Whence cometh evil?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by floyde, Oct 10, 2011.

  1. floyde macrumors 6502a


    Apr 7, 2005
    Monterrey, México
    This is something that I've been giving a lot of thought lately. I'm probably going to suck at explaining it, so I recommend that you read these posts by (the much more eloquent) biologist Jerry Coyne if you get confused by what I'm writing:

    Free will, the brain, and the law
    Free will, the neuroscientists versus the philosophers

    I've been finding it increasingly difficult to fit the concepts of good and evil into my current understanding of reality. Along with these concepts, the notion of free will seems to be fading as well, although that isn't meant to be the focus of this post.

    I'm trying to keep this short so I'll leave the technical details out. You can read several of them on Mr. Coyne's posts, as well as in publications on neuroscience and psychology. Let's just say that there are plenty of findings that link deterministic processes in the brain to the behavior that we normally think of as being "free" or the result of choice (a brain tumor that leads to a massacre, serial killers often display a distinct lack of empathy, studies that show how unconscious processes "decide" before our consciousness kicks in, people being unable to recognize their own limbs after a stroke, etc).

    Now think of an "evil" action, let's say murder. Can you trace back the chain of events that lead to a murder? Can you tell at which point "choice" took place? If two men are presented with the same situation (a cheating wife for example), and one reacts with murder and the other does not, what was it that made the difference?

    Perhaps it is a lack of imagination on my part, but I can't visualize, at any point in the thought process that leads to an evil (or good) action, anything that even slightly resembles choice. The closest I've come to choice is randomness, but that is a poor substitute for freedom.

    Think about it, if you try to track back the chain of reactions inside a human mind that lead to an action, you'll inevitably stumble with something that is out of our control, well beyond the reach of choice or freedom. If you're a naturalist, then you'll probably have to acknowledge at some point, that the group of neurons that fire the most in response to a given situation will inevitably "win". What group of neurons fire depend on a combination of nature, nurture, and context, all of them external influences completely out of our control.

    Even if you are a theist, it is hard to make a case for free will since, at some point, in order to resist or fail to resist a temptation, a person must make use of a god-given trait or ability that is also out of that person's control. The strength to resist lust, for instance, do you choose to have that strength, or do you need that strength in order to choose to resist temptation? In order to choose, you need some sort of built-in ability, and that would appear to make us deterministic or at least automatic.

    This subject matters to me because I think that this persisting worldview greatly affects the way that we attempt to solve social issues in this world. Think about 9/11 for example, a clear case in which governments needed to invest in psychological and neurological research, and what was the response? A war against those "evil" terrorists, or some other self-righteous, idealist delusion like that. As is expected, that didn't solve much. Think of the world's legal and prison systems, being so focused on punishment as they are, they often release worse people than the ones they took in. Think about what could be done if we had a better understanding of what leads people to commit crimes or if we found out how to properly rehabilitate violent individuals.

    An other example of the negative impact of this philosophy is how people often favor wars (against nations or drugs), nationalism and other forms of segregation, etc., simply to appease that good vs. evil opera going on in their heads. Instead of being so bent on branding those that we don't understand and cause us harm as "evil", we should be researching what leads a human brain to behave in horrible ways, so that perhaps eventually we can have a means to prevent this.

    If you got this far without falling asleep, let me know what you think ;)
  2. HarryPot macrumors 6502a

    Sep 5, 2009
    It's not so much about freedom of choice or randomness.

    If one husband kills his wife, and the other one doesn't, it because of a huge amount of situations that made each of them what they are.

    Everything since how your parents educated you, was there love in your family, what kind of teachers did you had, what past experiences in your relationships you had, your friends, physical health, etc.

    All of this makes you what you are, and this defines how you would react to another actions.

    I mean, taking the example of 9/11, why is it that the "kill yourself for a greater good (Ala, religion, etc.)", is more common in the Middle East? Why are people more closely related to Buddhism less prone to committing crimes? Why do Japanese people are more educated and don't riot, even when the whole city is practically destroyed?

