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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Session 4: Neuroscience and Neuroethics: Reward and Decision

Jonathan D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, and Director, Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior, Princeton University

  Let's proceed, if we might.  I'm in a different spot so I can see the PowerPoint presentation as well. 

Dr. Cohen, would you just simply begin, and we look forward very much to what you have to say.

Mary Ann, why don't you take a seat over here so that you can see the presentation.  Thank you.

DR. COHEN:  More importantly, so I don't shine the laser pointer in your eyes.

So thank you very much for inviting me.  It's quite a privilege to be here.  I have to say, the strongest impression I have so far is how cordial the proceedings are.  One from the outside imagines that debates about such hot topics are intense and vituperative, and they're just intense which I found really enjoyable so far.  And I hope it continues that way.

So I was kind of — I was mandated to do something slightly different than Dr. Michels did which is to give you kind of a case in point.  And I struggled long and hard over what case I should give, in point, because I think there are many that actually are not the obvious ones to discuss, but that nevertheless you should be aware of.

And what I decided was to stick with the one that struck me first I should do, largely because it's the most accessible one.  And it certainly — I was kind of reaffirmed in our discussion in the last hour that that was so because many of the topics and issues that I hope to address have already come up.  But what I want to do, just to guard against provincialism as best I can, is to just put up a couple of issues that I think are really important, maybe some cases — and I have this one here starred because I think it's maybe more important — that over the course of this discussion; that is, your discussion over the next whatever, months, years, you will be attentive to because they will give you the eye on the long picture and not just the short one.

And maybe the most important one is the fact that what is really lacking in neuroscience, which is a theoretical framework, is just starting to show the seeds of development, at least within the domain of understanding high level human behaviors.  It seems inconceivable that we could ever really, as people have expressed already today, that we could ever really come up with an understanding as something as complex as the brain in a way that will tell us how people will behave, but I would submit that there are just the beginnings of that in the theoretical world, and there are a couple of developments that I highlight here. 

One is the diffusion model, and it's something that would take an hour to describe to you but I think is easily understood when it's properly presented, that is an instance of where we're really gaining an understanding in precise form of the kernel of decision making, at least in simple cases.  What of it is deterministic or how deterministic it is, where stochasticity enters into it, and in fact we're in the process — this is something I'm actually involved in.  We're in the process of writing a paper about this called "The Physics of Decision- Making" because literally the model that people are beginning to converge on is one that comes out of physics.  It's just an extremely interesting and, I think, important development that you'll be hearing more about and that I think you need to keep your ear to the ground with regard to it because I think this really sets the stage for answering some of the questions of the sort that came up this morning or, sorry, earlier today.

Another area that is probably more developed than this one is our understanding of reward- based reinforcement learning and how that affects preference.  Some of the studies that you read about in The New York Times about fMRI being able to, as I mentioned earlier, predict whether somebody likes Coke or Pepsi were actually inspired by theoretical work regarding the neural bases of reinforcement learning and how that leads, over time, to people's preference behavior or choice behavior.  And this is something where there is really mathematical knowledge emerging about how these systems work and that are making very specific and precise predictions about neurophysiology, about human behavior.  So that's one important domain, I would argue maybe the most important over the longer term.

The other is "wet" neuroscience.  I put "wet" in quotes because it's not necessarily always involving electrodes, but largely studies that involve neurotransmitters that direct neuronal recordings in nonhuman species.  And, again, it's begun to paint a picture that is interacting pretty tightly with at least some of the theoretical work.  For example, our understanding of reinforcement learning was originally inspired by interest in dopamine and now provides a pretty mathematically precise account of what dopamine is doing, at least in certain circumstances.

Recordings from the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that I'll be talking about from a different perspective, is really the origin of much of the work that's being done in humans now; that is, recordings from monkeys performing tasks that are facsimiles, at least, rough facsimiles of the sorts of things that we can have humans do in the laboratory, and perhaps most recently, a renewed interest in orbitofrontal cortex as an important area in the evaluation of actions or stimuli and their consequence for subsequent action.

So these are all — this is obviously a highly kind of edited list of developments, no doubt biased by my personal interest, but just to point out that there's a lot going on in neuroscience that we're not talking about today and that nevertheless is as, if not more, important than the things we are talking about.  So I would really encourage you to find representative experts in these areas and others to come and talk to you about extremely important developments that I'm not going to touch on.

Then there's a third area, neuroimaging studies, which we did spend a lot of time talking about and which I will actually focus on for the rest of my comments.  And I want to start by saying a word about some of the caveats and concerns that one should have about these studies.  Some are obvious.  For example, imaging studies are complex.  I mean, you see this beautiful pseudo- color map on the pages of the Tuesday's Science Times and you think you've actually learned something about the brain, but actually what those pictures don't reveal is the many, many — well, I would venture to say hundreds of hours of analysis that go into — really complicated analysis programs that go into producing those images.  And whenever you have a complicated analysis program, you have to ask whether what you're looking at is what's really going on or what the person wrote the program was biased to show you.

So there's a real danger in interpreting this data without a keen understanding of how the data were generated and, similarly, with how the studies are carried out.  And I'm sure you all are at least roughly attuned to some of these issues.  I'd be happy to say more about them later, if you wish, but it's really important to keep in mind that all of the studies that we do are subject to all kinds of assumptions, of limitations, and it's very tempting to jump on the conclusions without taking account of the uncertainties involved in many, if not most of these data sets.  And that factors directly into the probabilities that Dr. Michels was discussing earlier.

I'll say a word or two about that later when I talk about a couple of specific studies, but that's important to keep in mind.

At the other end, they're really crude.  As complicated as they are, they're telling us very, very crude information.  And again I won't belabor this because this has come up already, but just to drive home the point, we're not actually measuring brain activity with any of these methods that are used in humans.  We're measuring blood flow, and blood flow is a really poor approximation of brain activity.  It's off by about four or five seconds from when the neural activity occurred.  It's occurring on the order of centimeters, maybe millimeters, when neural activity at the level of single neurons is occurring on the order of microns.  So you're off by two or three orders of magnitude in the spatial resolution of at least some of the relevant events.

Now our hope is that nevertheless by summarizing over many kind of probabilistic or stochastic neural events we see kind of the forest for the trees, as it were.  So that in fact, these methods are telling us something of meaning, if not everything there is to know, about neural function.  But that said, they're crude relative to the unit of computation in the brain which could arguably be said to be the single neuron.

So it's important to keep in mind that they're complex, that they're crude, but maybe most importantly and at least most importantly for ethical and moral concerns, is that they're really sexy.  And I mean that in a technical sense.  I mean people love this stuff.  They eat it up.  They want to know about it.  They're persuaded by it and they want more.  And that lowers the thresholds for keeping these considerations in mind.  And so just to make that point, let me show you something that I got off the news I think it was a couple of weeks ago.

I'm sorry.  I've got to move the microphone.  Tell me if you can't hear. 

(Video plays.)

"You've heard the saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but a Japanese study finds just peeling the fruit might be enough to do your body good or at least your brain.  Fourteen adults in the study peeled or just touched apples with a knife showed stimulation to their brains.  Those who actually peeled the fruit showed stimulation to their frontal lobes which is the most highly evolved section of the brain."

(Video ends.)

I mean I could just stop there, right, with regard to this point.  I mean maybe there's something interesting in that study, but if it is, it's not what was communicated, right?  And this is scary because it means in courtrooms, on the floors of Congress, in rooms like this, brain imaging data carries a persuasive and deceptive, a persuasive and deceptive ability that really has to be cautioned against.  Okay?

Maybe that's the most important thing I have to say to you today because this is already on the minds of marketeers.  I've had unnamed, but very well known and reputable and influential concerns, commercial concerns, approach me with an interest in doing brain imaging studies.  And when I told them that I thought their behavioral measures were actually much better than what the brain imaging data could tell them right now, they said they didn't care.  And I said, well, why don't you care; and they said, well, can you just show us that Product A is going to activate an area of the brain that Product B doesn't.  Well, sure, but Product B will activate a different area.  Well, we don't care.  We're going to go into the pitch with the picture that shows Product A.

And I was tempted to say, well, you know, give me my consulting fee and promise you'll never publish it and sure.  But, I mean, that tells you the power of this method and the perverse uses to which it could easily be put.

I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but I think it's really important to punctuate that.  And I think maybe the most immediate ethical concern you have is exactly this:  what to do with the status of these sorts of data which very easily outstep their actual — their legitimate bounds.

Okay.  With those caveats, I am going to tell you about brain imaging data, hopefully though with a little bit more responsibility than that news report.

What I'm going to do is tell you about two studies that we did.  I hope I'll have time to get through both.  I'll go through the first one in a little bit more detail because it will require a little bit more explanation with regard to the methods and then maybe whisk through the second one just to make the higher level point.  But both are designed or chosen to make a higher level point about what we're learning about the nature of the brain and how that gives rise to people's higher level behaviors.  And in this case I picked moral decision- making and economic decision- making as two examples of high level behavior that may begin to change our view of what economic decision- making is about and what rational behavior really is and what moral and ethics is about, at least as it's practiced.  So an issue that's already come up is does this sort of information have any prescriptive value or is it just descriptive.   And at the moment I adhere strongly to the stand that it is just descriptive.  I'm certainly not licensed, nor do I feel qualified, to tell you what prescriptions it should engender, nor do I feel that the data themselves are yet reliable enough for those of you who are licensed to do so, to do that with these data

But the point is that sooner or later I think they are going to give us reliable data that are going to raise prescriptive issues, some at the level of policy with regard to individuals that Dr. Michels talked about, but, I would conjecture, some at the very most fundamental level of what it means for something to be moral or ethical.

And I know this is a contentious point.  It's one that I think begins to address the question that was asked earlier about the kind of epistemological status of these data.  Again, I don't want to say that the data I have are at that point, but I think that over the longer term, neuroscience can begin to shape how we view ourselves as ethical and moral creatures or as rational creatures and may even inform us about that in ways that will lead us to change it.  And that's the most fundamental kind of impact that neuroscience could have, and I think very well might have.

So the two examples I picked.  One is about how people are kind of inconsistent in their moral behavior and the other is how they're kind of suboptimal in their economic behavior, and I'll explain what I mean by that in a moment.

The question they pose for me is:  Why do people behave in these,loosely said, irrational ways?  Why are they inconsistent?  Why are they suboptimal?  And I'm going to offer some speculations that have to do with evolution.  I'm not an evolutionary biologist, so I'm getting well beyond my expertise here too, but I find it impossible not to consider this, and again I think it helps illustrates the sorts of fundamental questions that these data can raise.

