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Season 2 | Episode 3

Morality

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Photo of 'Cupid and Pan,' oil on canvas attributed to Federico Zuccaro circa 1600, at the Getty Center (Randy Robertson/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

Where does our sense of right and wrong come from?

We watch chimps at a primate research center sharing blackberries, observe 3-year-olds fighting over toys, and tour Eastern State Penitentiary -- the country's first penitentiary. Plus, a story of land grabbing, indentured servitude, and slumlording in the fourth grade.

Guests:

Dr. Joshua Greene, Sally Herships, Dr. Judi Smetana and Frans de Waal

Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides

First up, we the streets. Join us in Times Square as we poll dozens of people waiting in line to buy discount Broadway tickets. Share in the outrage and mental grunt-work as these thrifty theater-goers try to answer tough moral quandaries. The questions -- which force you to ...

Comments [38]

Kiddie Morality

How do we develop our sense of morality? Even toddlers know there is a right and wrong beyond the rules in a classroom. While Jad attends playgroup, Robert concludes that children are sociopaths. Dr. Judi Smetana refutes this claim while guiding us through her research on the development ...

Comments [12]

Crime and Penitence

Immorality, criminality, that is the stuff of the outside world. Well, that's what some people thought, like the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, back in the 1820's. So they opened up the Eastern State Penitentiary, an experiment in correcting criminal behavior through solitary ...

Comments [5]

Comments [129]

Jake

In this episode there is a point where you state that primates do not have that developed sense of guilt/shame that humans have, but yesterday I listen to the "Lucy" episode and in it you talked about Kanzi and how she bit Bill Fields hand and then months later apologized. It seems to me that Kanzi had in some way the feeling of guilt.

Aug. 13 2014 04:00 PM
Paul Montag

This is a pretty old episode so I am sorry if this question was already asked but it would be interesting to see at what point people change there minds about pushing the large man on the train track. In other words would you push the large man onto the train if it would save 10 people, or 20, 30, 40, 50 etc to see where the tipping point is for most people. I myself thought about this and would consider pushing around 30.

Aug. 08 2014 05:33 PM
MrNico

HTPaloma, so you advocate standing still as the train approaches instead of just stepping aside and preserving your life? That's what a reasonable god would want, I'm sure.

Jul. 23 2014 12:30 AM
HTpaloma

I would never change train tracks, it has to do with faith. If you have total belief in your faith, you believe there is a time and place for each of us to move on to the next life.

Jul. 16 2014 07:11 PM
Erik

Anyone else think it's a little ironic that a guy (Marc Hauser) accused of falsifying data is featured on a show about morality? Without even mentioning it?

Jul. 16 2014 09:47 AM
Nikki Lee from Pennsylvania

One of the best radio shows I have ever heard. The information was profound and thought-provoking and fascinating. Well done. Thank you!!

Jul. 15 2014 08:05 PM
Bob V from Chapel Hill NC

All of the people debating the philosophical conundrums here and on the show are people who *have* a view of morality of one sort or another.

When you were talking with the neuroscientist/philosopher about his identification of the specific loci of moral decision-making in the brain, I kept waiting to hear whether he'd looked at sociopaths - people who do not have any moral sense. Some of these folks have been identified and could be studied. It is the famous "Rosie Ruiz" syndrome, where all the normal right and wrong cues are completely meaningless. If a sociopath has zero brain response to the moral quandry in the same loci where a neurotypical person's brain lights up, he's found his spot. But you can't say you've found it by only looking at those who have some level of moral decision-making in the first place.

Great show - keep up the good work.

Jul. 14 2014 10:52 AM
ckling from Colorado

Regarding the train switch vs the "fat man" dilemma… Why is no one observing that, pushing someone else off the bridge in front of the train IS more like murder, since the subject could simply have JUMPED off the bridge, committed suicide, and saved everyone else?! The fact that the subject of the experiment could avoid all harm to others by fatal self-sacrifice is a critical distinction between flipping the switch on the track router or pushing another person to his death. (Of course, I realize that the experiment could have been framed to avoid this issue, but it was not, and no one is discussing this very relevant and essential distinction.)

Jul. 14 2014 12:14 AM
JC Harris from Seattle

WRT the segment on the railway switch, I think you could've taken the topic in a different (albeit more controversial) direction. The point is that people become less 'moral' (empathetic) as they become physically removed from the situation. In general, people are more likely to cheat with on-line banking than with a dollar bill dropped on the street. And people are more likely to hurt someone else via remote control than using their hands. And the more 'remote' the more willing they are to hurt.

You're probably too young, but I'm reminded of how Lenny Bruce used to quote Thomas Merton: http://www.democraticunderground.com/?com=view_post&forum=1002&pid=3649470

In short, it's not original to realise that the big attraction of guns, drones, etc. is that they don't engage the 'empathy' part of the brain. That guy with the MRI is simply quantifying something we already knew... but perhaps don't wanna accept because it's an inconvenient truth.

I wonder if our species will survive long enough to get our brains re-wired to these new remote-control moralities.

Jul. 13 2014 03:32 AM
Ted from Minnesota

Regarding the scenario of sacrificing a baby to save a group of people in danger, it is said to have occured repeatedly during the Hmong exodus from Laos during the Vietnam War. From Anne Fadiman's excellent book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down":

"The babies presented a potentially fatal problem: they made noise. Silence was so essential that one Hmong woman, now living in Wisconsin, recalled that her son, who was a month old when the family left their home village, didn't know a single word when they arrived in Thailand two years later, because no one had talked during that entire period except in occasional whispers. Nearly every Hmong family I met in Merced had a story to tell about a baby - a relative's child, a neighbor's child, a member of the group they escaped with - who had been drugged with opium. "When the babies would cry," a young mother named Yia Thao Xiong told me, "we would mix the opium in water in a cup and give it to them so they would be quiet and the soldiers would not hear, because if they heard the babies, they would kill all of us. Usually the baby just went to sleep. But if you give too much by mistake, the baby dies. That happened many many times." ... When I asked Nao Kao about the boy with the scar on his forehead whom May Lee had mentioned in her eighth-grade essay, he said, "You had to be very quiet. The father of that little baby tried to kill him so he wouldn't cry and everyone would get killed." "

Jul. 12 2014 07:57 PM
Greg

While I appreciate that someone is investigating the possibility of a physiological aspects of morality, I believe that the situation described to create a moral dilemma is inadequately controlled. Specifically, choosing to push a man to his death to save 5 others is different from throwing a lever to switch the train to another track with the same result for an obvious reason other than those outlined: People working on the tracks or driving (or even riding) the train have actively chosen to take a certain risk, while the man standing next to you has no participation in your decision to kill him. And, as others have pointed out, you could instead ask him to make the sacrifice or jump yourself. Exactly the same reasoning applies to the case of smothering a baby to save a group of people: By definition, a baby has made no decision to assume a risk - he or she is there entirely at the responsibility of the parent.

Jul. 12 2014 05:48 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

This is the third or fourth time I've heard this entertaining segment on _Radiolab_.

It's more clear, each time I hear it, that while experimental psychology is a real science, it's also a science with some of the crummiest and most often overturned conclusions. Why should it not be so? This science's objects are the most complex and mysterious things in our world.

All of the tests described here include extremely dubious and questionable methods of experiment in which all kinds of obvious avenues for bias exist.

Journalists like to talk about experimental psychology with their general audiences because 1) people are endlessly fascinated with themselves and other people and 2) little or no mathematics are required in order to explain (clumsily) method and conclusions. Math is hard to relate in broadcast venues and journalists are ignorant of it and hate it. They know the audience feels the same way.

The segment is also an illustration of why "functional MRI" (along with several other words and phrases; "quantum", "meme" etc.) should undertake a moratorium in public broadcasting: abjure its utterance, for five years.

Jul. 12 2014 05:03 PM
Randall from Wisconsin

As usual, the "scientific" discussion leaves out the spiritual explanation that's been around for almost 2000 years. The Epistle to the Romans makes it clear that even those who do not have the Ten Commandments have a certain amount of God's moral law imprinted on their spiritual cores from creation on. Because we also inherit sin from our parents, this imprint of God's moral law is not perfect and needs to be built and polished by proper religious training, but it is there from birth. So it is possible for atheists to have a very moral position. As long as scientists insist on excluding the spiritual realities from the discussion, they will continue to spin their wheels in attempts to find an answer to the question: where does morality come from. As long as survival of the species is the ultimate norm, morality will be redefined to become not an absolute set of principles, but an ever-changing code modified to excuse actions motivated purely by self interest, either short or long term.

