TMCC F.R.E.E. – (HUM) ANIMAL Morality

That might be the first time I’ve ever
been called highfalutin in my life and it’s definitely the first time I’ve been
asked to bring high culture to any room but I’ll do my best to live up to both
of those things I’m gonna walk around I hope that’s okay with you guys so some
of you who are here in the morning I just like to react a little bit and I’m
gonna introduce myself in a second but I want to get this out of the way first
before I forget I really enjoyed your presentations and I enjoyed the
discussions that came from them really interesting questions and one thing that
struck me right off the bat was that it appears very clear that your faculty
here or maybe you bring it automatically really get this issue that education is
not about answers it’s about questions not about facts it’s about process it’s
about thinking and questioning and looking for evidence because that’s what
I heard a lot of and especially the last presentation about the animal Bill of
Rights I thought was really interesting because it wasn’t yet great job it was
very clear that that one was interested in indoctrinating anyone they just
wanted to ask some questions and the the one question as a way to introduce the
topic today about animals that I want to add to that conversation is people who
talk about the rights of animals and how we should and shouldn’t treat them watch
out for their for the attempted distraction when they try to ask about
well how smart is an animal is an animal conscious can an animal think these
questions in my view are very much a distraction because when it comes to how
we treat animals and how we live with them there’s actually only one question
that matters can an animal suffer in my mind that’s the only question that
matters because when we when we think about other people and how we should
treat them we think about their suffering we don’t think about how smart
they are does someone who’s not as smart as
someone else it’s okay if they suffer more right that’s an absurd concept if
we apply that to humans and I would I would argue that it’s absurd when we
applied to animals so can animals suffer and how they suffer should they suffer
those are the questions that we should I think should drive our question about
their rights okay so as as my introducer Michaela
mentioned I am from New York City I’m from John Jay College and we’re a school
that’s focused on justice and we really try to look at justice from all
different ways I’m actually a bench biologist I’m a forensic scientist and
cellular biologist geneticist so you’re probably wondering why I would presume
to talk to you about morality well what happened was about five years ago I was
thinking about how I wanted to use my sabbatical and I don’t know if you guys
know what a sabbatical is but it’s the best invention that academia has ever
come up with every seventh year its sabbatical comes from the same root as
Sabbath every seventh year we get to take a year off from our daily routines
and really just dive into research and intellectual pursuits of whatever kind
and I decided I I don’t I have enough time to do bench research I wanted to
because I mentioned an evolution I wanted to answer the question once and
for all how humans got so different than other animals this is the arrogance of
an academic that I’m just gonna walk in and answer this question that has
consumed whom you know humanity for about 50,000 years but I really set out
to answer that question so I started doing a lot of research reading a lot of
articles getting everything I get my hands on and I actually came to the
exact opposite conclusion my question was exactly backwards humans are not
very different from other animals we’re actually remarkably similar in our
behaviors we are motivated by the same things we share the same emotions we
value the same things that animals do the only thing that we do differently is
with the invention of complex language we think and deliberate right so we have
a very which by the way means there’s much more we have much more
responsibility on our action since we can contemplate them and deliberate them
that’s a conversation for another day but my point is I came to the conclusion
that underneath all of this confusing thinking that we do we are driven by the
same instincts motivations and desires as other animals so the title of my book
is not so different finding human nature and animals and I really truly believe
that our all this thinking that we do is smokescreen four very simple ways of
acting simple ways of behaving and most importantly I firmly believe that there
is great value and understanding that in understanding where our emotions come
from what they’re driving us to do because I only think that you can make
progress on how we treat each other if we understand why we do that in the
first place and as a as a biologist I’m convinced that every part of us from our
genes to our behavior is the product of evolution has been shaped by the process
of evolution by natural selection now since I believe that I have some pretty
tough questions to answer to those of you who might feel differently and one
of them is why are humans nice to each other at all and that’s a little bit
about what I’m gonna talk about today okay so and by the way the theme of this
conference does fit very perfectly with my book I assume that’s why they invite
me my invited me to come here humanimal I’d never heard that term before but I
love it I will use the term animals as a
shorthand for non-human animals but the bottom line is humans are animals and
there’s a greatness that comes with that it’s not when someone says lowly animals
or just animals or only animals I cringe because there’s a lot of greatness in
being an animal we are animals we’re mammals were primates were Apes or all
of those things but we’re also humans which means we’re capable of and engage
in other things as well and one of those things is doing exactly what we’re doing
here and that is sharing ideas and talking about what it means to be human
what it means to be an animal and what we can gain from it who here raise your
hand if you look around the world today and you think it’s exactly as it should
be let everything that you see in our society is just right it’s perfectly
tuned harmony is raise your hand if you think this is just a wonderful
harmonious world raise your hand a little higher cuz I’m not seeing them
right ok so many of us are look around and see an
unjust world and very and we see it different kinds of injustice and all of
that but we see an unjust world so at John Jay College we believe in the
pursuit of justice and one way one thing one one aspect of that that I like to
bring to the table is to remind humans that we are a part of nature not apart
from nature and what I mean by that is when we understand why we behave the way
we do as animals we get to then engage that human part which is the thinking
and we get to decide okay we’re not gonna do that anymore
all right we’re gonna discourage that behavior and we’re gonna encourage other
behaviors because we are all a swirl of instincts of drives some of them are
pro-social and some of them are antisocial they’re both natural by the
way so there’s no point in feeling guilty about anything guilt is the most
useless emotion in the world but once you become aware of your instincts in
your drives you can learn how to I think as a society foster pro-social instincts
and reward that and discourage antisocial ones and by the way we’ve
been doing that for thousands of years the whole concept of criminal justice is
based on this we punish antisocial behavior and hopefully we reward
pro-social behavior however we don’t get it always perfectly right that’s what I
want to talk to you a little bit about today okay I’m gonna try to use the
clicker here we’ll see if this works oh it did work okay and by the way this
concept that humans and animals are not so different is very old concept all
right the father of modern biology himself
said nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals great
as it is certainly is one of degree and not of kind meaning we are not a