    It's my idea that your life events (educations, experiences, etc.) and the society that surrounds you define how you would act. But that doesn't mean your actions are random or completely defined. They do guide you into your actions, but the last piece that puts everything together is yourself.

    But at the end, proving the existence of free will is impossible. I mean, how can you prove it, if the only means we have to prove it is ourselves?

    EDIT: Also, wouldn't the lack of free will make us simply animals which respond only with stimulus and past experiences, and not by intelligence and reasoning?
  3. lewis82 macrumors 68000


    Aug 26, 2009
    Totalitarian Republic of Northlandia
    Not necessarily. Just think about it: our brains are basically biological computers. Neurons behave like individual components in a very complex circuit. Does a computer have a soul? No it doesn't. But it can act in ways that make it look somewhat "intelligent". Of course the brain is self-programmable, which is completely unlike any computer out there.

    However, every tought we have, is initially electrical and biological signals in our brain. If you could simulate the entire earth perfectly (at a quantum level), and possibly a good part of the universe, I think what would happen in the computer simulation would be the same thing that happens in the real world. As the model wouldn't simulate what we call "spirits" or "souls" (as these, if they exist, are definitely not matter) it would prove that our mind and consciousness is perfectly biological, and thus, that free will can not exist (a computer does not exhibit free will).

    Unfortunately it is impossible to do such a simulation, so I'll just stick with tought experiments.
  4. HarryPot macrumors 6502a

    Sep 5, 2009
    I don't know. It just doesn't sound logical to me to see our brains as simple containers of information which are already programmed to respond in certain ways to certain actions depending on the situations which encircle you.

    I mean, without free will our life would be quite bleak. Also, without it, jails and punishment would be completely wrong, since you didn't choose to do the crime, you were simply "programmed" since you were born to do it. We would just have to deal with the fact that this guy was destined to kill his wife, and he had no choice in it.

    I know it is impossible to prove. But my "intelligence and reasoning" makes me think that the lack of freewill is completely absurd. Almost as absurd as saying unicorns exist. Yet, it could be I was always meant to say this, that is was my destiny.:p
  5. floyde thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Apr 7, 2005
    Monterrey, México
    It wouldn't have to if the mind created a good-enough illusion of free will, as I personally think is the case.

    That is precisely why I think we should be asking these questions. Without good and evil or free will, many of the ways in which we approach social issues are wrong. If a person had no choice but to commit murder (since a combination of genetics, upbringing and other specific situations caused that reaction), then we really need to rethink our justice systems. Punishment should no longer be a part of them, and there sure should be an increased focus on psychological research for rehabilitation and treatment. Of course, isolation from society would still be necessary, but it would require a different approach.
  6. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    I'm not sure that free will or choice is the lynchpin of this argument. If a mosquito tries to bite us, we kill it; if a palmetto bug sneaks into our house, we kill it, etc, and in none of these cases is our response to what we essentially perceive as a violation of our "rights" predicated on free will on the part of the mosquito, etc. We might not care to think of our behavior as "punishing" the spider or fly or whatever, but quite frequently, if we look honestly at what people do, that's precisely what they do. Even if it were not punishment, the retaliation is not based on the premise that the action was done out of free will by the mosquito.

    If anything, we do make a moral judgment when we decide it is better (in the sense of more "Good") to rehabilitate a dog that bites instead of putting it down, but that is as much if not more about our perception of being "good" ourselves and motivated by our goodness as it is about our perception that the behavior was not rooted in "evil."

    If you suppose that free will does not exist, and there is no concept of good nor of evil, then you are still left with a variety of value judgments. This is a very Robert Pirsig-esque line of reasoning. One can analyze the situation with respect to things like the likelihood that the correct person has been identified for the "crime," the likelihood of their recidivism, the likelihood that something would happen in the future to change the definition of the behavior as a crime, the harms that would occur in the absence of a response to the commission of the crime (whether that is jail time, rehabilitation, counseling or some other therapy, exiling, death, or what have you), etc. But weighing all those data and chosing what to do is ultimately at its core not a logical process but a value judgment.

    Now, I agree with your conclusion in the quote above, even though I don't agree with the reasoning behind it.

