The Great Debate Panel

Speakers: Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer and Roger Bingham.

A lively panel discussion between Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong?
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The Great Debate
On November 6th, 2010 a panel of renowned scientists, philosophers, and public intellectuals gathered to discuss what impact evolutionary theory and advances in neuroscience might have on traditional concepts of morality. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong? The panelists were psychologist Steven Pinker, author Sam Harris, philosopher Patricia Churchland, physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher Simon Blackburn, bioethicist Peter Singer and The Science Network's Roger Bingham.

Recorded live at the Arizona State University Gammage auditorium.

"The Great Debate" was sponsored by the ASU Origins Project in collaboration with the ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law Center for Law, Science and Innovation; the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge; and The Science Network.

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Replies to This Discussion

The two "Natures" of human nature and physical nature have vague correlations. Physical nature follows crisp laws that produce verifiable results. Human nature follows gross general laws that are tendencies with exceptions, and results are sometimes not verifiable. Looking for the specific physical circuitry where an idea resides may be futile if it is intended as verifiable across individuals.

I agree with Paul that human nature is never cut and dried, black and white. Circumstances will dictate widely varying behaviors in the same person. An example is the Germans and Poles who cooperated with the Nazis -- in other circumstances, they would probably have been ordinary, decent people.

On the other hand, there probably are brain abnormalities that make certain people vulnerable to certain pathologies, and if it were possible to identify such abnormalities when these people were small children, it might be possible to prevent the pathologies. I'm thinking about things like suicidal depression, autism schizophrenia, and sociopathy, to name a few. Right now, I know it's not possible to intervene, but it would be nice to be able to give such vulnerable individuals a chance for a decent, happy life.

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