Jul. 12 2014 04:45 PM
Greg

I had a thought regarding the brain scan segment about the dilemma between an instinctual versus intellectual decision. To start with, I am a physician. When listening to the conflict of smothering the infant or risking the lives of rest of the village, my decision was reflexive: kill the baby. Granted, I know of the real life circumstances where this has happened and have seen it portrayed in old war movies and the final M.A.S.H. episode, so, maybe I have thought this through before. My question was whether, as a particular population, physicians are trained to resolve these conflicts quickly? Do the "little dots" in the frontal lobes of doctors light up brighter and longer than the general population? Is training to make decisions to perform surgery or amputate, wholly unnatural acts, encouraging or cultivating of this particular function? My quick decision was based on the calculation that the baby dies either way. (The conflict is that the child might not cough and does one feel it is worth gambling everybody's life on a long-shot to save the child?) I have been trained to size up the consequences, to calculate the probabilities, choose the best path and then do the unnatural thing if necessary.
Do people who gravitate to medicine have accentuation of this function or is it cultivated through training?

Jul. 12 2014 01:58 PM
Wae Nelson from Malabar, FL

Just listened to show on morality. Great as always, but I think you missed one of the most important stories on the subject and that is "The Third Wave", a story of a high school teacher who, as an experiment, set up a fascist system in his class. It soon got frighteningly out of control. Amazing and frightening story.

Jul. 12 2014 01:20 PM
nopiano from new york

All good stuff. But it's a little disingenuous and a bit overdramatic to present these findings as they do here - new and revolutionary "ooh some young whippersnapper kid from Princeton with a brainscanning machine!" C'mon. Carl Jung's theories of the collective unconscious and how they incorporate the evolution of morality are 100 years old. David Eagleman has been researching and writing about the inner workings of the brain for years, with similar but more interesting findings. Not to mention, Jonah Lehrer.

Jul. 12 2014 12:33 PM
jason from Milwaukee

Anybody know the song with tee guitar? I think its around the 52:00 mark, thanks in advance!

Jun. 20 2014 02:26 PM
Don

Didn't read all of the comments so sorry if this has been pointed out (as it likely has).

Perhaps the innate sense of morality is nothing more than God's imprint on creation. The "breath of God" - something that is "written on [our] hearts."

Reject the inherent spiritual dynamic of morality if you will, but maybe, just maybe, there is more at work here than simple brain activity.

May. 20 2014 09:36 AM

I strongly disagree with Mr.Riggs method in "learning" to have a conscience through the manipulation of young children playing a game. This girl has been scarred in to believing she has a duty to others. This is exactly comes to mind in reading Nietzsche's text. This is exactly the type of inculcation and indoctrination of moral values that are not realized by the working mind, they are actualized by the simple "rumoring" of what the popular sovereign view was in that social structure. Teaching children the importance of philosophical inquiry and working through their decisions is much more fruitful than scaring these youths into a submissive and controllable state. I also strongly disagree that a child is doomed simply because he can not process these thoughts into cohesive and understandable streams of moral codes for himself, experience is exactly what these children lack in adult situations.

May. 09 2014 05:47 PM
Adam Travers

People are missing an important detail on the train scenario. It is not an option between you or the guy on the bridge, they point out that the guy on the bridge is a really big guy and his bulk would stop the train. Unless you are the same size, jumping yourself is not an option. Guilt is not a factor.

Mar. 17 2014 04:52 PM
Benjamin

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Mar. 13 2014 08:24 AM
Stop Posting Rude Comments

please stop posting rude comments, talk about the story, not nasty things. Thanks

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Mar. 11 2014 09:11 AM
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Mar. 11 2014 09:04 AM
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Mar. 11 2014 09:02 AM
Nicholas Vucelic from Your Mom's House

I have mushy eyebrows.

Mar. 10 2014 03:23 PM
Frankles from Swegglend

Hi. I like radiolab, it is very fun to listen to.

I'm 4 years old and i have swegg!!!

:-D

Mar. 10 2014 03:19 PM
Winston Xu from New York

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Mar. 10 2014 03:17 PM
wolf

I would like to know the rules of this game. It would be cool to play with my friends.

Feb. 22 2014 12:46 AM
yusef Ali from University of Louisville

I found it fasinating that the brain may be made up of diffrent deciding parts which determine the outcomes of ones actions,and determining "what is"and "what isn't" moral depending on the "total group"or rather practical in regrards to the evolutiion of humanity.

Jan. 13 2014 01:13 PM
LOL from Cleveland

What I keep hearing in this production is something that seems, on the surface, unimportant. But all of the experts seem to want to lean towards a belief of some kind of innate, hard wired ability to make moral judgments. But, what isn't said is that there is no scientific merit to that belief. What makes this so profound is what the debate really is what the opposite consideration means. which is that this information about right and wrong comes either from magic in our brains vs. being passed down from our parents. To say it is "innate" removes the importance and responsibility from our role as parents. I disagree. I believe we start learning the moment of our first breath. That a child fed mechanically and on a routine schedule absent of action and consequences, would grow up not knowing "right" and "wrong". The nuances of our social interaction are highly undervalued in our society. I believe this divorce from the value of parenting, in the western society, has occurred by sending children, young and younger to be raised by their peers and the system at group educational environments. The result is a more and more cultural personality that has morals that are more the result of "marketing" than actual understanding. Let us face it, if it were innate, we could recognize it, and use it to determine who is going to do "bad things". I believe that Bill Gates and Jeffery Dahmer both took their first breath with equal chance of becoming who they did or who the other guy was. Instructions between birth and today given my culture and parents the only difference. Any one of us could have become that monster or the success. Life's lessons are learned, often, in the blink of an eye, the event repressed, and only the "belief" remains.

Dec. 23 2013 01:08 PM
Jon from TN

I suggest that people don't push the fat man because you would be forcing him to do something that you didn't. Why did no one else think that it is your responsibility to jump and sacrifice yourself?
In the long distance situation, you're only course of action is the lever. In the bridge situation, there are two options: you or him. Then it is governed by murder or self sacrifice

Nov. 20 2013 11:14 PM
Matt from New York, NY

I would like to know Jad's Abumrad response to sacrificing his own child to save the village, now that he has a child.

Nov. 19 2013 03:42 PM
AWindfield from NYC

Does the "inner chimp" morality have anything to do with habitual sense of empathy (what would people do for me?) or sense of community, an emotional switch that "protects" and saves your own kin?

Nov. 19 2013 02:00 PM
Nina Cannizzaro

Chomsky describes Hume's theory of "innate structure" to address the topic of this week's program, i.e. a genetically based matrix of human morality in a youtube clip, (in the second part, after the Hitchens and Harris bit): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok68YDm2PTU

Nov. 19 2013 09:15 AM
Tim from 55413

Please address the much more relevant and crucial issue of morality: the morality of pollution. Why does nearly everyone act like they have the right to poison others, destroy the ecosystems that are vital to our survival, and make waste out of our nearly depleted resources? Even people who claim to be "green" still choose the car, when walking, biking, and public transportation are totally reasonable options (not that polluting is EVER a reasonable option). Even worse, they continue to accelerate, spewing acrolein, benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, (etc.) into the air we all supposedly share, even when the light in front of them has turned red, and they will so obviously be hitting the brakes just moments after their pointless accelerating. How is it morally justifiable to pollute, knowing what we so clearly know today?

Nov. 18 2013 03:26 PM
Mike

Regarding the morality experiment, it seems a no-brainer of an explanation to say that throwing a person against their will to their death becomes the morality issue for YOU, and that the initial situation is negated, or at least relegated to THEIR problem, by the fact (and your likely assumption) that the "big" person next to you can make up his/her own mind to jump. So, why not just ask?

Nov. 18 2013 12:34 AM
Yosee from milwaukee

Radio Lab often comes up with interesting and thoughtful topics. Unfortunately it presents these topics in a childish theatrical manner (repeated and exaggerated gasps and chimp sounds, etc.) This takes away from the subject and diminishes the thoughtful nature of the topic. Is anyone else irritated with this? If so, perhaps we can send in a group complaint.

Nov. 17 2013 11:43 PM
Kar

I think it is the act of directly pushing a person onto the train tracks that makes it objectionable. Changing the track with one person inside train doesn't directly and actively involve throwing that person onto the tracks - there is some distance between you & the person endangered by throwing the switch. It the reason I object to using drones to kill people.

Nov. 17 2013 09:59 PM
Ambrose

Guys, no offense, but I think you're reading too much into the train question. There are many details we could impose on the situation that would alter our answer, but the point is to reduce the question to black and white so that we can gain insight on people and the reason why they make these decisions.

Nov. 17 2013 09:00 PM
daveindallas

I just heard part of the broadcast so forgive me if this was addressed in the show. Did the producers consider that rather than supporting evolution the brain scan only measures what is consistent about us as humans rather than proving that we've evolved from primates? Money says you'd get a consistent response from people if you gave them a good whack or paid them a compliment in the brain scan. Which only proves that they have a human brain, not that they evolved from a primate.