    My take is that good and evil are problematic concepts. The reason we agree across cultures about many aspects of good and evil are because they're part of the stable competing strategy that humans engage in -- this is the same reason incest was considered wrong long before anyone knew why it was wrong. Not because we figured anything out, but because it is part of the recipe that caused our genes to successfully propogate thus far. That being said, whatever I want as a person, it's going to have to be built epigenetically on top of this basis. We stretch the definition of good and evil as a society as we deal with new situations and the requirements of today's life, but there are probably some limits to the malleability and/or the way in which our concept of good and evil can be modified over time.
  7. Daffodil macrumors 6502


    Jun 7, 2011
    In a sunny state of mind
    (my bold)

    The thing is though, even if for the sake of the argument you grant that maybe there are a few grey areas where you can debate back and forth - was or wasn't this person ultimately to blame for that murder - does that apply in the vast majority of cases? I don't think so.

    You've got to draw the line somewhere, right? Even though our stimuli and experiences vary, and to a certain extent are outside our immediate control, we do have a degree of choice in how we respond to things. Again, that can devolve into percentages of "blame," but in most cases (at least if we're talking murder) I'd say responsibility falls on the individual.

    Maybe the scope of my imagination is too small, but it just seems like even though a lot of factors ultimately are outside the control of the individual, many enough are within our control that short of a massive systemic failure or a very particular case, it's not enough to warrant institutional change.
  8. HarryPot macrumors 6502a

    Sep 5, 2009
    But, wouldn't even isolation be a cruel thing to do? I mean, he didn't made anything wrong. Because the obvious deduction from what you are telling, is that not such thing as good or bad exist in our actions, since we have no saying on what happens.

    Murder would cease to be a bad thing, it would simply be a natural action of a human being. Just as the new alpha lion kills the cubs of the previous lion, by instinct, humans would kill by their instinct and past experieces also.

    This guy that killed his wife wouldn't be any better or any worse than the one who gives kisses every night to his wife. In principle, he shouldn't need any help.

    But maybe since most humans are not killers, they instinctively organize themselves to reprimand the humans which they consider to be against their own existence. Which would be undoubtedly a cruel but necessary act, which was also destined to happen.

    Taking it more to an extreme, people who sexually abuse children wouldn't be wrong in their actions. It was just that they couldn't have decided to do otherwise. It was their destiny, since the first second of the universe they were meant to do it.

    In the other hand, such things as love, compassion, grief, etc. ere equally to revenge or hate. No better, no worse.

    I just can't help but feel that this is just not true. Even more illogical, that we are programmed to think we are free, but we really aren't.

    Even leaving aside religion, the idea that all of us are destined to do something since the beginning of the universe is bizarre to me.
  9. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    If (for the sake of argument) it is true, I'm not sure how it's illogical. We are clearly programmed by our biology to think a variety of factually incorrect things about ourselves, such as overestimating our ability to act independently from crowd behavior, over-estimating the limited extent to which we engage in rational behavior, over-estimating various likelihoods with respect to positive personal outcomes in spite of a wide body of evidence against them. On simpler levels, we are programmed to make a wide variety of perceptual errors by virtue of the fact that perceptual apparatus that do this are efficient for the actual challenges we face (Ponzi and Muller effects and so on).

    The closest thing to logic it violates is Ockham's razor, but if were proceeding logically, free will, which is an inherently metaphysical entity, is a bigger leap. Even some kind of quantum consciousness, which requires extremely tenuous links between the places where quantum mechanics is not deterministic to the conclusion that our behavior is not deterministic for the same reason, would seem to fall afoul of Ockham's razor far sooner than the idea that we don't have free will but feel like we do.

    It doesn't feel right to you, but in this conversation of all places "illogical" is the wrong word to use to describe it.
  10. HarryPot macrumors 6502a

    Sep 5, 2009
    Well, it clearly seems illogical to me.

    And continuing with your post. You say we are programmed "by our biology to think a variety of factually incorrect things about ourselves". But, are we programmed this way? Or do we choose to think the positive of ourselves?

