Naked Neuroscience

Naked Neuroscience episode

Sat, 5th Jul 2014

Morality and Motivation

Morality (c) David Blackwell

Would you kill one person to save 5 others?  Does religion evade morality by omission and how can you tweak people’s motivations?  We’ll be stripping down, breaking hot neuroscience research at the Federation of European Neurosciences 2014 Forum including finding out how moral values are contagious.

Listen Now    Download as mp3

In this edition of Naked Neuroscience

Full Transcript

  • 00:00 - Are Moral Values Contagious?

    Would you kill one person to save 5 others? Does religion evade morality by omission and how can you tweak people’s motivations?

  • 15:27 - Reward and Punishment

    Could we ever analyse Hitler’s genetic fingerprint or his DNA to predict his motivation, reward and sense of punishment?

  • 21:11 - A Conscious Computer?

    Could we ever use neuroscience to create a conscious computer? One scientist’s childhood fantasy…



Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

The usual idea is that you have the choice of switching the points on a railway to send a train/tram down a path to kill one person instead of to kill five people on the route it's currently set to take. The correct answer depends on a lot of different factors. If you know that the five people are neonazis and the one person is a harmless nun, you do not switch the points. If you know that the the points are never normally switched because the line the one person is on is not supposed to be in use, you should maybe not switch the points either, because the five people on the line are likely idiots, and particularly if they aren't looking about to see if they're in danger, while the one person may be working on the line and thinks he should be safe. If you have no knowledge of the above kind, you may feel that it is fair to switch the points and that the one person is more likely to be able to get out of the way in time than the five, some of which may be unsighted by others in front of them. I think I would leave the points alone though even in the absense of such specific knowledge, because the five people should certainly not be there whereas the one person maybe should.

This is the big problem with such thought experiments, because you don't quite know what you're testing. You can wrongly imagine that you're testing nothing more complex than whether people are weighing up a five against a one, but the answers you get from them may actually reflect what they're thinking about blame, and whether the five idiots should be on the track with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears. David Cooper, Thu, 10th Jul 2014

I was surprised to hear Ray Dolan say that the majority of people would not pull the lever - and leave five people to die.  This doesn't seem to tie in with experiments - certainly in this case ( around 90% DID pull the lever. derek_mcc, Tue, 15th Jul 2014

What's interesting to is that in experiments where this question is posed, the results change if there is personal interaction - if, instead of anonymously pulling a lever, you had to physically push that one person to their death, with their awareness that you are doing it. Then, for some reason, a lot of people who say they would kill one to save five, switch their answer. cheryl j, Wed, 16th Jul 2014

Anyone else seen "Wind Talkers"? As I recall, a soldier was charged to personally defend his buddy (the guy who spoke Navajo) but kill him if there was a chance they would be captured.

Interesting listening to Theodore Van Kirk, the navigator of Enola Gay, who lectured to schools on why war is a bad thing, saying he had no regrets and would do it6 again if required. Then recalling meeting a Hiroshima survivor: "No bitterness. We shook hands and said, heck, we were soldiers at war." This entire exchange completely baffled the radio interviewer, who had clearly never been in a fire fight. 

And a TV interview with the tailgunner of a British plane that had fought a German submarine in the North Sea. The TV company arranged a reunion 50 years on. Asked whether he now felt reconciled, he pointed to the sub's deck gunner and said "No. That bastard tried to kill me."

Our attitudes to killing are complex and flexible, depending on the circumstances. alancalverd, Wed, 16th Jul 2014

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society