question. We experiment. Voila! Science! And, in many ways, questioning is what made this ESEM unique. We are evolving thinkers, exploring and creating stories in a literary and scientific context....Is it safe to say that inquiry is of the utmost importance? For this class and for education as a whole?

MC: The Brain from Top to Bottom: how much neuroscience do we want? How much do we feel like it can comfortably explain, and how much does philosophy have to fill in? Does it have to fill in? Is philosophy a viable option for reasoning these things out?

SoundsLikeBanana: I loved the discussion that we had on Tuesday about the rational and intuitive sides of our brains. I would just like to highlight what Meredith and I slightly debated about, whether role-plyaing could be constructive or destructive.... I would say both. For some people it would be a necessary escape when their world is too frightening, are hard to deal with. But where is the line? When does a person stop using this as mental stimulation and escape, to a blatant inability to perceive reality?

nina44: So I forgot to post last night because ... I was reading a novel ... for fun.... I read I seem to lose the sense for time, and often forget things that I am supposed to do, like a blog posting. Reading is almost like a daydream. I am here physically, but mentally I am in another world. How do I do that? Is it just serious focus, or does something else happen in my brain that allows me to block out the outside world, and all the thoughts that go through my mind all day .... what role does the unconscious play in when your mind goes wandering, when your in a daydream, or reading?

Kirsten:  It was interesting to me that Dementia was brought up in class on Tuesday. I had watched a movie called Choke, and ... found myself thought the movie wondering if she was making up these people that se thought she was seeing, or if they were people that she remembered. 

SarahAnn: I was immediately reminded of debates that we  had in my senior Government class near the end of my final semester of high school. They were, of course, on hot-button issues, inadvertantly giving a great example of this whole intuitive morality business. One member of the group opposing my team told me that they really didn't have enough evidence to make a case - but she just knew that our issue was morally wrong, and that should be enough to make it remain illegal ....

Ironically, the criminals I see evaluate and justify their own violence-the torture and hostage taking and human sacrifices they commit-by means of exactly the same kinds of moral value judgments that our legal system uses: “the bitch deserved it”” or “the son of a bitch deserved it.”” This sentence is from Preventing Violence, a book by James Gilligan, an American psychiatrist who acted as Director of Mental Health Services for the Massachusetts Prison system.... We make the ex post facto rationalization that since a person committed an act that we do not condone; the person deserves punishment because of our initial moral intuition that they are evil. However, evil is not an “objective thing that actually exist[s] independently of our subjective feelings and thoughts, rather than a word we all too often use to rationalize, justify, and conceal, from ourselves and others, our own violence toward those we hate and wish to punish.....The moral intuition of “evil” is an example of our use of “make-sense epistemology.”

concrete example of the power of the unconscious (and the difficulty of correcting it)--> on reading my book cover: what's the title??

III. coursekeeping to conclude

* tomorrow evening your next paper is due, reflecting some more on
the implications of unconscious processes in the construction of stories

* by Monday evening
reflect on the course forum about the semester's evolution;
as a spur, look back over the opening/concluding chapters of The Truth about Stories:
how does that text look to you now, through the lens of the semester's conversation?

(I'll probably organize Tuesday's conversation around that text...)

*also come ready, on Tuesday, to sign up for your performance groups
(performances by both groups to be held in the English
House Lecture Hall, 11:30-1 on Thursday, Dec. 9)