    It might be we are programmed this way, but even then, this has not much to do with our actions (which require a conscious decision to do something). Thinking better of ourselves is present in every human for the sake of survival, and it is mostly a sub-conscious action of our brain.


    I was thinking about this and it occurred to me the topic of suicide. Suicide goes against all nature, in the very nature of any animal the instinct of pro-creating and staying alive is one of the biggest priorities.

    Humans, on the other hand, have a high rate of suicides. Not on the way you sometimes see in nature, were a dog stops eating after they loose a mate. (which happens infrequently and can be more related to a change in the metabolism leading to sickness and thus death).
    Humans kill themselves by jumping from buildings, shooting themselves, cutting their veins, etc. Now, supposing we had no free will, I don't see how a human could end committing suicide, if in our very nature survival instinct is one of the top ones. There's got to be some choice in the people who commit suicide.

    Also, how did the first human to think about god came to the conclusion that god exists. Wouldn't he need some kind of freewill to do so?

    Many of the actions that we do as humans come from past choices of our ancestors. And speaking of another basic instinct in any animal, and also in humans. Reproduction. I think we are the only living animal on earth that makes plans into organizing their "reproduction".
    We instituted marriage, people wait until finding their mate to pro-create, even more so, many people wait till marriage to have any kind of sexual relationship. How can we suppress this sexual desires (which are very natural and present in every human as a basic instinct) if not by freewill?

    In summary, how has the human being come to implement so many rules and ways of life that go against the very nature? Against our very instincts?

    I'm not trying to be a jerk with this long posts. I really enjoy this discussions.:)
  11. floyde thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Apr 7, 2005
    Monterrey, México
    Ok, too much to answer, too little time :p. I'll give it a shot.

    What I'm arguing though, is that all factors are outside of our control. Even when we seem to be making choices, we reach those apparent choices by purely deterministic biological processes. The way I see things, each human action can be seen as a mathematical function: there is only one outcome/result for any given input. The brain is a computer after all, and like any modern computer, given an initial state and a set of inputs, it would be possible to know the result beforehand, if we knew how the computer was programmed.

    Well yes, those are the implications! :) There seems to be no 100% objective way to affirm that murder is bad. It's bad within our human context because most of us tend to avoid harm. But is it universally bad? It probably can't be, since the notions of good and bad seem to be merely human constructs.

    But it doesn't really matter if we can get a divine seal of approval stating that we got morality right. I think it's safe to say that most of humanity can reach a common ground in trying to minimize harm and in striving towards improving our well-being. It's in all our best interests to do so. Whether that is the right path in a "grand scheme of things" sort of way is hard to tell, but we inevitably have to work within this limited human context.

    So if we all could agree that evil doesn't exist (and thus we can't really blame murderers, etc.) and that we want to try to build a society that tries to maximize well-being and minimize harm for everyone, then we'd have to rework several of our current systems.

    Going back to the previous example: yes, it would perhaps be cruel to isolate a murderer from society considering that he couldn't have possibly avoided this fate, but since we can't have a perfect system, then inevitably some compromises have to be made. We'd try to do what is best for everyone, and that's why I mentioned having a focus on psychological research rather than punishment. This way perhaps isolation could be only temporary, and it could be done in a much more humane manner than our current systems.

    Humans are the most "emotional" animals, I think. Emotions are highly adaptive traits, they make parents care for their young and they give the courage required to fight off predators and to protect both offspring and genes. Fear is also very useful in keeping us alive. But like any other adaptation, what works in one environment can backfire in another. Humans no longer live in the african savannah (for the most part) and so our modern world is not always well-suited to host this adaptation.

    For example, moths evolved in a world without candles. Even a very useful adaptation like having the ability to navigate using the moonlight, can backfire for them in a different environment. The adaptation that makes the moth follow the moonlight is the same that makes it self-immolate when being near a candle or fire.

    A combination of genetics, past experiences and current sensory inputs struck the person's neurons in such a way that they reached a certain output. For any given combination of those 3 variables (for the sake of simplification) there can only be one result, how could there be more than one? How can a computational process be considered a choice?