Nov. 17 2013 08:42 PM
Dennis McCoy from Los Angles CA

I would like a transcript of the part of this show about the woman who returned to her 3ed grade class and talked with her former teacher about a game called?? homestead?? if you don't have a transcript can I buy a CD of the show?
my phone number 818-352-6909

Nov. 17 2013 08:22 PM
gina gonzalezreyna from los angeles CA

as a child psychotherapist who has seen firsthand the damaging effects of comments teachers make, i was surprised and appalled to hear the self described "sad and tired" teacher doom 3rd graders' futures if by that age they continued to display doubtful morality. talk about a missed teachable moment on Radiolab's behalf. first, ongoing environmental stress may exist in those children's lives. second, it's the adults' job to assist the children, not doom them. third, when ideas like that are made public without clarification more pressure is put on 7 and 8 year olds to behave as if they were perfect little adults. we bring children into the world, so let's fill their lives with opportunity, safety and support, rather than unfair criticism. cheers!

Nov. 17 2013 08:18 PM
dan carrington from minneapolis

I think the hypothetical situation in the train quandary is not as simple as they put it. They equal the two situations (1. pull lever 2. push person) and really think they are not equatable. In the second instance, if you can push the man to save the five, then surely you can jump yourself and I think the initial repulsive response by people asked this question is one of guilt - If my morality is telling me to save the five then I should be the one to jump.

Nov. 17 2013 05:43 PM
Ricky from Houston

With the train switch question - my initial thought (even before they got to the pushing part) with the switch is that maybe switching the line could create a better chance that the one guy by himself might hear or notice the change and get out of the way. That you where somehow changing the course of the train and either the 5 or the 1 might suddenly take notice. And with the pushing - I had to wonder why I couldn't jump down there myself?

Nov. 17 2013 03:40 PM
Laurie

The internal 'war' that occurs in the brain when faced with the question about your sick baby in a basement full of villagers being hunted by an invading army is an interesting question to me because of my mother. She died of a brain tumor that I have come to believe was caused by an internal battle within her brain. Outwardly she was a very nice person she was drawn to metaphysical spirituality and spent much of her time and attention in her later years listening to tapes on pure consciousness, or God, and Christ consciousness. She and her husband also spent much time and attention listening to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative political points of view. I could not understand how these two seemingly opposite philosophical beliefs systems occurred at the same time. Was there an internal 'train wreck' going on for years, inside her brain, that caused her tumor?
I am sorry if this strays from the main topic...

Nov. 17 2013 03:37 PM
LK from Wash. DC

The one problem with these hypotheticals is they are posed with certainty: If you kill the baby, the village will live. But in real life, there is no certainty. You take one risk by doing X, but get different risk by doing Y. In the one scenario, it's possible you smother the baby, but get caught anyway. Or it's possible you don't smother the baby, but the baby doesn't get you caught. The fundamental fact when making ethical choices is that we don't know the future. But the way the questions are posed is artificial because it is given as a certainty. This is not how ethics works in the real world, where uncertainty is hovering above all of our decisions.

Nov. 17 2013 12:31 PM
Len Kopec from Montana

The train/switch question--in the second scenario you have the choice of killing the man or committing suicide. Jump on the track yourself and save the five. That's a big difference between the two choices. Pull a switch or die.

Nov. 16 2013 06:09 PM

I think it is interesting to delve into the idea that we have morality hard-wired. I don't completely agree but it is interesting. As for the baby smothering, I think that I smother the child but I haven't had children so I am likely to change my perspective. I think people shy away from responsibility of any deaths. We fear death and to give someone else death is undesirable (even disgusting really) The best answer I can give is to evaluate the society in which these decisions are made to avoid these situations. P.S. To all you who are claiming that a good Christian would never kill another for the good of the masses... Jesus died to give everyone salvation, no?

Nov. 16 2013 05:25 PM
Kyle

So, I haven't listened to the show yet so this is my a priori belief and it will be interesting to see if the show challenges that belief. My belief is that if neuroscience has an answer to morality than morality has no real significance at all.

Nov. 16 2013 05:13 PM
G. Dennis Long from GAYLORD

God created man. Humans did not evolve. Humans did not come from chimps or any other animal. We are HUMANS. End of story, end of line.
One day you people will learn the truth. But on that day it will be too late for you.

Nov. 16 2013 01:32 PM
JF from THE FUTURE

IF YOU WANT TO STUDY A UTOPIAN BRAIN. I AM AVAILABLE FOR STUDY. WHILE YOU ALL ARE DECIDING WHICH OPTION IS BETTER. THE UTOPIAN KNOWS ALL CHOICES ARE FALSE AND FIGURES OUT A WAY TO SAVE BOTH GROUPS.

Nov. 16 2013 12:12 PM
Donald sweeney from Long Island, NY

The difference is the number of choices. With the switch, there are two: pull or not. On the bridge there is the added choice of jumping yourself to save the five.

Nov. 16 2013 12:12 PM
jf from THE FUTURE

THE ANSWER WAS TO YELL AT THE MAN ON THE TRACK AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE TO MOVE AND PULL THE LEVER. THAT'S HOW UTOPIANS THINK.

Nov. 16 2013 12:03 PM
isis from WyDaho

Regarding, smothering a fussy child, so as to not be noticed by murderous government goons, I think the morality is clear. It is evil to become a murderer of innocent life even to protect the many. The baby is not at fault, the people hiding are not at fault, clearly the evil lies in bloodthirsty governments, and soldiers who blindly follow their freak state leaders, in what they saw as the greater good, being the extermination of Jews or other people groups. I think it would be honorable, to refuse to join the ranks of murders, even if it meant certain death for all. Even better would be to resist with equal force. To injur or even kill the agressor, to protect the weaker is not murder it is justice. This so called greater good morality, has been used to justify many evils, governments love people with such a moral compus, because they are easy to manipulate, in obedience to the dictators will.

Nov. 16 2013 07:01 AM
isis from WyDaho

I would like to point out how silly it is to teach on air that "Christian" morality was not understood before the 10 commandments were given on Sinai. Noah was a "preacher of righteousness" long before Moses carried the tablets down the mountain. And Cain was considered a murderer for killing his brother, wel, before God carved the 10 comments in stone. The Bible is very clear that people are born with a very clear understanding of right and wrong, and that God placed it in man's conscience. See Romans chapter 2 verse 14 and 15. "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or excusing one another.

It seems a grand stretch to credit evolution with morality, where the chief law of evolution is "survival of the fittest".

Nov. 15 2013 11:51 PM
Miles from SLC

The thought experiment is flawed- in the first scenario the choice is between 1 and 5. The second scenario is actually a choice between 1 and 1-- realizing that it is better to save 5, the choice is between pushing the other guy or jumping down yourself. I think that plays a big role in why people would answer that it's not ok to push the other person-- because they are just as capable of being the martyr.

Nov. 14 2013 06:07 PM
song??

Does anyone know what the song that plays at 28:20 is? I find it so beautiful and I'd really like to know. Thanks in advance.

Sep. 11 2013 01:56 AM
Happiness Anne from Riverside

In the first scenerio you're pulling a lever to stop the train from killing 5 people. The train is technically killing them. Second scenerio YOU are killing someone by pushing them off. Whether the fall or train ends their life doesn't matter, You pushed them. You are not responsible for the workers, working on track. But you would be responsible for pushing someone.

Aug. 15 2013 03:07 PM
jim from london

i dont think the first moral dilemmas are identical . instead of pushing the guy off the bridge you could jump yourself and even assuming youd worked out u not heavy enough to stop it you could join him. also in the first eg with the lever, ultimately the trolley is the "killer"no matter what u do. on the bridge if you interfere you become the agent of causation for a death. i reckon youd find this reflected in the laws of most countries too,the pusher being prosecuted the puller probably not

May. 24 2013 01:10 AM
Dzachs from Boston

Anyone who believes that lower mammals do not feel shame or guilt have not owned a pet dog.

Jan. 11 2013 11:12 AM
Max

Gotta say I have some problems with this episode. First as to the thought experiment, amusing that it is a clearly yes/no problem, I would kill the one man in each situation. There is really no question there. The needs of the many out way the needs of the one, to quote Mr. Spock. My own personal emotions are totally irreverent on the matter. Secondly, considering that morality varies so greatly in different periods in history and from culture to culture I can't see how it can be biological defined. From everything i have read morality seems to be derived from the fundamental mythology of a society.

Nov. 28 2012 10:59 AM
aggy

@nanatschool---The scenario makes the stipulation that the man is large, so I was under the impression that because the man is large, only his body is able to stop the train. Otherwise, you could just let the train go and then the first body of the 5 would stop the train, and still only 1 person would die and you wouldn't have to push the large man. So, unless you are as large or larger than the man, sacrificing yourself won't help anybody but the large man. You're still letting the other 5 people die.