different kind of thing as other animals we are animals we are mammals we are
primates we’re Apes we have certain things that have been exaggerated namely
our brains but everything else underneath the our skin we’re very much
the same thing however I think science lost its way in basically the
first half of the entire 20th century the entire first half of the 20th
century we sort of forgot this wisdom that Huxley and Darwin and others were
honing in on mostly because if you believe that animals have an inner
experience it makes a lot of what we do sort of uncomfortable to acknowledge and
to think about how we treat food animals for example right medical research lots
of other things have you’ve heard this concept of An Inconvenient Truth so the
scientists who are studying animals realized that the very experiments they
were doing would be unethical if animals could feel anything so what do they
decide that animals don’t feel anything because then they could continue their
work now I don’t think they necessarily doing this consciously scientists like
all humans are biased and we are bias influences what we do but fortunately
around the 70s and 80s we’ve started to realize how far away we’ve gone from the
original wisdom of Darwin and others and we’re getting back towards appreciating
an inner experience for animals and I do think there’s something in it for us
even if you don’t care about animals there’s something in it for us to
understand how we behave why we behave the way we do ok
so and I do believe there’s it’s important to study animals for their own
sake and to care about animals for their own sake but I come to this worried
about the human experience and so I think studying animals reveals a lot
about us and that’s why it has value to me ok so when we talk about morality and
that’s what I want to talk to you to that about today morality was something
that many many people would think is not the business of a biologist to talk
about hopefully I’ll convince you that’s not true
but there’s two there’s two two reasons why people say biology has nothing to
say about morality one is that well it’s a human specific thing other animals
don’t have morality I hope I definitely convinced you that that’s not true but
the other reason they would say is that morality doesn’t come from science that
morality is a totally different thing that it’s it comes from religion or it
comes from philosophy it comes from maybe even psychology but it’s not it’s
not something that the natural world has anything to say about well we’re gonna
dissect that argument and I hopefully at least weaken it a little bit within your
mind when you ask people to define morality by the way you’re gonna get a
lot of different answers and I’m gonna have to fast-forward a bit because we
could do this for an hour if we wanted to but generally you get the responses
about what what is morality fall into two sort of categories there’s two
flavors two morality one is about fairness and you would also maybe say
equity or equality treating people the same that’s a big who agrees that that’s
part of morality is treating people the same way right who thinks our world
today we treat everybody the same everybody has an equal shot everybody
right raise your hands higher I don’t see him
who thinks that we really treat everyone the same in our world today all right
great so right off the bat we know that we’ve
got some problems with the way we approach morality the second part of oh
one by the way in fairness that also involves rules so if you’re gonna treat
people the same that means everybody has to follow the rules and they have to
have similar punishments for infractions or rewards for good behavior we’re gonna
talk about that in animals first but then also most people would say that
morality is more than just fair play more more than just rules and treating
people the same that it actually requires that you do something because I
just follow rules but go out of your way to make to do something nice on occasion
or to at least maybe stand up when you see injustice right and that really gets
into what we call altruism which is when you do something nice for someone and
you get nothing out of it well that would be pro-social
but it even costs you something so if you give someone money because they need
it you’ve done something altruistic presumably as long as you don’t ask for
it back meaning its cost to you you’re now poorer than you were before by ten
dollars or whatever and they’re better off so that’s altruism for a long time
this was considered a conundrum in human biology why would any organism do
something nice when it cost them something because it
hurts their evolutionary value why would you reduce your own fitness to help
someone else’s fitness and I think that that was a it’s a question we have to
contend with I’ll admit but it totally misunderstands what it means to be
altruistic I think well let’s come back to that let’s talk about fairness let’s
let’s build up to two altruism okay begins with this concept of equal
treatment let’s let’s do the show of hands where you actually might be
tempted to vote yes who thinks equal treatment is important
for morality right yeah okay great who thinks that humans when they act in
moral ways insist on equal treatment so so it’s a human behavior to to enforce
equity that as a as a positive moral thing yeah okay this is one where I
usually get like maybe maybe not let me ask it in a way that you guys might be
more clear about who thinks animals care about equal treatment among fellow
animals who thinks animals actually recognize fair conditions and respond to
them okay well let’s see what the data show okay
now hopefully if this works right that video won’t start playing right away so
what you’re gonna see now by the way if has anyone seen this experiment it’s
only about ten years old but it’s very quickly became a classic so that woman
right there her name is Sarah Brosnan this is taking place at Emory University
she now runs her own research group at Georgia State she is about to do an
experiment and those are capuchin monkeys or sometimes called capuchin
monkeys I think though on their on the shoulder of Justin Bieber and some of
your flyers there so these are New World monkeys which means they’re native to
the Americas Central America and the northern parts
of South America and so here’s what’s gonna happen in this experiment these
monkeys and by the way they live a much happier life than this this picture
shows this is the testing chamber okay they have an enclosure where they go and
they have free-range life I’m not saying that captivity is ever a positive thing
but it’s not that they’re not living in cages but for the testing experiment
they do and what Sara’s gonna do here dr. Brosnan excuse me is she’s trained
both of these monkeys to perform a very simple task and get a reward the task is
a tokens gonna be given to them and they’re gonna return the token and they
get a treat that’s it and the treat might be a cucumber it might be a grape
she’s done a hundreds of times they’re happy with the cucumber they’re happy
with the grape reward for a job well done fine but they like the grape better
so if you give them the choice they’re going to choose the grape over the
cucumber well that’s all fine and good until we start to treat them differently
now let’s see what happens when dr. bras de and starts to treat the monkeys
differently and lucky and the left is going to perform the task gets a
cucumber very happy to eat that cucumber no problem monkey on the right performs
the task returns the token and gets a grape and the first monkey notices let’s
do the task again I’d like to get that grape whoops cucumber again he didn’t
like that very much second monkey is doing the task again
get to the grape the better reward it’s like is this a bad token what’s wrong
with this thing is it back here comes a cucumber which he was happy to eat in
the first place so basically he begins to throw a tantrum and it gets worse
from here out of politeness to all of you we’ll we’ll end it there but the
point is I mean when you watch this video a couple of things become clear
