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Some reviewers seem to be missing the point of the book
on 27 April 2011
I am doing an Msc in neuroscience and was recommended this book and was told it would be an interesting read for someone of my outlook on things. It certainly was. I can't recommend it enough to anyone with an interest in science.
As far as I can tell the message of this books is simple. Unless i'm wrong and i might be, see what you think.
1.Good and bad can not exist in a universe without consciousness. Simple enough.
2.If words like right and wrong or good and bad have any useful meaning they must represent increases in human happiness and well-being and decrease in human happiness and well-being respectively. People will disagree with this premise but I can't think of any definition for the words which doesn't lead to this conclusion, without being so vague as to make the words practically meaningless or a kind of theistic circular tautology where good is what god decides is good because god decides what's good because god decides what's good.
*Some may argue that if a psychopath gets their happiness increased by doing something to make another unhappy or subvert another's well-being then that has proved the above can't be the case. My issue with this is it disregards the effects to others. The pyschopath has decreased happiness and well-being of another. Similarly If someone helps another person and increases another's happiness and well-being but in the process has their own happiness and well-being diminished then that would almost certainly be called a good act. The increased happiness/well-being of the other would counter all but the most extreme negative effects to the helper. So surely the same is true for the negative effects felt by another after a psychopaths act. Any peak on the moral landscape will inevitably move closer to 0 if there is a psychopath present acting in ways which make other people worse off. The peaks are not binary representations of good/bad so its makes sense for good to be present in valleys and bad in peaks, the effect will simply be to move the peak/valleys closer to 0.
3.Our ability to feel is due to changes in the brain which can be measured, they are "facts about the universe" as Sam Harris calls them.(Neuro-chemical changes and alterations in cellular activity cause us to feel an emotion, depending what cells are doing and which neurotransmitters are being used to signal other cells) So are objectively true about the universe.
4.The changes in brain activity can be caused by our environment.
So imagine 2 scenarios
Person 1 is someone in an environment which causes that person to have relevant changes in their brain which makes them feel happy.
Person 2 is someone in an environment which causes that person to have relevant changes in their brain which makes them feel sadness and pain.
Person 1 is objectively better off and the environment he is in is objectively good where as person 2 is objectively worse off and the environment is objectively bad.
Therefore we can objectively say that certain ways of treating fellow human beings are bad and others are good.
Harris suggests that the environments which create or increase human happiness and well being can be represented by "peaks" on a graph and those that create or increase sadness and pain the "valleys" of the graph. He suggests moving society toward and along "peaks" on "the moral landscape" can demonstrate a selection of routes, there may be many routes across various peaks, which are demonstrably good for human societies. With the travelling through the valleys its antithesis.
That's it. So why all the completely off topic criticisms?
Obviously there are some grey areas, some are discussed, and this works better with more extreme examples at the moment but perhaps that will change with time as more people consider this idea.
.... and for the record, I don't think DrDee has read the book(find the review and give it a read)
I suspect DrDee listened to this frankly awful debate which is plugged in the review(i am listening to it at the moment and both debaters are doing a poor job) and he/she tried to pick up the gist of the book from it and have an rant.
To anyone that else that seeks out the debate, a warning. William Lane Craig is a amazingly skilled debater.... because he is one of the most eloquent BS merchants you will ever come across and is notorious for strawmaning any and every opposition to his ideas. Its a good job hell isn't real because his dishonesty would be cause for concern if it was.