Nov. 27 2012 07:14 PM

I agree with Seth. The second scenario is different because you are selfishly chosing another instead of sacrificing yourself to stop the train. You are not in the same situation as when you had a switch to pull. To go beyond that to the baby in the basement choice; I think that also would be different if you sacrificed yourself and your baby rather than just the infant. Adding this to the mix would be interesting to study using the fMRI.

Nov. 17 2012 07:20 PM
Brian from CA

For the train experiment, in both versions, the first thought that I had was to do nothing at all. Hypothetically, I don't know these people and who am I to decide whether who lives or who dies. Somebody else had to have created this awful situation and I will not be the one to decide the resulting outcome. So, I would pull neither lever and not push the big guy over the edge. Now, if I knew these people or had more information about them, then my choice would be very different.

Aug. 30 2012 06:51 PM
Syrena from Newark, NJ

I would also LOVE to have a transcript of the Morality podcast. I would love to use it with my biology students.

Aug. 29 2012 04:33 PM
e.pro from milwaukee, wisconsin

What about the brain connecting the fact that you are directly the reason that someone died (pushing them) or pulling a lever where the lever is actuly the "direct" reason for the the one loss of life. Though they seem to essentially be the same situation resulting in one death vs several, I wonder if there is something wired in our brains that makes us not want to be the root cause, the direct cause, that makes us choose to not want to push someone vs pulling the lever. I can't help but feel that maybe some of the "guilt" is lost when there is that extra step of pulling the lever - it is somehow "removing" the person from the directness of the loss. Anyone else kind of understand where I'm coming from?

Aug. 29 2012 11:27 AM
E Neil from San Francisco, CA

The last segment on East State Penitentiary was seemingly building up to questions about the development of morality in confinement. Unfortunately the story was incomplete. I assume the tone of the piece intended to convey that true penitence and subsequent moral growth did not occur through the means of confinement. The piece would have been incredibly more engaging were it followed by discussion regarding moral development later in life. The examples involving children were thorough enough to touch on nature/nurture, and seemed to conclude that the vast majority of children truly adopt morality through independently witnessing the consequences of their own actions; a pure and simple answer that likely rings true to most. Though in the case of the Penitentiary, no discussion brought attention to morality development in later life. While I intuitively lean toward adult morality reaching a relatively stagnant state, no consideration was given to morality + neural plasticity.

Each example was striving to create a division between morality as either naturally innate, catalyzed via personal experience, followed rules of culture, consideration of divinity, or a combination of these ideas. Despite the source, most of the discussions treated morality as a firm and static process of the human brain. Again, I lean heavily toward this. Entertaining the role of neural plasticity in the sphere of morality would greatly enrich this discussion.

Aug. 29 2012 12:47 AM

I think people are missing the point about the lever/train scenario. Yes, they are fundamentally different as one scenario affects the train "directly" and the other affects the person directly. However that is the point. They both have the same effect of saving 5 people, so how does morality play its role more prominently in scenario 2? It's a hypothetical situation which has some great questions about human nature.

Aug. 28 2012 01:27 PM
seth

I think one thing that's overlooked in the situation is that the man you push versus the man you choose with the lever isn't equivalent - because of this:

in one situation, someone NOT YOU will die - regardless.

in the other situation, YOU could be the one to jump instead of pushing another individual.

that to me makes it a non equivalent situation. you are morally making a judgement that YOU ARE NOT AN OPTION. and if you are not an option, then perhaps this other person is not an option. the push situation becomes more selfish than moral. and your empathic selfishness saves you from pushing the guy.

Aug. 27 2012 05:31 PM
Justin from Omaha

In this situation even though we are told pushing the large man will stop the trolly we don't know that it will. In the first situation where we pull a lever we know for sure this will prevent more people from dying. I think this might have something to do with the results. If you push the man over and it stops the train, can you prove that you saved other peoples lives? If not, you're in trouble even if you meant for the best.

Aug. 27 2012 10:11 AM
Betsy Robinson from New York, NY

I'm so outraged at the confusion, I'm writing before hearing the whole program. The question about the trolly and pushing someone to his death assumes this a numbers question and it is not. In the scenario with the lever causing one person's death rather than a group's it is about allowing one man to die who would have died anyway--even if you didn't pull the lever. If you push a guy, you are murdering a guy who would not die if not pushed. Where's the confusion? One is lessening death of members of a group that is destined to die. The second case is murder.

Aug. 26 2012 04:09 PM
Dani from Chicago, IL

It's interesting that there is an inconsistency of how people answer this question but the neuro-researcher's theory doesn't really speak to why the inconsistency is so CONSISTENT. 9 out of 10 people say they would pull the lever. 9 out of 10 people say they would not push the big guy on the tracks. If the fact that we are weighing out these decisions between two different parts of our brains were the only thing that made for an inconsistency in answers to these two questions, not everyone would answer yes and no to the same questions.

If I were to pull a lever to let a train kill someone I would be much more detached from the murder than physically pushing someone onto the tracks with my own bare hands. Detachment is the difference between the two questions. Can't help but think of hand guns and gun control on this one.

Or maybe it has to do with anonymity. The person on the bridge is within arms distance from you. You could speak to him. You can see his face. The workers are, all six of them, anonymous. They are all the same to you. I wonder if the answers to the questions would change if there were 30 people on the bridge with you. If you pushed one off the bridge s/he would stop the train. Anyone will do. Would you pick the one closest to you and push him/her off?

Also, would the answers to these questions vary if the gender or ages of the people in question varied? Everyone in this scenario were male adults. What if the "big guy" next to you on the bridge happend to be a "big lady?"

Aug. 26 2012 03:50 PM
dirt worshipper

Ty is absolutely right. The nearness of the "pushable" man equates the effect of his body landing on the tracks with one's own body landing there instead.

Aug. 26 2012 01:12 PM
ty

The problem I have with two trains, is that there is an unmentioned flaw in the second scenario. If pushing another person to the tracks would stop the train, this implies hurling yourself to the tracks also would stop the train. In the first scenario, there is no chance for you to substitute yourself for one of the victims, the train disaster is about to take place in an arena with only one point of interaction, the lever. By considering pushing a person directly, when your own body potentially can fulfill the same role, this creates a rather straight forward moral situaltion, where if decide that you arent willing to risk your skin, youve no right to risk the skin of another. This was absent from the set up but i believe is part of what the brain would be having to wade through.

Aug. 25 2012 04:34 PM
Ed from Hailey, Idaho

Didn't hear the first part of this show but in the latter part, ie. the teacher that taught morality to kids, I believe in it the commentator said that "pretty much everyone will do the right thing if given the chance and the education" I don't totally agree with this but it does get to the heart of many so things! ie. crime and punishment, whether society should pay for those unable or unwilling to work, how often to lock one's house or car, political decisions, "free" medical care for everyone, etc.
As an political independent I think I'm somewhere in the middle; ie. about one it 15 will be dishonest if given the opportunity, ie. either that they lack a sense of empathy for others or that their own greed or immediate gratification outweighs all other considerations. A far left liberal would probably believe that nearly all people are honest in this regard and that some "extenuating circumstances is responsible for any deviation. A right winger would probably believe that nearly all are inherently "sinners" and only practice the moral path if shown the way by religion or the "Lord".
As I said it gets to the heart of one's life-approach and decision-making. But as a biased observer I do wish more people believed as I do!

Aug. 25 2012 04:20 PM
Josh from Virginia

Ahh! I was so excited to see morality again up as the latest episode. But, I thought it was going to be a new or updated episode. I have always had a problem with the first thought experiment. It doesn't isolate the variable intended to be tested. The conclusions drawn from the experiment seem like a stretch, given that there can be a myriad of reasons that someone would not want to push the large man over the bridge. There are far too many differences between the first situation and the second.
First, when you pull the switch in the first situation, you don't know for sure than the train will kill either the five or one man, even if you tell the subject such. So, your choice is to decide the fate of six people. It is a simple risk assessment case. In the second situation, you have to almost certainly kill a man, even more so if you assume that his body could STOP A TRAIN. That is quite an assumption for a thought experiment. On top of that, you have to assume that he would land exactly where you wanted him to. In the back of your mind, you know that the train would probably continue on its way toward the five people anyway and kill all six.
So, if you want to simplify it logically, your choice is to either kill one man over five indirectly or directly kill one man to give a slim chance of saving five. The point of the experiment should be focused on directly and indirectly killing a man. That's where the conclusions are drawn.
So, from reading other people's comments, perhaps the second situation should involve delivering a lethal electric shock to one man when the lever is pulled. So, when you pull it beforehand, you have to see the man suffer, so you switch it back. Then you have to make the decision in say 10 seconds before the train arrives.