And I'm going to offer a conjecture at the end that I will describe, and in so doing so, define for you what I mean by vulcanization.  I'll leave that as a little mystery until I get to the end.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge the people who really do the work.  At this point, I'm just kind of the mouthpiece for some really talented and devoted scientists who are really not only technically gift, but I think are giving really hard thought to some of the questions that are being discussed here.  In particular, Josh Greene, who did the study on moral reasoning that I'll talk about; Lee Nystrom, who runs my lab and actually oversees all the imaging studies and then Alan Sanfey who is not pictured here — this is when we first got our scanner — but was responsible for the study on economic decision- making.

Okay.  So let's start with the moral decision- making test.  Here's a dilemma that moral philosophers have been toiling with for the past couple of decades.  It's called the Trolley Dilemma.  Some of you are probably familiar with it, but under the assumption that not everybody is, I'll go through it quickly.

There's actually two scenarios that constitute the dilemma as a whole, and I'll describe each one.  In the trolley scenario, there's a trolley or a train coming down a track and it's actually — these pictures are not the best, I apologize.  But it should be showing that the switch on the track, there's a switchpoint on the track and it's set so that it's going to come down and kill these five workers.  But you're a switch operator on the track far enough away from the junction itself that you can't alert anybody, but you can act quickly enough to flip this switch which would cause the trolley to go along this track instead of this one, killing this workman instead of these five.  And the question is is that an ethically or morally acceptable action?  I'm not asking how difficult it is, whether you would like to be in this situation, whether you actually would bring yourself to do it, but simply the abstract question: Is it morally or ethically sound to flip that switch?  And let's just take a poll.

Those of you who think it's ethically sound to flip the switch, please raise your hands.

PROF. GEORGE:  Who are the guys?

DR. COHEN:  They're workmen.

PROF. GEORGE:  We need a little more information.

DR. COHEN:  Actually, thank you for asking that.  Let me —

DR. KRAUTHAMMER:  Republicans.

DR. COHEN:  — do two things here.  First of all, let me caution you about the fact that these — we could easily spend the next two days talking about some of these issues, and so I'm going to try and curtail a discussion about the ethics here, at least until the end so I can get through the material.  On the other hand, if anybody has questions — because I'm presenting semi- technical material.  If people have questions of clarification that require me to say a bit more for you to understand what I'm talking about, please don't hesitate to stop me.  But what I don't want to do is get sidetracked into the ethical conundrums because literally this could take hours.

That said, that's a good question, and let's assume they're workmen.  And you'll see that the next slide is flawed in that regard, and so I'll correct it.  I'll describe what the slide should show when I get to it.  But assume in all cases the people influenced are workmen.  So they've kind of signed on to this job.  They know the risks, dot dot dot.

So most people, as I saw it, raised their hand, not everybody, interestingly, but most people raised their hand and said that they thought it was morally acceptable to flip that switch.  Now let's consider another scenario and instead of this being a sumo wrestler, let's imagine it's a very large workman and he's repointing this bridge here — you know, the bricks — and he's kind of leaning precariously over the edge and again, you're a bystander.  You notice that the train is coming down the tracks, and it's going to kill these five workmen, only this time, in order to save them, what you'd have to do is push this large workman off the edge of the bridge.  He's large enough that he'll stop the train.  You're small enough that if you jumped and committed suicide, you wouldn't stop the train.  I mean, allow me all the contingencies here to set up the dilemma in the way you know I want to set it up.  And as a matter of fact, we empirically tested most of these, so all of these assumptions kind of bear out.  The finding is general to the issue and not to the specifics of this particular circumstance as you'll see shortly, actually.

But the question now is is it morally acceptable for you to push this guy off the edge, on the assumption that you're going to succeed as effectively as flipping the switch on the other one, and have him take the hit and die but spare these five.  So many people feel that that's a morally or ethically acceptable thing to do?

Fewer hands went up.  A couple came up late.  So it took a little longer for people to say, for everybody to say whether or not that was acceptable, but certainly many fewer.  That concords with the empirical data that we have when we test these two scenarios in particular and a number of related ones that we actually went on to use in our imaging study, that 90 percent of people say that it's okay to flip the switch, but we get exactly the opposite for pushing the person off the bridge.

Now obviously what's interesting here is that the actuarial statistics are the same.  It's five for one, right?  And so why is it that people feel that in one case it's acceptable to sacrifice a life, play God in effect, right, by influencing the outcome of the events and spare five at the cost of one, and in the other case, it's not acceptable?

Now I know spinning through your heads are 15 or 20 or 100 different conjectures.  Let me offer you one, okay, to satisfy you that we're not dolts and that we've thought about this as intensely as we can and, hopefully, as intensely as you might to come up with as many possible accounts as one could imagine, attendant to the literature and all the possibilities, and controlled for that in the various scenarios that we've used to limit it to — with the outcome being that there's still a conundrum, that there's no simple account that really explains it.

So let me give you one possible account and show you how we can dismantle that one and then hope that you take it on faith that we've done similarly with all the others.

Well, one can say that one important difference between these two scenarios is that in the first case, the guy standing on the sidetrack was dying an incidental death; that is, there was nothing instrumental in your use of him.  You would have been much happier, in fact, if he wasn't there.  Then it would be a no brainer.  You'd just flip the switch, right?  But the fact that he's there is unfortunate, but not consequential to your being able to save the five.

Whereas, in the second case, you had to have that guy there.  If he wasn't there, the five men are dead.  There's nothing you can do, right?  So you're actually using that individual.  He's an instrument of your actions and that maybe we have an aversion to using people as instruments and that that's what leads to this moral intuition.  I'm not saying that you calculated this consciously, but at some level maybe you were attuned to that possibility.  And, in fact, Kant suggested exactly this in this philosophy.  He said never use on people as means, only as ends, and that that was a fundamental moral principle to which we should adhere.  And maybe that's what people are doing.

Well, at least in this case we know that's not what they're doing because if we change the scenario just slightly by adding this little bit of track here, such that if you flip the switch and the train comes down here and this guy wasn't there, the train would come around and kill these five — you still don't have time to warn them, okay?  — it doesn't change people's intuitions and yet now that person has to be there.  If they're not there, the train will come around and kill them.  It's because they're there that you're using them, you're using their presence there to save these five.

So it's a purely instrumental case, just as the footbridge scenario is, and yet this doesn't change people's intuitions.  When you give people this dilemma, they're as likely to say flip the switch as they are if this bit of track isn't there. 

So that alone can't be the principle that people are using.  And now again, if you'll allow me that we've considered many other possibilities, professional status, whether they're part of your racial group or not, there are a lot of variables, admittedly, in these particular scenarios, but we've tried to control for them in versions of these scenarios and we've used a bunch of other scenarios that vary in a whole bunch of different ways.  And we, at least, have not been able to come up with any systematic rationalist account - B rationalist in the sense that Kant intended it, okay? — that causes people to systemically go with the ones that they say are  ethical and not with the ones that they don't.  And if you don't trust me, then the materials are on a website and you can go and look through all the materials and tell us whether you can find some systematic principle that caused people to go one way with one set and the other way with the other set.

Our hypothesis — I should say Josh Greene's hypothesis.  He was really the impetus for this work.  He was a graduate student of philosophy when I arrived at Princeton and was the first person to kind of knock on my door, when I got there and was building a brain imaging facility, to say he wanted to do a study.  And I've got to say I really knew I was at Princeton when it was a philosopher that walked through my door and not a neuroscientist, you know, to want to do a brain imaging experiment.  But it didn't take but five minutes of talking with him to convince me that this guy is an incredibly gifted, thoughtful guy and had a really interesting program of research to pursue, and so I really want to take a moment to credit him with most of the thinking and kind of motivation for the study.

And it was his hypothesis — and certainly I shared the intuition with him — that what explains the difference is an emotional response that you have in one case and not in the other.  Okay?  That the thought of pushing a person off a bridge when you're close at hand is emotionally more salient than flipping a switch when you're several hundred feet or several miles away from them, and that these sorts of emotional reactions have an impact on people's moral decisions.

Now this is a descriptive claim, not a prescriptive claim.  We think this is what happens in the real world.  It's what explains behavioral data of the sort that we just collected, not necessarily the way it ought to be.  But, nevertheless, it's a strong claim and philosophers have tried to reject this claim, and the question is how do you test it. Right?

So you can ask people whether or not this concurs with their intuitions and some may be forthcoming and insightful enough to tell you, oh yeah, that makes sense, but others may not.  Either they may not realize they had an emotional reaction that at some level of the unconscious they actually did have.  Psychodynamic theory and psychoanalysis is not entirely dead, Mike.

Or perhaps they are aware, but, like many people in our society, are unwilling to admit that emotions will impact their decision and so won't tell you about it.  And so how can we assess this hypothesis that emotions are influencing people's moral decision- making without asking them?  And, you know, one way is to use long- standing, relatively well characterized measures like galvanic skin response.  When you get emotionally aroused, your skin conductance goes up and you can measure that.  And in point of fact, we've done that and it provides results that are, in the end, not quite as clean as the imaging study.  It's a lot cheaper, you might think.  We were in the perverse circumstance of having a brain scanner sitting there that was easier to use and that we knew how to use better than a couple of electrodes and a small resistance box or capacitor box.  So I have to confess that expediency led us to neuroimaging in our case as much as anything.  But what I hope to show you is that the results, actually, told us much more than I think a simple GSR experiment would have told us.

So our hypothesis was that emotions account for the variance across the different categories of dilemmas that seem to pose the sort of — elicit this inconsistent behavior and that we could test this by putting people on a brain scanner and measuring their brain activity when they considered these sorts of dilemmas and were asked to make decisions about them.

So now this wasn't totally out of left field.  There's certainly a long tradition of human neuropsychological research that suggests that there are parts of the brain that are involved in processing emotion.  I certainly concur with Dr. Michels' view that the distinction between cognition and emotion is nowhere near as clean as we would like it to be or as we often treat it.  But that said, there is a meaningful difference there and it seems to be reified at least in part with what brain areas seem to be computing emotionally charged or valenced decisions and which ones don't.

And some of the earliest data come from brain damage, so I'm sure you're all familiar with the case of Phineas Gage who was coincidentally a railroad worker.  I don't think he was hit by a trolley coming down a track that somebody failed to flip the switch on.  In fact, I know he wasn't.  He had an accident with a tamping iron that sent this big rod through this frontal cortex.  And the remarkable part of this story is that the guy lived to walk away three or four weeks later in perfect physical health and lived many, many years after that.

