« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#91 — The Biology of Good and Evil

2017-08-09 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robert Sapolsky about his work with baboons, the opposition between reason and emotion, doubt, the evolution of the brain, the civilizing role of the frontal cortex, the illusion of free will, justice and vengeance, brain-machine interface, religion, drugs, and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to them in a park- asked Missus SAM Harris. Today I am speaking with Robert supposed Robert is a narrow, endocrinologist, a prime ecologist he's April biology and neurology at Stanford, university and recipient of aid Macarthur, so called genius grant of, as the official title of that grant, just won't have to say so called there, Then I guess Robert really is a superstar professor, an communicator of science as well as a top flight scientist And, as I say in the beginning, I remember being in a class at Stanford when he came in as a guest lecturer.
And I recall, have been one the moments that nudged me toward doing my Phd in Neuroscience, rather than philosophy, I would want to speak to Robert for quite some time has actually been one of my most frequently requested. Guess in this episode. We discuss his new book behave the biology of humans at our best and worst, which I highly recommend. It really is the most accessible discussion of brain science you will find, and for those of you who want more talk about free will and about the fact that the concept doesn't make much sense. And about why that matters we get into that at the end, without further delay. I bring you Robert Sapolsky I am here with Robert Suppose: ski robber, thanks for coming on the sure, glad to be here
as you and I know, but our listeners, don't we have been fighting our robot overlords to get a clear cut out in here now with two attempts, and I think we ve got it. But, as I said, if, if this glitches on us, I will get on a plane and come an interview. You, because we have a lot to talk about. So welcome to the package. Thanks for persisting here, I'm trying to check my memory here, I dont think you and I have ever met. We were in very much similar circles, but I recall that when I was at Stanford I was class with John Gabrielle E, I think, on. The narrow anatomy, a memory and you were brought in as a guest? sure and- and so that was my first exposure to you in and really fairly early exposure to? What is interesting about brain science? You gave this very cool interdisciplinary talk, because you are both a narrow biologist and a prime ecologist and unjust tat. You should know that
you stand in front of a class of undergraduates for the better part of an hour got in my brain and inspired me. In part to go the direction I did so. Thank you for that. Will thanks. That's that's really good air. So he D written this book behave witches justice, monumental, tour of the human brain and behaviour, and we will cover some of it. We would definitely will not exhaust what is interesting in that book, but what you did at here is, as I know all too well, it's really hard to write about the brain in a way this accessible, because he saw so much at the concepts are so hard, but once you get into the details- and you start naming parts, it just becomes us thicket of neural anatomical term-
and people totally lose the plot a you really do a fantastic job in this book of giving scientific detail in a way that is not at all, boring and really quite accessible, as honestly is not something I have managed to do in my book that's why, when I bring in the relevant neuroscience, I can get in and get out as quickly as possible, because it makes a brutal in, but you have, you ve, struck up a wonderful balance here. So more praise do well say I have to survive, Neuro Anatomy classes, so I know exactly awful all the multi syllabic names can be so I'm still traumatized myself. So I want to talk from before we get into your book just about your background here in the way in which you ve
married what what is essentially Neuro into chronology and private ology that which is fairly unique combination. I can't imagine there too many of you at meetings with the same bile, how his prime Attali, GI, informed or study of the brain, and, if I'm not mistaken, you focus exclusively on vat. Boons rights are how has the picking up boons been relevant here well, sort of the common theme in my work has been to understand the effects. The stress on health, in particular the effects of stress on the brain, and Do you know the punchline, for all that is stress, can do so pretty lousy things to the brain. What I've spent many decades. Doing is, as you say, sort of oscillating between being a lab scientist growing, neurons and petri dish is walking around with their genes and such and then for a third
choose summers are picking up and go into a national park in EAST Africa and studying baboons there and these are the same animals site returned to each year. I'm animals I can dart, can a nest. The ties and when their unconscious do a whole bunch of like basic sort, a clinical tests you do in human in terms of balancing the two they ve, always kind of complemented each other in that you observe something or other interesting about the brain. Based on your patriot, neurons are your lab rights and that's great, but the question, of course, is whether this like actually help us anything about the real world. Let's go study a primate in his natural habitat, and then you see something interesting behaviorally with these, while primates- and you said she
Yes, I wonder like if it's this part of the brain are what's going on there, and thus you go back to the lab and you're cultured neurons. So it's it's been sort of a very privileged ability did do these sort of complementary approaches from now picturing you darting, these baboons do. Do yourself, you actually fire the gun its Logan. It takes surprisingly little practice, fortunately Babel we have very large rear ends, which is what you aim for her and you know, I'm your beyond close, aid is like you're, nice, liberal and so the will it be the likes to sneak around the Bush with a bloke uninsured, while baboons an item that its great slackened and you're doing conservation work the whole time, so it yeah it's a blast. I love doing it now. Do the baboons
Recognize you enough to and recognise what you're doing enough for the consequences of your darting to form a grievance against you darting them not if things go well sort of ninety percent of the time out there you're collecting behaviour of data, which is your base, Jane Goodall sort of scene where you're just hanging with them from, but from dawn till Dusking, there the whole science about doing it in a quantitative, objective kind of way so is actually in free. Day where a majority, but one of the things that actually makes it quite difficult. Is you can't dart somebody until There is nobody else around and nobody looking and he's turned the other way you dart him he responses if he's been stung by a b or has sat on a Thorn Jumpsome scratches three or four seconds sits back down. The three minutes later is unconscious, so
you get one alone and and when he's unconscious you can approach him, and no one else, intervenes in from the troop or or notices what you're doing at that point Well, that's when it all goes perfectly smoothly when it doesn't, he decides to pick up in those three minutes: before going under and walk over and sit down right in the middle of a gazillion. Other baboons are getting to a fight with somebody in those. Are the those are the ones that don't go so well. What are you doing to the reputations of these baboons that walk among their true bent and start a fight and then promptly faint from your anesthesia? well it son. It's gotta caused all sorts of interesting belief systems in these animals that I can't quite access has funny now other dis, analogies between baboons in humans that are of it
as to your except their further from us than chimps. So there are their ways in which chimps are similar to humans and an baboons aren't and and if so, why? The choice to study baboons, ah ships would be much better insofar as you know, the cliche share and use your ninety eight percent of our genome with us a far closer in terms of social structure and terms cognitive, emotional capacities, all that nonetheless baboons still counters close relatives, and I think we, ninety six percent- share dna for a bunch of reasons. Baboons perfect for what I do. They live out in the open in these big open grassland, so you can seem twelve hours a day and you can actually like see them to dart them. They didn't live up, trees there not endangered there. There big they ve got lots of blood that you could borrow from them fear. So the tests,
probably most of all, given that I study stress, none of us are getting stressed because we're like riddled with with you know, keep theory or some horrible chronic illness. None of us you're getting stressed because we're chased by Sabre teeth, tigers everyday instead, where westernize too much, which is to say we get chronic psychosocial stress and it turns out that Boone. Are absolutely perfect for this. They live in these large troops. Fifty two hundred animals, the Serengeti where they live, is like a perfect ecosystem. Predators, don't hassle them much and they only after work about three hours a day for their calories, and what that means is you ve got nine hours a free time every day to devote to making some other bamboo miserable Roy. All they do is generate social stress for each other, their perfect models for westernized humans. Now, what about?
manuals that that they look like baboons but they're, not baboons rain. I am I read about the oh there's, some major taxonomic civil war going on about that as to whether there they are abandoned tight by ice, steered clear of that one, some fairly uncommitted to it, but their different social system they live in, dense rain forests. They would be mighty hard to study these Savannah baboons said I focus honour, are perfect so now getting to you book, which is really this wonderful tour of the brain and behaviour and morally salient behavior. You gonna approaches questions from a pre, similar anger,
and we agree about many things- I am sure- will talk about free. Will it at one point, because many of our listeners want us to end. You are one of the few people who have made more or less the same noises on this topic that I have a and scientists. We if we ve broken the same taboo here, it'll be fun to talk about, but to start with where you're coming from you have a kind of unity of knowledge approach. Where and when you you look at the various levels of scientific explanation for neuro, physiological and genetic to psychological and cultural, and each of these clearly has a different language game socio with it, but you like, like I, don't make much of the transitions between these levels. You do something interesting here where you you find out.