Aug. 25 2012 11:08 AM
evans

darwin's theory of evolution is still not proven. yet mr. josh green(e) and so many others believe it is a fact.
i can provide experiential proof which we all can see hear perceive and understand that mr. darwin's theory is, at best, half a theory...
hasn't any one ever considered that the reverse is also true?
that the human is not a descendant of the ape but the ape is a degenerated form of human...eh? anyone for tennis??

actually, what goes up must come down, progressive evolution dependent upon time is absolutely fallacious...anyone can see that the human race is degenerating, everyone who can reflect quietly only has to review the horrors of the 20th century wars to see we are not progressing but are falling INVOLUNTARILY...
anyone for tennis?? i challenge every scientist, psychologist to a duel, anytime anywhere...not that i know too much from my own experience, but that the ancient knowledge has come into my hands, and all the (materialistic) scientists today don't know anything. I am sorry to say, but the truth does not exist in the mind... all is theory and all is babbling..

Aug. 24 2012 08:42 PM

I'd like to smooth out a few kinks in the train track thought experiment, to do away with the hold ups or get-out-of-jail-free cards many people have proposed to avoid the problem.

In the first scenario 6 innocent victims of a twisted psychopath are bound to the tracks- 5 on the first set of tracks, 1 on the other set. They cannot jump free, and they are not there through any fault of their own. You are separated from the tracks by a high metal fence, with the lever. You cannot jump onto the tracks to stop the train.

In the second scenario the 5 innocent victims are again strapped to the tracks, and you stand behind the high fence with the lever. This time the lever opens a trap door below a man, who would drop to his death onto a pressure plate changing the course of the train to a track with no victims. You do not have to push the man physically, or deal with any uncertainty as to what might happen if he doesn't stop the train before the victims, or misses the track when he falls etc.

Now, you are equally detached from both scenarios- you can pull the lever, or you can not pull it.

I agree in part with Frank C, lower down in the comments, when he says in scenario 1, either way, you are not personally responsible for any deaths that occur- it is a guilt free situation- no one will blame you for what you did, either way.

However pulling the lever to drop the man to his death in scenario 2 feels like much more of an active decision, and most people would rather 5 people be killed by fate, or a psychopath, than one who they personally killed.

whilst a passive decision may just be an active decision in disguise, it still holds a definite weight on our moral instinct. (wouldn't we all be relieved if the lever were already set to the 1 man track in scenario 1?)

Aug. 06 2012 08:02 PM
Jordan Aharoni

I have a critic regarding the train scenario:

My problem with the train scenario is that it has a fundamental flaw that makes it impossible to compare the two.

The first scenario is very simple. We all watched enough Hollywood movies to be able to imagine a super villain strapping innocent individuals to a train rail, with a lever that decides the fate of one group to another. In this scenario, you are not the super villain; you are an unfortunate soul that just happened to come by and is forced to make a choice. Looking at it like this, which I believe most people do, it is easy to understand why one will instinctively choose to pull the lever and save the five individuals (sacrificing the one).

But, my problem begins with scenario two. We are logical creatures, and thus, we follow a logical trail in our brain. And scenario 2 defies our logic. If a train comes that is able to roll over five individuals, than our mind struggles to understand why will one person be able to stop the train. One might say, “Well, it’s a really big guy…”, but that is still insufficient. A big guy needs to be a giant, an equivalent to 5 men. When our mind is confronted with scenarios that defies our logic, it usually tries to bypass it by convincing itself that it makes sense. This kind of brain activity can very well mess up the entire brain scan and lead you to false conclusions regarding the source of the moral decision.

I think this also explains why so many individuals automatically answered that they will not push the guy but could not explain why.

May. 14 2012 02:27 AM
Sean

In scenario #1 the person is detached from the situation... only the lever can make a difference in the outcome (as it's described). In the second scenario the man next to the tracks would suggest you are close to the tracks as well and could potentially throw yourself on the tracks to the same effect as pushing someone else which does present a large moral difference from the first scenario. The whole exercise depends on the idea that lives are of equal value and if one is unwilling to throw themselves on the tracks it's hard to convince yourself that this man next to you should be put in the position you are hesitant to put yourself in. I know this may go "against" the spirit of the exercise but this may inevitably play a role in the decision making.

Love the show!

Mar. 02 2012 04:57 PM
Max

The lever is a red herring. If you wouldn't push the fat guy, then you wouldn't pull a lever to open a trap door under him either. The lever isn't the main difference. The difference is that you can replay the first scenario without the one guy on the tracks, but you CAN'T replay the second scenario without the fat guy on the bridge because the fat guy is the MEANS of stopping the train. The guy on the tracks is incidental. That's the difference between murder and collateral damage.

The baby smothering scenario is a no-brainer. Either everyone including the baby dies, or only the baby dies, your choice. In both cases, the baby dies and the enemy is culpable.

Feb. 26 2012 05:44 PM
John Abbate from London UK

Regarding the 1 vs 5 men on the train tracks: pulling an inanimate object, such as lever and letting machines do our dirty work, feels different from actually making physical contact with another being and causing its direct demise. Same feeling as buying meat wrapped in cling film at the market rather then killing and gutting the cow oneself.

Feb. 26 2012 06:28 AM
Tori from Oregon from Salem, OR - USA

Whether it be one's inner chimp or one's brain chemistry I can't say for anyone else.

As for myself, there's one main reason why I would pull the level to save the five, but not push someone onto the track. With the level scenario, my assumption was that my only choice to save life was to pull a lever.

In the bridge over the tracks scenario, the reason I can't push another person is because I have ONE other choice. I could jump on the tracks myself. I could sacrifice MYSELF. To choose killing another over my own sacrifice is what makes this immoral.

If I was able to stop the train by sacrificing myself RATHER than pull the level, I could never pull the lever.

When it comes to the M*A*S*H scenario, I would be VERY interested in having my brain scanned because I believe I would create a third group. As for me, I would be in the mix who would NEVER kill my child (or any child). However, that doesn't mean that my logic is switched off.

You see, in my mind's eye, I would create a third scenario. In it, I would leave my child in the care of someone I could trust to raise them and then I would leave the group and venture out into harm's way. I would create a diversion that would lead soldiers away from those in hiding. As with the train scenario, this would mean I would allow myself to be sacrificed (best case scenario, be captured --- worst case, die) in order that the larger group would live.

It is incredibly interesting to me that in a show dedicated to morality, there is no mention of self-sacrifice.

Why is that?

Feb. 21 2012 03:36 AM
Mark Lipsman from Unites States

1st of all I would never pull the lever for its the G-d that orchestrates the scene and not me, so who am I to change things unless U hold that we come from chimps and than I'm kinda responsible and I don't get why?
2nd How about to do the same survey in pre biblical times when killing others was not such a big deal?
I bet U than most people would push the heavy guy down absolutely without no remorse!!!

Feb. 17 2012 09:42 AM
Cadence Finch

I'd just like to point out that the math isn't the same on the lever versus pushing thought experiment.
With the lever, there is only a say right and a left option, and at the moment you notice the lever, its within your power to either murder the 5 men, or murder the 1, there is no option for not murder. The pushing of the man has chances and is not a straight forward right or left answer. If you are talking about pushing him, you could push him in any direction, he could fall the wrong way, maybe it won't stop the train (of course you "know" it will in the thought experiment, but your gut reflex still governs your decision).
I know that I would not push the man off the track, it probably wouldn't even occur to me to. On the other hand, if per say a serial killer left me in a room with a gun, and told me that if i didn't shoot this one guy, he would shoot 5 other people, i would have no problem shooting the one man, because it would become a choice with no variables.
It's not a matter of an odd morality, it's simply the variables that people cannot get around.

Feb. 06 2012 05:53 PM
heidi k from San Diego

Ironic. Today my Lt. and I discussed morality. He is an American Patriot and Christian. I am an American Patriot and, well, polytheistic is the best description. We never completed the discussion due to work, however, driving home I heard this episode. How fantastic. I appreciate scientific research, showing that morality is a chemical, physiologically necessary behavioral characteristic, and unique to humankind (due to regret or guilt-animals do not have this behavior.) My Lt. appreciates religious institutions (yes, God) as the origin and moderator of morality. This episode was perfect for comparing the possibilities of what is morality.

Dec. 17 2011 08:43 PM
LOL from Cleveland, OH

I finally found this. I heard it a few years ago. I have learned much since then. First, that this whole discussion is a display of "Freudian" architecture. The "Ego, Id, and Super Ego". Second is that it also upholds a theory that I have. It says that we have "womb envy". With that comes a desire to recreate the environment we left at birth. Every behavior we have today is the result of this quest. It is a quest to fill the 3 basic needs. We long to be 98.6 degrees (shelter), nourished (food), and Secure (shelter). The first two are easy to obtain. The last one is a "relative concept" it is perceptive and lucid varying from person to person depending not upon a mostly physical mechanism such as warmth and fullness, but a completely emotional one, that employs everyone in the mental health field. It is why we pay $100 for $5 shoes. It is why we are in the state that we are in economically, socially, and psychologically. In this example, it isn't a decade of what is right and wrong that stops us from pushing, but a deep rooted subconscious understanding that we would loose a level of security if we pushed a person, maybe a friend, off the overpass.