    No problem ;)
  12. Iscariot macrumors 68030


    Aug 16, 2007
    I think you're divorcing choice too much from biology. There was a time not that many generations ago where an "evil" or violent action meant the difference between survival and a truncated foot note in history. Being "evil" meant eliminating competition and propagating one's genes and one's own survival.

    "Evil" is just a concept we've come up with to help bind individuals to the social fabric for our own survival.
  13. floyde thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Apr 7, 2005
    Monterrey, México
    Yes I agree. I think the problem I have is that most people see "evil" as a supernatural force, or as something that can be chosen and that gives responsibility.

    I think that the concept of good and evil is no longer adaptive in our modern world.

    For example, take the war on drugs. It's a very complex social and economic issue. Our best approach to this problem so far: roam the streets with guns a-blazing, shooting the "evil" guys. It's a childish and naive solution, and it wont solve a thing. We'd be better off researching the root causes and working on a civilized solution to those. But people support that hopeless approach because they have this great need to see that good triumphs over evil myth come to life.
  14. Zombie Acorn macrumors 65816

    Zombie Acorn

    Feb 2, 2009
    Toronto, Ontario
    I read an interesting book that deals almost directly with this type of situation called "the robot's rebellion". I believe that the instance of murder vs not would be explained by one being allowing their natual impulses to react (we have been bred to reproduce/keep mates so that we can transfer our genes) while the other overrode their natual impulses to conform to societal norms. We dictate what is good vs evil by our own set of societal rules, in some cases (ie. Natural world) it would be good for the male to destroy the other male to ensure his offspring prevails. I guess it depends how you look at it
  15. HarryPot, Oct 11, 2011
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2011

    HarryPot macrumors 6502a

    Sep 5, 2009
    That's the thing, is the brain a computer?

    What exactly do you mean by universally bad? And should we classify different kind of murders? How about raping your own children? Would that be bad? Harmful? Evil?
    If you relate evil with religion, then I might agree with you. But evil has to do with the morality of the act, which is completely separated from religion. We as humans have defined the morality of acts, and try to keep improving our understanding of them to finally reach the way it should be.

    Who defines human morality? I think it is ourselves, by our intelligence and reasoning (and choice), we have been trying to find what is best for us. Now, if you try to link this to religion it is a whole other topic.
    Murder is bad for humans, simply put. It might be a survival instinct in animals; the lion needs to kill the cubs because since he killed the prior alpha male, he needs to assure that the cubs are born from a healthy and physically better lion (himself). But we humans, maybe at first did the same, but we evolved into intelligent beings with the capability to choose not to kill other humans. There is no possibility than in our human world murder is OK, it goes against our very nature.

    How exactly would humans reach a common ground? By choice? Also, you are basically changing good for well being and evil for harmful.

    How could it be human? Wouldn't it be the most anti-human thing ever?

    I mean, we clearly have the capability to see that what we are doing is incorrect and harmful (isolating the "murderer"), yet we define it as a necessary harm (evil). Isn't this necessarily a choice?

    The thing is, in a world without freewill not such thing as love or courage exist. Neither care for someone else. We are simply programmed to defend our family, and are destined to mate with only certain humans.

    Yet, how does this explain suicide? Emotions are basically our instincts. (emotion: a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others).

    Should we conclude that people who kill other humans, rape them, etc. are defective humans? And thus, we should kill them?

    Finally, if our brain is programmed to think we have freewill, but in truth we really don't have it. Why should we change our laws? If basically we live and act as we had freewill?;)
  16. AP_piano295 macrumors 65816

    Mar 9, 2005
    I think this is fundamentally more a question of philosophy more than actual science at this point.

    Theoretically if you understood every physical law of the universe, and if you could track and calculate every bit of energy and matter from the point of the big bang until forever than is every single event that has taken place since then pre-ordained?

    Or is there perhaps some fundamental element of chance / uncertainty to the universe something which makes the events taking place infinitely uncertain?

    We have no way of knowing if we truly have choice or not and I don't think science will every reach a point where we will be able to definitely state the answer one way or the other.

