Friday, October 25, 2013

Blinded by science

Philosopher-turned-psychologist Joshua Greene, who once though up the famous “trolley problem” and is now at Harvard, has a new book out – Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. In it he addresses a curious question: if we are wired by evolution to have an aversion to harming others, why can’t we stop fighting along tribal lines? Or can’t we?

In fact, Greene thinks we can, as long as reason prevails, and the whole of humanity opts for an emotionally dampened utilitarian outlook – similar to the one educated Western individuals like him have adopted. And what are the odds for this? Judging by Greene’s own experiments, in which even his WEIRD subjects had a hard time turning off their emotional responses in more evocative situations, not very high.