Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Science, Morality, Abu Ghraib and Game theory - an interview

Seed magazine has just posted the text of a conversation between filmmaker Errol Morris and evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser about game theory, Stanley Milgram, Abu Ghraib, A Clockwork Orange, communication with dogs, and whether science can make us better people.

It is quite relevant to general topic of this blog. I have always been intrigued by the odd combination of claimed due diligence and integrity with complete non transparency. For example, if Procter and Gamble have any residual faith in their "analysis" of Actonel data (welcome admissions of guilt apart) then why refuse to let everyone see it. They should be proud of their ultimate show of integrity. Likewise, if GlaxoSmithKline are proud of "science" on Seroxat/Paxil, and if the UK regulator the MHRA think that they conducted a plausible investigation of scientific fraud involving this drug, then why cover it up? Why not let everyone know what your definition of fraud is, and let everyone see the process and who made the decisions. What's there to hide?

A snippet:

EM: This is a question that I still wonder about. They said it's okay to kill Jews: Jews represent a threat to our way of life, to our gene pool, to our values, and so on. They've justified their behavior completely. But, if you think it's okay, then why try to cover it up? Why try to conceal the fact that you're doing it? That becomes the really complex question. You quickly enter this hall of mirrors. You can say, well, they thought it was the right thing to do, but they knew others might not view their behavior that way and that they should therefore cover their tracks. But isn't that tantamount to saying that they knew it was wrong? It's a real question.

MH: It is a real question. But ultimately, I think it comes back to having a sense of your place in the world. You have a sense of what others will respond to in terms of your actions and, ultimately, that feeds back into your behavior. So I think you're right, both the covering up and the ability to go forward are two parts of the story.


EM: I wouldn't say that I'm exactly surprised by it but it made me think that morality is the combination of two things: "I'm sorry," and "I'm sorry I got caught." There are two things always operating. There's you, and then there's what the world thinks of you.

MH: Yeah.

EM: If I do X, do I feel comfortable doing it? Do I feel comfortable doing X even though I know people will look at me with extreme disapproval?

MH: I mean that's the categorical imperative, right? If you want to work through the world of rights and wrongs, imagine would you feel comfortable doing it yourself. And now imagine a world in which everybody would do what you just did and would you feel comfortable there? You universalize it.

Worth reading here

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Radagast said...

"And now imagine a world in which everybody would do what you just did and would you feel comfortable there?"

And that, I imagine is precisely what the cover-up merchants are fighting against - it probably absorbs most of their time and energy, by now. It's always best to conduct oneself out in the open, and that way, anybody who disagrees with one's actions has every opportunity to object (unless they're not impacted, that is, in which case, they can fuck off).


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