I have a way of segmenting these different levels of analysis, with respect to time that the work of the proxy, the proximity to causing human behaviour, which is very interesting to talk about how You break down the levels of scientific explanation, sure on embryo, such as behavioral biologists, which most of us are in some strange other, a behavior occurs and we are in a sense asking. Why did that behaviour just happen, and it turns out this actually asking a whole bunch of questions, because, if you're asking, why did that behaviour just happen? Part of it is what occurred in the brain that individual one second ago, but you are also saying what were the sensory queues? in the environment a minute ago that triggered those neurons and you are also asking what did that person's hormone levels this morning over the recent hours, your days have
do with making them more or less sensitive to this century cues, which then trigger those neurons and and your often running to neural plasticity over the course of months back to childhood, back to fiddle environment wished her to be phenomenally influence on adult behaviour and then your back to genes, but then, if you still asking, why do that? Behaviour occur? You're also asking well what sort of culture Was this person raised in which often wines of meaning, what were these persons ancestors doing couple a hundred years ago? What were the ecological influences on that and finally, when you're saying, why did that behaviour occur? You're also ask you something about the mill
millions of years of evolutionary pressures beforehand. So it's not just the case that it's important to remember to look at these things are multiple levels, exactly, as you said. Ultimately, they merchant into the same. If you are talking about the brain you're talking about the childhood experiences, when the brain was assembled, if you're talking about genes, you're implicitly talk- about the evolution of them. All of these just are a confluence of influences on behaviour that are all sorts of interconnected, yeah. Yeah will will get back to that. Precisely that picture when we talk about free will because obviously there's a lot of confusion about
degrees of freedom for the mind when you're talking about it, the Neuro Physiology of human behaviour or the way in which culture influences brain development, the punchline. Here, obviously, is it once you grant tat the brain is the the final common pathway of all these influences when you're talkin about human thought and intention in behavior, I will then you have to grant that what the brain is doing is the proximity, cause of what the person is doing and either you're going to you're, going to sign on to the laws of physics here or you're. Not so we'll get it wet, we'll get back to that, but that there's a common misunderstanding around the relationship between reason and emotion, just across the board, but in particular with respect to her
when behaviour and the answerin of moral questions, the way in which we just a formal, a worldview. That is as I do, that you can be a motioning motivated or you can be motivated by emotion, free rationality. Let's perform a little psycho surgery on that idea way. You you treat in your book. How do you think about reason and emotion? Well, it's it's the inevitable. Like Coke versus Pepsi Dichotomy, there and as to which is more important, which influences the other war in terms of our actions and of course it turns out, as with most sort of dichotomy would behaviour it's a false one. There utterly intertwined and intertwined Ani neurobiological level. You have a thought, you think of something terrify that happen to you long ago, an emotional
What's your brain activate and you secrete stress hormones or you haven't, aroused emotion, you're in an agitated frightened state? Suddenly, you think reason and no way, that's like imprudent and ridiculous. We make terrible decisions, often when aroused the two parts are equally intertwined, probably where the most progress in thinking about this intertwine is come in recent years is: theirs is certain the sort of comfort and ethics chauvinism we take as these my creatures would be. Cortex is in thinking that nonetheless reason a sort of at the core of most of our decision making and an awful lot of work has shown that far more often than we would like to think, we make our decisions based on implicit, emotional, automatic reflexes. We make them within
milliseconds parts of the brain that are marinated. An emotion and hormones are activating from the standpoint of the brain, long long before the more cortical rational parts activate and often what we believe is rational thinking is, instead, our cognitive selves playing catch, to try to rationalize why our emotional instincts actually are perfectly logical and make one full sense and in lots of which is that the best way to show this is: u manipulate the affected, the emotional, the automatic, the implicit, the the subterranean aspects of our brains, where we may not be aware of it and it changes are decisions, and then we come up with high Fullerton explanations for why it's actually, because of some philosopher, we read freshman year. That's why I did what I just did. No, actually it's because of this monopoly
listen that just occurred, yeah guess so really two sides of this. That's that's one side, which is kind of deflationary of cognition and reasons. You think your reasoning, and that your reasoning is rising your your cognition or your belief formation. But then, when you look closely, if I it is being driven from below by emotion, but the flip side of that is that, in order to make even the most coolly calculated reasoning, effective, it needs to be integrated with parts of the brain unity in this case a vent remedial prefrontal cortex the union, felt sense of the consequences of being right or wrong, and in this connection to deposit his work and others where people who have neurological damage there. They may know the correct strategy say in a gambling task. We may understand the probabilities, but they can't make that understanding, effective,
because it doesn't actually mean anything, it's not coded appropriately yup, and turns out. This is like a tremendous rebuke for the people out there, who would say if only we could be purely rational creatures, if only we can get rid of all that effective mark for underneath why we'd all be Mr Spock and it would be a wondrous world an exactly, as you say, then remedial prefrontal, cortex work of people liked him ass. You people who have damage to this part of the brain it's basically the means by which you're emotional parts of the brain talk to your most rational ones and tell them what their feeling get damage there and people make decisions about things that we view as appalling as beyond the pale of cold blooded as detached as as one example, you take any normal person on earth and you give them sort of a philosophy problem. Would you
she'll, one stranger to save the life of fires and they may be say, may be say no and then you say: would you kill Europe, parent, your loved ones, to save the life of five and in half a second? You say no, of course, not it's! My mother, it's my child whatever, and you take somebody in damage to this part of the brain and they give the exact same answer. It doesn't register they dont process relatedness. In the same way, and ever primate on earth would look at that and say there's something desperately wrong with this person brain on this issue of emotion and rationality. One point I have- done making, which I haven't heard made, I just want to off of you. I have begun to think about doubt, which really is one of the core foundations of our rash,
nowadays, right on it, so you say something which I find implausible the other kind. My error, detection mechanism, weathers, logical or or factual, or semantic or based on memory. You know something trip you set use, you utter a sentence and I and I don't buy it that feeling of doubt in my view, really is an emotion and we actually have some. Imaging data to back this up, in that all the the MRI studies it on believe showed that disbelief doubt
in that the veracity of a proposition was associated with activity in the interior insular, and I- and I have actually begun to think of doubt as a kind of a motion on the continuum of discussed, is kind of propositional, discussed or cognitive discussed, and in a frankly when I see our president speak, I find em in this really in touch with doubt as discussed, write em like as a certain level of incredulity in the face of it, you know a confident utterance that precipitate and me at least a fairly strong emotion of discuss ideas. I want to put those data and in front of you and your schedule take,
Well, my my insular cortex is right with you on that one hundred, but I I thoroughly agree with it. Obviously there's some domains were doubt is just a purely rational process. You sit there and you add up to in two and somehow it comes out to five and that's a fairly pure cognitive state of saying I doubt if that actual is correct, but most of the doubts we have in our social world. I think you're, absolutely right is steeped in emotion, emotion discussed, perhaps add The person who is sowing that doubt emotion, robber, just clarify if we put you in a scanner and give you proposition, is just like that two plus two equals five yours, six what five inches tall, your woman with blonde hair George Washington, was never
President of the United States. I just give you propositional statements, which you recognised to be untrue, but which are not in fact emotionally laden. I would say we predict, on the basis of now three Neuro Imaging studies that those would be associated with insular activity in you and the same statements in a positive light that you would accept in George, Washington was the first president. Nine states, wouldn't I completely agree because it's very much context dependent. If I were sitting there on my own and adding up to in two- and I got five, I would have you know a half seconds worth of pure rationality. Wait a second, that's not right, and then I would have that's it, I'm an idiot, I'm a fake everybody else could define we'll figure it out. I can't even our two plus two answers
they're in the brain immature, I think you're absolutely right. That would not be a purely cognitive experience. That would be. What are these guys up to two? I trust them. Do I feel safe here too, they think I'm an idiot. What do they think of me tat? I say something foolish before they can lock me up in the scanner etc and often running with emotional aspects. I think one of the most perfect realms for looking at this is when you look at conformity studies, and where people go along with something that is patently untrue. Yet they go along. A certain percentage of damage is being affable there being publicly conforming, but a certain percentage actually change their minds, and you can see activation of the visual
more tax. Hey, remember, you actually saw something different than you're saying you saw what all of them were saying. This is a state that also sooty associated with activation of the essential cortex activation of the make dollar. Its anxiety doubting, provokes anxiety, certain he is a very comforting thing and doubting even seemingly the most saree brawl an assertive. Soulless of issues out there. Now the less readily taps into all these sensitive anxiety, running underneath either there's this other peace here, which is that
brain doesn't have this just a constraint of evolution. We were not built so as to acquire new cognitive abilities to Novo the only material to use for modern human cognition. Are these ancient structures and have to be commandeered to two new purposes, so everything we do is built on the back of these aping structures, who were here we're talking about the insular which does receive the inputs The viscerally of you find rotting food disgusting. You know that is the tale told by the insular and the only way to bill
the mind that has the capacity to find abstract ideas. Repugnant is to be re purpose in or extending the purpose of these brain areas that were doing nothing of the kind in apes like ourselves that couldn't form tracked ideas absolutely and it's the totally fascinating domain. The fact that this insular cortex, which you're, like more, will tell you if you're eating something rotten activates in humans, thinking about Moral discussed that a part of the brain that does temperature sensing, for you is also activated when you're contemplating whither somebody has a war or more cold personality that the party or brain some parts that are involved in pain, detection and a very literal sense, also activate when you're feeling empathic met somebody else and all of these speak to this sort of altruism about Evelyn.
