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Le problème de chariot. El problema carro. The trolley problem. A moral choice in another language is NOT the same.
A few thoughts on your lazy brain. But just a few because, well, you know, the brain likes things nice and easy.
The brain normally operates on what psychologists have come to call System One, a principally subconscious, faster, and more instinctive way of processing information and figuring things out. System One relies mostly on feelings and a toolkit of hidden mental shortcuts to help us sense our way through the choices we make, rather than thinking about each one methodically and consciously. System Two refers to the cognitive processes that kick in when we stop and think and purposefully pay attention.
But that takes time, and calories, and since we usually don’t have all the time we’d need to carefully think things through, and since the brain is pound-for-pound the most calorically hungry part of the body (it uses 20-25% of the calories we burn in an average day), and since sometimes survival requires really fast decisions and as the brain was evolving we couldn’t be sure of our next meal, human cognition has developed to mostly run on the faster, easier, and more energy efficient System One.
(If you want to learn more, this is all known as the Dual Process model of cognition, first proposed by philosopher and psychologist William James. Keith Stanovich and Richard West are credited with the “System One – System Two” labels that have been adopted as the lead characters in Daniel Kahneman’s masterwork, Thinking, Fast and Slow.)
Except for when we force ourselves to override this default and stop and think, we don’t consciously choose which of these two components of cognition to use at any given moment or for any specific task. The task at hand subconsciously challenges one system or the other to help figure things out. (It’s actually not as simple as ‘either/or’. Cognition is almost always a combination of both ‘systems’.) But depending on which one is more active, we make either more instinctive and emotional choices (System One), or more coldly analytical ones (System Two). That obviously has profound consequences, as illustrated by an intriguing study by Albert Costa and colleagues that demonstrates how this shapes the moral choices we make.
Costa posed the classic Trolley Problem to study subjects. This is the one where you’re asked “What would you do if you were on a bridge and a trolley is coming and is about to kill five people that you see standing on the tracks but if you throw a switch you can divert it onto a track where it will only kill that one person you see standing on the siding?” Most people throw the switch. But the second part of the conundrum gets stickier, asking “What would you do if you were on a bridge and a trolley is coming and is about to kill five people you see standing on the tracks, but there’s a fat person standing next to you and if you push him off the bridge he will be killed but he will stop the trolley and save the five people?” It’s obviously emotionally tougher to push a real live person to his death than kill someone by pulling a mechanical switch. Far fewer people push the fat man, though quantitatively, the choice is identical.
Costa posted the Trolley Problem to his subjects, all of whom were bilingual. Half read the question in their native language and half read it in the other language they knew, which they knew well enough to speak and read, but not fluently. (Subjects included native speakers of English, Korean, Spanish, French, and Hebrew). Of the people who faced the Trolley Problem choice in their native language, 20%, one person in five, said they’d push the fat man to his death. But more of those who got the challenge in their non-native language, 33%, or one in three, said they’d push the fat guy off the bridge.
Remember, the choices are numerically identical; kill one to save five. So pourquoi la difference, por qué la diferencia, 왜 차이, מדוע ההבדל? Apparently, speculates Dr. Costa, because the subjects reading a foreign language had to translate it, which required activation of the more analytical System Two, while those reading the challenge in their native tongue could remain in the more instinctive and emotion-based default System One mode. The System One people made the choice based more on their feelings, while those relying more on analytical System Two could more clearly see the fact that the choices were numerically the same.
This is fascinating, and scary, because this is what’s going on in your brain and mine all the time, not just when we face moral choices but at every moment our brains are interpreting information to make sense of the world. From stimuli as simple as what we see or hear or smell or taste, to things as complex as the choices we face about relationships or personal safety or where we stand on questions of values, the brain is sorting things out and shaping our perceptions of the world, and our choices and judgments and feelings and behaviors, based on processes that are either more emotional and instinctive or more analytical and ‘rational’, and we have little say…we have limited free will…over which of these cognitive systems is in control.
We can stop and think about things carefully, and our decisions will be wiser and healthier if we do. But mostly we don’t. It’s like Ambrose Bierce suggested in the Devil’s Dictionary, the brain is only the organ with which we think we think.
Think about THAT!
(By the way, if you don’t want to worry about being pushed in front of a train to save others, East Asia is the place to be. None of the native or bilingual Korean speakers pushed the fat man off the bridge, a response that Costa et. al. report is generally true of East Asians in these sorts of moral tests.)
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.