October 31, 2006

The Moral Mind At War

Hallo... while listening to Radio Lab, a morality bulb went off in my head. Part of their episode covered the work of psychologist, Joshua Greene. In summary, in my words...

Scene 1, Question 1:

A trolley is zipping down the tracks toward 5 people. All 5 will be killed, but you can save them by diverting the trolley simply by pushing a lever. This action will divert the trolley to another track, but 1 person standing on this track will be killed. Is it morally permissible to push the lever and prevent 5 deaths at the cost of 1?

Scene 2, Question 2:

A trolley is zipping down the tracks toward 5 people. You are standing on a bridge over the tracks next to 1 large person. You can save the 5 people on the track, only if you push the 1 large person off the bridge and into the path of the trolley. Is that morally permissible to push the 1 person and prevent 5 deaths at the cost of 1?

For Scene 1/Q1 - most people say YES! And for... Scene 2/Q2 - most people say NO!

In Scene 1 we might kill 1 person and in Scene 2 we might kill 5 people, but we opt for killing 1 over 5? Why? Well, the action of 'push the person' prevents us from doing so, which means that 'push the person' is connected to an emotional response that gets into conflict with the logical and cognitive mind.

According to Joshua Greene's findings, emotional and cognitive processes compete for control of behavior. Therefore, our mind gets into a tussle regarding right and wrong - emotion and logic. We think... humm, pushing the person is bad, but pushing the lever is good, even if pushing the lever saves 5 lives and pushing the person saves only 1.

On another line of thought, perhaps, the 'pushing the lever action' sets us apart from the scene of the activity, while the 'pushing the person action' puts us right in the face of the action. Point being, you don't feel you are killing someone if you are at a distance and merely pushing a lever, but you feel you are killing if you push a person which seems to create a direct intent to kill in our mind and that screams - 'no, don't do it!'

Ah, the moral mind at war! We individuals react differently with each dilemma as it is presented, however, it is fascinating that as a human race our responses are collective. No bell curve effect here, huh?