number one the monkey absolutely does recognize when he’s being treated
unfairly correct and he doesn’t like it the other thing that should strike you
are these that strikes me when I watch this is doesn’t that seem like a very
human behavior a very human response didn’t that monkey seem really human I
mean what he did was obnoxious therein is the resemblance to humans I
think right but the point is is that think of it from a purely cold
evolutionary point of view how is this monkey helping even his own position he
had a resource he had something he had food and he got rid of he threw it he
chucked it so he’s worse off for having done this
also he threw it at the person who’s in the position to possibly give him more
food in the future how has he helped his own position right now when humans act
this way we say oh well that’s because humans are different but what is your
answer to the question of what does a monkey get out of this and let me pose
this to the audience would a student here care to venture an answer to this
what does that monkey get out of that behavior how is it good for him to react
in such an obnoxious way when he was being treated unfairly anyone cared uh
how is he advancing his own interest by throwing a treat away yes ma’am right
here to let the person know that he knows he’s being treated unfairly that’s
right he’s definitely done that and what’s he get out of that what how does
he better off that the person knows yes yes sir
hmm he’s hoping that the next time she’ll change her mind and give him the
grape right so I mean I don’t have an answer by the way remember education is
not about answers it’s about questions the point here is that he’s recognized
unfair conditions and he refuses to play along it refuses to stand for it and
this has I think and the reason why in just 10 years this is already a classic
experiment it’s because it drives home this point that animals do recognize
unequal condition and remember we’re separated from new world monkeys by 50
million years of evolution so this is an ancient thing in the primate brain to
recognize unfair conditions and not stand for it
by the way they’ve now done this experiment with dolphins with dogs with
elephants so we’re now going back hundreds of millions of years in
evolutionary history and basically all social
mammals recognize unfair conditions and protest them right and so this part of
morality at least is definitely inborn now when this experiment was published a
lot of biologists were very happy and dancing in the streets is showing the
biological basis of justice and and fair play but a lot of philosophers and
theologians ministers bishops were writing letters to the editor of their
newspapers protesting this and saying no no no no no no no that is purely a
selfish act he or she was just wanting better conditions in the future and it
was not really pro-social it wasn’t about equality it was about gains for
himself what you would need to see to see it really care about fairness is
have a monkey or nape or whatever stand up when someone else was being treated
unfairly that’s what you need to see if you want
to see animals behaving in moral ways standing up for other people’s injustice
I bet they wish they hadn’t put that in writing because you can imagine where
I’m going with this Sarah Brosnan and others have done similar experiments now
you do have to get a little sort of higher in cognitive functioning for this
to work but in chimpanzees for example almost an identical experiment has been
done and guess what the beneficiary of the unequal treatment will sometimes not
always but sometimes stand up so I stand out refuse to go along try to give the
partner the treat and in general we’ll just protest the unequal conditions so
we do recognize it when it’s not just ourselves being the the the one harm the
one not not getting equal treatment but I think even more interestingly about
this experiment with chimpanzees is that how much a chimpanzee stands up for her
fellow chimp and her fellow chimp depends on how closely they are
affiliated so you can dial this behavior up and down if it if the two chimpanzees
in the experiment are strangers hey hey so what why would I want to help
her or him but if there are close affiliates if they’re siblings if their
mother daughter or father son if they’re just friendly and in the dominance
hierarchy then they stand up a lot faster are we any different what moves
you to be compassionate or someone else when you know them when they live in
your community when they look like you when they fly
the same flag when they root for the same team right you we are much more
willing to stand up for injustice when it feels like they’re one of us right
that’s it’s human it’s natural by the way this is not the first time
I’m gonna say this just cuz it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good but it is
definitely who we are and it’s who other animals are too so that’s the first clue
into how we build a better world have to come back to that later you but the question remains what’s in it
for me why am I better off to help someone else
and it stand up for their unequal treatment well I think this this frames
a question incorrectly which is what I said before we think of self as purely
individuals and and in the United States we have this almost as a badge of honor
this rugged individualism it’s us against the world I am my own man and it
is usually men right that think this way and I don’t rely on anyone else no one
ever helped me but what we actually have as social mammals is what we call an
expanded sense of self you are not an island you do not live all by yourself
you do interact with other people and you rely on them the way they rely on
you and when you see your own success as tied up with the success of others then
you are helping yourself by helping those who work with you those who live
with you those in your community if you if you think of yourself as not just an
individual but as a member of a community then there you are better off
right and assuming that that what goes around comes around
everybody wins and that same Matt the math of cooperation works out for
animals the same way it does for humans now animals are much more instinctually
driven to me that just proves the point that natural selection has favored
caring about others in your group because you’re better off if you do you
are better off if you care about others in your group and by the way well
actually I’ll come back to that set in a second part of what it means to be a
fair fair fair play and have an equity is that is to establish a set of rules
and then expect everybody to play by them right so this is sort of the other
aspect of that first bullet about equal treatment so it’s not just about reward
or some resources being shared but it’s also about hey look we set up these
rules because it works better if we agree to them and if you break those
rules you have to be punished as a way to sort of nudge you back in to proper
social conditions talk about the criminal justice system basically but I
mean it’s not just that the first day of kindergarten what do you think they tell
the students the rules right the rules of the classroom the first
of summer camp or preschool or you know basketball practice it’s the first thing
you do is you cover the rules here’s how we’re all gonna behave you got to do
this you can’t do that right it’s a way to just it makes sense but it seems like
a very human thing to do who here raise your hand if you think
animals have rules and etiquette just among themselves not just humans all
right well you guys are a step ahead I can I can go fast the point is is that
they absolutely do have rules and one of the best studied example of animals
having complex sets of rules of behaviors is actually in wolves and
their descendants which are dogs so wolves and dogs have a lot of rules
around social play because playing is actually very important to the life and
health of the individual wolves and the first chapter after the introduction
first chapter my book is all about why animals play and what they get out of it