The sad part of the story is that his personality was forever changed and it was changed in just the sorts of ways that you might predict if it hit the part of the brain that was responsible for integrating emotional evaluations or maybe even moral and ethical evaluations with behavior.  He was a very responsible, kind of adroit citizen, a well- regarded foreman on the team on which he worked, and after the injury he became somewhat of a kind of a rascal.  He got himself into trouble with gambling, he couldn't manage his finances, he became lascivious, he made lewd comments in public.  His whole, what we would call, his moral fiber seems to have changed.  And that led to early conjectures that this front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, a particular part of the prefrontal cortex, was an important, if not the sole determinant of moral and ethical behavior.

So the idea that we might find brain areas that were specific to these sorts of tasks was not totally uninformed.  So we went ahead and put people in the scanner, and we used MRI.  And I was asked to say a word about these methods.  I won't go into too much detail, but this, I think, gives you a graphic depiction of the kind of physical detail that we can get from a single brain.  This is a half- an- hour scan.  Nowadays you can do — this was done about ten years ago.  This scan can be done now in about five minutes.  You can get a picture — this is a graduate student at my laboratory, then a graduate student — a picture of their brain that shows every last little fold of their brain.   So at least with regard to the anatomy it's pretty remarkable how much detail we can see. 

Up until about ten years ago you could only see this sort of thing, so you could tell whether or not somebody had cancer maybe by seeing whether or not there was a growth.  You could tell whether or not they had Alzheimer's by — well, you actually couldn't tell whether they had Alzheimer's, but other forms of degenerative disease you could diagnose by seeing whether there was loss of tissue, but what you couldn't see is what areas were functioning when people did particular tests.  That all changed about ten years ago when several groups realized that using the very same machine and trying to make the same measurements with that machine that are, in effect, made with PET scanning — that is, measuring blood flow — you could index brain activity with a remarkable degree of precision, remarkable with respect to what you could do with PET scanning at the time and with respect to the fact that it's totally non- invasive. 

Every once in a while I go down to the scanner still and I watch what's going on and I still get the heebie- jeebies.  I mean it's really like an episode out of Star Trek.  Twenty or 30 years ago, Gene Rodenberry gave us an image of one of these scans that somebody would lie in and Bones, the doctor on the ship, would be able to tell what was going on.  Never a needle prick, never any radiation and that's effectively what we're able to do.  It would be in crude form, but in a totally, as far as we know, non- invasive way.  We can tell what areas of the brain are activated when somebody is doing a test. 

So here's an example of people looking at a chess/checker board.  And areas that we know from other sorts of measurements are involved in visual processing light up and other areas that are not involved in visual processing don't light up.  So this is a particularly good case of our ability to be both accurate and precise in our measurements.

There are perils to this method.  I've already mentioned a few.  I want to mention one conceptual one because it too comes up frequently in discussions of brain imaging, and it raises concerns, but I think also sometimes overstates those concerns, and that is the idea that all we're really doing is reinventing something that was discredited a long time ago, namely phrenology.

So Franz Gall, about 150, almost 200 years ago now, had the idea that different parts of the brain represented different functions.  Now for my money that was a major insight, and it took a long time for it actually to take hold.  But he was the leader, one of the leaders in the pack, in realizing that the brain is not an undifferentiated mass of tissue, but that different parts of the brain actually carry out distinguishable functions.  How distinguishable, we can debate.  But there are characteristic functions in different parts of the brain.  The back of your brain  handles vision; and if you cut it out, you're not going to see very well. 

Now he reasoned from that that if different parts of the brain had different functions and some people had those functions better developed, maybe it was because they had more tissue allocated to those functions and that, in turn, would occupy more space which means that the cranium had to accommodate it by getting larger and therefore he could diagnose who was more reasonable and who was a better lover by feeling bumps on the head.

Now that version of the story or that inference, of course, is wrong and it's silly.  And when people referred to neophrenology they're talking about brain imaging experiments as being just a reinventing of bumps on the head only now it's pseudocolors, right? 

And an important point that's made by that is we have to be careful about not being too simplistic in our idea of how the brain works, even though there's a part of the brain that's responsive to visual stimuli that doesn't mean that all of vision, all of object recognition, your ability to kind of appreciate the smile on your wife's face when you wake up in the morning is all housed in the visual part of the brain because it's a visual stimulus, right?  The brain is a highly interactive and intricate mechanism that's integrating all kinds of information at every point in time.  And so the fact that there's some specialization of function doesn't mean that the functions that each part of the brain is specialized for map on to functions that we recognize at the surface.  They may be much more complex and intricate sorts of functions that don't correspond to simple sorts of things like vision and smell.  Some may, but some may not.

So the idea that there's a reason area or a love area may be right or it may be wrong, and the fact that we can see areas of the brain activate when we give somebody a love test, doesn't mean that that's the love area of the brain.  That's the right criticism of neophrenology.

This is just to say that even those ideas, bad ideas die hard.  I got this off the web a year or so ago.


Some people still believe in old Franz Gall's diagnostic techniques.  But that said, it is important to realize that the brain does have functional specialization, and we can leverage that for scientific understanding and maybe even for better understanding of who we are as individuals and as species.  So, for example, if I know that there are some areas of the brain that reliably activate when emotional stimuli are presented, then I can leverage that observation, that prior observation to ask whether those areas are activated when I give somebody a footbridge type scenario as opposed to a trolley type scenario.

So another way of saying this is that a map, as such, is useless, but a map is extremely useful if you want to go somewhere.  So neophrenology is useless if that's where you stop, but if you're going to use that map, with all the proper caveats applied to it, to understand how things are happening in the brain, then it may be actually a valid endeavor.

Okay.  So the last bit before I tell you about the experiment is to say how did we kind of systematically manipulate the emotionality of the moral dilemma.  We had to operationalize this idea so we could do an experiment, so we could have some that were emotional that were like the footbridge problem, and others that weren't that were more like the trolley problem.  But we didn't want to use — we couldn't use the same dilemma over and over, so we needed lots of dilemmas to be able to test this because we have to do signal averaging.  One of the problems with these methods is that a single trial doesn't tell you a lot.  There's a lot of noise in the data.  So you have to perform the experiment 15, 20, sometimes a 100 times and then average over all of those to take out the kind of noise and see the signal you're looking for.  So for that, we needed lots of dilemmas, and for that we needed a way of characterizing ones as being either footbridge- like or trolley- like.

And so we used these criteria.  The dilemma was emotional if it was up close and personal; that is, if it can be expected to cause serious bodily harm B it wouldn't be immoral otherwise — to a particular individual as opposed to a statistic, to an undescribed body of people and through proximal action.  And Josh and I actually differ as to how important this is.  I happen to believe this is the most important one as you'll see shortly.  He's not as convinced by this and we're doing experiments to try and test that.

But in any event, these were the criteria that we used, and it was meant to capture the sort of kind of primitive notion of me- hurt- you.  And, again, this will factor into my comments in just a few minutes.  So "hurt" is the serious bodily harm, "you" is a particular person, and "me" is the direct proximal action.

And so the experiment involved the subjects going into the scanner and we gave them 60 dilemmas, 20 that were moral/personal, defined in this way — sorry, we generated a bunch of dilemmas and then we had people rate them on these criteria.  And then we took the ones that were rated as satisfying these criteria and called those "moral/personal" and presumably thereby invoking emotional responses.  We took the ones that didn't satisfy these criteria, reliably didn't satisfy these criteria as "impersonal" and then we included a control set that were meant to just control for all the other things that people have to do in these experiments: read the materials, think about them, maybe agonize a little bit over what they're going to do or what answer is right, be on the spot, all the kind of incidental processes that we don't think are relevant to what we're interested in that we try and control for in our baseline condition.

And so for that condition we invented 20 kind of cognitive puzzles that roughly took the same amount of time to solve as people took to answer the moral dilemma ones so that we were controlling for time on task.

And when we do the experiment, we get a bunch of areas that are activated.  So we compared these moral/ personal ones against the nonmoral ones as a kind of baseline or control.  We compared the impersonal ones against the baseline or control.  And we asked what areas showed greater activity in one of these two conditions as compared to this one, as evidence that they were specifically involved in the processes involved in solving this type of problem, this type of problem versus this type of problem.  Is that clear to everybody?

This subtractive methodology is kind of at the core of most studies, and it too is subject to many assumptions and therefore many potential problems.  When done properly, it's extremely powerful and has been validated to tell us information that can be independently confirmed with other methods, but it's also easily abused.  So here's another place where if one wants to evaluate a particular study, one really has to look carefully at how these comparisons are made and what this condition looks like.

So when we do this, we found a series of areas, not all of which are shown here, but some of the critical ones are shown and I've colored them red or blue to roughly connote what the prior literature in neuroimaging had suggested about the function of these areas.  The ones coded or colored or kind of backgrounded in red are areas that in most previous studies that have reported them have involved emotional stimuli or emotional decisions or emotional circumstances that the subject had to apprehend or interpret or whatever.  None of them were moral, but all of them evolved emotions in some way.  And this one here and a few others that I'm not showing, the prefrontal cortex, the parietal cortex that I've kind of backgrounded in blue, are ones that typically are not associated with emotional stimuli, but are associated with cogitation, as it were, with kind of mental problem- solving, working memory.

DR. FOSTER:  One question: Are those outlined areas of change which you've just colored in or are these stylized diagrams in the area?  Are these the raw data?

DR. COHEN:  No, these are absolutely not the raw data.  Let me tell you what you're seeing.  You're seeing three things.  First of all, kind of as a background, you're seeing a structural image of the brain so that you can — for those who know something about the brain, they would be oriented as to where these areas are, okay?  So that was not acquired at the same time, but it was acquired in the same subject.  So we're overlaying these areas of activity on an image of the person's brain or, in some cases, an average of all of the subjects' brains that we studied.

The colored areas here are statistical maps.  So where it's red, there was a much greater signal associated with — well, you'll see what the signals were associated with.  But there was a much greater signal, either in the moral personal or the moral impersonal compared to the control, and the colors code the degree of statistical reliability with which those areas were more active in the experimental conditions than the controlled conditions.  So they're not raw data, but they're statistical analyses of the raw data.  They're quantitative data.  They're not graphic renderings.  These are derived from real statistical analysis of the actual data.

And then I've just drawn these circles here to draw your attention to those areas.  Does that answer your question?

