Artistic Director, Orquesta de Camara de la UANL

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For the first time I find a talk in TED lacking scientific basis and elemental logic.

For the first time a TED talk is so dissappointingly mediocre in it's logic and scientific basis.The author starts pointing out his obsession with Morality and brings in the quote of beleivers and atheists. So the whole point is connecting endocrinology with Morals.To start with, the triggering of exytocin is common to all mamals, but the concept of morality and Good or Evil only exists in the human specie.
The whlole talk misses the basic fact that the most intense blasts or "shots" of exytocine to the blood stream in all mamals happen in two specific situations : at childbirth in the mothers, and in the stimulation of the nipples by the newborn needing to be fed. This happens for two reasos : if you as a mother have been carrying for months an ever "inflating" stomac, and finally , the release of this unbearable load comes in the form of an unbearable pain and the apearance of a disgusting moving creature, a powwerfull shot of oxytocin is what you need to accept it in a motherly fashion. Just minutes after that, there comes this little monster biting your oversized and painfull breast so, there you need your second shot of oxytocin to really feel empathy for all this horrible experience.
On the other hand, going back to Good and Evil, the author tells us that peace and empathy are very conditions for social animals. Again, he is showing a complete lack of animal and human behavior knowledge: as important as empathy in social annimals and humans is Aggresion, as explained by Konrad Lorenz in his book "the so call Evil". The establishment of an Alfa male and of an Alfa female is fundamental for the survival and evolution of any social group : for protection, best gene combination, best imune system, and best food supply. Agression doesn't mean Evil, and emphaty, and tollerating a little monster like I said is not morally Good. So it may be interesting to know thaw Oxytocin makes the mamals more friendly with one another but is has NOTHING to do with Morality

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    Nov 3 2011: You may be right. I don't think something as large and intricate as 'human morality' is entirely reducible to a particular chemical compound. There is certainly evidence that oxytocin manipulates behavior and mood, but 'human morality' is one of the most complicated and intricate social / psychological / neurological systems on the planet. These chemistry experiments are just another piece of a much larger puzzle.
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    Nov 3 2011: We humans are the only species (that we know of) that concerns itself with a concept of "morality", and which does so to the extent of creating entire philosophical and social institutions to define, promote and enforce it.

    In some of these constructs morality is defined in terms of abstract thoughts about our emotional (inter)relationships, e.g., religion or love (some might say--or argue-- that these are one and the same) and empathy. In other cases morality is considered in terms of economic relationships, e.g.,matters of property rights and ownership, In still others morality is related to the fostering of group cohesion and betterment. There are many, many vectors along which one can discuss, debate and fight over morality.

    Dr. Zak's experiments have demonstrated, however, that there is at least one consistent factor underpinning our notions of moral behavior along all of the vectors he has investigated-- the presence of elevated levels of oxytocin in cases where individuals or societies deem an action moral as opposed to immoral.

    To claim that there is no scientific basis for his conclusions, or that they have nothing to do with morality is to reject science in favor of superstition. We exist in a world, a universe, that is governed by measurable laws. It is high time to reject the pleas of human exceptionalism in favor of rational investigation. Dr. Zak's experiments may not be the final answer to the question of the roots and basis of morality, but they are well designed and a good start.

    Let us not confuse the sometimes irrational imposition of modes of behavior espoused by religions or governments with the innate dictates of moral feeling. Laws can (and should) enable us to live in the large, heterogeneous groups we are forced into by our over-fecund behavior. Religions were (and still are) constructed to provide explanations for phenomena that were not understood. Neither law nor religion constitute morality.
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    Nov 3 2011: If you define morality as knowledge of good and evil, two questions for you, Claudio :

    1 - How do you define good and evil?
    2 - Why do you say other social animals lack this knowledge?
    • Nov 3 2011: Hy Gerald !
      Thanks for sharing ideas.
      1 - My point over Zak's talk is not defining Good or Evil. Good and Evil are creations and conventios of human groups, dictated by religion and human laws. There are religions who dictate to kill people to follow their master or kings to the underworld. Thats Good for them. Not good for me.
      Zak is assuming that empathy and feeling good about hugging people is morally good, and that this comes through the releasing of oxytocin only. The chemistry of "love" and "empathy" is common to all mamals, and has nothing to do with morals. As is the chemistry of aggression to define Alpha males and Alpha females, including the human specie.