Shouldn't evolutions an and it's a tinkerer. It makes do with. What's already there when I went to humans, come up with the concept of moral outrage, immoral discussed, maybe in the last twenty thousand years, fifty thousand whatever. When did we come up with the concept of having warm were called personality, alot shorter than that? And at that point sleep nobody sit down and says: okay, we need to evolve and Harley new part of the brain that does moral disgust. They say insula. I know they do. That kind of sounds the same that you food discussed like here. Give me some duct tape, we're just going to like push that into the Insta now, the insular also does metaphorical moral discussed, and it's a brain. That's winging it in a lot of ways for some really interesting ways in which its better and ways in which that's for the worse
think about the role of the brain in producing these kinds of purely human level distinctions things like the birth of civilization. Really base is largely a story of what the frontal cortex is doing. A thing think it's at one point the book that this region of the brain is what makes you do the hard thing when the hard things the right thing to do less talk for a moment about the role of the frontal cortex in our species. That's exactly sort of a summary of what it does.
More jaw agony, it does impulse control and emotional regulation and long term planning and gratification, postponement and executive function. It's the part of the brain that attempts to tell you you know the seems like a good idea right now, but trust me you're, going to regret it don't do it don't do it of great importance. It's the most recently evolved part of our brains. Our frontal cortex is proportionately bigger and were more complex than in any other primate and most interestingly, it's the last part of the brain. To get fully wired up mean we're accustomed to images of no. Your brain is pretty much setting over the time you're a kindergarten. The frontal cortex is not fully
on line until people are on the average about a quarter century old, which is Boggley, wishes boggling. But it also tells you a whole lot about why adolescence, actin adolescent ways, because the frontal cortex isn't very powerful yet, but in that is radically interesting implication, which is if the frontal cortex that does all this complex, like culture, specific reasoning and regulating your behaviour, if the frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully mature by definition, it's the part of the brain that is least constrained by genes and most shaped by ex riots and that's real important. These think about I'm sure. Ok, the frontal cortex, it's your more all
amateur? If that's the right metaphor, it's your Calvinist, voice, whispering in your head, so the frontal cortex, for example, plays a central role. If you are tempted to lie about something, and if you manage to avoid that temptation, your frontal cortex had something to do with it, but at the same time, If you do decide to lie your frontal court, play some enormous role and you doing an effective job at lie, because that's a version of frontal regulation. Also, okay control, my voice, don't make eye contact. Don't let my face do something funny with it. That's a frontal task. Also, you know if you were talking about apple, the brain that is both central to you, avoiding lying, but once you ve done I did to lie, is central to you doing it effectively. This is a very human, very complicated part of our brains. He answered to follow on what you just said there about the implications of
being so late to develop. This is really where it matters what culture urine and what early life experience you have and wait what what kind of person you become with respect to your beliefs, bout ethical norms and you too, what constitutes honour and everything that stands. As a a salient consequential difference between groups and societies? Now? None of this is just floating around in the ether is not just in the books on our shelves. This is getting etched in the brains of all concerned and largely the story of what is happening in the in the frontal cortex, the up and That's exactly why it can't mature into your twenty five. It's not that it's a more complex construction project than wiring up the rest, your brain is, you need the first twenty
five years to learn yours situational ethics, in your culture, specific beliefs and that's the thing those are subtle and their often unstated and their often exactly the opposite of what people tell you things were supposed to be about. We think about it. Every culture on earth bans some types of killing and allows others, and they all do different once every culture on earth supports some types of lying and bans, others in our culture? It's ok, lighter grandma, to say who I dont the toy. This is wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. When you ve got the actual toy in your closet and K for us to lie. If somebody says, are you harbouring those refuge
she's in your attic, and you say no of course not. Sir. Of course, not US officer know that once okay, but there's other one sweep and every culture has prohibitions about sexual behaviors work, some types of behaviors, a wondrous and others are blasphemy and they all differ and that's a lot of subtle. Stuff to have the master is to what counts is doing the right thing. How do I'm doing my part to not spare grandma the brutal about the toy? Yes, that's me. I'm trying to knock. I know Europe near book lying certainly makes the most convincing sort of argument I have seen for it's, not any domain here, although I think there's a misunderstanding there s, I think I saw in a footnote. In and note you said that against line and all conceivable circumstances kind of the county in view which is not the case, I actually, if you're at the door with them season, you ve got an frank in the attic. Then I view
lie in the way most people do us as a adequate and even necessary act of self Defence or the defence of others. In those days I generally It is being on a continuum of violence. Where is the least violent thing you can you to someone who is no longer behaving as a rational actor or someone whose behaviour you can modify with on a speech Ok, sorry for that misrepresentation, noble nobody was supposed to meet the footnote so well and frank- a saving Are there primates that show an analogy? this delay and in maturation in the frontal cortex, or is that a uniquely human issue? No its prime Why did she even and wide, but it's not as dramatic it's not as delay, It's not as faced with complex of the task is: Do when learning. Certainly the complexities of our frontal depended prohibitions.
