Published by Steven Novella
Originally published June 18, 2013
One of the themes of this blog, reflecting my skeptical philosophy, is that our brains construct reality – meaning that our perceptions, memories, internal model of reality, narrative of events, and emotions are all constructed artifacts of our neurological processing. This is, in my opinion, an undeniable fact revealed by neuroscience.
This realization, in turn, leads to neuropsychological humility – putting our perceptions, memories, thoughts, and feelings into a proper perspective. Thinking that you know what you saw, or you remember clearly, or that your “gut” feeling is a reliable moral compass, is nothing but naive arrogance.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of constructed reality to fully accept is our morality. When we have a deep moral sense of what is right and wrong, we feel as if the universe dictates that it is so. Our moral senses feel objectively right to us. But this too is just an illusion, an evolved construction of our brains.
Before I go on, let me point out that this does not mean morality is completely relative. I discuss the issue here and here, and if you have lots of time on your hands you can wade through the hundreds of following comments.
The neurologically constructed nature of morality means that neuroscientists (including psychologists) can investigate how our morals are constructed, just like anything else the brain does. A recent series of experiments published in Psychological Sciences did just that.
The entire blog post is here.