Nov. 26 2011 02:17 AM
Jay from NY

@Patrick Couldn't agree more. It's definitely important to understand that the will of the person in the second scenario should never be treated simply as a means to an end (humanity formula via Kant)

However, I feel like for the sake of making the episode an hour, it was impossible for Jad and Robert to ask for a thorough moral response. The moral response one can get from the train dilemma in this case is way too general. Morality is so much greater than just guilt or right/wrong. If someone were to argue a utilitarian argument, then clearly saving 5 is appropriately "moral". If someone were to argue about the importance of human will, they can say that both pulling the lever and throwing the person off the bridge are both clearly more immoral because both involve treating a person (and his will) simply as a means to an end (which revokes the dying person his/her right to exercise his/her will). Then there's the question of negative responsibility, which Bernard Williams uses to critique utilitarian thought, saying that we are just as morally responsible for the things we do NOT do as the things we do. In that case, it's a lose-lose moral situation because regardless of whether or not we chose to pull the lever/push the person or not, we are morally responsible for the fate of the dying individual(s).

The point I'm trying to make is that if these questions were so easy to answer, they wouldn't be considered dilemmas at all. The depth at which we can go to attempt to take every single factor into consideration is herculean in itself. Simplifying it to guilt or right/wrong will forever be a personal choice, and a choice based on one's own views on morality.

Oct. 21 2011 04:48 PM

Based on my training, here is what they are missing:

1) The thought problem.

The question of whether it is better to kill one than many is an ETHICAL problem, not a moral one. There is no moral law against accidental death. There is one against murder. That makes the question of murdering someone a MORAL one. So you are really asking these people (on the thought level) if they are willing to violate their morals to do something that seems more ethical.

Moral rules usually make ethical sense. But as they are rules they can only be used as guidelines. What is ethical is what results in the best survival for all involved. What is moral is what results in the least guilt for the individual.

2) The emotional problem.

The problem as posed at the beginning of this episode was not a real thought problem. It had a huge emotional content. As you tell the story of the problem, the listener will get emotionally involved. That means they are looking at (or even feeling) the actual body efforts associated with the story. And something that involves a lot of body effort (like killing someone with your own hands) is much more disagreeable than an action that takes relatively little (like pulling a lever to kill a man). So in such a scenario, most will shy away from the choice that takes more effort. If there is also a moral prohibition to such an action, the choice will be even easier to make. The better test, when it comes to effort, is to make it an effort that has no particular moral or ethical implications.

3) "Moral sense"

Beings have an innate moral sense. It is based on empathy (the "Golden Rule"). But the researchers must assume we are "born" with it because they don't know that it belongs to the being, not the body.

However, this moral sense, which is active to some degree even in animals, has been perverted in man. Men can become confused enough to completely believe that other men are too dangerous to be left uncontrolled, and will set about to create a system of control for the people around them. In the "civilized" world this is known as the "rule of law" (or something similar). It is based fundamentally on the threat of pain. Confused people think this is the best way to control others. It is not.

In the "perfect" civilization, people who follow the rules (are moral) will live a pleasant life and those who break the rules (are immoral) will experience pain. We know that it really doesn't work this way. But the system continues due to a general confusion on the subject. A big part of this confusion comes from ignoring the fact that beings exist, not just bodies.

In an actual perfect civilization, all beings would strive to follow the rules, but would above all seek to be ethical in all their decisions, even if this meant breaking a rule here and there. They would recognize that the true hierarchy of thought and effort starts at the spirit and descends through the mind to the body, and they would act based on this understanding.

Aug. 21 2011 02:07 AM
LucasGoudie

Jill, you are missing the point entirely. It is about a moral quandry, not about the inane physics of the situation. People like you ruin every good discussion you are ever in.

Jun. 24 2011 12:40 PM
Jill Lee

How is a trolley, that could be stopped by one man, going to run over five men in a row?

Jun. 23 2011 03:59 PM
Jacob from Denmark from Copenhagen

I think that a important detail is missing to the rail-road-track question. There is a big difference between pushing the fat guy and triggering the train to change its path. When considering pushing the guy you are not the only one having a choice. If you push him, you are reducing him to a tool. Because he is the one with the ability to save the people on the railroad track, he should be making the choice. That is why 9 out of 10 decides that it is moraly wrong to push him (which I too think it is) but not to trigger the train to change its path (which I too think it is not)

May. 24 2011 05:21 PM
Jeff from California

It is never as easy as yes or no. As the individual choosing the outcome, I'd take into consideration for instance, the kind of life style each group lives. For the sake of equality, let's say both groups will end in the same place and live the same exact life. From here I'd decide based on the laws. Am I to be punished for executing this one individual and save the five, or am I to be celebrated? Am I to be punished for not saving the five men and allowing them to die, having not done anything? Here lies my decision.

Now if the lives are not equal and the five are destined to live a life of poor quality while the one lives a life that will help others (assuming I can know this for whatever reason), I might be inclined to let the five die and allow the one to survive.

What I'm getting at is there is more than one circumstance running through some of our heads. Personally, I take many aspects into consideration. Much of what I decide would weigh upon how I believe the court would favor. Secondly, I’d decide based on which side was worth more alive.

When it comes right down to it, a situation such as this is not one I'd be willing to sacrifice my life in prison over and unless savvy with how the investigation would play out, would probably just sit and watch.

Definitely gives me something to think about.

Mar. 30 2011 07:05 AM
bob minder

again, what a wonderful show! but boy do you ever prove the point about the experimenters fingerprints being all over the experiment. so those neurons are shouting at each other and battling it out and contesting like mad, eh? you obviously did your show on 'words' after this one. how about they worked together passionately to mutually strive towards their best light?

Mar. 12 2011 09:18 AM
Patrick

This whole pulling the lever / shoving the man seem like 2 completely different scenarios to me. In the one case you're directing what is essentially a large inanimate object, in the other case you're directing another human being, who presumably has a will of his own,

Feb. 01 2011 11:42 AM
IS from Colorado

mandreas,
It seems the lesson we learn from this is:

If your level of mental impairment is such that you can not read a train schedule do not pursue a career in train track maintenance. Clearly you will be a danger to yourself and your coworkers.

Jan. 31 2011 11:03 AM

IS from Colorado,

So you're suggesting that intelligence is the determining variable that validates a person's right to live? In other words because the one is smart and the others less smart, that they don't deserve to live as much as the one? So by that logic, mentally impaired people also don't have an equal right to life?

Dec. 10 2010 06:16 PM
IS from Colorado

When I first heard this dilemma I immediately responded that I would let the 5 men die. I'm seriously appalled that 90% of people would choose to sacrifice one man to save the 5. To me pulling the lever defies both moral and logical thought. One man who is smart enough to read a train schedule before he works on a track is worth fifty men who blindly go to work on a track with a train scheduled to run on it (we all know about 'Train Time' thanks to the Radiolab episode on time - so look at a schedule and check your watches before you go to work on a track!).

How can you sacrifice a man who did everything right for 5 men who acted so foolishly and stupidly? I would never do it. Math has made me do some crazy things but it will not make me a murderer.

Dec. 06 2010 02:50 AM
Alicia from syracuse

I think another reason people think pushing a person is wrong...why wouldn't I just jump rather than push another person? If I push a lever to alter to direction of the train, I don't have the option of sacrificing myself. When you push someone it is like "I volunteer you to save these men" *push* You are making a conscious decision to kill this person. Pushing a lever may be more of a reaction like "oh my gosh, these 5 men will die if I don't move this train. oh no! There's a man over there too."

Nov. 30 2010 01:21 PM
reelfernandes

Come on guys, it's simple. Pressing a button feels much less like directly being the cause of another's death in contrast to physically shoving the person. And the button scenario draws a mental picture of HAVING to push a button to save 5, at the cost of 1. In contrast to the shove scenario which draws a mental picture that isn't as certain to save 5, but definitely will be killing 1.

Sep. 27 2010 09:50 PM
Kellie

What an interesting podcast. I found it very interesting that 9 out of 10 would actually pull the lever! My immediate response was no way. I don’t know that I can boil such a decision down to numbers, I think if you do that then you open up another can of worms in regards to the value of each person. Are those five people more valuable to humanity than that one? Who knows, but it certainly isn’t up to me to condemn one person to die by my own hand to spare the misfortune of a few.

Sep. 23 2010 03:52 PM
Jerome

I'd like to ask the older moderator a question about the war thought experiment:

Let's imagine you're hidden there with your wife, your three kids, your baby, your parents and 4 other families.

Would you still refuse to kill the one baby and thus instead sacrifice EVERYONE else?