But no we're not the only species that invented the idea that this is a very good part of the brain. To make a very valuable. In the face of experience, we we ve just got the most dramatic version, There are other interesting bits of Neuro Anatomy here that that you don't often hear talked about, at least in in the popular press there's something called VON economy neurons, which are unique in primates and cetaceans and elephants, I believe in there and there, I think, uniquely in the insular and enter simulate or preferentially there and there they relate to social, cognition and self awareness to give us a potted description of what what's happening there are. These neurons are very cool. I am you study human brains in one of the first things you have to recognize this we're not human, because we've invented it totally novel type of neurotransmitter or a completely new brand of neuron. It's just that. We've got more of them. There more complex we bought,
but then people found this one neuron type that did seem to be unique to humans. These VON animals, there almost entirely we found in anterior singular insular cortex having to do with empathy c and moral discussed in all that cool, interesting stuff, so That's plenty interesting, but as you say that people would further and it turns up and other species and all the usual suspects when you're looking from the most complex social work, What's other apes other primate, cetaceans, elephants, I'm the best guess is that play a role in some very complex aspects of sociology
are they mirror neurons in lake? Don't get me started on that one, but very little reason to think they play the very narrow we documented sense of what these mirror neurons. Do. That's a whole separate round number one of the most interesting things. Is these you're the first neurons that die in a very obscure neurological to seize caught frontal temporal dimension and one that product we doubt, which is the frontal cortex and the first neurons that go our VON economy, neurons and two interesting things about that. What the tells you is. These are really expensive, vulnerable neurons to operate. If there's the fur, if they're the first ones the keel over, but the other thing is what does the disease look like distant, habited, socially inappropriate behaviour and often its initially views psychiatric disorder until you realize the sum ass of neurons
logical sort of carpet bombing of the front party, your brain, whatever these neurons are doing, they are very, very much sort of specialised for most complex social things. We fancy species do yeah was, I think, the last stop on our cooks, tour of the brain here, or at least the cooks toward the frontal cortex is the dorsal lateral pfc which is associated with with much of. What we consider to be higher rationality or executive control and activity here is able to dampen activity in emotional parts of the brain like that of olympic system, for instance, the amygdala in particular. He reducing negative aspect. Do this by becoming active in in a relevant way, and this is something I think people understand that if you can and reappraise what an experience means so, for instance, either you think someone's been
rude to you, then you, you re, construe that realising say that maybe he's just nervous and and that will damp in your your initial negative emotional response to what you perceive to be rudeness but was also interesting. Is that really any use of your dorsal lateral, prefrontal cortex can dampen negative arousal? And if you justice, if you're feeling a negative emotion- and you just put your attention on something else- you just start doing math problems. We do anything that that requires an alternate form of cognition that can have a similar effect of of dampening arousal in thinking about this, as is always interesting to consider how someone like yourself, who
there's a lot of time. Thinking about that, the mechanics of emotion, cognition from the brain side does this ever become relevant to you in your life, behaviorally Amadou ever raise or anything that you do differently in your moment moment experience given how much time you spend thinking about. What's going on under the hood for better or worse, the Essen and the same thing as infested, my wife, whose a nurse psychologist by training per year, exactly when, when our kids were young, error this one day where our four year old son, I just done something rotten, whose two year old system we swooped down there and we doing you're, not a bad person, but you did a bad thing, whaling on him without one, and why did you do that? And at some point I remember which of us said this one of us would say
why are we getting on him so hard here? Yes, like three frontal neurons and the other ones response would be well. How else is eager to develop a good frontal cortex? So we actually like think that way in my house, which is pretty appalling when you thinking about it. Although sort of something I write about in the book where I have the most trouble sort of applying my my worldview is a mechanistically reductive, deterministic sort of scientists. Guy thinking about behaviour is, as you say, when it's getting to the realm the three well much like you, I dont believe there is free. Will, I believe, free will is what we call the biology that hasn't been discovered yet. But what I find to be hugely daunting task is how you're supposed to live.
Your life thinking that way, and even me he was like I'm willing to write down and printers no Freeware Alderson shears. Why? How at some critical juncture, some social interaction I act absolutely as if I believe there are three will I hear about somebody, who's done something jerky and I wish horrible things to them. Instead of stopping in saying oh, no, but think about what happened. There was a second trimester feeders. Now it's very hard to function with that I, like most people, I hit a wall without one. It's a whole lot easier to operate with the notion of agency will lift jump in their because this is obviously an hugely consequential issue. Maybe it is maybe it's obvious to us: it's not so obvious to most people. I think that coming to a different conclusion about free will has consequence
as an end. I would argue their there quite good consequences, but let's get there, there's let's just stepped back and remind people of the problem here, because many people don't see it. As you know, my friend and colleague Dan Dennett doesn't agree with us about how we talk about free will and and many other people who are scientists don't want to make the noises that we are making here. So I've done this before the podcast done it in my book free. Well. Maybe you should make the case briefly
about why this notion of free will is an incoherent idea scientifically an enemy in any might Paul from your book. This great description you have of what you call car free, will obey and much of it wines of being most relevance implicitly that metaphor for criminal justice system, how we judge people harshly. One angle I taken trying to convince people whose nor free will is just to look at the sheer number things influencing our behavior, so you do something aggressive. You do something aggressive and your asked why you didn't come up with a very rational explanation that dripping with a sense of agency and hears just some of the things that influenced how like
We were to do that behaviour if you were sitting in a room with smelly garbage that made you more likely to do that if you are male or female, and your testosterone levels have been elevated for the last day. That's more likely to have happened. If you ve been traumatized five months ago and neurons in your make? Dollar grew new connections. That's more likely to happen if, as a third trimester feeders you were exposed to elevated levels, the stress hormones from your mom circulation that is well, if you're, ancestors were nomadic pastoralists, wandering grasslands were deserts with their herds and came up with the culture of all when you were raised and that you are more likely to,
on that as well? Wait a second ecosystems five hundred years ago have an influence on ya turns out. People's cultures are greatly shape by then the greatly shapes have their brains develop. Okay. So here's that realm of argument wow there's a whole lot more stuff go on on under the hood a whole lot more subterranean influences than one would think. A second style of argument, is when you manipulate one of them. Variables like takes somebody and stick them in a room that smell, of rotten garbage, and your average person becomes more socially conservative on a questionnaire and afterwards You would say that's interesting last month when you feel this out in a room that smelled like petunias, you had this or that attitude, and now you ve put it differently. Nothing! Well, this event that happened in, like middle middle
he Oreo last month as utterly changed. My no it was. It was a century influence that sensitized your insular neurons, so you can manipulate people on a biologically on appreciated level and change behaviour, but probably for me, the sort of the most emotionally sort of salient way of getting at the free will issue is to just look historically and look at the stuff that we understand now, if were reasonably, Decayed reflect do thoughtful people whatever we know that epileptic seizures are neurological disorders they're, not because somebody has slept with Satan. We know that certain types of learning disabilities
are not children being lazy and on motivated it turns out this cortical malformations. We know that certain times when somebody is completely inappropriate in their behaviour, it's because they ve got a neural chemical disorder com schizophrenia. Most of us has gotten to have gotten to the point where free will has been surprised, that equation, if you have somebody with Treatin resistant epilepsy and they have occasional seizures, they can't drive a car, but you don't feel like justice has been served and they're getting there the punishment when their drivers licences inactivated for what you say: it's not them. It's their disease. There's a biological explanation that sidesteps notions of agency or free will, and at that point all you have to do is
