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June 01, 2008

Cognition, Culture, and the Origins of Morality (Logical, Scientific)

The last entry suggested that American drug policy represents an intrinsic anomaly of human cognition, one that probably affects us all to some degree and has now evolved to a point that threatens our well-being. In that case, one would think that a rigid drug policy that has been immunized against scrutiny since its origins in 1914 might be seen as urgently in need of honest scientific assessment and correction to the extent possible.

Yet, a call for such a review seems very unlikely. The possibility it could happen at all is probably more contingent on how rapidly the planet’s established weather, economic, health, and behavioral threats  continue to evolve. Prolonged denial and resistance can be expected from a variety of sources with opposing interests.

The cognitive anomaly referred to is most likely an internal conflict produced by the separate evolution of two brain centers with critical roles in cognition, the amygdala and the neocortex. The conflict is manifested as the strong preference by both individual humans and human organizations for maximizing profits and prestige while minimizing failure and evading responsibility to the extent possible.  Such practices, whether by organizations or governments, are praised as healthy competition by some and damned as malfeasance by others; dishonest competition has long been the human default and is now more widespread than ever. It’s particularly dangerous in  our modern world because both the consequences of a hostile nuclear exchange and the likelihood one will occur are increasing and we are also being reminded that the economy of an overcrowded planet is more fragile, unequal, and interdependent than ever.

Murderous new resentments are also being generated daily.

Ironically, once it’s accepted that cheating, violence, and dishonesty dominate human interactions, understanding how that came about and its partial control might be favorably affected by designing a policy designed to take maximum advantage of scientific objectivity while consciously trying to reduce the introduction of bias. Such an approach should be superior because it would reduce the influence of faith and authority. Science attempts to predict the future by studying the past. Historically, the religions that promulgated elaborate dogma in complex agricultural societies had a paucity of solid information from the past on which to theorize,  but they did have an inside track with the power structure, which gave their religious beliefs plenty of time to consolidate power and status before the arrival of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.

Historically, the scientific knowledge that led to the Industrial Revolution also facilitated a huge two-century spurt in human numbers and wealth. However recent recognition of overpopulation’s danger to the ecology and political stability have yet to generate any serious discussion of population control and opinion is clearly split. China, the only nation enforcing a population control policy;  is not reporting results systematically, and the social consequences are still unknown. It’s also fairly clear that birth control measures would be anathema to many and, to be effective, would have to be practiced by a majority of humans on a voluntary basis.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 1, 2008 08:48 AM