Okay.  Now we can ask, well, these are areas that, as I say in the past have been associated with either emotion or not, how do they activate in our moral/personal versus impersonal conditions or non- moral.  So actually here I've plotted the activity in these areas including in the moral, sorry, the non- moral condition against baseline, against just plain rest where the subject isn't doing anything.  And what I want you to see from the slide is that all the areas that are associated and that have been associated in the past with emotion activated in the moral/personal condition for moral/ personal dilemmas when the subject was contemplating and deciding about those, and not in the moral/impersonal or, in any event, much less so in the moral/impersonal or non- moral conditions.  And the exact converse was true for the areas that are associated with cogitation, the working memory or problem solving.  They tended to be more activated in the non- moral and the moral/impersonal conditions and not in the moral/personal.

So emotional areas seem to be engaged when people were contemplating dilemmas like the footbridge problem and non- moral, but kind of higher level cognitive areas were engaged by the moral/impersonal, the trolley- like problems and then, as predicted, kind of abstract problem- solving tasks.

What's even more interesting I think, and this is more the result of actually an extension of the original study that — these results, by the way, have been replicated three times now, twice in our laboratory and once in one other laboratory.  So I'm pretty confident that these are reliable effects.

What's even more startling is that when we look across many different experiments and start to correlate the extent to which individuals make a utilitarian decision — that is, they say, look, even though it's emotionally kind of aversive to me, to think about pushing that person off the bridge, I'm going to do it anyway, okay? — you get more activity in prefrontal cortex.  And if you look at the people who are most utilitarian, the correlation is really quite startling, about .9.  And you can see that that's not being driven by outliers.  That the more — when people make utilitarian decisions, that prefrontal cortex seems more active than when they don't.  So that this particular area of the brain is not just overall correlated, but almost begins to have the feeling of being predictive of when they're going to make a utilitarian versus a non- utilitarian decision.  And I'll say more about that kind of data analysis when I talk about the economic decision- making test.

Okay.  So some inferences from these data: emotional responses can influence moral judgments.  I'd like to infer that.  There are additional data that I don't have time to tell you about that are behavioral data that suggest that this isn't just correlation but actually is cause.  That is, these areas aren't kind of incidental activations associated perhaps with the discomfort of having to make a decision, but rather precede it and actually, as I said just a second ago, predict the outcome of the behavior.  I don't have time to go into that in this experiment, but I'll say something about that in the economic decision- making test.

Not all moral judgments elicit emotional responses.  They occur to proximal interactions, me hurt you.  They don't occur from more distal interactions, for example, flipping the switch.  And, furthermore, the competition between prefrontal areas and emotional areas seems to be at the heart of or at least an important component to what the outcome of this decision is.

Now I want to offer in this context a little hypothesis, and this is really armchair theorizing.  It's no more than that, but it's provocative, and I think it's usefully provocative. 

Why do people have these emotional responses?  Well, one hypothesis would be that they reflect evolutionary adaptations that favor prohibitions against inter- clan violence.   That is, to the extent that we were successful in evolving as a social species and that we came genetically wired with mechanisms for aggression that protected ourselves and what we had accrued, we needed to somehow kind of stop that from happening among those with whom we were starting to cooperate, or else the threshold for cooperation would be too high and we wouldn't succeed, right?  That puts it teleologically, but I think you get the drift of the argument.

So one can imagine that these emotional responses or the brain systems that mediate them evolved as a way of controlling our aggressive tendencies to those with whom it would benefit us to cooperate.  Now evolution is opportunistic, right?  And so it optimizes mechanisms for the circumstances in which it finds itself, for local prevailing circumstances and not at all possible circumstances in which these mechanisms were developing.  The only way we could do damage was through proximal cause, by hitting somebody, or picking up a stick and bopping them on the head, right, and not by flipping a switch and causing some damage a few miles away, no less hitting a button and causing many millions of deaths many thousands of miles away.  We just didn't evolve brain mechanisms to deal with that.  It just wasn't in our environment.  It wasn't in our circumstance, and so the brain just never developed mechanisms to deal with that.  And so our emotional responses are circumscribed to the the circumstances that we found ourselves in evolution and maybe no longer are the only ones that are relevant.  So hold that thought and I'll come back to a similar sort of argument when we get to economic decision- making or the end of economic decision- making.  All right, so that's the moral decision- making experiment. 

Economists are as interested in rational behavior, maybe even more so, than philosophers, and again as I'm sure most of you know, the standard economic model assumes that, in fact, we are optimal; that is, rational decision- makers, that we always choose the action or the good that is going to maximize our utility, maximize our personal gain and that we do that optimally.

And they make that assumption for a very reasonable reason and that is to be able to have traction in theory.  That is, it simplifies a lot of matters when you assume people are optimal because you can do proofs about optimality, right?  You're stuck doing statistics on what people actually do.  So I think it was actually just a tactic that led to a stratagem in economics.  That's another story.

In any event, economists have long assumed that people act rationally, and they got away with it for about 30 or 40 years, but the development of behavioral economics has begun to catalog a large number of instances in which people don't seem to act anything like the way economists say they should.  And in fact, the Nobel Prize was given out this year for that work, to Daniel Kahneman and Vernon Smith, among others, who have kind of championed this area of behavioral economics.

And we were really interested in this, in part, from my perspective because of the parallels that it draws with the moral reasoning work, but because I think it has intrinsic interest in its own.  Understanding what the basis is of economic decision- making is just as interesting as the basis of moral decision- making.  And so we used kind of a similar strategy.  We picked a task that we thought highlighted, in this case, the suboptimality of people's behavior and then scanned them while they performed this task and looked at what the brain was doing when they made what seemed to be optimal decisions versus non- optimal decisions. 

In this case, the task was rather a simple one.  It was called the Ultimatum Game.  Subjects were paired with a partner who they met before the scan and were introduced, actually were ten partners.  They were going to play with all ten of them.  They were introduced to them, and while they were in the scanner, they were shown pictures of who it was that they were supposed to be playing with.  And in each case, the partnership was offered a sum of money, let's say $10.  So let's say Dr. Kass and I are offered, as partners, this $10, and I'm in the scanner.  So it's Kass' job to decide how we're going to split it.  So you can decide to give me $5 and you'll keep $5 and then it's my option to either accept the offer in which case we each get the allotted sum or to reject it in which case neither of gets anything.

So you offer me $5, you keep $5, I say sure, he's a fair guy, that's a fair deal.  I take it.

But what if you offer me $1 and you decide to keep $9?  Or what if you decide to give me a penny and keep $9.99, what do I do?  Now the economists say you'd take the penny, right?  You're not going to get anything else.  If you reject it, you don't get anything.  Now you can get sophisticated about this and say well, but you want to punish him so that next time he'll give you a better offer.  You want to establish a bargaining position.  But we set up the game so that subjects know they're only playing it once with each individual.  Well, maybe they want to protect their reputation.  They don't want that guy to tell the next guy, right?  We tell them that it's totally confidential, the outcome of each individual interaction is not going to be imparted to anybody else.  Now you can question whether or not they believe it, but there's a whole line of work using this task behaviorally that shows that, in fact, you can convince people that these conditions are, in fact, so.  And, nevertheless, people still reject the penny or the dollar or even $2 up to about $3, okay, and get nothing, in effect, just to kind of punish the other guy.  And so the question is why do they do this?  I think that's summarized.  And this is just a behavior evidence that they do.  This is actually from our study, but this totally mimics what's observed in the literature, that subjects reject offers at around 20 to 30 percent.  In this case, it was 20 percent of the total pot and they accept it when it exceeds that.  So if Kass had offered me $3, I would taken it, but if he offered me $2, I would say screw you, we're both going to get hurt here, but I don't care because maybe it gives me pleasure to hurt you for having tried to rob me. 

I won't get into this, but it's interesting that the response times are longer for fair than for unfair offers.  So, again, the question is: What's happening?  Why are they doing this?  And so I've already said a couple of reasons and rejected them, bargaining position.  Maybe they want to — well, bargaining position or reputation.  The situation is such that that doesn't make sense.  Maybe they want to punish their partners, but that just begs the question why do they want to punish if they're never going to interact with them again.  So it really doesn't give an answer.

Again, we're left with the answer that there's some irrepressible, negative emotional response that they have that causes them to do it.  So, again, we can test this by putting them in the scanner and looking at what happens when they accept offers versus reject offers, and that's exactly what we did. 

Again, we got areas of the brain that were activated in the task as compared to the baseline.  We got our same player, the prefrontal cortex.  This was also in the other study, the anterior cingulate cortex, but I didn't say anything about it, and then critically, in this case, the insular cortex.  And what's really interesting though is that if you look first at the population level, people who accepted versus rejected the offer, generally speaking their — in people who accepted the offer, their prefrontal cortex was activated about ten percent more than people who rejected on the offer.  And exactly the opposite was true for the insular cortex.  So it looks like if your prefrontal cortex is active or if you're going to accept the offer, your prefrontal cortex is going to be active and if you reject the offer, your insular cortex is active.

Now the insular cortex is an interesting area.  It's an area that has repeatedly been associated with physical revulsion, with interoceptive pain, with real aversion, in some cases again, physical aversion to stimuli.  The classic neuroimaging experiment with the insula was one done at Harvard in which they took people with obsessive- compulsive disorders — (how they got this past the Human Subjects Committee I'll never know).  They took people with obsessive- compulsive disorder, put them in the scanner, then took soiled rags which they said had been soiled with human feces and threw it on the subject and the insular cortex lit up like a Christmas tree.

Now the study itself raises ethical questions of its own which we might debate, but it certainly points out that the insular cortex is an area that is engaged in negative or aversive emotional responses and here we're seeing it activated when people find an offer, in effect, revulsive.

But what's even more interesting is that if we go trial by trial, so we take all the trials in which individual subjects, sometimes they accepted the offer, sometimes they rejected it, and we looked at what was their brain doing before they made the decision.  If the prefrontal cortex was more active than the insular cortex, they accepted the offer.  If the prefrontal cortex was less active than the insula — the insula, in effect, broke through the activity of prefrontal cortex — they rejected the offer.  So it's as if the outcome of the behavior again was being defined by this competition between this prefrontal area and a, I might say, more primitive area of the brain that's coding the emotional response.

And I think that we can come up with a hypothesis here that's very similar in character to the one that we came up with in the case of moral reasoning, that maybe this emotional response reflects an evolutionary adaptation that favored protection of reputation.  And this makes sense if you imagine that, as we were evolving as a social species, we were much more likely to come into contact with people that we had had previous dealings with again, right, than we are in modern society.  And so it behooved us to develop very quick, hardwired responses to protect our reputation because it was going to come back and haunt us much more than in modern circumstances where, you know, you got some guy making an offer on a house, and at first they come in at your asking price and then they concoct some story when they do the inspection that the basement is leaking, and you know it was because there was a little bit of water that your kid left down there when he took off his swimming trunks and you know that he knows it, but it's a way for him to get an extra $1,000 off the price.  And you say,to hell with it, right?

