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Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality Paperback – August 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Society's assumptions about free will and individual responsibility must be drastically revised in the light of scientific discoveries about the brain, argues this fascinating study. Drawing on a wealth of recent developments in neurobiology, genetics and brain imaging, Tancredi, a professor of psychiatry and a lawyer, examines new findings about the neurological structures and processes that underlie reasoning, emotions and decision-making. He applies these discoveries to such traditional moral concerns as violence, sexual infidelity, lying, gluttony and sloth, and even financial fraud and gambling. The striking results of this research, he notes, indicate that hormones, drugs, genetic abnormalities, injuries and traumatic experiences all have profound effects on brain structure and functioning, and hence on moral choices; indeed, some experiments imply that our actions are initiated by the unconscious brain before we are consciously aware of them, raising the possibility that our sense of moral agency is a retrospective "illusion." Tancredi supplements his rather dry exposition of the science with case studies from his clinical practice, including lengthy profiles of a sex-addicted patient and of a "biologically driven" serial killer, and closes by pondering the possibility and perils of a hypothetical Brave New World-style program of neurological intervention-complete with brain implants-to improve morality. Some will consider Tancredi's talk of the "empathetic" female brain and "systemizing" male brain and his chalking up of pedophilia to "an imbalance of the monoamine neurotransmitters" and homosexuality to "differences in neurohumeral activity during the prenatal phase" to be glibly reductionist, but many will find his well-researched overview of the new science of the brain a stimulating addition to the debate about human nature.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Behind the bad moral choices that sent Martha Stewart to prison, Tancredi discerns abnormal functioning of the brain. Indeed, much of what traditional morality has condemned as greed, lust, or sin looks like impaired neurobiology to this psychiatrist-lawyer, who locates the foundations of an ethical conscience in healthy genetic coding and properly balanced mental chemistry. Real case studies allow readers to see the implications of revolutionary neurological research, illuminating the ways that both the nurturing parent and the rampaging psychopath respond to deep neural impulses. Traditional concepts such as free will and moral accountability do shrink when viewed from this scientific perspective, as Tancredi candidly acknowledges, even conceding the dark possibility of a future in which ambitious social engineers might implant programmable chips into the pliant brains of puppet citizens. But a neuroscience that can enhance rather than diminish our humanity comes into focus as Tancredi highlights research showing how fully the brain can reshape itself by replacing destructive addictions to drugs, sex, or gambling with constructive aspirations and genuine social empathy. The oldest moral concerns and the latest scientific investigations are fused here. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
- a defective gene that reduces an enzyme (MAO-I) confers a risk of aggressive and violent behaviors, particularly if the person affected is abused in childhood
- damage to a particular part of the brain, the amygdala (as in Kluver-Bucy Syndrome), can cause hypersexuality
- the levels of dopamine D2 receptors are reduced in sufferes of addcitive habits
The author also quoted the experiments of Benjamin Libet (i.e. subjects are asked to "decide" to lift up their finger; a "readiness potential" can be detected 300-400ms before the subjects subjectively experience the desire to act). This is used to cast doubt on the validity of the concept of free will. However, the author does not indicate that this interpretation is in fact controversial.
One salient conclusion (or perhaps corollaries) made from the above observations by the author was "free will, if it exists at all, has a minor role in behavior" (pg. 167). Whilst this conclusion may not be false, it is not commonsensical. I am sure astute readers can see a way out (i.e. free will is still a coherent concept even in view of the biological constraints to our actions and behaviors).
A truely informative and authoritative work (the author is a psychiatrist-lawyer). Five stars.