    I however believe that we do have choice and so I believe that evil exists though I think I define it very differently from most people. I also believe in mercy and forgiveness and that law and judges do not make an evil act good if it is labeled as justice.
  17. Daffodil macrumors 6502


    Jun 7, 2011
    In a sunny state of mind
    While I agree with the conclusion that our current systems of punishment/prison may need reform, I still find the concept of absolute determinism difficult to reconcile with my experience of humans in practice. Maybe I'm getting caught up in words, but to me it seems to imply that humans are completely rational, which at best is an ideal one might strive towards, but ultimately always fall short of.

    I think HarryPot makes a pretty valid point that this all assumes the brain is just like a computer - a pretty big assumption. Besides, I'm just not convinced that all factors are completely outside our control, even if some (or many) are.

    That's a very interesting take, and I think gets to the heart of some of the theory/practice issues I've had with the OP argument so far. I suppose it'd be interesting once we know more (about the human brain or the universe - take your pick, I guess) to get more in-depth, but at this point it's all thought experiments with unknowable outcomes...
  18. mscriv macrumors 601


    Aug 14, 2008
    Dallas, Texas
    Interesting thread Floyde and I definitely agree that the discussion is more of a philosophical one than a provable theory of science, biology, or behavior.

    If you believe the brain functions like a computer with only one possible computational output in any given situation, then how do you account for change?

    As a therapist I've seen countless people in my life change how they respond to both their internal and external stimuli. Take for example, the addict who through choice, hard work, and honesty learns to be clean. How about the individual who suffers from an anxiety disorder, but through therapy achieves freedom from worry and fear? Harry Pot's example of suicide is another great one, which I happen to think you completely side stepped with a nice little "humans are emotional" bow on top. Sorry friend, that's way too simplistic of an answer.

    I think your concept of man's belief in free will being rooted in our desire to "punish evil" is entertaining, but not representative of people's actual beliefs and practice in real life. Using your War on Drugs example, I don't care about the morality or justice involved in the efforts to eliminate drug use. I don't want to punish "evil" drug lords or imprison pushers because what they are doing is "morally wrong". Talk of justice and such is political rhetoric that gets passed around in an effort to influence elections. I want to see drug use stopped because I know how devastating it is to people. I know the pain it causes families and children. And the pain is on both sides, end users and pushers.

    Without free will humans have no value as we become just a cog in the machine of existence.
  19. floyde, Oct 11, 2011
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2011

    floyde thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Apr 7, 2005
    Monterrey, México
    Thanks for all the replies, I don't have time to answer them all, but I did read them. Anyway, I'm not even sure that my point of view is correct, I just wanted to discuss it.

    I think that science does have a lot to say about this, although perhaps nothing conclusive since scientists are barely scratching at the surface of the workings of the brain. I recommend that you read the relevant blog posts on Jerry Coyne's blog, as well as stuff from Sam Harris (The Moral Landscape) and Dean Buonomano.

    Change would be nothing more than a subsequent state in a progression. If you toppled a row of dominoes and you didn't understand classical mechanics, you might be inclined to think that the scattered dominoes represent a dramatic change in those objects, but in reality is just the last state in the progression for that action. So yes, it could still be called a change, but a predictable, deterministic one.

    Hehe well perhaps I suck at explaining it then :p. It might not be correct, but I didn't think it was simplistic. I'm not familiar with actual research for this, but I can imagine it to be something like this:

    -Humans evolved fear and emotions for the good reasons stated in my previous post. These traits are highly adaptive in the environment in which they emerged.
    -I'm not very knowledgeable about this but as far as I know, emotions are controlled by different structures and substances (dopamine, etc.) in the brain.
    -Just like not everyone's heart is built with the same quality (congenital heart failure, etc.), not everyone's brain is built in a way that can handle emotions in an optimal fashion.
    -If you can imagine a brain whose non-optimal structure causes an overwhelming overflow of emotions, coupled with the new and improved stressful situations of modern life, then it shouldn't be to far-fetched to imagine a system like that that backfires causing the destruction of its host.

    Anyway, I don't understand why you guys see that as evidence for free will. I could program a robot that would destroy itself after some traumatic event, as well as one with psychological issues that could learn to overcome them by being taught how. (Well, I could if I had a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and a lot of spare time :p). If I could control the inputs of these programs I could know the outcome beforehand.