well yeah if you’re gonna play your wolf what is playing look like for a dog or a
wolf most of the time when they’re playing among themselves fighting yeah
they’re wrestling but guess what they don’t get hurt most of the time but you
guys know how strong their jaws are right you know you ever accidentally
like my dog for some reason likes me to hold the bone when he chews on it I
don’t know why he likes that but sometimes he nips me accidentally
because he’s trying to chew on the bone and oh my god does it hurt I mean he
could definitely take my arm off without a second thought but they don’t hurt
each other that much when they play so obviously they’re obeying some set of
rules about don’t bite too hard don’t hold them down when you’re squeezing the
neck it’s just a sort of restrain him and you’re not actually hurting they
have a whole set of rules well rules only work if there’s meat behind them
meaning punishments what happens jeez you may know what happens if a wolf
does bite too hard and the key to under you guys might not know much about
wolves but you do know about dogs what happened what do you think my dog did
when he dipped me and he knew immediately that he’d done it so I’ll
get to the apology in a second but what happens is when animals like wolves
break rules they are shunned
removed from the pack no one will play with them they’re in timeout right they
have the equivalent of a timeout and it works because in a social mammal being
ostracized from the group hurts right and it’s felt very negatively and it
will reduce your success in the group your ability to find a mate and compete
for food and blah blah everything’s worse if you’re sort of kicked out in a
social group and that’s why by the way when we do this with children it pains
them it hurts them to be removed from the group it’s an effective punishment
in that way but but they don’t ostracize them forever for one infraction what is
the dog or wolf have to do to get admitted back in has to apologize and
how does a dog apologize right he or she makes the physical signals of submission
lowered the head lower the ears lower the tail and it’s like they’re saying
I’m sorry now do they feel guilt and all that I’m not you know I don’t think so I
don’t know but what they are doing is using the borrowed signal of submission
to say I know I screwed up I’d like to be let back in now can you please accept
my apology and of course that’s what happens generally you have to really be
out of line for a wolf to be ostracized forever right but if you fight too hard
or if you bite too hard excuse me play too rough or if for example if
you’re a big wolf you’re much bigger than somebody else do you know how you
have to convince them to play with you you have to crawl and even sometimes lay
on your back in other words you have to weaken yourself you have to lower
yourself because if you’re just going to beat the crap out of them why are they
going to play with you so you have to give them an advantage by crawling in a
more lower position submissive position and then they’ll play with you so they
they recognize unequal treatment they insist on handicaps to make it a fair
fight all right so all of these things that we do also right golfers have
handicaps state sports or in classes by sight like we do all this to even the
playing field the best we can write because we’re mammals we recognize an
unfair fight and we don’t think that’s any fun okay and but that’s part of
living in a more world right is to have these sort of
fair footing fair standing and so on okay but that’s not altruism so having
rules and enforcing them is not about altruism unless as I said you accept
this expanded sense of self that you actually are a part of me in a sense as
part of the same community so what’s good for you is good for me once again a
lot of skeptics would come in and say well animals clearly can’t do that they
can’t define themselves by other members of their community well once again I bet
they wish they hadn’t said that so I’m going to show you a video now I’m gonna
describe it first and then you’re gonna think it’s way more graphic than it
really is it’s actually a very adorable video I
think this was the first discovery of what we call altruism or reciprocal
altruism it’s all defined in a second in vampire bats
anybody heard of this study this one goes back to the 80s 1980s so vampire
bats as their name suggests survive on sucking blood usually from very large
mammals like cows and horses and things like this they fly around at night for
one night nightly meal and they eat by the way about twenty to thirty percent
of their body weight in one meal because any flying animal has to expend a lot of
calories that’s very energetically expensive way to live so they have no
fat deposits and they need to eat a huge meal every night if they don’t they can
usually survive one night they can never survive two nights of not feeding they
will die of starvation if they miss two meals what a researcher named Gerard
Wilkinson found is in Costa Rica studying these vampire bats
he was watching them at night I’m sorry during the day night time for them the
other reason they’re called vampires as they are active at night they can’t see
hardly anything but they used echolocation to hunt he would watch them
after their nightly hunts in the morning in their caves which no one had bothered
to do by the way this is a this is a classic story of science only finding
what it’s looking for as we watch the bats when they’re hunting we don’t
bother watching them in the cave because they’re like oh they’re just sitting
there well you’re our wilkinson decided to look
and he noticed that sometimes a bat who had not been successful would go up to
another bat who had been successful and begged for food so that’s the surprise
the second surprise was sometimes the bat would agree and share the food and
this is where it gets a little gross the way that vampire bats share food is they
regurgitate into the mouths of the other bat so it’s not that gross you can
hardly see what’s going on but they can scientists can measure this because when
you’re talking about twenty or thirty percent of your body weight you can
measure food transfer by simply weighing the bat so you weigh them before you
weigh them after and you see how much food transfer from one bat to the other
and a begging bat would receive about half of the meal that the successful bat
had received so let’s watch the video first you can’t hardly see anything but
but I mean it sounds gross we’re not gonna watch it forever but here they are
obviously there’s no color because this is night vision they’re cute right kind
of there’s a hungry bat and do you notice the donor is not even shy about
it he doesn’t have to be bullied into it he comes right over and says here you go
buddy and that is one bat feeding another so many would say that what you’re
watching is one of the grossest things in the animal world one animal vomiting
blood into the mouth of another but what I see is one of the most beautiful
things in the animal world is a hungry bat getting fed by a friend who has a
lot right it’s pretty cool right now the so that study was surprisingly enough
surprising enough that they did this but like good scientist Gerard Wilkinson
really study this phenomena and washed who shared with whom and he noticed that
because he was curious why sometimes they say yes and sometimes they say no
sometimes they’ll share and sometimes they’ll say no why why would what what
was in the decision-making process and what he found was the bats that are
sharing were previously shared with by that same bat and when they said no sure
enough he looked back in the data and they had been snubbed by that bat the
bats remember who was naughty who was nice who was generous and who was cheap
and they get rewarded for that so this is the first clue I think in
understanding how altruism works is it’s not purely I’m gonna help you and it’s
gonna cost me it’s recognizing that our fate is tied together right if I share a
little bit of my meal with you now I’m not gonna die and I probably won’t die
tomorrow either I get more chances and we’ll both live to hunt another day and
