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Guest Post @ Scientific American: Morality and Chimpanzees

My latest at the Scientific American guest blog.

Chimpanzee research is a hot topic this summer; it has been discussed on the big screen, in the New York Times, and in the science blogosphere. The debate is complicated; there are government funding issues, several ethical dilemmas to consider, and potential benefits to human health at stake. However, all of the discourse boils down to a simple question: what are the moral parameters of chimpanzee research?

It is a riveting debate, no doubt, and I think that addressing moral questions head-on is necessary. But as a philosophy major, I also know that pondering and arguing the moral qualifications and conditions of an action can be endless, tiring, and dry. That is why I am interested in a much deeper, and much more fascinating question: Why are human beings so moral?

I interviewed Yale psychologist Paul Bloom for the article. He had some interesting things to say. Check out Bloom’s Tedtalk here, and latest book here.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Why are human beings so moral? Where? Who?

    A much better question is “why are human beings so self-deceptive, locked in denial, and hypocritical about their immorality?”

    And the answer is that the vast majority of us are addicted to beliefs and behaviors that we inherited from less intelligent ancestors who convinced themselves that their favorite addictive behaviors were healthy, normal, and even admirable.

    I’m talking about addictions to money, religion, fear/power, peer-approval, and esteem. All trigger the same dopamine as heroin addiction.

    Even the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) is coming around and realizing that addiction is addiction and that heroin, booze, sex, gambling, etc. are only triggers to score brain chemicals.

    It’s only a question of time before ASAM takes the next step / quantum leap and figures out that the biggest addicts are controlling our society and that the most common and destructive addictions aren’t considered addictions because self-deception and denial are the key symptoms of all addictions.

    Addiction is a dehumanizing brain disease that has kept our species from evolving into genuine human beings. Instead, we’re still closer to self-deceptive neochimps than aware and conscious human beings.

    Chimpanzees are conniving, colluding animals who obsess over dopamine-induced power, peer-approval, and esteem because they lead to orgasms which deliver extra dopamine rewards. In a way, chimpanzees are superior to neochimps because their obsession with power, approval, esteem is a logical means to an biological end.

    Homo sapiens have turned these same primitive means into addictive, destructive, bioillogical ends unto themselves. If you need any proof to back this up, check the history books and daily headlines.

    August 24, 2011
  2. sammcnerney #

    You have a very pessimistic point of view. And after reading your comment I was a little bit taken back. But I do think it is correct to say that we’ve inherited faulty beliefs and behaviors from less intelligent ancestors (obviously), and I also believe that we are indeed highly self-deceptive like you say.

    However, humans are also much more altruistic and kind than chimps. There is a great TED by Matt Ridley on this subject. He nicely explains that in the last five thousand years or so, humans have become extremely cooperative, which has caused the global network of economic and intellectual exchange that we see today. Moreover, the history of homo sapien has seen a sharp decrease in violent and increase in peace. As outlined by Steven Pinker’s forth coming book, this was also caused by increase cooperation, kindness, and moral behavior.

    While you are right to point out that we are hypocritical, I disagree with your assertion that human beings are self-deceptive about their immorality. There are a lot of psych studies suggesting a much different picture.

    August 24, 2011
  3. It seems like you happen to be creating issues your self by wanting to solve this situation rather of looking at why their is really a problem to begin with

    March 10, 2014

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