    I didn't say that the belief in free will was rooted in that desire. Rather, I see that desire as a frequent side-effect of the belief in free will.

    I know that not everyone sees things that way, but to me it seems rather prevalent. How else can people favor things such as nationalism if not by separating them (i.e. those evil commies) from us (the good guys fighting for freedom)? No one ever fought a war against "those other, slightly misdirected homo-sapiens". :p

    Indeed, but the lack of desirability in a proposition is not evidence of it being false. It doesn't worry me though, we can still ascribe value to ourselves even if we don't have it in any other meaningful way.

    I forgot about this.

    HarryPot, why do you think that the brain is not a computer? What is the difference (I can think of several, but none of them change the important fact that they both process data and produce what appears to be a fixed output for any given set of data)
  20. bassfingers macrumors 6502


    Nov 15, 2010
    So, we all agree that killing your wife is the wrong or "evil" choice.

    In that situation (in your anger), you have two options: 1-release your anger, or 2-don't unleash your anger.

    Naturally our brains compare the pro's and con's of those choices. A pro of choice 1 is that it satisfies your desires/slash emotion.

    However, and this is the interesting part, a pro that we consider for option 2 is that it is the "right" or "good" choice, and the opposite for option 1.

    This is interesting, because we do not add up the pros and cons and then later decide which is the right choice. We know during/before the decision making process which we think is which. Therefore, what we consider good or evil (right or wrong) is not related to our perception of the practical outcomes. This leads me to believe that the source of what we consider to be "good" or "evil" is inherently imbedded in our brains.

    More evidence for this is that morality is relatively consistent across borders, cultures, genders, and races. The nitpicky details are spotty, but for the most part, nations agree on broader principles like, say... honesty.

    And I am of the opinion that the most reasonable explanation for this is a God-given conscience
  21. mscriv macrumors 601


    Aug 14, 2008
    Dallas, Texas
    Here's the thing, this...

    and this...

    don't appear to be consistent to me. If the brain processes data and comes to a "fixed output" then the same "set of data" (circumstances) would always produce the same outcome. However, in the case of humanity this is not the case. Like I said before addicts learn to choose a different response when faced with their triggers. According to your system a person would be doomed to continually repeat the same behavior when placed in the same circumstances. Addicts would always use, abusers would always abuse, cheaters would always cheat, etc. etc.. However, we know this is not the case because humans have the capacity for change.

    There is not a "fixed output" for any given set of circumstances. In truth, there are multiple possible outcomes and we as humans analyze these options and make a choice based on a variety of factors. One might make one choice this time, but when faced with the same situation later make a different choice.

    You've used the word adapt several times in your posts, but in a strict system of determinism adaptation is not possible as the power to choose (free will) is not possible.

    As far as the discussion on suicide goes...

    Again, I think you are still missing the point of what we are saying and I don't think you truly understand the full complexity of suicide. One of the common features of suicide is the feeling of hopelessness. Some reach this point and choose to escape the pain by taking their own life. Death is a better alternative to living with what they perceive to be unbearable. Others reach this point and have no desire to harm themselves at all. Instead, they turn to abusing substances or some other form of self medicating the pain. Taking their life is not ever considered. I think those whose lives have been touched by suicide would find the notion that the individual who made that unfortunate choice was flawed, weak, or possessing a defect of some sort. Or, is there some other way to interpret what you describe as a "non-optimal" brain.
  22. KeriJane macrumors 6502a


    Sep 26, 2009
    I can't speak for all "evil" but I feel that an awful lot of it has roots in Theology, specifically Theology that teaches one or more of the following:

    1- The concept that "we are "God's" own chosen people based upon Race and or Belief".
    This poisonous attitude leads people to have less respect for their fellow humans based upon trivialities. Less respect for others often leads to poor treatment of same and a vicious cycle of retribution.