Look at how much the stuff we ve learned in the last century in the last fifty years in the last ten years in the last five years, we never heard of violence honeymoon neurons more than twenty years ago. We never heard that oxytocin does this or that trust more than empty and either. Therefore, you ve gotta conclude that, tonight at midnight, we're never gonna get a new scientific fact again or you're going to conclude that the march or science is good. It continue exactly as it is, and the number of ways in which we say. Oh it's not him. It's his brain! It's this weird! course, but that is just get grow more and more until we're not talking about them and their diseases or them in their we're quirks. But we're talking about every one of our individuality and through biological. What an
it's in the realm of inappropriate human behavior criminal activity. Somebody does something violence. Now, that's a biological phenomenon. That's not to say you don't do anything where you forgive everything forgiveness and irrelevant word. If a cars breaks or faulty you dont, let it out in the streets, gonna kill somebody fix him. If you can and if you can't fix him, you put the group the car in the garage for the rest of time, but no one would sit there and, The court has a rotten soul or its deserving the punishment by putting in pollution in the garage there. It's a mechanical problem and if somebody says wow. That's so dehumanizing to viewers. This biological machines, that's a hell of a lot better
than sermonized us into having bad souls. Perhaps we should talk about Charles Whitman here, because if he really brings home the point that this is something that is the case I have written about. Many people have written about Charles in the in the context of discussing these issues and in as you do in the book, So you know Whitman committed one of the worst mass murders in. U S, history is in nineteen. Sixty six and he started by killing, his mother and his wife. I think by stabbing each of them in the heart and then Next morning he climbed a tower at the University of taxes and with a small arsenal spent about hours, shooting people at random and he killed, and it goes further or tea and wounded something like thirty two until he was finally shot by police. So, given those facts, Whitman just appears to be the quintessence of human evil, except
he left a suicide note and or in what amounted to a suicide note where he was complaining about his emotional life prior to these events and how he found his behaviour totally inexplicable and heap, he loved his wife and his mother he had been flooded by irrational thoughts and violent impulses, and he found he couldn't resist them and had terrible headaches and he and hit other symptoms, and then he he surely recommended that his own brain, the autopsy? So that doctors could figure out what is wrong with him and me LO and behold, upon his death. His brain was autopsy and they found a large tumor in his hypothalamus that was pressing on his Magdala and as you and I both know, this is a certainly a plausible place for a tumor to be pressing to drive this symptom ology. So one when that's discover
this understanding of a purely neuro anatomical neuro physiological causal influence becomes exculpatory. He we don't know we don't view Whitman as one of the most evil people and when history. We view him as a victim of biology. Really me. This is an unlucky person and a view Headache LEO Blast, Alma, pressing against you
make a lot twenty four hours a day. Who knows what you would be up to, and everyone feels this, and my argument has been for years now that really a brain tumor is just a coarse grained example of clear causality and to understand something like psychopathy perfectly at the level of the brain. Do just you know if we, if we could have a perfectly fine grained account of what's happening at every synapse in the average psychopath's brain, causing him to be a psychopath and not Gandhi? Well, then, that understanding two would be just like Woodman's brain tumor. It would be exculpatory, we would view psychopath
as unlucky and, however, they got that way, whether the influence of culture or the parents they didn't pick or the genes, they got mutated. We would again, we would warehouse them in prison if we had no cure, but if we had a cure, if there was a pill, you could give some one that would make them no longer a psychopath. It would be absolutely perverse to withhold, treatment in a vengeful way, as there is some other just desserts for for having been a psychopath, be like maybe like not performing surgery and someone with a brain tumor, that's making him violent. So you are on the same page there with respect to understanding really removing the logic of hating people end and justifying retributive the retributive impulse to punish them, but, as you said, initially,
never a question of just letting dangerous people roam the streets and obviously, if the I make this point is that we would we would lock up hurricanes and put them in prison if we could write a merely without any illusion that they have free will motivating their destructive behavior. I thank you and I differ a little in how we feel we can live with the consequences of this insight, because I'm like you in that often taken in by the illusion of agency. I feel a response to bad actions in the world that really only make sense if I'm viewing people, as as real agents, has as the authors their actions and there's they come a grey area here, which I haven't thought a lot about but which I think can kind of finesse this. This gulf between what is clearly our belief about the origins of human being
your end, these social and moral responses. We have two bad actors in the world. Take some one who is behaving badly and you have the sense that they should do otherwise. Now, given we ve just said. We know that every person is essentially a force of nature, and you know what you're just what you're seeing is in that corner of the universe. The laws of physics are playing out perfectly lawfully, whether its purely deterministic or there's an added factor of randomness? Doesn't matter? I still gives you no basis for free will. So every every person is is a a puppet that didn't pick his own strings. I and the strings reach back to the Big bang, one thing that people do have rather often is the ability to have their behaviour modified by things. We see
and do in a reasons. For instance, if you have someone who is not being responsive to rationality. Yes, it's true that they are not the authors of themselves. There not deeply responsible for how they got that way, but it seems appropriate be in that discovery process here, you're trying to reason with some one and there is still an asshole that discovery process is appropriately fraught with frustrate. And as you're trying to negotiate or navigate or as your coming to understand that you are in the presence of a mouth teen robot, or are you a robot that doesn't function two way good robots should, which is you say, something sensible in the end? They accept it. So I feel like there is it's not so much that we need. Ourselves, as as living in denial of what we know to be true about. People is just that. There's always this discovery process, your doing something that I want
to discourage- and I know that you as another primate like myself- are susceptible to being influenced by disincentives or punishments in the extreme case, and it becomes totally rational to invoke all that without ever really attributing Contra causal free will to you. I completely agree whether era candles classic work with a pleasure sea slugs. All the way up to US nerve systems can be conditioned with positive reinforcement with negative reinforcement. People understand that down to the molecular level
you're nervous systems can be changed by inputs. They abundantly our and some of the time that will take the form of what we might more absolutely call punishment. But in those cases that may be necessary to change somebody's behaviour mean if a child gets a time out for doing something, rotten to some other kid, the adverse state of having the time now it is going to do things to their frontal, cortical, neurons and they're gonna, thus strengthen the sin absence that tell them not to do that. The next time. It's a whole mechanistic thing and nonetheless, that was unit. What we need to be able to do is use punishment instrument
only when we know it will accomplish something within a biological framework, but don't stand there and preach at the time you're doing it and don't take pleasure from a sense of justice being served. The wrinkle here is that the pleasure of justice and even a lust for vengeance run so deep in us, and I am struck by this story that I've, I believe, have spoken about on the package before. But it is just such a good couple of this, you must know Jared Diamond. You were in similar circles. Did you ever read his peace in New York or where he talked about here father and laws, experience as a holocaust survivor. No, no, and I could be getting some of them superficial details here wrong as it has been a while, since I read it, but it's the gestures
is certainly correct. His father in law was a holocaust survivor. End was sent to Auschwitz or triple or someplace horrible, and when he returned to his village, I think it was he was from Poland in the in the aftermath of the war. He
found the person responsible for having turned in his entire family, and I think this person actually was part of the the gang that actually did either murdered some of his family on the spot or sent all of them to a death camp. But any case it did there was. There was one person who was truly culpable for this mob, like behavior that was visited upon his family, and so he found the person after the war and was, as you might imagine, really tempted to enact vengeance himself. But you know his frontal cortex came online and he decided. You know that this is the only path forward to heal. His society was to turn this person, over to the authorities and see that justice is done, so he did that and you know, because of either the lingering anti Semitism of you, even those who survived the