Aug. 06 2009 12:35 PM
Taylor Watts

Imagine of there were two trials, one for the man that pulled the lever, and the other for the man that pushed the guy. Do you think that the survivors would show up in court in defense of their savior that pushed another man to his death? Do you think that the family of the single killed worker would sue the man that pulled the lever?

Would the law of the land be very kind the person that ended up making the choice to save 5 people, in either scenario.

Somehow I think that the court system would be the kindset to the man that did not push the large man, even though it ends up with the worst outcome of 5 people dead.

Jul. 28 2009 03:29 PM
Joe

With all due respect to the other anonymous face known as Barbara P, I agree entirely, thus negating her point. My argument comes from a background in science.

Morality in the real world is not cut and dry, and the situations are rarely if ever closed. There are almost always additional options.

BUT.

The difference between the lab and the real world is that it's possible to do these kinds of experiments in the lab, even if it's just a thought experiment. Having an open system in the train-yard example would have opened other options, but it would have eliminated the importance of the experiment. That's why labs exist: they simplify life by controlling options.

The question, "Here's a situation, what do you do?" might be interesting, but it's not scientific.

Of course there are other options than killing the baby: chocking it to unconsciousness but not death would be one viable option, making it more likely that the town would survive. But open questions like that are still not useful for scientific research, because statistics just don't work on them, a point mostly lost on normal people.

With respect to the show, I think it's interesting that no one on the show mentioned that if the baby coughs, it's going to die anyway. The decision from a logical standpoint is literally, "save the town except for your baby, or don't." Alternatively, "kill your baby and save the town or don't kill your baby and she dies anyway, along with the whole town." At that point, the choice is simple. Would I have the fortitude to do it, I don't know. But I know what I'd want to do.

Jul. 07 2009 12:04 PM
Barbara P

The problem with some of the hypothetical scenarios is that real life is never so cut-and-dried. In the baby-killing example, Nikki T. is right in imagining other options, because in real life there ARE other options, and other possible outcomes to any situation. If you choose to kill the baby, then you are no longer open to possibility. In the train example, pulling the lever to save 5 still leaves open some kind of chance that the one could survive (jump off the tracks maybe?), but the fat man in the second example would be far less likely to make it out alive. Our actions which have a closer impact are more likely to succeed (i.e. not be subject to chance) than things which occur further away, or at a later time.

Jul. 07 2009 10:34 AM
JR

Also, it is impossible to know how one will actually perform under pressure, but I understand that the study may shed light on how people MIGHT react.

Apr. 25 2009 06:09 PM
JR

The "math" for the pull-the-lever versus push-the-man-off-the-bridge is easier than you let on. Jump off the bridge yourself, if you can muster the courage, or watch five people die. Leave the man standing on the bridge if you choose to jump. Now the question of morality becomes more like, Do I sacrifice my life to save five others, or watch in horror as five people tragically die? Maybe one is heroic, and one is not, but is the choice a lack of morals, or typical self-preservation, for which most, if not all people would be understanding?

Apr. 25 2009 06:07 PM
bloogery

In regards to Frank C.'s February 14, 2009, 9:21 pm comment:

"Also, I do not think the question of, “Would you smother your crying baby in order to save your village from a murdering enemy” has to deal with morality, but more to do with guilt and courage."

I watched a segment that interviewed one of the Chilean rugby players about the incident of the plane crash he was in on a way to a game. Some of you might recall that the survivors, caught for more than two months in the freezing Andes, had to resort to cannibalism of the dead bodies in order to survive.

After the two months, they knew they had to try to find help or they would all die. The one being interviewed was one of the two that trekked through the Andes to find help. He said, "What we did was not courage. There was no thought of courage in what we were doing. We did it out of pure fear that we were going to die if we didn't at least try."

I think in the situation of suffocating the baby or not lies in how much fear the mother may be feeling at the time of potentially getting caught. If she were out of her mind with fear, I could see her more easily killing her baby than if she were more resolute to the fate of being caught and killed.

Apr. 24 2009 12:54 AM
bloogery

In the trolley case, the way I see it, is that by pulling the lever I am primarily affecting the action of the trolley. While I know the man will be killed, it is as a consequence of changing the path of the trolley.

In the bridge scenario, by pushing the man I am directly affecting HIS fate (not that of the trolley).

I think the crux of the conundrum lies in the fact of the SEQUENCE OF EVENTS.

1. Pull lever -> save 5 -> 1 dies as consequence.

2. Push man -> 1 dies -> 5 saved as consequence.

I think we go with the FIRST thing we feel. In the first scenario, we would be saving five people first and that feels good. In the second scenario it would be committing murder first and that feels bad. Any resulting consequence is -- ahem -- farther down the track and therefor takes secondary precedence.

Apr. 24 2009 12:08 AM
Bert

Regarding "Morality" in the scenario of 'choosing' to smother the baby, you stated EVERYONE WOULD DIE, INCLUDING THE BABY if you did not smother the baby. In later discussion you seem to have missed the one point that trumps everything, which is the baby dies either way. To describe it as a 'choice' between killing the baby or saving the village and yourself does not accurately present the real choice you are faced with. Also when people said they would not kill the baby, any attempt to evaluate their thought process should have included a reminder to them the baby would die anyway and evaluate their subsequent response.

Apr. 18 2009 03:01 PM
Nikki T.

This is one of my favorite episodes!
Here's my thing (I'm sorry if someone else has already commented with the same thought):
As a mother and a person who respects humanity, I literally cried during the segment about the villagers. However, is there a possible third option?
Could the mother not come forward and lead the soldiers to believe that she and the child are the only ones?
I could not kill my own child. But, I also wouldn't want others to be killed because of her. However, I can sort of stomach the idea of the two of us having to die together.

Apr. 03 2009 03:26 PM
Andrew Mooney

What I like about the show is the 4th grade game Homestead where Amy O’Leary remembers her scheme to own the middle of the board game the “town” and encourage others to join “the company”. She would take all of their profit from their farmland and pay her classmates pennies on the dollar in exchange for a small piece of “the town”. As she put it “crazy total power” and “selling her fellow classmates into slavery”. If the simulation farm people needed to go to town to see the doctor she could charge them more money than they have. When the fellow classmates complained to the teacher she was wondering what is the problem I am winning isn’t that what I was suppose to do? No I am not changing and why is this an issue what is wrong with what I am doing. In the real world I see this as American drug companies holding patents on drugs that cost pennies to manufacture and charge the uninsured hundreds of dollars for a few pills. Banks handing out millions of dollars of bonuses as their stock and companies are in ruins. Asian children making clothing for pennies a week while designers sell them in malls with fancy logos putting American workers out of business. African diamond mines using forced labor of children to find shinny rocks so others can where jewelry. The Owners of these industrys give capitalisim a bad name. Is it as bad as in Carl Marx day? So if you are the diamond mine owner would you say hey what is wrong with this I am winning?

Mar. 19 2009 05:18 PM
DR

I enjoy Radiolab but every time I've heard this train conundrum, whether from sophomore psychology majors or Jad and Robert, I've found it utterly stupefyingly bogus. Who would be able to push a man big enough to stop a train that would otherwise kill five people? It makes no sense at all and is pointless as a thought experiment. It says as much about cacomorphobia, the "fear of fat people," as about morality. Aside from that, keep up the good work!

Feb. 21 2009 02:52 AM
ksenia stumpf

commenting on the inner chimp. I have to make a big
decision based upon the knowledge of dr. Andrew Newburg from university of Pennsylvannia.

I have recently walked out of domestic violence.
I left my house due to alcoholism.jan 20 ,2009
Ten years ago it had happened earlier
with younger childern. They are older now but
but they are doing it to me.

I moved out I don't need black and blues.

anyway my parents are from ukraine and

a doctors daughter. needless
to say they used drugs to put me to sleep .

I am bipolar and off the drugs do I tell the truth.

now that I remember the truth /and getting data of
the past.

I look at my breakdown and wonder why I needed
vacation from trying to help my husband and childern.

They would drugged me up and labeled me
so the alcoholic could continue.

also reading is not looked upon as something that is good. i in my family.

thank' for your help while i was writing this listened to the webcast of the childern in nursery school
do the right thing tell the truth.

Feb. 20 2009 07:43 PM
Matthew

I think the "inner chimp" conclusion as an explanation for our mental resistance to killing someone is somewhat myopic. For me, one of the fundamental human characteristics is agency. Because we each have freedom to choose we recognize that others possess the same ability, and we respect their agency because we would want ours to be respected. Most of our laws are designed to uphold this principle.

Our resistance to pushing the man off the bridge comes because we recognize as wrong things that take away others' agency (murder being just one example, albeit the most extreme). When we push the man, we take away his freedom to choose (whether to jump on his own, or not). When we pull the lever, we do not take away anyone's agency.

This seemed like such an obvious conclusion to me. I'm surprised they didn't discuss it.

Feb. 20 2009 06:52 PM
Frank C.