Now there's no sense in which that makes sense. You're never going to see that guy again.  Your reputation isn't going to be established, right?  You might as well take the $1,000 hit and sell the $100,000 or $200,000 or $300,000 house, whatever it is, right and be done with it and yet you can just imagine yourself, I suspect — I don't know, I can imagine myself — getting hotheaded, right?

So once upon a time that made sense, but in modern society it doesn't.  So we call that irrational in modern context or in the experimental situation where we told people explicitly, no reputation, no bargaining, right?  They still have this hardwired response because of evolutionary circumstance.

So let me just end then with kind of a playing out of that idea.  I called the talk the "Vulcanization of the Human Brain."  The term "vulcanize" at least according to Merriam Webster's means the taking of a crude or synthetic material, rubber, in the case of industry, and then giving it useful properties.

So what I would like to argue is that the development of the prefrontal cortex has, in effect, vulcanized the human brain.  What it's done is that it's given us the ability to surmount older evolutionary adaptations and consider what we might recognize as more rational decisions, right?  And when the prefrontal cortex comes into play, people can actually bring themselves to push somebody off of a bridge or accept an unfair offer because they know they're not getting anything else.

What's interesting though — so the development of the prefrontal cortex is vulcanizing the human brain by giving it the capacity for cognitive control.  What's interesting is that that very development, I would argue, has created exactly the contexts in which those older evolutionary adaptations are no longer adaptive.  So, for example, in the case of the moral reasoning study, it's created the technology, it's because of the development of the prefrontal cortex that we have the capacity to produce technologies like switches on trains or buttons in nuclear arsenals, right, that control nuclear arsenals, that can do damage at a distance. 

Similarly, it's the development of the prefrontal cortex that supports the complexities of modern society in which social structure can occur in a much wider scale in which we don't have recurrent interactions with everybody that — with whom we've dealt with in the past.

So at the same time the prefrontal cortex solves the problem, it's solving the problem, in some sense, that it created.  And in so doing, insofar as there's not uniformity of prefrontal development, whether because of circumstance or genetic structure, I know not, but because there's not uniformity, and because it only takes some prefrontal cortices to create a circumstance in which other brains that don't have as strong prefrontal cortices can exploit, we are in great peril and I think this raises really important sociological, as well as ethical and moral, issues.

So the prefrontal cortex is precisely the part of the brain that permits rational decision- making in the face of competing evolutionarily older emotional responses.  The vulcanization of the human brain can save us from those circumstances it created, but we're kind of in this delicate stage right now where it's not as if we all have prefrontal cortices that know how to deal with the responsibility to deal with the things that the prefrontal cortex was created.

This is the other sense in which — I thought it would be perhaps a little too cute to call it "The Vulcanization of the Human Brain" because science fiction often anticipates the issues that science later has to deal with and I think Gene Rodenberry anticipated exactly this issue when he kind of designed his character Spock and the species that Spock is a part of, the Vulcan species.  For those of you who don't know about Star Trek, the Vulcan species was a species that literally had a more developed prefrontal cortex and was totally rational and was able to come to social decisions through rational  choice and acknowledged that there were emotional forces in the brain that influenced behavior, but they somehow circumscribed those and expressed them one day or one week a year or something.

But one has to wonder what the path is going to be for us to getting there.  And I picked this as one example of an alternative in the real world where there are traditions and cultures that have looked for rationalist theories, and I picked this to be again provocative.  There are certainly ones in Western culture as well that seek to kind of deal with these issues of how rationality can be exploited in a world in which not everybody is rational.

I've made this point already, that it takes relatively few rational agents to create things that many more people can put to irrational use, and so there's this race.  This actual last point is more for my scientific colleagues as a kind of a challenge for how we can deal with this knowledge, but I present this issue to you because I think it's transparent, the sorts of ethical questions that come into focus in now concrete and measurable ways that wasn't so without the sorts of tools that we have available to us now.  So I can stop there.


CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you very much.  Frank and then Michael.

PROF. FUKUYAMA: Well, thank you very much for that presentation.  I guess in a certain sense you've answered the question that I was trying to pose to Dr. Michels about how precise the technology is.  My general impression is you've got to drill down a couple of orders of magnitude more before you get to a lot of the things that have been speculated on.  But I guess in reaction to the presentation about the moral reasoning and the way the emotions play into it, what you say is your armchair speculation about the role of emotions and how they were evolutionarily derived.  I think it's standard fare in evolutionary psychology, and they've got extremely highly developed theories about how all of these social emotions were the result of cooperation dilemmas in hunter- gatherer societies and so forth.

What they don't provide — and the reason that people don't like this field — is that no one can come up with a biological correlate.  And the big argument is not that there wouldn't be a biological correlate to say that certain kinds of moral decision- making are emotionally based, but the real question is where does that emotional response come from?  Is it hardwired genetically or is it socially constructed as a result of experiences that the individual has over birth.  And it seems to me none of the empirical evidence — I mean your kind of implicit assumption is that it's hardwired —

DR. COHEN:  No, no.  Let me correct that right here.  I'm just measuring it.  I have no idea how it got there, whether philogenetically or ontogenetically. 


DR. COHEN:  But with the tools to measure it, we can begin to try and ask those questions.

PROF. FUKUYAMA:  Okay.  But it does seem to me you're awfully far from really having an answer to that because you'd be surprised, even if it were socially learned, it would be very surprising if it didn't light up.

DR. COHEN:  I'm not so sure we're far from answering at least some first- order questions.  For example, not only is it relatively straight forward, but we're actually in the process of beginning crosscultural studies to see whether or not people have different emotional responses to the very same dilemmas, and there's been psychology that addresses this question, but it's been very hard to get hard evidence for the reasons that I said at the beginning.  We can produce harder evidence about that question, and that certainly bears on the question of whether it's learned or it's innate.

PROF. FUKUYAMA:  That kind of crosscultural study could have been done and was done prior to the brain imaging, but I also think that the conclusions you draw about the moral peril we're in is — I would put it quite differently.  What's interesting about that ultimatum game is that it suggests that there's something like an innate sense of human justice; that is to say, people have a certain pride, and they will not accept an unfair division of resources, and they'd rather have nothing rather than have the division of resources be unfair.

That's quite an interesting conclusion —

DR. COHEN:  Why is that?


DR. COHEN:  Why is that?

PROF. FUKUYAMA:  Well, I don't know why it is, but if it's a fact that that is actually the result of an evolutionary process which is hardwired, that tells you something interesting about human morality, which is that contrary to the Lockian idea that the mind is a tabula rasa, there actually are innate ideas about justice.  They seem to have come from our evolutionary experience as hunter- gatherers.  But I actually find that reassuring because it means that, in fact, we're not these cold, calculating machines, but we have certain innate principles on which our moral order — and the other one that's cited very typically is a sense of reciprocity, tit for tat.  There's this whole thing comes out of the iterated prisoner's dilemma that would tell you why socially cooperating creatures should develop a principle of reciprocity.

Now the evolutionary psychologists have suggested that that is also a moral principle that is hardwired.  I think it's actually a pretty good one and it is actually reassuring to me that we arrive at that kind of moral reasoning, not through a rational process, a cognitive process, the way the economists posit, but in fact, there are emotions and subrational processes in the human psyche that lead us almost instinctively to those kinds of outcomes.

So I'm not sure that this idea that you've got these evolutionarily- derived impulses that need to be overridden by the super ego that's created only in civilizational time, that that's the fundamental problem.  I think that, in fact, all of our moral structures, including those in advanced civilizations, depend very heavily, fortunately, on the fact that we are wired to have these certain kinds of species- typical responses.  But again, it does seem to me that — well, okay, maybe I'll just —

DR. COHEN:  Obviously, inference is in the eye of the beholder because I look at these data — and again they're early in the game — but I look at them as providing the potential to say look, we can contextualize these quote,unquote moral responses that we have, these intuitions that people seem to have, right, in an understanding of where they came from that may allow us rationally to dismiss them.  And so rather than reify them because we found them, I think, as reasonably, one can say look, now that we understand where they came from and we realize that they're not really what we want, we're free to kind of propose something else, right? 

So it's just the opposite perspective to take the same data, at least as I understand what you were saying.  But the key point is that maybe not the answer we come to, but the fact that the debate is now much more informed.  It's no longer a matter — at some point we'll get to the point, I think, where it's no longer a matter of conjecture as to whether or not people's moral intuitions are informed by their emotional responses which might have either genetically programmed or deeply ingrained cultural roots.  We'll be able to say that.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Could I jump in on this and jump my place in the queue just because I think it's pertinent here.  It seems to me the issue — and Frank, if I were to come to your aid I would do it this way.  It seems to me the question is not whether this has an evolutionary foundation of the sort that you suggest.  The further question is whether because it is emotionally mediated, it is therefore irrational; or whether or not those emotional responses are the embodiment of a certain kind of reasonableness as opposed to a kind of theoretical rationality.  That would be one way to put it.  And the presumption in a way —   I don't have any difficulty with the findings.  The findings are very exciting to me.  They support my own sense that the attempt to do moral philosophy, as Kant does it, is wrong and that this kind of universalizability is the only measure of rationality.  It might be absolutely reasonable to treat kin better than strangers and that the universalizability of human beings is a construct of theory — by the way, something that we need to think about in the global world, but that you somehow can't say that the abstraction from proximity is going to be an advance if precisely the care for those near and dear depends upon these kinds of rational, these kinds of reasonable things that don't depend upon calculation, but the reasonableness is somehow built into the passions of emotion and love and anger when our own are hurt and things of that sort.

Now that's not to say that those emotions don't cause difficulties and sometimes get the better of what make sense, but I'm not sure I accept the — I don't think that the description of the footbridge versus the trolley dilemma is a sign of moral inconsistency at all.

DR. COHEN:  We differ there.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  But the difference has to do with accepting the view of a kind of calculation of outcome as the measure of reason, whereas the question is how do you describe the moral situation in the first place such that —

DR. COHEN:  Well —

CHAIRMAN KASS:  I don't want to belabor this, but I do think that there are certain kinds of theoretical things that are built into the formulation of the question that produce the dichotomy between what looks to you to be primitive and what looks to you to be advanced and rational, whereas I'm not sure that there isn't a kind of deep reason in what you're calling mere primitive, but it's carried and mediated in a different way.

