Moral Tribes: The Gap Between Us and Them

While harkening back to our hunter-gather ancestors may be good nutrition, it’s not necessarily good thinking. 

There is a current fad in the diet world known as the paleo diet. The idea is that we should eat what paleolithic man ate, in order to be protected from the scourge of modern processed food. While harkening back to our hunter-gather ancestors may be good nutrition, it’s not necessarily good thinking. 

Harvard cognitive neuroscientist and philosophy professor Joshua Greene argues, in Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them that some our biggest problems, arise from our habit of applying paleolithic moral thinking to the problems of 21st Century life.


What's the Big Idea?

Greene describes paleolithic moral thinking as the kind of gut reactions we experience that are caused by the brain's automatic functions. We feel empathy for others or guilty when we don't help someone close to us. In other words, we have moral machinery in our brains designed by evolution and cultural experience that enables us to get along well in groups. 

This way of thinking becomes a problem when we attempt to use it to think through complex moral questions without the help of abstract reasoning, which Greene calls the brain's manual mode. 

Greene tells Jeff Schechtman in this week's Specific Gravity interview that the only way to do better is to get beyond how our brains have evolved by using both efficient “point and shoot” gut reactions, side by side with our “manual mode” reasoning, to solve the modern moral problems that divide Us v. Them 

Listen to the conversation here:

Click here to listen on your iphone or ipad

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Belly fat: Gut bacteria checks could lead to personalized diets

The reason one diet does not suit all may be found in our guts.

Media for Medical / Getty Images
Surprising Science
Keep reading Show less

NASA releases stunning image of ISS crossing in front of the sun

Strangely, the sun showed no sunspots at the time the photo was taken.

Image source: Rainee Colacurcio
Surprising Science
  • The photo shows the International Space Station as it orbits the Earth, as it does every 90 minutes.
  • The photo is remarkable because it offers a glimpse of the star at a time when there were no sunspots.
  • In November, astronauts aboard the ISS plan to grow Española chili pepper plants.
Keep reading Show less

Learn to design the life you love

Part 1: Deconstruction

Photo by Vadim Sherbakov
Big Think Edge
  • Deconstruction is exactly what it sounds like—a method for breaking your life down into its simplest component parts.
  • Ayse Birsel argues that deconstruction is like taking a camera apart: you can't possibly put it back together in the same way.
  • Be sure to check out Design the Life You Love, Part 2: Reconstruction to learn how to put the pieces of your life back together in a realistic way. Sign up for Big Think Edge to see exclusive more content!