I meant "Critical thinking will be the death of me". Man I suck at writing! Sorry.

Feb. 17 2009 01:33 PM
Frank C.

Back Again! The Train experiment is racking my brain. I can't stop trying to figure it out.
First off, I disagree with the idea that some sort of distance to murder is made by the lever versus pushing someone. Jad said in the show, "Why is it ok to kill a man by pulling a lever, but not by pushing him?". The proof I have is if you switched the 2nd story from: pushing the man unto the tracks below, to: the large man is standing on a trap door that is right above the tracks and in front of you is a lever that if you pulled it will release the trap door making the man fall unto the tracks below. I still think people would not pull the lever because their brain still sees it as murder.
Lets take a page out of Robert Krulwich's book (listen to podcast dated 7-29-08 called "Tell Me A Story) and look at the story of the "Train Experiment", the narrative if you will. Notice where the death occurs. In part 1, the death always occurs at the end of the narrative. If you pull the lever or not, death will always be the sum of the equation: save 5 but kill 1 or do nothing and 5 die.
In part 2, you have a choice where the death will occur. If you push the man, now death is part of the equation and occurs in the middle of the story: kill 1 but save 5. But if you do nothing, now death shifts to the end of the story again: do nothing, 5 die.
Notice too that this holds true for the "Smother Baby" story. If you smother the baby, the death occurs in the middle of the story: smother the crying baby and the villagers survive. But if you do nothing, then the death again shifts to the end of the story: Do nothing, the villagers die.
If we do live our lives' in the narrative, maybe humans are so adverse to death that we need it to be the end of the equation. I admit that is reaching a little far, but as of now, that is the best I can come up with!
Critical thinks will be the death of me!

Feb. 17 2009 01:31 PM
Frank C.

To summarize: When asked part 1 of the "Train Experiment", both parts of your brain are analyzing the question. The logical side of your brain figures out that you should pull the lever to save five but kill one. And the emotional side of your brain figures out that you are not to blame that the train is running out of control, so it is safe to pull the lever. In fact, you will be a hero if you pull it. Now with the second question, the logical part of your brain thinks the exact same thing as in part 1; kill one but save five. But the emotional side of your brain figures out that if you push the large man besides you, you will be committing murder to save five people, but if you do nothing, no blame can fall on you that a runaway train killed 5 people. So you do nothing. Proving that emotions do in fact play a large roll in choice.
Now I'm done!

Feb. 15 2009 03:13 PM
Frank C.

Part 3 to my previous post's......
To further my thoughts on the "Train Experiment" invoking "Human Guilt/Shame" consider the following: The 11-17-08 podcast of Radio Lab, entitled "Choice", Robert and Jad investigate how humans make choice's. In that podcast Antoine Bechara, a psychology professor at USC, tells us about the case of Elliot, an accountant who, after having a tumor removed from his brain, became entirely rational. Which destroyed his ability to make decisions. It turns out, we need emotions to make a choice. Psychologist Barry Schwartz and Jonah Lehrer believed that there are 2 parts to the brain, the rational (in front) and deeper in the brain, we have the emotional, subconscious side. When confronted with a choice, both parts of the brain (the "duel systems") compete with each other. Jonah said, "There is constant competition between the rational brain and the emotional brain". With this information, if we look at the "Train Experiment", part 1, people make the choice to pull the lever killing 1 to save 5. Because their is no guilt (emotion) attached to their actions in this question (see my first post), it makes sense that the rational side of the brain wins. But in part 2, people choose not to push the large man beside them to save 5. They do this because it is murder which brings up the emotion of guilt and shame. So the emotional side of the brain wins. If this is true, the pictures that Josh Greene takes of human brains in his experiment are revealing the rational side of the brain and the emotional side of the brain. Which again supports my thoughts that the rational side is in fact the "inner chimp" side of the brain and the "emotional side" is the "evolved human" side of the brain. As Jad said, "we should embrace our shame!" because it separates us from the animals. Maybe Josh Greene should have lunch with Barry Schwartz and Jonah Lehrer!
Sorry for all the past grammar errors!

Feb. 15 2009 01:19 PM
Craig

A great show! My humble contribution is for those who want to go further - Check out "The Moral Animal" and "Non-Zero", both by Robert Wright.

Feb. 15 2009 04:43 AM
Frank C.

Part 2 to my last post........
Let me explain my thoughts on "Human Guilt/Shame" a little more. My last post, I said that "The Train Experiment" deals with guilt. Therefore, I think Josh Greene from Princeton has it all backwards. When he takes a picture of a persons brain while asked the 1st question of "The Train Experiment"; "Would you pull the lever to kill 1 but save 5". The answer to that question carries no guilt, therefore he is seeing what he calls the "Basic Primate Morality" in those pictures, not in the second ones. When he takes a picture of a brain while asked the 2nd question, "Would you push a large man off a bridge to save 5". The answer to that question carries a whole lot of guilt with it, therefore he is in fact seeing the true difference in a human brain versus an animals brain, the "Human Guilt/Shame" part if the brain. That part of the brain must be the part that we developed when we started to really think about who we are and where we fit in the world.
Also, I do not think the question of, "Would you smother your crying baby in order to save your village from a murdering enemy" has to deal with morality, but more to do with guilt and courage. I believe everyone knows that the crying baby must die so the rest can survive. The real questions is, "Do you have the courage to do it"? and, "Can you live with the fact that you killed your baby?" Maybe the questions should be, "If your village was hiding from a army bound to kill everyone they see, and someone else's baby started crying thereby giving up your position to the approaching enemy, and you had just enough time to vote, by show of hands, if the crying baby should be silenced by smothering it to death or not. How would you vote?" This takes a lot of the guilt and courage of "killing your own baby to save a village" out of the equation.
Ok. I will shut up now!

Feb. 14 2009 09:21 PM
Frank C.

What I find interesting about "The Train Experiment" part 1 is if you pull the lever or not, you are free of guilt/shame. You did not cause anyone to die. The train conductor and/or the workers on the track are at fault. No jury would convict you of murder no mater what choice you made. But, in part 2, your choice to push the man next to you in order to save 5 workers is murder. You would forever live with the knowledge (shame and guilt) that you killed someone. What Robert and Jad did not due is link that information to what the Primatologist Dr. Frans de Waals said later in the show, "Shame and guilt are not particularly developed in a chimpanzee". This supports the idea that shame and guilt may be what really separates us from animals. That would explain why people would pull a lever (guilt free) to kill 1 instead of 5, but not push someone (murder) to save 5. Shame on you Robert and Jad for missing that!
By the way, that last guy on the show, from Eastern State Penitentiary, sure sounded a lot like President Obama!

Feb. 14 2009 06:27 PM
Ceridwynne

As for the second option in the train experiment, why can't we throw ourselves onto the track? Why would we have to push someone else? At any rate, none of the options are pleasant, and I think we really don't know what we would do until faced with the reality.

And maybe I'm beating a dead horse here, but I really want to know what makes people act immorally.

Feb. 12 2009 01:03 AM
EC

I am confused as to how Princeton Josh came to the conclusion of the "chimp code" based on brain scans. While it is well documented that primates (and other social animals, such as dogs) have moral codes, how does Josh's data support this? It would appear that he based his "chimp code" hypothesis on the fact that portions of the brain are consistently "lit up" when decisions are made. Why did Josh not conclude that brain activity is a conditioned response from a lifetime of being human? Why does brain activity suggest an innate reflex? Of course, Josh is probably not at fault here. Josh likely has evidence that would have been beyond the scope of the program (for example, comparisions of chimp and human brain scans that are instructive). Instead Radio lab was a little sloppy, making a leap of logic without the data to support it.

Feb. 11 2009 01:57 PM
Andre

Regarding the first thought experiment; I believe the act of physically touching someone 'connects' you to that person. Pulling the lever has a sufficient amount of physical distance which allows us to not feel connected with the victim. I would also imagine that it would be more difficult to stab a person that to shot that same person because stabbing is so up front and personal; you're face to face with the victim. The same is not necessarily so with shooting someone.

Feb. 11 2009 10:13 AM
KW

If the baby is heard won't the baby also be killed?

Feb. 11 2009 05:18 AM
JE Parkey

I meant to comment on this the first time but never got around to it. In the first segment, there is the train track thought experiment. The first time I heard it and again this time I thought that an obvious alternative decision was left out. I believe that switching the track to kill the one person is murder. In allowing the many to die, no action on my part is necessary. I am not saving anyone, but neither am I killing anyone. I know this is not the place for a PHIL 101 paper, but I just thought it was an idea worth putting out there.

Feb. 10 2009 10:19 PM
jayrowdy

I'm really glad you decided to rebroadcast this one. The idea that our morality evolved as a survival mechanism is fascinating, and sheds an interesting light on society's current so-called "morality" debates.

Feb. 10 2009 06:46 PM

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