one of the thousand year right in Poland or to some other incompetence. Here this person was put in jail for, like monthly. I've got a slap on the wrist and then went on to live a happy and satisfied life and Jarrod's father in law was racked by guilt for the rest of his life that he had not satisfied his urge for vengeance. Here I mean this. So, in a way that again to the attribution of free will here, is the. I would argue that the the psychological and moral underpinning here, as is the illusion of free, will, is look as if in his family had been eaten by a bear. You know he would not have spent the rest of his life, ruining the fact that he couldn't have killed that bear with his own hands
his family, had been killed by cholera. We're talking about a man who, for sixty someone years, woke up in the middle of the night. Thinking about this one thing right at this would not. It will not happen by you, put a person in the dock, a person who should have done otherwise a person who you could have killed with your own hands. The illusion here is so compelling for people and people are like you, I think, or at least feel that the criminal justice system needs to cater to this in some way that that justice isn't satisfying. If we medical eyes, human evil, I say that basically, everyone is not guilty by reason of insanity and we're just going to cure or warehouse those who we can't cure. So what
do that I were. How do you think about the the moral improvement of our species in light of the fact that so many people find retribution, and even vengeance, morally compelling and and in some cases psychologically necessary, obviously very powerful, challenging stuff neurobiological e revenge. Justice is pleasurable activates. Mesolimbic Limburg system systems. If it feels good. Evolution early. It has a logic to it, which is when you get third party punishment. Rather the person who has been wrong dinner economic game being able to take some sort of revenge. Third party being able to do so is costly. It cost to have a police department costs to have judges past
They have somebody putting the effort into that. Even a simple economic game. There has to have evolved a certain pleasure, a certain reward and having done the right that sense and it's an enormously powerful thing, but in the face of that once again take a historical perspective There was a time when system it is worse, people would have been set, upon by a mob and slowly beaten to death and, at some point governmental authority, He said yes, yes, yes, I know that's pleasurable, but from now on. Instead, you have to turn the person over to us so that we could do it, then we'll beat them to death, and people have to adjust to that and then assembly point people will come to that and they would then say yes, it's true, but we're now transitioning to we're we gotta do something more humane, we're gonna, hang people. Yes, you could come and see
and bring your picnic baskets. We're gonna have a public hangings, but you're just gonna have to get your pleasures elsewhere. Then thinking about the person being slowly beaten to death than people adjusted to that, and then you don't have crowds of executions at him four, and then we have people designing machines that do more lethal injure and at every step of the way, what is it sleeves and said yes here Yes, you got a certain this role. Fee bridle sense of pleasure. Will vengeance in getting to do with this way? Here's the reasons. Why
They were not doing that anymore and you're gonna have to get used to it, and people have gotten used to edit each one of those steps. People will have to get used to their notions that a damaging act by a human is again like a bare like a hurricane were able to do that when it is absolutely clear, it was unintentional on the person's part. It was purely accidental and their cripple with remorse were capable of doing that. We simply will have to expand that further and at any given point where the line is currently drawn, its inconceivable, my god, if somebody did that to my loved ones, and they got to spend the rest of their life enjoying three meals a day and the smell of new flowers as what that would just consume me at each one of those there's a cultural shift as too
what things. Nonetheless, we don't do anymore and it's just gonna keep happening. I fully agree. I think I heard you on a radio lab episode where you were brought in to talk about a specific case, where I believe the person had epilepsy and had a a reception, a surgical treatment for it, and it essentially gave him clover Busey Syndrome, which you could describe but the consequence was that a seemingly psychologically normal person, our had been normal up until that moment suddenly really into child pornography and then got prosecuted on child porn charges and the judge sort of split the difference. In sentencing between the fully draconian penalty that you give to the the order
a consumer of child pornography and letting him off as somebody who had ape a neurological disorders- and it was something like I could be- the Here- Loft Airbus, like eight years in print and then they are not at all trivial end. The person self and his wife and even the producers of the segment, seem to all joy This to be more or less the right thing and the kind of the wisdom of Solomon had been achieved here, a youth at me. You will hear just horrified. Did your member that case? Oh, yes, it was a very fun taping arguing about that one with a radio lab guys yeah. I was horrified. The crux of it was that ok, I'm after damage to this part of the brain. He had this classic clover busy syndrome Labs first described and I believe the nineteen thirties when that part of the brain was damaged and monkeys, and you would see in approach
its sexual behaviour afterward hyper sexuality. You would see hyper feature animals, eight compulsively. You would see inappropriate aggression, okay, so we just learn something about with a part of the brain ok? So this guy is surgically damaged in that part of the brain to control the seizures and he got obsessive eating, afterward all sorts of other perceptive behaviors, and he got this strange, utterly abnormal hyper sexuality in terms of child pornography ok, so studios brain damage with the critical thing. The crux of the whole issue was: he spent his knights of filling his computer with this obsessive we hours after hours and admit that
despite that, he never once downloaded a picture of child pornography on his work. Computer aha concluded the judge. Yes, the brain damage has something to do with why this person suddenly start manifesting. This completely bizarre criminal, unprecedented behavior, but the fact that he was able to none the less suppress that behaviour at work shows that there is still some free will there and thus, given that there is evidence of free, will let split the difference and you'll get half the jail time that the prosecutors recommended.
And the rocks of it. There was this notion that if at eight in the morning, you were able to prevent yourself from doing some behavior, but at eight at night you can't that's evidence of free will where's. All that is is evidence that the biology works differently under different circumstances, somebody with correct syndrome, you get compulsive ticking, compulsive, guitar, cursing all sorts of inappropriate gestures and stuff and people with milder cases of tourists are able to suppress it? They suppressor during work throughout the day and by five o clock when they step outside they have an explosion of trading in tax and such does that mean that it's less of a neurological disorders than if somebody had the trip throughout the day. No, it just tells you something about the wiring of how much the frontal cortex could regulate
some of their involuntary sounds in this same way you get somebody with moderate dementia. And in the morning they can tell their name and what century it is, and at the end of the day you get what's wrong the sun down syndrome and their cognition is vastly worse than they have no idea who they are and where they are and the next morning there cognition. Who does that mean that they are with a time choosing not remember their name and other times your perfectly able to now it means a brain metabolism. The energetic said the brain, the brains more tired at the end of the day, and a damaged brain has even more stuff go and wrong. At that point, endless examples of that were all tells you is the biologists contacts dependent and, Sat there was no less biology occurring in the sky at work and the rest of the time.
And it's not as if he had a magical little man and his head, a homunculus who got together to do the right thing at work and then just decided screw with the rest of the time. It's all Biological is no less of a biological phenomenon that, if you were doing a twenty four seven, he added it strikes me that there is a paradox here we go over a century talking about is gradations. Of responsibility. Where you would, you would expect some one to have an internal degree of freedom where they they could do otherwise and therefore they they would be even people like ourselves who don't believe in free will. We would acknowledge that there are people who are behave in in ways that that are not at all governed by volition, so that you know you, you can't discourage what they're doing based on punishment. If someone has a tremor and your tax- and every time their hand, moves their hand is still going to move because they do. You know the in this particular kind of trimmer. They can't control, say so
knowledge, the difference between voluntary involuntary behaviour and their shape, a spectrum of competence. You can only expect so much of a three year old or someone with Alzheimer's, but when you get to be the most competent, the most potentially responsible, the people who really should be able to own the consequences of their behaviour much as possible, what I find as you land at a kind of moral mirage I'll give you the example of this first occurred to me. So in this case in an argument I had with Dan Dennett about free will and is a famous example that the Foster Austin used of a missed putt and your dad was using it for his nefarious purposes, trying to make a mockery of my account of free will. But it is something in this.