    2- The concept of total forgiveness of "sins" by a third party, either some charlatan or some imaginary deity but NOT by the person(s) wronged by the "sins" in the first place.
    This idiotic concept is a sure way to increase "Evil". After all, if someone has been raised to believe that their "Savior" will redeem them regardless of what actions they take in this world, why shouldn't they do horrible things? Alternately, why should they apply themselves in any meaningful way when they will go to "heaven" regardless?

    3- The categorically insane idea that other people MUST conform to your will and beliefs because YOUR "God" demands it or be destroyed as Heretics or Unbelievers.
    Annoying, harming or killing people because they have different spiritual beliefs is crazy and completely evil but an awful lot of so- called respectable and intelligent people do just that.

    If we could eliminate the corrosive effects of Theology even in just these three ways, there would be a LOT less evil in the world.
  23. GermanyChris macrumors 601


    Jul 3, 2011
    I don't think of these concepts so much Persig

    While he did "teach" value neutrality, it was based in religion (Buddhism) remember buddhas job was to show the way. That in itself creates a good the way, and a bad not the way. While it was never stated outright that would be the implication.

    This falls more under Nietzsche..with his abolition of religion in all forms this removes good and evil entirely. The "transvaluation of all values"

    Good and evil are in the end religious constructs taking that a bit further morals become religious constructs, which means values/ethics become religious constructs.

    If you were to abolish religion globally the world would be a safer, happier, and cleaner place.
  24. Sydde macrumors 68020


    Aug 17, 2009
    A wrench in the works: 9 Movie Villains Who were Right All Along from Cracked. (Sauron? Really? Come on.)

    A rather fair-to-middlin' modern Scottish author created one of literature's most evil bad guys. Yet this character clearly outlines the heart of this issue with "There is no good or evil, only power ..."

    Because, really, how can you have evil without power (power in this context meaning control over other people's lives and/or choices)? Sometimes that power lies in cunning (the ability to manipulate others to a destructive end), but without power, one can only fantasize about nastiness.

    There also appears to be some aspect to empowerment that breeds evil, typically in an increasing spiral. This is also related to greed, because once one has reasonably satisfied one's own needs, attempting to gain more translates to a desire for more power (control over other's access to resources — for the love of money is the root of all evil).

    As to free will, B. F. Skinner addressed that issue in Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Human behavior can be at least partially mapped. Our decisions, from an intellectual standpoint, are largely based on a massive calculation formed from the bulk of our personal experience (including education) and can almost always, in theory, be predicted. However, the immense complexity of the decision calculation obscures quite a lot of underlying detail, so it really is not realistic to suggest that actions could be reliably predicted.

    Because we cannot observe the origins of our actions, we perceive ourselves as having free will. This also converges with Huxley's Doors of Perception: one of the most important functions of the brain is to filter out excess information. Yes, he was on mescaline at the time, but that does not invalidate the point, only the "dharma of the hedge". Just go for a drive, go over to Best Buy or somesuch, and spend as much of that time observing everything that reaches your senses, and you will become painfully aware of how hard our brains work to reduce the amount of sensory input we ultimately have to process.

    From a Skinnerian (strict behaviorist) point of view, the criminal justice system is a fatally flawed design. Punishment only ever works consistently if the immediate effect of an action leads directly to the negative reinforcement. One does not touch a cholla cactus a second time, knowing what the inevitable painful result will be. As soon as you separate the consequence from the action, the behavior becomes not a matter of avoiding the action but avoiding getting caught (at which some do succeed, at least part of the time). Justice would be much better served by helping the victim and trying to rehabilitate the miscreant than the sort of machine of vengeance that is has become.

    So how do we decide what is "good" and what is not? It seems to me that the Vulcan ethos — the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few — would be a good place to start. The accumulation of power should be seen as a sign that "evilness" is afoot or developing and should be stopped. Yet even that is not a simple algorithm. Life is a pretty complicated thing, setting up simple formulas to deal with its issues is probably not a viable approach.
  25. GermanyChris macrumors 601


    Jul 3, 2011
    Punishment only works if the punished fears the punishment, and respects the punisher..

    If the cholla cactus doesn't hurt there is no lesson.

    If I don't respect the judge or the society that is punishing me, it's not punishment..

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