then maybe you’re successful and I’m not and then we can help each other each of
us is better off right and that’s where the instinct comes from now I’m not
gonna suggest if you give a dollar to a homeless person you’re fully expecting
them to one day find you homeless and give you a dollar but that’s not how
instincts work right instincts are vague feelings are vague they drive you
towards a behavior and that behavior in this case is sharing right it’s sharing
when you have a lot but when you don’t have a lot you don’t share I mean you
guys probably heard this before but charitable donations track the stock
market really closely right we’re always very generous in sharing
when we have a lot or more anyway and it’s always we look at who we’re sharing
with and what the difference is between what we have and they don’t have right
so you’re not gonna share with the classmate that you know is wealthy
you’re like hey so I’m sorry you forgot your lunch today but you have more money
than I do why would I share with you again you don’t always necessarily
calculate that all out in your in your head but you recognize that sharing like
fairness is good for all of us so this is sometimes being recalled
being referred to as the biology of empathy because to recognize unfairness
to recognize need requires you a little bit to put yourself in somebody else’s
shoes okay so this is sometimes called perspective taking so I’m imagining what
it’s like to be you and this is the biggest challenge by the way towards
building a just society is that we have all these restrictions on our empathy we
empathize with those close to us very well but we don’t empathize to people in
faraway countries that we’ve never been to and can’t recognize it’s hard there’s
barrier they’re barriers to empathy all right so building the global village is
sometimes referred to as part of that now empathy is just the ability to
recognize what somebody else is going through compassion is taking the next
step and showing that you care about that and that you do something for them
so if you wanted the different empathy and compassion empathy is the feeling
and compassion is what comes from that feeling hopefully and we’re all limited
on what we can do if I gave every dollar I have to the homeless I’ll be poor and
they’ll still be millions of homeless people right so I’m not saying that’s
not a reason to give I’m just saying there are limits to how far compassion
can take us okay so hopefully I’ve convinced you
that the features of morality and a moral moral world moral decision-making
are in no way unique to humans we share the basic programming with animals they
recognize unfair conditions and and act on them even sometimes when they’re not
the beneficiaries we set up rules I’m sorry and other animals set up rules and
follow them they send out punishments there are rewards for pro-social
behavior and there are disincentives we’ll say our punishments for
anti-social behavior and in some of the later chapters in my book I do what I
call I talk about the dark side where I talk about some of these anti-social
instincts because they’re natural to cooperation is pro-social competition is
antisocial and remember I’m not saying good or bad I’m just saying antisocial
versus pro-social so what we attempt to do with society is to reward pro-social
behaviors and discourage antisocial ones that part we get right I mean I think
most of us think most of us agree that we made progress when we outlawed murder
right is that a we made some progress we made it unpleasant to be caught
murdering right so most people don’t murder at least in part because they
don’t want to be caught and the consequences because most murders by the
way in the developed world anyway are caught and punished vast majority so
we’ve got that part down right the part that we miss is the reconciliation
rehabilitation repairing of relationships and all of that and I
don’t have time to talk about that today but I’d love to talk to anybody about
prisoner re-entry and and and all of that because there’s a whole good
biological story about why what we do is exactly wrong with how we treat
prisoners and why animals have actually figured it out and they they truly do
engage in reconciliation I don’t like I said I can only cover so many topics and
if I cover everything you wouldn’t need to buy my book and then why did I why
did I come all out this way to discourage you from buying my book but I
wrote an article in skeptic magazine that’s out next month about that about
why our prisons and our parole system go against our own biology and that’s why
it fails I don’t know if you guys know this but not only is the United States
have the largest prison population in the world we are
also the most likely for former prisoners to end up back in prison
whereas a lot of other countries especially like in Scandinavia they have
very small prison population and when you go to prison that and you come back
out you almost never go back in there rate of what we call recidivism is less
than 10% our recidivism rate 75% when somebody leaves prison the odds of them
going back in 75% what do we do differently than the Swedes and the
Norwegians and the Finnish we punish you forever in this country right if you
commit a felony you’re marked as a felon for the rest of your life you can’t vote
in most states you have to declare it on jobs which means you ain’t getting a
good job you are barred from public housing in some states what’s your
incentive to rejoin the community when the community has made it very very
clear that you are not welcome ever so what happens now I don’t say I’m not
saying that former prisoners think in their head oh well since I can’t do this
I’m gonna commit a crime and go back to jail right it’s that you if here’s a way
to put it if you don’t feel part of the community you don’t feel part of the
community you see what I’m saying if you don’t feel that you’re in this and
you’re welcome what’s your incentive to act like it whereas the prisons in
Sweden look like spas I’m kidding it’s not that nice but they teach job skills
there’s no bars or glass they treat them like human beings and they give them all
the skills to be successful when they get out and guess what happens when they
get out they never go back in because they don’t have to declare themselves
felons they can vote they get all their rights back and it’s way cheaper that
way right and way safer and way everything but so in other words one I
think I say is the reason Scandinavia gets it right is because they treat
their prisoners like animals most people recoil I’m like no because
animals actually reintegrate you after you’ve made you’ve you’ve been punished
and they say okay great you you realize what you did wrong you’re welcome back
now let’s let’s move on and that’s what animals do
that’s what chimpanzees do that’s what wolves do and that’s what we in this
country and others like us get exactly backwards and of course
there’s a cost to the rest of us even a law-abiding citizen if you’ve ever been
a victim of a crime you you want to just blame the criminal but you should also
think about blaming the structure that ensured that that person was going to
continue committing crimes rather than being reintegrated okay I didn’t intend
to talk about that but sometimes that sometimes that happens when you get on a
roll but the point is is what’s in it for what’s in it for me to be nice to
other people a lot is in it for you and we are built that way and I don’t think
of myself as selfish because I recognize my success is tied in with other people
in fact I think we trip over these words a lot when it comes to morality oh and
by the way why are we so not great with prisoners in this country it’s because
there’s another instinct that we have that is perfectly natural and that’s the
instinct for revenge it’s normal it’s natural I’m not judging it it’s built
inside of us but this is why I say it’s so great to be a human because you are
an animal you can recognize your pro-social instincts for what they are
recognize your antisocial instincts for what they are and at least attempt to
