Saturday, March 24, 2007

At long last, there is proof-positive that this blogger is psycho-physio-ethically damaged, according to a report in the journal Nature as cited in Thursday’s New York Times:

“Damage to an area of the brain behind the forehead, inches behind the eyes, transforms the way people make moral judgments in life-or-death situations…” Okay, look, there’s no brain damage up here; maybe a serotonin imbalance, but that’s about it. But take a gander at the question that’s quoted.

It’s a hypothetical that leaves no room for uncertainty. Here it is, in the original italics with some useful comments in brackets: You have abandoned a sinking cruise ship and are in a crowded lifeboat that is dangerously low in water. [Okay, very frantic circumstances where people ain’t gonna think normally anyway, right?] If nothing is done — assuming quite a bit — it will sink before the rescue boats arrive and everyone will die.

However, there is an injured person who will not survive in any case [my emphasis]. If you throw that person overboard, the boat will stay afloat and the remaining passengers will be saved. So it becomes do or die. And according to the Nature article slightly over 20 percent of “normal” patients say yes, they would throw the poor guy over; and just over 80 percent of “brain injured” folks say yes.

Um, according to the very hypothetical presented, isn’t this a no-brainer (no pun intended)? Now, certainly you wouldn’t ask me to be the man to do it. Maybe that’s what a fair amount of the 80 percent of normal people who said no might have thought: Well, yeah, in principle, but not me. So either there’s some brain damage that’s gone under the radar on my behalf, or this was a totally loaded situation. Forget it.

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