Put analogy that it struck me as interesting. So you imagine a a golfer of of my precarious abilities missing a three foot putt and it really doesn't say too much about me or the world or it doesn't leave you in a position to say that I I really should have made that part, because I'm going to I'm going to miss a fair number of those pots. You'd expect. If I took a thousand of those putts, I might miss Universe, full thirty percent of them right now. So three hundred parts I'm just going to miss and so to say that I should have made, it is really just to say: well, you need to try harder next time. It like this is aspirational, but you would you know so you know I'm surprised if I missed his putt, but if you take someone like Tiger Woods or whoever is the best golfer in the world at the moment
no he's gonna make this part more than nine hundred and ninety nine times out of a thousand right. This is this: is a party really should make he's the most competent to make it so when he misses it, you would think that would trigger the most judgment and often does it he hates himself for missing it. It's a big reaction of him. People are astonished, but when you look more closely his missing the pot says even less about him as a golfer than it does about me as a call for, because he's gonna make that put virtually every time he take. In the future, and so it it's more anomalous. It says its embassy if something went wrong with the universe, for him to miss that Then there was some noise in his synapses that, obviously he wasn't the author of admonishing him. To try harder to do better, doesn't really make much sense, and so in the presence of the most responsible person, a failure,
to perform somehow means the least, and so, when you map to the moral domain, you take the most scrupulous saintly person. If that person starts downloading child pornography, were to everyone. Well, in that case, this person should seem the most culpable right. This person is totally adequate to the moment morally, and this person has been impeccable, his entire life. You know this is again. You fill in the sky provided your moral exemplar here, whether its Martin Luther king were Gandhi or the Buddha. You know the Buddhist starts down
in child pornography. Well, something has clearly gone wrong right. This is a visitor to his life is the victim of something. This is not who he was yesterday and so culpability seems to dissipate in the presence of the most competence, and I am not quite sure how to think about that. I think that reflects a certain, Cultural mindset that I happened to shares. Well, some of that is a summit. That is sort of the biological mindset that a lot of rational people in our world have been trained to think by now we should be wow. Is she sick? If there's something wrong with him? Is there a it's? Not him is his disease. What is Satan but your assessment also has elements of a cultural view that accepts the possibility of human foibles and
extreme consistency? Nonetheless, having little hiccups now and then and hey we're, all make mistakes and we're all human and that sort of mindset, and it's one that accept occasional sure people. On the other hand, there's plenty of other cultures that wear who cares what he had done? He would instantly have been. You know, drawn and quartered part of. I think our of you with that is. We've got a rather certain brand of Nice believed that happens to like redemption a whole lot and it's very exciting when someone has fallen to see themselves come clean and it and climb back up again and that's the like
and less soap. Opera. Various sir televangelist see turn out to have feet of God knows what and then confess and therefore give a man. That's a cycle, that's very cultural. Appealing to us also, I think, that's simply our mindset, but absolutely historically, I there have been times and places and probably still are aware. Even if it was the Buddha me still would have been punished buses are. We ve been talking about bad people here are real or or unlucky people. If you drill down on them the biological details, but I think most of
human evil or or human miss behaviour is the result of bad ideas more than bad people. I'm not that many ban people in the world are not that many people who are consciously doing evil. This is a point that goes all the way back to Plato there. Many people, however, who are doing what they imagined to be good to have a righteous commitment, assumed cause and yet there spreading an immense amount of needless human misery as a consequence and their endless number of examples of this. But one of the most vivid in recent memory comes from something that I believe it is called the outwits album. Have you given see this album
photographs. There was discovered in an attic know. You should go the lesser one when we're done when we're done, I will find it I'll. Send you a link, but there was, I believe, is now in the Holocaust Museum in DC, if I'm not mistaken, but was found out at some time in the last decade and it took people a while to figure out what these photos were, because it was just as these are just photos of happy people You know something themselves on a porch and you know: eating blueberries billion by the bowl full and laughing and just men and women can have in the prime of their life. In these black and white photographs, just haven't a grand old time and then based on some details are some further photos. It was discovered that these were actually the guards and staff at now. It's gesture on their leisure days in this chalet, which was basically under the plume of smoke of human ash coming out of it.
The majority of ash. What to me. This could not be more proximate, and these are the people who are gas in and and cremating way women and children and, as you know, starving slave labourers by day, and yet, when you see these photos its, I'm not pretending to be omniscient here, but I think most people will sense that you can see into the lives of these people- and I feel like it safe to assume that not all of these people are cycle paths, in fact, I would guess that probably none of the more and that their they are actually experiencing arranged conscious states that all of us are very familiar with these. They really are having a good time. They really are happy to be eating blueberries their enjoying their social lives and when they listen to Bognor, they know they they shed a two year. They have a life of aesthetic pleasure and then they go gas more people the next day and its because they have a belief system. That has
segmented their world into moral in group and our group so decisively that they are basically unconvicted about whether doing because the people there are killing are scarcely human. I think you, you share my concern about bad ideas being the piece of software that gets even psychologically normal people biologically normal people to do the unthinkable. How do you think about this context of your research. Now that's utterly haunting, and I agree that at the heart of a huge percentage of our human miseries. As you say, it is a very rare person who will sit. And say it is ok to do the following horrible, violent things. It's really fine, the vast majority of people will say no not! Ok, it's not ok, but here's. Why I'm an exception? Here's why it's different for me
here's. Why my special pains put me in a different category or the difference being vote we, everyone would say so. It's terrible to do violent, horrible things to innocent people, and then you'll simply differ as to who counts is innocent or hook ounces of them or who counts as having the same pain threshold that you do, and I think that's absolutely were much of our mission. It comes from our means of having a lot of shared values, then none the less are always a bit context, dependent and having different contexts and happy very personally convenient contexts in a lotta cases when you think about the future here, I'm just imagine we have. Something much more like a completed signs of the mind and weaken
intervene more directly into brain function in ways that don't require neurosurgery or that the interventions become so compelling and so safe. Once you do the surgery that more and more of us would eat opt for neurosurgery right, you can get into sigh here where we are integrated with the internet or with Super intelligent ere. I, but what this opens is the possibility of actually altering are narrow chemistry in such a way that our intuitions about right and wrong can be modified. So not only how do we track what we agree is good
better than we can at present, you know how can you become a better person? Then you are given the norms to which you currently pay lip service. We can actually modify our beliefs and intuitions about what is good. You could cease to find something objectionable that you currently find objectionable, or vice versa, and then the quest. As you know, what sort of moral hardware should you have or or should you want, given that it's on the table to be revised been revised by something more than a good education or good relationships or a change of cultures. But actually you direct intervention in the brain. What do you expect to happen in the next fifty years and what? What is reasonable to hope for here? And is this just all scary, once you start pushing on that,
particular door, or do you actually see the last best hope of humanity in more direct intervention into our biology for one thing right off the bat citizens listeners? In my view, this is way far off. It is a law. Closer than a lot of people would think stunningly interesting studies using this technique, our Trans cranial magnetic stimulation where you could not invasive. We change the activity of small clusters of cortical, neurons and people exactly when you press the button and you change people's moral decisions, you change people's level of generosity and economic games, and then you stop pressing the button and they go back to where they were before me.
Can a stick and exactly a harbinger of the sort of things that will be facing more and more down the line. I think what we will have to do with it. It's just continue the sort of the acceptance that most of us We have at the means of manipulation, already very few people, think of having their morning cup of coffee as sort of neural chemical, cognitive enhancement we ve accepted by now. We dont think of that is an external factor that changes levels of attention and focus and where you can even identify which parts of the brain and which, like molecules, are dancing and what particular way people with a history of chronic depression when they were first finally medicated with something that works when they're a week into their first experience with prozac. If they ve looked down on that one and there are transformed- and with that often come
this sort of crisis of so wait a second, am I a different person now that I've been? since adolescence. Or am I finally, the person I was meant to be all along and it's an existential crisis. But then, once people come to terms with the fact that nonetheless, they feel better than they ve had done a decade The existential crisis gets reduced to a good term paper for a philosophy class, and you realize, thank God. There are these meds and I'm going to keep taking them. I think we're going to have more and more of that along the way, as we have interventions that can make us more empathic that make us more responsive that increase sense of who counts is in US things of that sort. We will immediately have crises of weight. Is this counters is good of an act if it's not for which no longer