get better attempt to do better and I think that societies are at their best
when that’s exactly what they do okay just a few more minutes and I’ll get to
the question and answer part shameless plug for my new book that’s out next
month since I do have an audience I might as well convince you to keep
reading this book will be out in May first you can pre-order it now on Amazon
available in fine stores near you and I always say it’ll be available in
airports near you one day so my closing remarks that I often give when I talk
about morality from the biological point of view is that there’s two ways to look
at it that it’s lowering the human experience to consider ourselves as just
animals driven by instinct and if you want to think about it that way I I’m
not gonna be able to talk you out of it but I to bring up the point I said at
the beginning I think that it elevates the human experience to recognize our
kinship with other animals to recognize that we were shaped by the same forces
shape them and that we have that one gift that most animals don’t have and
that’s the ability to think about why we do things why we behave the way that we
do and recognizing that there are there are pro-social reasons for doing things
and there’s antisocial reasons for doing them both have consequences if you want
to favor competition and anti-social behavior you get very bad outcomes for
the human experience and there’s just so much data on this there’s too much to be
ignored but there’s there’s costs and benefits
to each each thing that we do if it draws us closer together as a community
then it’s good I think the problem though and this is the question that I
don’t have an answer for is the very idea of community means some people are
in and some people are out right that’s a problem I don’t have an answer to that
because if we’re all in the community there’s no community right part of what
makes a community is something unique about that community that’s true for a
geographic community for an ethnic community for a family community it what
does it mean to be in a family of absolutely every single person is in
your family that’s not a family that’s just a group of people so how do we
build a global village where we really do see ourselves as tied together but
without losing the subpopulations or that the communities of individuals who
have affinities because of a common racial experience or national experience
or borders or whatever so how do you promote pro-social community and also
global community that is still pro-social I don’t have the answer but I
think that’s the question and how we answer it will determine whether or not
this planet still has humans living on it in a hundred years because you guys
realize that that we’re actually on the closest we’ve ever come to destroying
the planet for a whole variety of reasons every single one of our problems
every single one we created we’re not in the position of being forced out by
other species it’s not this whole you know climatic change that was inevitable
and we just found ourselves on the wrong side of it there’s not a meteor coming I
hope every single cataclysmic event that is somewhat likely that we can picture
whether it’s climate change or a pandemic and infectious pandemic or
nuclear war whatever we or or what’s almost certainly gonna happen is our
ability to make more humans outpaces our ability to feed those humans all of
those are problems of our own making all of them so if we want to get serious
about solving those problems we have to understand what makes us behave the way
that we do how do we define our community and how do we promote
pro-social behaviors and I think we learn a lot by watching other animals
thank you very much and I really want to have some questions so let’s keep this
discussion going thank you sure sure is there a second microphone to run around it looks like it okay so what I would
like is for everyone to generate a question in their head you don’t have to
ask it but generate in your head just take a few minutes what if there was one
question from this that you would like to ask him you don’t have to do it I but
I do want you to think right now what’s one thing you might want to ask him so
go ahead take a minute with that just a little few seconds maybe jot it down
just write it down just think about it so here we go we’re all gonna take a few
seconds think of a question all right so now what we’re gonna do is
we have another mic out there so when you do have a question you’d like to ask
him we’ll come around with the mic and you can ask him and then he’ll answer it
for everyone to hear okay all right so here we go so go ahead and raise your
hand if you have a question of some sort I’ve saw some people oh we got one over
here so I’m asking this on behalf of my
biological anthropology class so this kind of builds on precious Hall in her
classes animal Bill of Rights not sure what this is doing and then I went into a whole discussion
about the history of that’s a great question the question was once we come
to understand that animals have this rich life and they can suffer and they
have feelings and so and so forth what do we do about our need to test
medicines for example on animals before we start putting them in humans I don’t
have an answer to that and and I don’t necessarily think that you have to have
a clear-cut answer what I think is much more important is that we consider the
question with the idea that animals can suffer and if you have that in mind it
would at least lead you to a place where you do what you can to alleviate the
suffering of those animals which can be done it’s more expensive of course to
take your time and do these things nice I mean the chicken farms that we heard
about earlier today you know the the chickens are kept in these little coops
that are not big enough for them to even stand right let alone move around why do
they do that they don’t nobody wants to be mean it’s just cheaper right it’s
cheaper to do it that way so when it comes to animal testing of
pharmaceuticals and drugs and treatments it’s gonna be more expensive and
nobody’s gonna want that so we have to consider our needs our wants with the
suffering of the animals how can that be done so in my view every single thing
that we do can be done more humanely even if it comes to to animal testing I
agree on cosmetics there’s right animals didn’t sign up for that but what you can
do with with animals is that if their life is not in a cage
and they’re not conscious for the parts that might induce pain and things like
that there is a way to at least make it a lot better and the only reason I’m not
saying we should absolutely ban all of that is not because I don’t believe it
it’s because I know what that won’t happen we just won’t do it in this
country in any country we will never see that animals lives are in the same
values are as ours you’ll never convince enough of your fellow Americans of that
I think but what you can do is at least say if we all agree that they do suffer
and suffering is bad and we should do what we can we can we can make it way
way better it’s not so if your goal is only a 10 out of 10 I don’t know if we
can get there but if you’re if you would accept an 8 out of 10 on there on the
progress on reducing suffering we actually can get there and we can do a
lot to make the life of a laboratory animal much more pleasant when it’s not
being tested and the process of testing less painful less suffering quicker
euthanasia whatever you want to think about so that they’re not in ink in
cages but they’re in enclosures they’re in sanctuaries and that and then that
sorts of thing where they have a life and they have a pleasant life as much as
possible so I often say don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
don’t let it because it’s not all the way that you want don’t accept making
progress along the way Temple Grandin does a lot of this work too
she would like to be totally done with animals in for food but in the meantime
she consults with the food industry to at least reduce the suffering if it’s
gonna happen we should at least try to reduce the suffering and by the way one
