Sila...with a magnet...

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 1603
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:47 am
Location: Bridge on the River Kwae

Sila...with a magnet...

Post by appicchato » Wed Mar 31, 2010 2:22 am


Magnetic fields targeting the moral center of the brain could scramble our sense of right and wrong.

Magnets were able to temporarily distort the participants' perception of morality.
Liane Young, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Strong magnetic fields could affect moral judgment.
Targeted magnetic fields can make people more inclined to judge outcomes, not intentions.
The findings could have implications for neuroscience, as well as the legal system.

Magnets can alter a person's sense of morality, according to a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using a powerful magnetic field, scientists from MIT, Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are able to scramble the moral center of the brain, making it more difficult for people to separate innocent intentions from harmful outcomes. The research could have big implications for not only neuroscientists, but also for judges and juries.

"It's one thing to 'know' that we'll find morality in the brain," said Liane Young, a scientist at MIT and co-author of the article. "It's another to 'knock out' that brain area and change people's moral judgments."

Before the scientists could alter the brain's moral center, they first had to find it.

Young and her colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to locate an area of the brain known as the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ) which other studies had previously related to moral judgments. While muscle movement, language and even memory are found in the same place in each individual, the RTPJ, located behind and above the ear, resides in a slightly different location in each person.

For their experiment, the scientists had 20 subjects read several dozen different stories about people with good or bad intentions that resulted in a variety of outcomes.

One typical story was about a boyfriend who leads his girlfriend across a bridge. In some versions, the boyfriend harmlessly walked his girlfriend across the bridge with no ill effect. In other cases, the boyfriend intentionally led the girlfriend along so she would break her ankle. The subjects used a seven point scale -- one being forbidden and seven completely permissible -- to record whether they through the situation was morally acceptable or not.

While the subjects read the story, the scientists applied a magnetic field using a method known as transcranial magnetic stimulation. The magnetic fields created confusion in the neurons that make up the RTPJ, said Young, causing them to fire off electrical pulses chaotically.

The confusion in the brain made it harder for subjects to interpret the boyfriend's intent, said Young, and instead made the subjects focus solely on the situation's outcome. The effect was temporary and safe.

When no magnetic field was applied, the subjects focused more on the boyfriend's good intentions, rather than a bad outcome. When a magnetic field was applied to the RTPJ, the subjects consistently focused on a bad outcome, rather than the intention, and rated the story as more morally objectionable.

The scientists didn't permanently remove the subjects moral sensibilities. On the scientists' seven point scale, the difference was about one point and averaged out to about a 15 percent change. It's not much, said Young, "but it's still striking to see such a change in such high level behavior as moral decision-making." Young also points out that the study was correlation; their work only links the the RTJP, morality and magnetic fields, but doesn't definitively prove that one causes another.

The research could have powerful implications not just for neuroscientists, but for lawyers as well. Everyday jurors are asked to weigh a person's actions against their intentions. This new study won't transform the legal field, said Owen Jones, a professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, but it could "enable sophisticated judgments about responsibility, harm and appropriate punishment."

"This study, and other recent studies like it, are enabling us to peer into the very brain activity that underlies and enables legal judgments," said Jones. "Understanding how legal decisions actually work is a potentially important step toward helping decisions be as fair, just and effective as they can be."

What the new research won't do is allow a jury, or even an individual, to unwittingly manipulated to favor prosecutors or defendants. Because it was so obvious that the magnets were turned on, it is unlikely that a person or a group, like a jury, could be swayed to consider a criminal outcome instead of intent, said Young.

Magnetic fields made people judge outcomes more than intentions. Whether it's possible to do the opposite -- making people focus more on intentions than outcomes -- Young doesn't know. ... ality.html

User avatar
Posts: 18442
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: kanamaluka

Re: Sila...with a magnet...

Post by Ben » Wed Mar 31, 2010 2:31 am

That's interesting Bhante

A few years ago I was involved in fundraising for a psychiatric research unit in Melbourne for trans-cranial magnetic stimulation of drug-treatment resistent patients suffering from depression with a TMS machine. I've also seen footage of magnetic stimulation affecting gross-motor coordination. I'm not surprised that magentic stimulation can also scramble - or even unscramble - brain functions relating to morality.

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR


User avatar
Kim OHara
Posts: 4658
Joined: Wed Dec 09, 2009 5:47 am
Location: North Queensland, Australia

Re: Sila...with a magnet...

Post by Kim OHara » Wed Mar 31, 2010 5:38 am

At least we still know where we are, even if we're not sure what to do: ... geons.html

User avatar
Posts: 1182
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:33 pm
Location: The Heart of this "Green & Pleasant Land"...

Re: Sila...with a magnet...

Post by Fede » Wed Mar 31, 2010 6:29 am

"A tamed mind brings happiness"....

Would a mangentised mind bring attachments.....?

What an extraordinary piece of research....
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D" onclick=";return false;

User avatar
Posts: 1603
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:47 am
Location: Bridge on the River Kwae

Re: Sila...with a magnet...

Post by appicchato » Wed Mar 31, 2010 8:07 am

Fede wrote:Would a mangentised mind bring attachments.....?
Might attract them...then again, it might repel out...

User avatar
Posts: 169
Joined: Tue Mar 24, 2009 2:55 am

Re: Sila...with a magnet...

Post by salmon » Thu Apr 01, 2010 5:55 am

Interesting...those scientists must have very pure morals!
~ swimming upstream is tough work! ~

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 59 guests