DR. COHEN:  Fair enough.  So I was, of course, caricaturing the arguments for the sake of clarity, but I think the fundamental point still stands, and I think again it's the inversion of the position that is being laid out between you and PROF. Fukuyama, and that is to say that okay, I don't know what the right calculus is, but, at the same time, the fact that we have these intuitions and that we could maybe come to understand where they came from as circumstantially developed and not in the circumstances that we now find ourselves, I agree it doesn't mean that we just therefore dismiss them as primitive and therefore irrelevant, but it does mean that we may have some deeper insight into what their usefulness was and what the limits of their usefulness may now be.

And so the interpretation of the finding is neither that because it's primitive, it's irrelevant, nor that because we have intuitions, as such we should go with them, that that's kind of our moral compass.  It allows us to say no, the compass has to be something else.  And this just contextualizes where those are coming from and allows us, however we might do it — and godspeed to those who are more qualified than I to actually do it — to come up with a theory that is, in some sense rationalist, that takes account of all of our circumstances.  And it can't dismiss love or kin bonding.  Of course not.  That would lead to consequences that would be as deleterious as only caring about your kin, but some balance between the circumstances we currently face and the ones that we've brought with us because, Lord knows, evolution — and this is the peril I'm referring to — evolution is not fast enough to give us the answers.  It got us this far, but something has happened that the answer for which is not evolution, not at the biological or genetic level.

Genetics was able to solve the problems that got us this far, but we now have the capacity to pose problems that genetics is not going to be fast enough to solve.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Fair enough.  Michael Sandel, please, and then Alfonso is next.

PROF. SANDEL:  Even before we get to the evolutionary biology, my question is prior to that about the logic of the scientific project that you're engaged in and the general question I have is how — what justifies your choice of coding certain responses as emotional as against others?  But in order to get to that, I was puzzled by one thing you said in the talk and then just in this exchange with Leon. 

From your point of view, in order to characterize in the trolley and footbridge case one of the responses, one set of intuitions as emotional, and then you would then go on to explore the neural correlates, it seemed to matter to you that you had run through all the possible rational justifications for answering the footbridge and trolley case differently.  And not having found a persuasive one, that seemed to license calling the response in the footbridge case emotional.  But why, even from your point of view, would that be necessary?  Why can't you just directly, on your own account, characterize the footbridge response as emotional because personal rather than impersonal and so on and code it that way and go ahead and then look for the correlations?  Why was it important — you seemed to suggest it was important and you said we could check on the website — that you had explored all these possible moral justifications for distinguishing and found that they weren't persuasive and therefore — why did you have to go through that?  What would be undermined in the experiment that you did if it turned out that somebody came along with a persuasive moral distinction between those two cases?  Why would that in any way damage the rest of what you've done from your point of view?

DR. COHEN:  Excellent question.  I'm hesitating only because I'm trying to figure out where to begin with the answer.  There's at least or two or maybe three things I want to say in response to that.

First of all, the term "emotion" is a code here.  I mean ultimately words are not the language of science.  It's mathematics and mechanistic understanding.  But until we have that we need some guidance and we need some way of communicating with our colleagues to share the intuitions of what we think the proper mechanism or mechanistic or formal description of the mechanism is, right?

So that's all I think of the word "emotion" as.

PROF. SANDEL:  But you have to pick out certain responses that people give you in order to run the correlation.

DR. COHEN:  I'm going to get to that.  I understand.  In this case, I think what the term "emotion" kind of connotes, if not denotes, is a set of systems that are hardwired to produce rapid evaluations and rapid responses given the exigencies of the feral world in which we grew up.  And so what family resemblance the different systems that we were studying here have to one another is that: they're rapid- interpretation, rapid- fire systems that lead to quick action.  That, to me, is what the mechanistic underpinnings of emotion is and emotion, as we think of it kind of introspectively is just a phenomenological projection or consequence or correlate of the operation of those mechanisms.

Now to answer the kind of the methodological question, in order to get at that as what's accounting for the variance — that is, accounting for the empirical phenomenology here, right? — I have to be certain that there aren't confounds that are alternative accounts.  So for example, supposing it turned out that — and as I've already said I just can't give one problem.  I couldn't give the trolley problem a hundred times because the person would stop paying attention to it after a while.  They'd say, look, I know I hit the left button last time.  I'm just going to hit it again.  They wouldn't be thinking about the problem in the way that engaged the mechanisms I want to study.

PROF. SANDEL:  But even on the trolley and the footbridge problem, if you, tomorrow, discovered there is good moral justification for not pushing and yet for switching, would that cause you to code the behavior differently?

DR. COHEN:  The answer is yes.

PROF. SANDEL:  Why?  Why would it?

DR. COHEN: I don't know what you mean by "code the behavior differently."  It would lead me to worry about the interpretation that I've placed on the data so far, not that I don't anyway, but I would worry more.  That is to say — okay.  Forget about the signal averaging problem and say we could do the experiment with just the trolley and the footbridge problem.

PROF. SANDEL:  Fair enough.

DR. COHEN:  So supposing I hadn't thought of this Kantian alternative, right, with the loop, and I did the experiment, and then Kant came out of the grave and said ha, ha, ha, you fool.  Don't you realize that all that's accounting for that difference is that in one case the person is using instrument, the person is used as an instrument, and what we found were areas of the brain that compute instrumentality. I think that's a silly likelihood or a silly interpretation, but it's a logical interpretation of the data.

Instrumentalism is confounded with emotionality, and what I think subserves emotionality is different than the computation of instrumentality.  I think different mechanisms computer those different functions.  And so now if there's a confound, I don't know how to interpret my data.  So I have to try and construct the experiment in such a way that no other confound, no other reasonable account can be given for why those areas activated in these conditions and not those. 

PROF. SANDEL:  If there were a reasonable account, then —

DR. COHEN:  Then that could provide an alternative explanation and my interpretation of what those brain areas were doing, at least in the context of this experiment, would be only one of at least two.  Now, I don't doubt that that's probably true anyway, but at least that's the game we play when we're playing science, right?  We try and eliminate all the confounds so that the only reasonable account that one can give for the differences is the one that you postulated.

PROF. SANDEL:  Just to test this, could I give — if I have one more minute, to take another set of dilemmas of that kind, that play into this intuition you have about the personal versus the impersonal. 

In the one case you ask people whether in order to — there's an intruder who comes threatening to their home and their family members are there and it's a murderer, let's say.  And you ask people would you be justified in shooting the murderer who is threatening your five children and your wife.  And then you ask them would you stab the intruder?  And it turned out that more people would shoot than would stab, maybe because of the same kind of squeamishness that operates in the footbridge.  And then you offer them a different case where it's not an intruder coming to kill your family, but to steal the hubcaps from your car and you ask would you shoot the intruder — the hubcap thief, and would you stab him?  And there too, more would probably shoot than would stab, though the numbers would be less than in the first case.  Now would — in those cases, which would you code as emotional responses that you would then expect would correlate with the emotional neuro activity in the brain? 

Would it be the stabbing in both cases —

DR. COHEN:  But more so in the intruder.

PROF. SANDEL:  But whether stabbing the intruder was justified in the case of protecting your family, as against stabbing the hubcap thief, would that influence whether you coded the two as emotional rather than rational or rather than morally defensible?

Because in the one case, we assume we would agree that it's possibly — that's it's morally defensible to stab in the first —

DR. COHEN:  Right.

PROF. SANDEL:  And not in the hubcap case.  So what I'm trying to get at is whether what counts as emotional for purposes running the correlations, depends on there being no good moral justification for it or for some more primitive thing that doesn't depend on figuring out whether there's a good moral justification for it.

DR. COHEN:  I don't know the answer to what would actually attain interesting experiment, but if you're asking for my guess, based on how I imagine these systems are operating, it would be that in both cases the same areas would be engaged by the notion of stabbing somebody more than the notion of shooting.

PROF. SANDEL:  So it wouldn't be tied to whether the action is morally justified or not?

DR. COHEN:  No, I don't think these areas are specific.  This is the sense in which —

PROF. SANDEL:  But then it's back to my question.  Why would it worry you if it turned in the case you used if there was a good Kantian or otherwise moral justification —

DR. COHEN:  Because I want to know that their emotional, that these areas are activating for an emotional — representing an emotional process as opposed to an analytic one for lack of a better term, a cognitive one.

PROF. SANDEL:  That begs the question, doesn't it, because we're trying to get at what counts as emotional.  And on one definition it has to do with this primitive idea of proximate versus less proximate, but there's another overlapping consideration that seems to be at work which is morally justified on rational grounds or not, right?

DR. COHEN:  Right.  I'm sorry.  I understand what you're saying now.

We had to start somewhere, right?  We wanted to give ourselves the best shot at getting the results that we expected to get, based on our theory, right?  We couldn't just put people in the scanner and just have them lie there until some event occurred that we hoped would be moral and then see.  We had to create situations, right, that were likely to engage the areas of interest in some way.  We predicted that the way they would be engaged would be according to emotional versus non- emotional circumstances.  We could have done the experiment without moral circumstances at all.  In fact, as I say, the literature has done that.  We wanted to know whether or not emotional areas are engaged in moral circumstances and in some way related to the outcome of more decisions.  But we needed some way of probing that.  So as a bootstrapping problem we said all right, well, how can we construct dilemmas to that they're going to be likely to see this difference, if it exists.  It wasn't guaranteed that it existed, but we wanted to stack the deck in favor of seeing it, if it was there and so it's for that reason that we went through and tried to code these things as personal quote unquote emotional or not.  Just to give ourselves the best chance of seeing those areas activate if, in fact, it was an emotion that explained the differences.

PROF. SANDEL:  I don't want to take up other people's time.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Alfonso, you want to go ahead?

DR. GÓMEZ-LOBO:  I think, Michael, this is going to go down your lane as well because actually in a way I'm going back to the question I asked of the previous session.  And I'll ask it just again as a matter of perplexity and openness in the following sense.  The experiments to me sound fantastic.  I really enjoy reading all of this data because I think it's very interesting to know the physiological correlates of our emotions.  That's not a new project, of course.  There's been efforts in the past, now not with this level of accuracy and sophistication.  So I find that very welcome. 

And I'm referring to your published papers, the ones that here I can be a bit more accurate with that.  What you do in the first paper is you show that there are neuro correlates to the moral judgments, but of course, this doesn't tell us whether the moral judgments are true or false, right?

