Crime and punishment revisited
The MIT news about magnet affecting our moral judgment, published in 2010, captured my imagination. The researches used magnetic stimulation of the area above the right ear, which is critical for making moral judgments.
After the stimulation, for a short period of time, the subjects were more likely to judge failed attempts to harm as morally permissible.
The researchers believed that the subjects’ ability to interpret others’ intentions was diminished, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.
Recently, Chinese researches confirmed and expounded on MIT’s and other results. Before the magnetic stimulation, the subjects judged as morally bad the attempt to murder even in the case when nobody was harmed at the end. The accidental harm, on the other hand, was not judged as bad from a moral point of view. After the stimulation, the subjects were more inclined to forgive the intent to murder but judged as morally bad the action that hurt another person accidentally.
If the technique is going to be refined and become mainstream, imagine the implications. The traffic policeman comes to your driver side window and… you discretely turn on the device, and your traffic violation does not look that bad anymore (if it did not result in actual harm, of course).
Or, if you are a teenager, you can make your parents better co-op with the risk incurred by your “experiments”.
Well, the policeman and your parents might try to detect the presence of the magnetic field in the same way we detect the presence of a speed trap today. So, the argument about the moral value of your actions is replaced by the contest between the technologies. The more advanced device wins the dispute.
More sinister (and more war-like competitive) would be the usage of such devices in the courtroom. The possibilities are endless. But I would like to offer you another — more positive — possible usage of the effect.
Today we judge others by their actions and projected intentions, while we judge ourselves mostly by our intentions. As Bishop George Berkley put it:
Esse est percipi: To be is to be perceived.
Now, imagine that everybody would suspend moral judgment and judge self and others by the actual results only. Not always, but in some limited by space and time circumstances, for solving a particularly challenging problem, for example, or in order to achieve a certain goal.
It would remove the misunderstanding between who we are and how we are perceived by others. We would be more aligned with reality and thus become more productive and cooperative.
If we add to the mix the ability to share our thoughts directly (without using any words), then we can cooperate creatively (and without moral judgment) and become much more productive.
I don’t know about you, but I feel very excited about this possibility.