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The Moral Worldview of Babies
“[T]he Author of Nature has determin’d us to receive… a Moral Sense, to direct our Actions, and to give us still nobler Pleasures.”
That appeal was made in 1725 by Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson, and it captured one side of a debate that tries to answer the question: Where does morality come from? On the other side were thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes who believed that morality is the product of experience. That was the extent of the discourse for most of history; morality was either prepackaged or learned. End of story.
Recent psychological research tells us the answer is somewhere in the middle. Yes, babies come into the world predisposed with a set of moral intuitions – morality can’t be entirely self-constructed. But what babies consider right and wrong and which moral intuitions they value, develops from experience. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it: “We’re born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about.”
Let’s look at some research. Consider a paper published earlier this year by Stephanie Sloane, Renée Baillargeon and David Premack. In one experiment 48 19-month-olds watched two giraffe puppets dance. The experimenter gave either one toy to each giraffe or two toys to one giraffe. Meanwhile, Sloane and her colleagues timed how long the infants gazed at the scene until they lost interest — longer looking times indicate that the infants sensed something is wrong. They found that three-quarters of the infants looked longer when one giraffe got both toys, suggesting they detected an unfair distribution.
In the second experiment, two women played with a small pile of toys when an experimenter said, “Wow! Look at all these toys. It’s time to clean them up!” In one scenario both women put the toys away and both got a reward. In another, one woman put all the toys away and both got a reward. Like the first experiment, the researchers found that the youngsters (21-month-olds in this experiment) gazed longer in the second scenario, in which the worker and the slacker received an equal reward. Here’s Sloane on the implications of her research:
We think children are born with a skeleton of general expectations about fairness and these principles and concepts get shaped in different ways depending on the culture and the environment they’re brought up in… helping children behave more morally may not be as hard as it would be if they didn’t have that skeleton of expectations.
A study published last October by Marco Schmidt and Jessica Summerville demonstrates similar results. In one experiment Schmidt and Summervile presented 15-month-old babies two videos: one in which an experimenter distributes an equal share of crackers to two recipients and another in which the experimenter distributes an unequal share of crackers (they also did the same procedure with milk). The scientists measured how long the babies gazed at the crackers and milk while they were distributed and found that the babies spent more time looking when one recipient got more food than the other. This prompted Schmidt and Summerville to conclude that
the infants [expecting] an equal and fair distribution of food… were surprised to see one person given more crackers or milk than the other… this provides the first evidence that by at least 15 months of age, human infants possess the rudiments of a sense of fairness in that they expect resources to be allocated equally when observing others.
One of the most cited papers on moral development in the last few years comes from Kiley Hamlin, Karen Wynn and Paul Bloom. In one experiment they used a three-dimensional display and puppets to act out helping/hindering situations for six and ten-month-old infants. For example, a yellow triangle (helper) helped a red circle (climber) up a hill or a blue square (hinderer) pushed the red circle down the hill. After repeating these two scenarios several times an experimenter offered the helper and hinderer to the infants. They found the infants preferred the helper puppet most of the time. When Hamlin et al. pitted the hinderer against a neutral character the infants likewise preferred the neutral character. This experiments suggests the infants prefer those who help others and avoid those who hinder others.
Drawing on these results (and two similar experiments from the same study) as well as data from other child development research, Bloom concludes in a NYTimes article that
babies possess certain moral foundations — the capacity and willingness to judge the actions of others, some sense of justice, gut responses to altruism and nastiness… if we didn’t start with this basic apparatus, we would be nothing more than amoral agents, ruthlessly driven to pursue our self-interest.
This brings me to a brand new study that challenges Hamlin, Wynn and Bloom. The researchers, headed by Dr. Damian Scarf of the University of Otago in New Zealand, note that the scene Hamlin et al. created contains two “conspicuous perceptual events.” The first is a collision between the climber and the helper or the hinderer. The second is a positive bouncing event that occurs when the climber reaches the top of the hill. Scarf and his team hypothesize that the infants are reacting to these events – the aversive collisions and cheerful bouncing – and not deciding from an innate moral sense. In their words, “The helper is viewed as positive because, although associated with the aversive collision event, it is also associated with the more salient and positive bouncing event. In contrast, the hinderer is viewed as negative because it is only associated with the aversive collision event.”
To test this Scarf’s team created two experiments. The first determined whether infants found the collision event aversive. To do this “[they] eliminated the climber bouncing at the top of the hill on help trials and pitted the helper against a neutral character.” The purpose of this twist was to test if the infants’ decisions derived from a moral sense or the attention-grabbing bouncing. “If infants find the collision between the climber and the helper aversive then in the absence of the climber bouncing, infants should select the neutral character.”
They designed the second experiment to determine if infants found the bouncing event positive. To test this they “manipulated whether the climber bounced on help trials (bounce-at-the-top condition), hinder trials (bounce-at-the-bottom condition), or both (bounce-at-both condition).” If the infants base their decisions off of the bouncing event they should select whichever puppet bounces regardless of their role as a helper or hinderer. However, if Hamlin is right and the infants are driven by a moral intuition then they “should display universal preference for the helper because in all three conditions the helper is assisting the climber in achieving its goal of ascending the hill.”
They found evidence in both experiments that the infants were reacting to the two “conspicuous perceptual events” and not driven by potential innate moral intuitions. Here are the scientists:
Experiment 1 demonstrated that, in the absence of bouncing, infants preferred the neutral character over the helper. This finding is consistent with our view that infants find the collision event aversive irrespective of whether the collision occurs between the hinderer and the climber or the helper and the climber. The finding is not consistent with [Hamlin’s] hypothesis because that hypothesis predicts that infants will view the collision between the hinderer and the climber as qualitatively different from the collision between the helper and the climber (i.e., as helping and hindering respectively). Experiment 2 adds further support to the simple association hypothesis by demonstrating that the bouncing event predicts infants’ choices. While the preference for the helper in the bounce-at-the-top condition is consistent with the social evaluation and the simple association hypotheses, the preference for the hinderer in the bounce-at-the-bottom condition and the lack of a preference in the bounce-at-both condition clearly conflicts with the social evaluation hypothesis. If infants’ choices were based on social evaluation then, because the helper assists the climber in both the bounce-at-the-bottom and bounce-at-both conditions, infants should display preference for the helper in both conditions.
Do these results undermine Hamlin et al.’s previous study? It’s not likely. In a response published in the academic journal PNAS Hamlin outlines four shortcomings in Scarf et al.’s experiment: 1) The climber looked different; 2) the climber acted different; 3) the climber appeared to climb the hill on its own during helping trials; 4) the climber moved downwards before the hinderer made contact. Hamlin concludes that, “All of these considerations make it plausible, then, that Scarf et al.’s infants responded to perceptual variables because—unlike in our original study—the goal of the Climber was unclear to the infants and therefore the “helping” and “hindering” events did not strike them as helping or hindering.”
Also important is the fact Hamlin and her colleagues have replicated their findings several times “across several social scenarios that do not involve climbing, colliding, or bouncing.” In addition, numerous studies published by other researchers in the last several years – including the aforementioned studies – provide good evidence that a general sense of fairness and the capacity to judge the actions of others are hard-wired. Scarf and his team are right to call attention to potential sources of error, but the evidence in favor of Hutcheson’s assertion – that the Author of Nature determined us to receive a moral sense – appears robust.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.
The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.