And I tend to — if you allow me, I would like to emphasize that because, of course, the question whether they're true or false, again the replies to that question were not going to get by more scans and more MRIs, et cetera.  I think again they depend on other considerations and if I may make a suggestion, for instance, the traditional doctrine of the principle of double effect will give you a lot for the trolley case because the trolley case is set up by utilitarian philosophers.  I mean it's an example that appears over and over in people who believe that the morality of actions has to be decided by outcomes and that's why it sounds as if there were an inconsistency in the foot bridge and in the other example because the outcome is the same, and yet there are remarkable differences, I think, in the two actions.

Now with regard to the Ultimatum Game, again, for me there's something similar.  The Ultimatum Game, I'm not surprised by the outcome because again it's a very old case.  This is described very neatly by Aristotle in The Rhetoric.  It's the case of anger.  Anger is the reaction, the desire of revenge for a perceived injustice.  So for me, the question is well, is it unjust if Dr. Kass offers me $1 for every $9 he gets, I would have to concede that it is just and fair because he does a  lot more work than I do and has much better insights, etcetera.  So in that question, the question of the fairness, the initial question of the fairness again is, it seems to me is not going to be a question we can answer by observing this behavior.

So I'm delighted with the idea of the correlation.  I'd be a little bit more worried if you're talking about causation, in other words, your brain fires up and then you refuse the offer.  It would seem to me that the sequence would have to be that you perceive somehow, you grasp that there's an injustice there which may or may not be true and then, of course, your emotions get fired up.  Isn't there something like that?

DR. COHEN:  I can't tell you the moment at which the injustice is perceived.  Maybe some day we'll be able to do that too, but that experiment hasn't been done.  So I can't tell you the answer to that last question.

I also agree that this study in and of itself nor 10 more like it on their own won't answer the question of whether 9/1 split is just or unjust any more than kind of asking people will.  I think what it may do is reveal where our intuitions about the justice or injustice or in any event our emotional responses to the circumstances come from over the long term.  This experiment alone clearly doesn't do that.  But over the long term a deeper understanding of how these mechanisms work, what are their trigger points, what are the circumstances to which they seem tuned, which ones are not tuned to, will reveal for us where our kind of common sense comes from.  And then — this is kind of the point we've been dancing around all — in this whole discussion is what do you make of that?  Do you decide well that's an important insight — the common sense is a good compass for what's right and just or not.  And that's not for the neuroscientists to decide, but it's certainly going to be — that discussion I think will be contributed to by our understanding of what common sense is.

DR. GÓMEZ-LOBO:  Just as a suggestion, do we need to go back to evolution, why not just to present day understanding say of fairness?  In a democratic society, we expect to get paid more or less the same.

DR. COHEN:  I think there are many determining factors.  I pick evolution because it's a simple and easily described one and because there may be parameters of the processing mechanisms that really are determined by very long standing and old influences, but that doesn't preclude the sort of influence that you describe which I don't doubt for a second is there.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Folks, we're already a little over.  We'll go a little longer because there are people in the queue and I don't want to short change them, but I have Rebecca, Gil, Mike Gazzaniga and Mike Sandel for a very brief reprise on this and then I'll just have to call it.

Rebecca Dresser, please.

PROF. DRESSER:  I think you've both shown that or you've been provocative in showing us how difficult it is to even sort through the issues and try to figure out what to make of this information, so two of these, your colleague, Dr. Greene, and in a way your first paper, you talk about and you were just saying the use we can put to this knowledge, your colleague talks about moral maturation.  We will inevitably change ourselves in the process and reject some values and retain others and so forth.

I mean part of this whole examination has to be well how good are human beings at putting self- knowledge to use in a beneficial way and sometimes we do and many times we don't.  So I guess that would be something to study as well.

When I was reading a lot of philosophy of mind, I think it was Donald Davidson who said something that stuck with me which was yes, this mind, brain is a physical system and yes, at some level we could reduce it, but it will be like the weather, that is our ability to predict, our ability to control will never be at the level where we ought to make important decisions or construct our lives around that.

So I wonder what you think of that and then in relation to that, some of the possible uses that Dr. Michels was referring to, I was thinking about how would we study these predictive, especially approaches to that you would be able to look at a six- month- old brain, infant's brain and say well, this person looks like she's going to end up a juvenile delinquent so we better do X which would always be probabilistic. 

Now in order to make that judgment you would have had to have a study where you're following all these kids with different kinds of brains and really, if you want to make a lot of these social judgments throughout their lives and then what kind of percentage would be enough to trigger some kind of intervention and then you'd have to do all the studies to show that the interventions were effective, and you'd have to figure out outcomes such as your six month old granddaughter, would it be better if she took ballet or played soccer.  Well, what do you mean better in what respect?  She gets more prizes, she's happier, you're happier. 

So it does seem to me to be a very complex process to think about well how would this then go into actual application and use.  So I just encourage thought about those kinds of questions.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Thank you.  Gil Meilaender.

PROF. MEILAENDER:  I have a comment and a question.  They would follow- on a lot of other things that have been said.  Just a comment.  It would take way too long to pursue it, but I just can't resist saying, I think there are rational reasons for distinguishing all your versions of the trolley problem from the foot bridge problem.  I mean I don't actually think it's hard to do, in fact.  But the question has to do — I mean you — the structure of the way you move is that you think that certain kinds of decisions that we make are not necessarily good or wise ones.  You suggest that we — once we come to understand their roots, their perhaps usefulness, an earlier time, it will free us to get rid of them.  And it's that that I want to think about.

There's a story about a guy who was driving along, got a flat tire, pulled along the side of the road and turned out he pulled over right next to an institution where emotionally disturbed people stayed.  He gets out.  He jacks up the car and takes the tire off and a resident of the institution is standing there watching him the whole time and then he's put the lugs in the — what do we call it, the hubcap and he accidentally kicks it over and they all roll down in the ditch into the mud and the tall grass and he can't find them.  He's got his tire off and he's standing there looking at it and he just can't figure out what in the world to do.  And the resident of the institution who has been standing there watching all along pipes up and he says you know, I believe if you take one lug off of each of the other three tires and use it to put that tire on, it will serve you just fine until you can get somewhere and get it taken care of.  And the man sort of looks at him with a really astonished look on his face.  He's amazed to get this answer to his problem from this particular source and the resident of the institution says well look, I may be mad, but I'm not crazy. 

We don't know what causes moved him to offer that suggestion, maybe he thinks he's the mechanic for the Queen of England and an expert on these things, but it's a very wise piece of advice.  It's true to the situation.

It seems to me that there's a — the fundamental distinction between causes and reasons needs to be paid attention to here in this work.  Whatever the causes that might lead to certain kinds of behavior, that doesn't in itself tell us whether the behavior is wise, whether it's good, whether it's in accord with the truth.  And it's that kind of fundamental distinction between causes and reasons that it seems to me insofar as you want philosophical payoff from the work.  There are other kinds of payoff that's fine, but if you want philosophical payoff from the work, then one has to get clearer and cleaner on that distinction, that it seems to me so far I can find.

DR. COHEN:  I don't really have anything to add.  I think I agree with you in principle, but — well, maybe — I don't know if I agree with you in principle or not.  I guess —

PROF. MEILAENDER:  I don't think you do.

DR. COHEN:  Maybe I don't.  I would just say that it's not guaranteed that an understanding of cause will lead to reason, but I think it can inform.  I think it's knowledge and knowledge will inform us when we have to make decisions, an understanding of why we do things is one contributing factor, I think, to our decisions about what it is that we do.  It may not be the only one, but it's a useful one.


DR. GAZZANIGA:  It's really a shame that Jim Wilson couldn't be here today.

I just finished — I'm the last one apparently probably on this Council who just finished his book, ten years ago, The Moral Sense, which is a beautiful book.  It slugs through a ton of social science data to come up with a hypothesis that there is a biologic sense of morality and I think the work of Jonathan and his colleague, Josh Greene has really opened up a fantastic opportunity to look at that.

I want to make one question — I'm dying to know your answer to it.  There's a colleague of ours and mutual friend, Mark Reikle, (phonetic) who is talking these days about what brain images mean and to go back to your first point, to bring it back to your own work, Mark Reikle has said when we look at these brain activations and Jonathan was very careful to always use that word, you'll notice, we really don't know if the activation is an excitatory event of the brain area or an inhibitory event.  And so when we start pulling together our models where we're pulling different experiments together and we're speaking of them as activations, when in fact, maybe in one experiment it's an inhibition and in one experiment it's an excitation, how do we actually come to think of these data and the technical of neuroscientists trying to figure out the underlying mechanisms?

DR. COHEN:  I think that's another great question.  I guess I just have to restate what I said at the beginning.  These methods are still really crude and our understanding of exactly what they're telling us about the brain, no less about the mind is still in its infancy and I hope that you take the data that we have published and what I talk about today is kind of more illustrative examples rather than necessarily indications of truth, partly in the spirit of the sorts of uncertainties that Mike points to.

That said, we can guard ourselves against certain sorts of silliness interpretations.  We know — our knowledge about how these measurements reflect neuro activity is growing and as yet most of the assumptions that we've made as they've been addressed by further study, seem to have been right.  That's not to say that at some point we'll find out something really fundamentally wrong with those assumptions, but there's no evidence yet, for example, that when you see a pattern of activity that shows pretty striking similarity in one case to similar patterns of activity in another case that something fundamentally different has happened.  Nobody — in the few studies in which people have gone in and stuck electrodes in and measured blood flow as well as neuro activity, it all kind of lines up.

There are other issues, you know.  What is the rest condition really telling us.  How — those are the things that Mark Reikle has been most concerned with recently.  What is the rest condition tell us, how stable is that?  There's lots more to be learned and no doubt it's going to shape and color future work and our ability to interpret these results, but I've got to say so far it's really pretty impressive how much validation, the findings that have come with these methods has received when it's been done properly from convergent methods.  So that's not a particularly satisfactory answer I know, but —

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Michael Sandel, very briefly.

PROF. SANDEL:  In the Ultimatum Game, I'm playing with Leon.  He offers me $2 and he'll keep $8.  I have two desires in trying to decide whether to accept.  I don't want to forego the $2.  And I don't want to reward greed.  How do you know which of those desires is rational and which is in need of explanation?

DR. COHEN:  Given the circumstances, I think they're both in need of explanation.  I'd like to understand both.


DR. COHEN:  But what's intriguing about the circumstances created in the laboratory, at least on surface consideration, is that your desire to punish greed doesn't have any immediate consequently value, right?  Now you can say it's reflective of a generic thing that you don't want to turn off in this one case because it's not going to do any good, but I can tell you in any event, for whatever this is worth to you, that in this case it's not going to do you any good.