celestial Armas, altruism, not as altruistic as we think, if there's hidden benefits and now you're often great arguments over the dorm dinner table and I think what will mostly happens will recognise. This is very helpful stuff and, let's just run with it, I certainly hope that's the direction. Things will go as final topic, where I think we agree about more or less everything. I want to touch your view on religion. This relationship to science and just over the way in which those two foundations of a world? Your intention, but are you, haven't? You have very different backstory than I do? You grew up in an athlete orthodox family surrounded by religious people on you, if I'm not mistaken, were intensely religious until you were something like thirteen right up. Yet what disabused you of your belief
just the you just collided with a science textbook were or what what made it seem implausible in what was the first thing that do Do you remember what were the first chink in the in the edifice yeah? I had a crisis of, rather than I to make sense of biological determinism. Theistic determinism the the accident, worry so Moses goes the Faro and says: let my people go in Ferris is no way and Moses brings the plague. On fair or Egypt and Ferris is okay. I give up, you can all go and then, at least in the version that I was raised with quote God hardened. Pharaoh's heart and made Pharaoh, say I changed my mind, he's going anywhere so now incomes. The second play again Pharaoh says I give up and gaudy intervenes again:
leader, like Judge Pharaoh, but as long as we're out at killing like all the first born and the horses and whatever poor smokes had been forced to be in the army running a chariot, had been forced to be in the army. Runny was chariots across the Red Sea and Woe Justice insert wait a second, but God interfered, but then got judges them in the annual wow, that's very confusing, and then, when I was thirteen in a crystal clear, I remember one night, waking up like two in the morning and say: ah none of that makes sense none of its for real. It's nonsense. This I've been incapable of it. A shred of spirituality or religiosity since then. So did you communicate your doubts directly to your parents? At that point, it kept them see
good what what happened was the unravelling like for you? I was a very me mild, inexpressive, passive, aggressive kid. So of my father, who is the driving force on the religious He went to his grave, never knowing that. I no longer believed and how will re when he died and adult interesting now. So when you say you ve been incapable of any even spiritual intuition. Since did you have aim psychedelic phase in your life. Have you ever perturbed your consciousness in ways that would give you a glimpse of what people are talking about when they say they have a spiritual experience. No and people are always intensely puzzled by this his I gotta big, we ve got the facial hair that suggests that you may have dropped ass at a couple of times. I got that I get up
needs hell. I wear Burke and stocks. I live in the hate in San Francisco and words like people like pan handlers. Recognize me my credentials. Place, not only if I never taken in illicit drug. In my life, I've never taken a sip of alcohol and my life, I'm actually I'm pretty regimented and driven underneath this sort of, like India, o hippy Exterior, so I've never experienced any of that. I have plenty of friends who have an have attempted to get me to over the decades starting in high school, but no- and I recognise the northern California intelligentsia version of it- is the people who say of course well You know I don't strike any organised religion, but I'm a very spiritual person, I think of nature is personified, an icy nature and spirituality everywhere and little fairy dust huh,
surround everywhere and accounts for the good things in the world, and you know I'd love to be able to believe that and take comfort from that? I am utterly hard. Nosed material assistance, incapable of anything else and again my my psychic life and my ass. Effective life would surely be a lot easier if I were capable. Ah, but I'm not interested to know it sounds like you must have made a firm decision at some point not to try any of these substances. We even alcohol. When did that,
happening in what informed it well a little bit of being biologically trained and knowing that's not a great thing for once nervous system. But this was a decision like early on in high school and everybody else going that route, although it's in the research on that somewhat equivocal now, and they already isn't there some research that suggests that there's a protective effect against dementia and now speaking in particular, about alcohol and mortality seems to be a reduction in mortality which of these studies to trust, and I had spent one companies have looked at this research, but I'm sure some of them have been funded by an Heizer Busher, but my understanding is that at least some data that moderate alcohol use is correlated with the decline of mortality across the board and there's some potential Neuro protective effect
in moderation. Do you are- and I can't imagine you're so interested in that, given that Europe is not a part of your life but do no name. That grudgingly I am forced to say that there does seem to be some evidence for its. My guess is half a dozen push up today are more equivalent in their protective effects. I'd like you, I have and follow that we're sure closely. But it does seem a little bit valid. Nonetheless, this is something that is never crossed my lips or my nasal cavity my bloodstream, so you decided at some point that it was the healthiest thing you could do to just not take any of these things. There more to it than that is there was there any kind of hold we're from your religious upbringing or because you know there's something that I have in August have charted a different course here and now probably worst aware because of it. But you know I mean I've tried
Well, I haven't tried everything, but I've tried many things if I map that rests, Lucian onto myself. It would have required some believe that moving zero to one on any of these substances is just something that I have good may I have a good reason not to do and never to reconsider. Well, I'm Sworder vacillating here, but since I am sitting here, De Room just chatting with you and it feels very personal I certainly I certainly anybody else. Whatever listen to this basic reason is us early adolescence, I've had blue. Flung and some pretty severe problems with major depression and what was made clear to me by all sorts of war as professionals around them that I am, we agreed with was my nor a chemistry was screwed up enough that I really didn't wanna make screw around with it further
fragile enough, so just as well NAFTA, not add something to the the not very functional mix so now have you found a way to mitigate the depression with uniform logically or otherwise that is it under controllers or a continuous struggle, its manageable. With a lot of very good professional help, including pharmacology and there's probably know round and wish I'm more readily get up on some sort of soap box about biological rest the behaviour. It's a biochemical disorder Some screwy genes subscribing early experience that synergistic. We does you in coupled with a genes screwed up Neuro, transmitters, its biochemical over disorder, as is diabetes, and it's very hard to accept that and food.
People too, and is far easier to decide that hey, I know how to work harder. I was very disciplined of this. I have a lot of competition and backbone. I should be able to overcome that come on pull yourself together. Biological disorder and I tell that to people endlessly and sometimes even pay attention to one on telling people that forever. Listeners who are dealing with this or have a member of the family who is dealing with it You have any advice. Send me any means, you think Should ream out of their heads sounds like you just did that to a couple or anything or any resources you think they should seek out before others. Going into preach mode here amid there being law lots of reasons where,
The minutes are abused over proscribed used for the wrong reasons used as a core crotch used for Blah blah Military industrial pharmacological complex, be on your guard, etc, etc and untreated. Major depression is one of them. Was life threaten diseases out there as another thing to emphasize in there in terms of its biological roots. You don't sit somebody down who has diabetes and say: oh, come on. What's with his insolence, stop stop babying yourself, pull yourself together, whether it's your, whether it's a loved one dealing with the likes of something like major depression, it's a biological phenomenon, you dont tell people, come on heal your broken bones faster. What season disciplining backbone here? Nor are there any books? You recommend here at it, there's been some great books on depression that it has been a while, since I've read them
buddy. I remember Williams. Tyrants, book, darkness, visible, is very short window onto this experience of having a major depressive episode and Andrew Solemn and wrote a book. The noonday demon, which was I remember, being great Is there anything you recommend people in fact, or two of my favorites in that regard me couple that with red Some of the websites put up by the places the likes of National Institute of Mental Health and stuff of trying to instead get from our scientific from a biological perspective too people to recognise this is a disease is biology. This is not a problem with willpower Robert I'm I'm mindful of our time now and I'm gonna give you a final question. A big picture question that handling of active anyone. You
this seems to be in your we'll house. If you could come back thousand years, assuming our descendants survive. What do you think you would see? Will we be recognizably human? How much are we going to take the reins of genetic engineering and anything else. You know integrating ourselves with machines. What will we become men and what is reasonable to hope for here I suspect we will be technologically unworkable I support to our present cells matches our present cells, your technologically unrecognisable, the word pastels, my god, you take a human from twitter, thousand years ago, and you look at the fact that people who have like
additionally, bad eyesight that they would get even by a predator in two seconds, are around just fine because of the technology of eye glasses. I like benefit from that and that our teeth don't fall out and oh, my god, we can go, get our ship replace a hit, that's like even stuff that You wouldn't see until like somebody's twenty thousand year old carcass would ride with yeah we're technologically too As for him now am we're still recognizably unit to ourselves and I think in all the important ways with anyone from the past, my hopeful notion is, though just be more of that brain machine interfaces, Rebecca Wend directions? We can even begin to imagine genetic manipulation says well. I hope the continuity will still be there and be the stronger thing. At the end of the day, in the differences,
is take a take a significant breakthrough in science in the next few years, rush to stay around to witness it Yeah, I'm going to have to have Aubrey de Grey on a podcast to tell us how that that's going to be accomplished, another man with an impressive beard. Yes, I greatly admire his eye. Is art in. Wasn't Robert has been a real pleasure to talk to you. I M glad we finally connected. Likewise it's rare to get her talk to somebody at length who agrees with all the things that you think about the universe. It's a real plan. Sure what to be continued. If you're, enjoying awaken upon cast. There are many ways you can support it at SAM Herriston Orgy forward, slash support as a supporter of the pond cast you'll, get early access to tickets to my live offence and you'll get exclusive access to my ass.
Transcript generated on 2020-03-23.