"Hardwired Behavior" is the very interesting book about the latest findings of neuroscience research and their possible effect on our understanding of humankind's moral precepts. Laurence Tancredi is interesting enough a psychiatrist-lawyer, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine and the author of "Dangerous Diagnostics" and "When Law and Medicine Meet". This fascinating 240-page book is composed of the following twelve chapters: 1. Neuroscience and Morality, 2. Morality and the Mind, 3. Beyond the Mind Zone, 4. The Moral Brain, 5. Bad without Conscience, 6. The Biology of Choice, 7. Sex, and the Single Moral Code, 8. Brain, Biology and Sex, 9. Deception, 10. The Biology of Money, 11. The Bad and the Mad, and 12. Creating a Moral Brain.
1. A fascinating topic in a straightforward conversational tone.
2. A very accessible book, the author does a wonderful job of keeping this book intelligible.
3. The latest in neuroscience and how morality really has to do with problems of brain biology.
4. This book addresses brain biology from two perspectives: factors involved in the synchronizing of regions of the brain directly involved with moral decision making, and the influence of biological conditions that indirectly affect moral decision making.
5. Unlike most books of this ilk, the author demonstrates a concern for scientific ethics.
6. Thought-provoking concepts, "According to many social scientists, agreed-upon morality came to serve as the device to use these emotions to control individual behavior. Over time, some system of rules for behavior had to prevail if a community was to prevent its own disintegration".
7. An interesting look at extreme behaviors. As an example, pathological gamblers.
8. Nature versus nurture. "Gene transmission must be followed by some 'instruction' as the child ages". Interesting.
9. Great use of scientific research to support arguments.
10. Fascinating mental illnesses. Psychopath and a malfunctioning brain.
11. The four limbic structures of the brain and their specialties: the amygdala, the hippocampus, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the hypothalamus.
12. Understanding the important role that genetics and the biology of the brain play in determining how a person reacts to situations.
13. The illusion of conscious will, always a fascinating topic. The studies supporting the argument.
14. Satisfying conclusions, "the current theory held by most evolutionary biologists is that, through a slow process of mutation over millions of years, the capacity for moral thinking, essential for survival because it provides the bases for human cooperation, became hardwired".
15. An interesting look at the differences between men and women at the neuropsychological level. Lust, attraction, and love. The role that dopamine plays in human attraction. Also an interesting difference on why the genders lie.
16. A scientific look at homosexuality..."the evidence is strong that people do not choose their sexual interests; rather, they discover their general preferences, or sexual orientation, during the onset of puberty".
17. The impact of hormones and neurotransmitters in determining sexual behavior and social bonding.
18. In short, "The brain at its most basic is designed to obtain rewards and avoid punishment". The direct correlation between the way we treat money and the nature and degree of our brain's hardwiring.
19. Structural brain abnormalities and schizophrenia. The impairment of moral competence. Interesting.
20. A serious look at ethics, "The marvels of neuroscience must be used for the good of people and humanity, not as an instrument for control".
21. A comprehensive notes section and useful glossary.
1. Unless I missed it, the author never formally defines morality.
2. Links did not work for Kindle.
3. No formal bibliography but many books are referenced in the notes section.
4. If you love neuroscience as much as I do, many of the studies presented in this book will be familiar to you.
In summary, what a fascinating and fun book this was. This book lived up to my expectations. The author indeed provided the latest in neuroscience and how it relates to morality. There are many fascinating studies and compelling arguments. A look at extreme behaviors, and the impact our brains have with ultimately our behaviors. Great stuff, I highly recommend it!
Further suggestions: "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow, "Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty (Brain Talk: Conversations with Neuroscientists)" by Ginger Campbell, "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values" and "Lying (Kindle Single)" by Sam Harris, "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" and "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths" by Michael Shermer, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker, "Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain" Michael S. Gazzaniga, "SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable" by Bruce Hood, "The Myth of Free Will, Revised & Expanded Edition" by Cris Evatt, "The Belief Instinct" by Jesse Bering, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia Churchland, and "Mistakes Were Made" by Carol Tavris.