Now if you think that that's acceptable, then that's fine, then I guess there's nothing more to be explained, but I find that intriguing because I don't think people on average tend to behave in ways that on average is not going to do them good.

And so now we've created at least, immediately a rarified and contorted between what the actual presumably normative goal is and what the behavior is and to me, that is in need of explanation.

PROF. SANDEL:  Suppose you're right about that, then a further part of your claim, this is the ambition, is to say that the emotional desire of the two, namely to punish greed, rather than reap the $2, has certain features in common with the desire not to push the man off the — with the view that it would be immoral to push the guy off the foot bridge.

Now in virtue of what are they the same kind of thing or is it just that they both happen to light up the same part of the brain?  Or is there something —

DR. COHEN:  They don't.  See, this is why I started my response to your initial question with a concern about the use of the word "emotion."  I'm not meaning to lump all things that I probably very sloppily designated as emotional as being the same.  They have a family resemblance, okay?  They're not the same.  So in fact, in the data that I showed you, the insula was the primary area that seemed to predict behavior in the economics task and it was other areas, the posterior cingulate, the anterior gyrus, et cetera, predicted behaviors in the moral reasoning test.  So they're not the same emotional response.  And furthermore, I'll make that claim even more extreme by saying that I think that the desire to reap the $2 is also an emotional response in some sense.  It's a valuative.

So it's just that that is all — that also happens to be more universally rational in that case because the punishment is not reaping any definable goal.

PROF. MEILAENDER:  Other than witnessing to the good of justice in the world.

DR. COHEN:  But that doesn't have any meaning to me, I've got to say, other than that the world will be a better place for that to happen.

PROF. SANDEL:  Does your science depend on this opinion of yours?

DR. COHEN:  I should hope that the science doesn't depend on this opinion.  This hypothesis, I think, does, yes.  But the science doesn't, no.  I mean the same experiment could have been conducted by somebody who believed exactly the opposite, presumably that's the beauty of science, right?  And then the answer will help inform our understanding.

PROF. GEORGE:  But can you be playing what you call the game of science if you presuppose that at least one possibility is we have uncaused behavior, behavior that's rationally motivated, just as such.  It's motivated by his grasp of the value of fairness as an objective intrinsic value.

DR. COHEN:  Obviously, this is — we're back to the same point that will take much longer to have a reasonable discussion about and I hesitate to make a comment in response because I just feel more and more the comments are going to come across as glib and uninformed rather than considered, but I'll do it anyway and say I don't think there is much meaning in science where you can't measure, or at least in principle be able to measure what the outcomes are and the factors are, the causal factors are.

And so I guess the answer in a glib way, right, if I was forced to give a single one word answer would be no.

PROF. GEORGE:  To be clear, I'm not saying that if you were analyzing, if you were doing a moral, philosophical analysis that presupposed that there really were basic reasons for action and rationally motivated action as a possibility, I'm not saying that the philosophical analysis would be science.  It would be something different.

My question is can you play the game of science and believe that there is also this other thing that's not science, that is rational that deals with realities that science can't measure and therefore another discipline has to do the work.

DR. COHEN:  Absolutely.  Anybody is welcome.  It's a totally ecumenical game.  Anybody who believes anything they want can play the game of science.  Those beliefs just don't have much place in the playing of the game of science.  So if you're asking whether you can be a mystic and still be a scientist, sure.  You know?  As I said at the beginning, I personally am agnostic or at least for the purposes of this discussion.  I won't reveal to you what my beliefs are about whether or not there are transcendental realities, okay?  That's my own personal prerogative to believe or not believe.  I am here speaking as a scientist and that's why I won't tell you what I believe about that, okay?

But as a scientist I can tell you that those claims and discussions about those factors just don't factor in.  During the break I was saying, you know, you can't use the doubling cube in Monopoly.

PROF. GEORGE:  But that means there's a possibility that it's not an emotional reaction per se that's motivating the decision in the Ultimatum Game.  It's a reason, but not the kind of thing that's susceptible of scientific explication.

DR. COHEN:  And by that I mean something very strong.  It will never be able to be measured,  use and predicting measurable things.  Now if you're willing to accept that that's the stakes, then yes.  But I want to be clear.  You can't have it both ways.  You can't have that thing out there, influencing measurable things in systematic ways, right and yet it not be physical or somehow be explainable in physical terms, right?

So —

PROF. GEORGE:  Physical meaning causal?  Measurable.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Could I — the hour is really late and there are two people who want small things, but look, this is a philosophical point that has some scientific purchase.  It's not — I want to change slightly what Robby is saying.

Michael Sandel put very nicely to you the two choices, the desire for the money and the desire to punish Leon, treating them both as in a way equally capable of being formulated cognitively, but both of them carry some kind of a repetitive characteristic.

DR. COHEN:  Absolutely correct.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Conceding that the line between cognition and emotion is much more blurry than people have hitherto thought and your own contributions to the thinking about morality through this kind of study, I just am delighted to see, but there is an old philosophical teaching which says thought alone moves nothing and that means that any kind of choice is animated not only by some kind of cognition calculation of consequences, but by some kind of desire for the outcome and therefore it would seem that if you went looking for — you might go looking for not just the cognitive aspects of what you call the kind of clear choice because the result is obvious, but you might find other elements of so- called emotional life that are at least as deeply seeded as the root of anger for slight or revulsion at being the one who causes pain to a fellow human being in your face. 

So I guess — I don't want to be tied to the particular remarks, but it does seem to me that the exposure of the multifaceted and perhaps always emotional character or always not simply cognitive character of our choices would produce a much richer kind of anthropology following the lines you've already started and they could be absolutely separate from the kind of moral theory that you and your friend Josh Greene seem to have sort of bought into at the beginning.

I don't think you need that to show us all kinds of really deep and rich things about the way the mind and brain works when we make decisions.  I guess this is partly what Michael Sandel is interested in.  I think it's partly what Robby is interested in.

DR. COHEN:  No, look, first of all, let me say that — let me reiterate what I think I've already said which is I don't think anything about the personal interpretation — the inferences that I've drawn from our data or the theories that led us to these experiments should circumscribe the importance that we're really trying to communicate which is these tools can raise these sorts of discussions and inform — raise these sorts of questions and inform these sorts of discussions.

That said, I feel like I should have the right one last time to defend my view of these, of our findings.  And regret that I use the terms cognitive and emotional because I think that paints way too kind of dichotomous a view of what I think is going on and so in that sense I totally agree with you.  Emotions are coming into play in a sense that emotions reflect motivations, right, and valuative decisions based on evaluation just about everything, if not everything we do has got to be traced to that.

So let me now restate.  I use those terms because — you never quite have the read on your audience and you don't want to speak too highly, you don't want to speak too low and those are accessible terms that people have intuitions of that and at least it got the conversation going.

That said, obviously, that said let me make the more technical point, the way I would be most comfortable making which is that the decision to make — to go for the $2 or the $1, the penny, whatever it is and the decision to punish have essentially qualitatively different statuses in a structure of processing or in the kind of a cognitive architecture as I would imagine it.  And those are describably different okay, and there's a family resemblance, they punish kind of senses of inequity, don't hurt your brethren, than doing utilitarian calculations of what's likely to come in the biggest possible picture that you can calculate.  Those are different, fundamentally different sorts of calculations that require different operations that benefit by different computational architectures or styles of computational architectures that I think are what are going to be reflected in these different brain areas when we really understand what's going on.  We're going to see that they're suited to making different kinds of calculations.  Some are coarse and quick, more deliberate, but accommodating many more degrees of freedom.  That's the more interesting way that I think these things will parse out and the terms cognitive and emotion are just loose descriptions of what those much more detailed and I think formal accounts of what's driving these processes will look like.

That said, I still think there are these family resemblances among the things that evolved earlier, again, evolve is another kind of heuristic or that develop early in life or that are subject to strong cultural influence versus capacities that are less so.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Paul wants a footnote and we're going to break.

DR. MCHUGH:  Just a footnote.  I liked that last answer.  See if we are on the same wavelength.  When I was taught by my great teacher Wally Nauder (phonetic), he said this is the way to think about the brain.  He said there's the sensory neuron and there's the motor neuron and then there's the big  internuncial net between.  Okay?  And that internuncial net has two elements.  Actually, he said three, but for our purposes, two.  A low- fi and a high- fi system.  The high- fi is the lemniscal system that goes through the thalamus and up to the cortex.  The low- fi up the reticular system and into the limbic system.

And he said the analytic — the great internuncial net is for analytical purposes.  Reason comes from both, okay?  The emotions and drives are in the low- fi.  The perceptions and the details are in the high- fi.  But both are together in trying to make a decision and to ultimately make the right decisions.  And so if you and I are talking, if what you're saying that you don't like the words emotional and cognitive, then you are not trying to drive everything then into the high- fi system.  You're prepared to let the low- fi system give reason and purpose to our decision.  Isn't that right?

DR. COHEN:  Absolutely.  I just want to understand in what sense it's being reasonable.  I'm not saying it's not reasonable at all.  It pays to protect the reputation in some situations.  It pays to not hurt your brethren in some situations.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not — several people I think have tried to put in my mouth this, the things I'm calling lower order or older  are bad, no.  They're just circumscribed and that's what we can learn.  We can learn something about how they're formulated, what they're good at and by inference thereby, what they're not good at and that's useful and important information.

CHAIRMAN KASS:  Bob Michels has asked for a closing comment.

Mike, this is really the last.

DR. MICHELS:  The last hour, I think, illustrated something that was said between Leon and me jokingly at the beginning about the nonexistence of neuro ethics and later in my comment about the value of neuroscience for your dialogue.  I think the value is that it enriches our understanding of psychology and psychology is critical for your dialogue.  I don't think there's a direct relationship between neuroscience and moral philosophy and I think skipping psychology leads to the kinds of conversations you've had in the last hour.

PROF. SANDEL:  Then we should skip it more often. 

CHAIRMAN KASS:  I want to express the Council's thanks to Bob Michels and Jonathan Cohen for really a wonderful afternoon.  The presentations were illuminating, provocative and I think this has been one of the most interesting conversations this Council has had.

So thanks to both of you.


Those who are staying for dinner we meet up in the usual room at 6:30 for drinks.  Dinner is at 7.  Eight- thirty tomorrow morning, 8:30, we have guests.

(Whereupon, at 5:48 p.m., the meeting was concluded.)

  - The President's Council on Bioethics -  
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