thing before I take the next question I forgot to thank the organizers of this
and those who brought me here so Micaela Corina listen listen am I saying that
right Marie Nia precious and I met I think I
met all of them and joy Lynn thank you so much for organizing this and for
bringing your classes and Virginia Rin Chava dr. Wrenn Shiva for bringing me
here today reaching out to me so yeah thank you to all of the faculty who
organizes a wonderful event I I would love to do something like this on my own
campus another question yes sir okay we have a mic that works so
I’m on my way microphone on its way I wanted to ask a
question about the morality of death like in Oregon they’d recently passed
the law to allow people with a chronic illness to die a more natural way and
this is something that my grandmother she was down in Henderson and she was
suffering stage 4 cancer and she just really wanted to end it but nobody was
willing to kill her so what’s your opinion on morality of letting people
die end-of-life issues in the morality there it’s really interesting to me and
in fact I was actually teaching in a minimum-security prison a couple of
weeks ago and I was teaching on grief and attachments and this exact same
question came up and the question is if someone wants to end their life can that
ever be a rational moral choice if someone wants to end their life again
I’m not yet tempting to answer this for anyone but I do think that the idea that
someone has reached that what seems to be the end where there’s a term they
have a terminal illness and they know that recovery is beyond hope they’re in
an enormous amount of suffering I don’t see a scientific reason to deny them the
right to to make that choice and I do think it is a rational clear-headed
choice to end one suffering when there’s they don’t find value in continuing in
that suffering and it’s interesting the social conscience on that issue has
evolved a lot but I do also recognize that the other side of that question who
those who don’t think the physicians or anyone else should be involved in
helping people commit suicide they are coming from a good place which is this
very pro-social instinct that we have of life has dignity life has value life is
good and anything in our society that sends a message that it’s okay to simply
end it would be a social bad social harm and have consequences beyond the life of
those individuals it’s a that’s an argument and that’s reasonable the
reason why I don’t think that persuades me for example is because I think that
each of us can define the value of our own life
for ourselves when it’s rational if there’s mental illness and if someone is
depressed at a young age and not ill I think it’s clearly that you know that
they need help they don’t need help ending their life they need help finding
value in their lives finding the value that is there in their lives but when
someone has reached the end I think it actually says something good about
society when we recognize the dignity they have in making their own choices
and why would we make it hard for them to exercise that choice that’s my answer
but I know it’s much more complicated than that right and this is this is the context of
the question that I got from the from one of the inmates as well as what about
animals how do animals a pet approach end-of-life so as far as I know and I
have looked there aren’t cases of animals intentionally ending their own
life as a means to terminate suffering however animals sacrifice themselves for
others all the time and in fact in many species it’s very well established that
their final act isn’t is something as part of their their life it is an
intentional act to end their life for the good of either their children or
whatever the rest of the community and there are animals that give up on life
so that’s different I think than in committing an intentional suicide but
the chapter in my book that on grief I actually open a story about Flint the
chimpanzee does anybody remember this story so this is basically a chimpanzee
who died of grief he was grieving the loss of his mother so much that he
withdrew from the group stopped eating and he died essentially of starvation
because he could not get over his grief and that’s a neuronal hormonal thing to
be in a state of grief and he couldn’t get past it the rest of the group could
not get him at back out into the group and he died of starvation a very
preventable death so is that a suicide exactly I mean I don’t know that he
contemplated it as such but he decided that he had nothing else left to live
for I mean not decided but that’s how it worked out but that’s a good it’s these
are tough questions more questions speak loudly Oh microphone on the way sure so from what I’ve learned from
listening to you today is that there is evidence of morality being an
evolutionary change right its scientific based is there a case where somebody
could be completely devoid of a morality and do you think it’s permanent is there
a way to fix that with assimilation or I’m just kind of curious as to how that
goes right so are you talking about humans humans
or animals or animals okay so the question is about okay morality might be
a human feature and animal feature but what happens when someone appears to not
have any morality and generally what you’re talking about are psychopaths who
are or and they walk among us I mean two or three percent of the population
simply cannot identify with somebody else’s experiences emotionally and they
just have no care for the feelings of others psychopaths are present in other
animal species as well and it’s sort of the and there’s debate about whether or
not this is just the extreme end because all biological traits by the way are on
a spectrum right height weight morality are no different in terms of their
people who are will be on one side of the spectrum or the other
some people think anti so like extreme antisocial behavior of psychopaths is
just on the extreme end of variability nature loves variability to see what’s
gonna work in at different times and it’s sort of always there and then
there’s others that have that considered a pathology so it’s something that’s
gone wrong it’s not evolutionary it’s just we things don’t always work out
right even according to plan which by the way is what my books all about if
you’d like to read that but the I don’t cover psychopaths in the book but the
idea is that some individuals are completely devoid of empathy they’re
just incapable of caring about the feelings of others and it’s true that
they exist a lot of research has gone into how do we switch the empathy back
on in these individuals and I have a friend who spent 20 years working with
Psychopaths convinced that he actually could make progress
after 20 years he’s finally admitting he doesn’t think it’s possible that these
people really we might just have to lock them up and throw away the key and there
exists in animals as well but whether or not it’s part of our natural variability
that that will happen every so often or whether or not it’s a true pathology is
an open question but I think it’s a relatively easy question to answer in
terms of what we do with that information once we acknowledge that
they exist so there’s nothing to be gained I think by punishing a psychopath
for being a psychopath right well I mean just to make their light put them in a
Supermax and just make them so miserable what do we get out of that protecting
society from Psychopaths that we get something out of right so that’s what I
mean when I say lock him away and throw away the key but why would we want to
just continue hurting them and to me it says something about us when we feel
it’s necessary to hurt someone in response to them having hurt other
people what why is that good though but we do have to protect ourselves so it’s
an interesting question but the short answer to question is yes psychotic like
Psychopaths or sociopaths antisocial behavior maybe social behavior is found
in other animals and by the way they deal with it basically the same way we
do is they deal with it as a threat however to give some credence to the