      2 - Nature is amoral. The laws of animal interaction are not created intelectually by the animals, as humans do creating Morality. Good and Evil are not a knowledge animals lack. They respond to organic, and endocrinal functions, to experiences, and interactions with Nature and with all other species without judging wether something is bad or good. The problem is when humans claim that moral laws come from God. I rather keep the gods out of this argument.

      I like jogging, and running, and train for marathons. This releases endorphines. That makes me feel good, optimistic and happy. Endorphines are not morally good. I would never conduct a study on the moral advantages of running and call endorphines "the serum of happines"
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        Nov 3 2011: I think I see what you mean, but let's be sure.
        You agree that our feelings come from neural chemistry, as in other animals. What you disagree with is to say that morality is rooted in biology. You define morality as an ensemble of social conduct rules set in a peculiar society, not an inborn and universal kit.
        But knowing that, why not call endorphines the serum of happiness, if indeed it does make you happy to jog? What's illogical about this? I don't understand. Don't you think other animals experience happiness as well? Don't you think joy is what drives creatures to work for their genes?
        I'd gladly go on with this, but I need to know what you think about this so far. Am I missing your point?
        • Nov 3 2011: Zak's talk begins with his obsession with morality. How beleivers and atheists experience it or wonder about it. He says that empathy and truthfullness is at the root of moral behavior. He ends up saying that after long scientific research he found that oxytocin is the chemical that makes people truthfdll and caring prooving that oxytocin is responsible for moral behavior, and that people unable to produce it are called by him bastards.
          One thing is that oxytocin is esencial to provide a bond between mother and newborn (that only lasts 3 minutes, by the way). The other is claiming that oxytocin is at the root of moral behaviour since morality is, as I sad, created culturaly by humans, hence the lack of morality in Nature.
          Thanks for reading
  • Nov 3 2011: Thanks Theodore,
    You are absolutelly right about Wal. But the point is, I don't think caring for the weak, and building cooperation with reciprocal transaction has anything to do with morality, or with inmorality. It is social behaviour. I really think that not caring for the weak should be judged as inmoral. I don't judge the morality of bees or termites because they reject wounded individuals. Vegetal and animal world is amoral.
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    Nov 3 2011: Claudio, while I don't agree with Paul Zak's bias, I do however believe he attempted to make a very logical link between the Oxytocin and Morality.

    Empathy, he asserts, is morally good if it sustains the human species. The foundation to his thinking is that it is 'good' to preserve the species, and bursts of Oxytocin at the right time certainly facilitates this. Thus, the drug not only manifests in the form of human 'morality', but it is also 'morally good' in itself. THAT is where he trips up. He tries to reduce morality to mere chemical balances but in doing asserts that the 'moral good' of preservation is the guiding force of science.

    The ultimate fallacy to Zak's logic is his apparent, unexplained assumption that it is in fact 'good' to preserve the species - which I believe is highly debatable and not at all proven, at least via rational thought. Despite all his apparent contradictions, if this first assumption is unfounded in the slightest, all his conclusions about Oxytocin crumble into dust and bear absolutely no relevance to anything.
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    Nov 3 2011: Re: "....but the concept of morality and Good or Evil only exists in the human specie. "
    It makes great sense that morality evolved from other species.
    "Primates and Philosophers" by Frans de Waal. In the book de Waal explains how we evolved from a long line of animals that care for the weak and build cooperation with reciprocal transactions." The book is based on the Tanner Lectures de Waal delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2004, "Primates and Philosophers" includes responses by the philosophers Peter Singer, Christine M. Korsgaard, and Philip Kitcher and the science writer Robert Wright, who press de Waal to clarify the differences between humans and other animals.
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    Nov 3 2011: Your thoughts are very logical & scientific about Oxytocin.
    Haven't yet watched the talk you referred will do so to understand your point better. Thanks