Research in neuroscience has given serious doubt as to the axiomatic status of free will. Indeed, some researchers have dispensed with the notion all together, and have spoken of the "illusion" of conscious will. If one examines this research with an open but skeptical mind, one will discover a rich source of ideas, supported by empirical data that enable one to begin the construction of a system of ethics that is grounded entirely in neuroscience. The system has been referred to as `neuroethics', and has attracted the attention of some philosophers and many in the legal profession. Neuroethics is based on a profound and some might say frightening view of human nature and personal identity. But it has so far delivered on its (unstated) promise of giving a scientific foundation for ethics.
In this book the author gives a somewhat brief but helpful overview of neuroethics. His background is in psychiatry, and therefore he is able to give a different perspective on the subject, namely of someone who is interacting with patients and therefore observes more directly the consequences of the complicated synapses of the brain. Such a perspective is refreshing, since a successful theory of ethics must address directly the problems, conflicts, and moral dilemmas of real people, and not just engage in abstract theorizing, the latter of which has been the predominant methodology in ethics, especially in philosophical circles.
No doubt there will be many who when reading this book will be aghast at the willingness of the author to question the concept of free will and to embrace the notion that ethical and moral principles are "hardwired" in the brain. It might appear that concepts such as personal responsibility cannot be contained in neuroethics, and if so this has direct consequences both politically and legally. The reader will find however that one can still have a notion of personal responsibility in neuroethics, although it will be one that is different than the ones that are found in many different ethical systems.
If neuroethics is to be comprehensive in scope it must deal meaningfully with some of the more typical issues that ethics grapples with, such as greed, deception, and sexual relations. Can neuroscience explain for example the reason(s) that some individuals crave enormous amounts of wealth, even though they would never have the time nor the energy to enjoy the things their quantity of wealth would allow them to have? The author takes on the first part of this question by identifying the regions of the brain that affect monetary decision-making: the amygdala, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex. Financial decision-making does of course involve wild swings in emotion, so it is not surprising to learn these regions come into play. The amygdala for example is involved in `conditioned fear', responds sensitively to winning and losing. The author quotes fMRI studies that show how the amygdala is activated when economic losses occur. Interestingly, research of this same type indicates that economic gains do not activate the amygdala to the same extent as losses do. The author though is careful to note that there is a lot of variation in the response of the amygdala, this arising from genetics and brain biology. Some genetic abnormalities he reports can be responsible for some individuals to react with an "excess of fear" when they are confronted with financial decisions that are extremely risky. But it is the `dopamine system' that supplies the appropriate pleasure when wealth is accumulated. In this context, and this is most interesting, the author claims that the human brain loves risk taking, but that these risks are a matter of degree. A reward that is less predictable will result in a larger amount of dopamine produced, thus overwhelming the individual with pleasure. Money, the author says, acts on different pathways of the reward system than "natural rewards", such as food and water, and affects the brain in a way similar to some drugs, such as cocaine. And the pleasures of dopamine (from making money), like the pleasures of cocaine, lead to an excess of behavior in obtaining this money, which we normally refer to as greed. And this greed can result in uncontrolled compulsions with the result that lying, fraud, or embezzlement can become frequent strategies in the obsessive goal of obtaining more money.
Grounding the basis of ethics in neuronal processes raises issues in traditional (philosophical) formulations of ethics that the author does not address. He is correct to do so, since these formulations are too abstract to be of much value to the real problems of humankind. There is much that neuroethics needs to answer before it can be practical, but the author's discussion makes it readily apparent that it should be considered seriously. In addition, it brings up complex legal and political issues dealing with the genetic engineering of the brain. The author addresses the latter topic in the book by including a hypothetical debate that is set in the year 2100. In that debate certain groups of individuals are advocating brain modification in order to alleviate or eliminate negative social behaviors. The engineering of the brain may seem disquieting to some, but its consequences are awesome, and it should be pursued with cautious optimism.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Laurence Tancredi's, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality," provides an excellent, thorough investigation of the relationship between brain...Read more