possibility that it might be natural that this happens remember what I said
about nature loves diversity every generation through mutations and sexual
recombination of genes we our diversity creating machines that’s what all living
things are with the idea being we shuffle the deck because we don’t know
what the future holds we want a population with enough different kinds
of people that someone will survive the next Cataclysm whatever that is the
drought the new predator the infectious disease whatever it is we want it’s like
a hedge against any possible future threat and it could be that psychopathy
is one of those hedges that the conditions might be such that altruism
is never gonna help us and we need an every man for himself kind of life to
possibly survive whatever the next threat is you guys have seen the Mad Max
movies right I mean and actually some of the earliest stories that we the humans
like wrote down we’re about this poke post
Hach elliptic right after epic of gilgamesh together that’s one of the
oldest stories that we actually have have written down is a post-apocalyptic
science fiction story basically right we’ve been thinking about our own demise
for a long time and I think that part of that is the recognition of exactly that
of the threat that we face oh I’m sorry she she was skipped and then you next
can we do that okay right in the back here she’s got her hand up she was
skipped in the back corner back corner she’s been very patient what are your
thoughts on the responsibilities of humans kind of reaching out into other
animals environments such as like deforestation or even the responsibility
to protect the coral reef so I I’m of two minds on the issue first of all I
think that if you only consider what’s in it for us
that’s enough reason to care about at least to care about things like
deforestation and general biodiverse even if you don’t care about the number
of species and how they all live we are facing enormous threats because of
habitat destruction that we’ve done just the just the rainfall just leave it like
there leave it there but the ecosystems and the loss of those ecosystems has
enormous consequences for us so I consider it a moral issue the other
thing is is I was talking about before how diversity is our way of hedging
against future threats biodiversity works the same way that the ecosystem is
so intertwined that when you start to lose sections of it there’s almost no
way to know what the ecological consequences will be because we don’t
have it all worked out which animal eats which other one and relies on this other
symbiosis exists that we just don’t know I mean the classes case up in Alaska was
the the urchins were overpopulating and we’re like why are urgent doing so well
in there and they that has negative consequences I think it’s because the
otters were being lost because there was overfishing on the but it’s a long story
the point is is that you had to look several steps in the food chain to
understand why the ecosystem had collapsed and none of that was known
until it was too late now in that case they did a protect
area and biodiversity came back the good news is the earth can heal itself very
very well but we have to step back and give it a chance the other thing is if
we come back to where I start in the first place is consider environmental
issues as simply how they impact humans there’s so much benefit towards like for
example moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies whether
it’s economic social cost human cost or environmental costs they’re all in the
same direction the only reason we haven’t made that move quicker is
because there’s a lot of money in that industry specifically and they see it as
a threat to them and that’s it that’s literally the only reason there’s no
reason to not completely ban fossil fuels except that and the countries that
have done that have reaped all the benefits so we will eventually get to
the point where we will be dragged along with the rest of the world instead of
leading as we’re supposed to as Americans right one more question
because he was patient final question thank you so in our
search for morality everyone has their own ideas of morality and they all have
their own definitions of morality is morality something that we should or
could legislate or is it something that we need to all find out on our own so
it’s a good question should we be legislating morality the a lot of the
instincts to allegedly legislate morality are generally good meaning the
person is acting what they think is the best interest of other human beings so
when I talk about public policy debates that involve moral issues I always at
least try to remember that most people do approach it from what they consider
to be what’s best and and to remember that they do have a position that’s
based that they they believe is moral I know I think getting into deciding
what’s moral and what’s not moral isn’t the business of public policy what is
the business of public policy is trying to do the most good for the most number
of people and most good means enforcing those rules of morality that we talked
about which is fairness which is equity of everybody having an equal
shot being equal work for equal pay all of those things come right out of our
genes right we as animals know what that means and we know how to do it and no
one is harmed by that unless they had an advantage in the first place that they
didn’t deserve and I’m okay with with that the but the other moral issues are
that we tend to want to legislate I don’t think there’s any evolutionary
argument for or against it because if you believe that something is moral you
believe it because of the way that you’ve you’ve formed your morality
somebody else forms a morality a different way wouldn’t we the only moral arguments
that have any value as far as I’m concerned are those that recognize
pro-social behaviors and the greatest good for the greatest number because
that’s what flows from our genes and if you and and and and I don’t like to talk
about religion too much and top comics like this but if you look at all the
world religions which is where the vast majority of humans on the planet to find
morality and religious terms so I’m more than happy to meet them on that playing
field all the world’s religions differ and they have a whole different story
when it comes to their theology creation stories nature of God all of those
things are completely different among all the world religions but are those
morality is basically the same right Christians call it the Golden Rule treat
others as you would have them treat you rabbi Hillel said the same thing
Confucius said the same thing every world religion has said that and we have
document documented of that long long before before Christian or or or Jews
even existed so what does it say about that that’s the universal thing that’s
the thing all religions agree on is in a basic morality if don’t do what you
wouldn’t want done to you that’s the moral basis that we can all agree on so
if we legislate and make policy that is in line with that notice I didn’t say
enforce that but is in line with that that’s when I think we do right is when
we we cut across all the differences of sect and religion and when we only go to
that core morality that we all and by the way I’m not knocking religion or
anything but I’m just saying I think the it’s not a coincidence that that’s
the one thing all religions agree on is because we’re built towards that
morality that is that is not just ten thousand years old that’s a hundred
million years old in the making of recognizing that core basis of morality
and then religion came along and took credit for it but but the point is
though is that we’ve always been treating each other that way but evils
already always been there as well but I do think that when governments try
to legislate sectarian morality they almost it almost never works out well
because if people don’t agree on the moral basis of something then you know
you can’t you can’t legislate your way around people’s ideas about morality

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