In our society today, science is seen as separate from spiritual beliefs, morals, values, religion. We often don’t link these things to science – think of the nature versus nurture debate. Questions of life, of personality, of right and wrong, are usually seen as unanswerable by science, there’s a separation there. When really, everything we know about our world, including our personalities, is all our very own perception. Images and ideas perceived by my brain, translate to what I see the world as. Our own worlds are realized in and are all products of the brain.
Let’s take a look at the brain. We all know that the brain has two sides, a left side and a right side, that are almost completely separate from each other. The main thing joining these two sides together is the Corpus Callosum, a thick band of nerve fibres in the middle. Each side has a very different purpose, or job. The right side of the brain focuses on the present, right here, right now. Taking in every single thing, through all of our senses, and on the scale end of things, is the big picture. The left side takes that big picture, and breaks it down, picking out details and details, and relating them to our past, and brainstorming possibilities of our future based on this information. So, when I have an experience, it happens first in the right side of my brain, then makes its way to the left where my brain analyzes the situation and tells me how to react, how I should feel about reacting based on what I’ve learned before about similar situations.
We’ve all been caught in the religion versus science debate at some point in our lives. Which side would you chose? Are you spiritual, or are you factual? But in all reality, we all have the capability to have both sides and use them simultaneously to make moral and ethical decisions, because these things are interchangeable depending on our experiences. We may have been born into one religion and raised a certain way, but our lifestyles and the environment we’ve created for ourselves could shape an entirely new persona. Take Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, for example. She is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist. She had a stroke, and most of her left side was non- functional. She described it as “being an infant in a woman’s body”. And what’s interesting is, as the right side of her brain took over, she began experiencing herself as energy. She couldn’t differentiate the atoms and molecules of her own body with that of her surroundings. All she could feel was the energy given off of everything. She said she felt complete oneness and peace with the world and everyone. Everyone was equal, and it changed her whole outlook on life. You could say she obtained new values, new beliefs. She’s balancing herself out between the analytical definitive left side of her brain, and the descriptive and creative right side. She became more aware of the real lack of equality in the world.
What do most people value? Freedom from concerns like greed, hate, ignorance, jealousy? Do people value the idea of peace, and the ending of suffering? Most would say yes.
Most would say they value the idea of equality, and then go out into the world and continue to buy new clothes so they can look the best out of their peers, compete for the best grades, spent all of their time and efforts to accomplish all of their hopes and dreams, and when someone tells them, “You know you can write letters and donate money to help make large impacts on other people’s lives?” They say, “Oh, I would if I had the money. I would if I had the time!”
So, people hear this, and they see the harm that some people cause. They see the wars that are being created, the child abuse, the starvation, and we can all collectively agree that these things are wrong. We decide if certain facts are wrong or right, but wrong and right is a matter of opinion, you can’t really put any fact behind that. Facts are facts, and there is no room for opinion. This is why we have experts in fields of topics relating to facts, and there aren’t any experts on moral values. We know science is a study of what’s measurable. But let’s take a look at that. Are values not a type of fact? Dr. Sam Harris, a neuroscientist said that values are “facts about the wellbeing of conscious creatures”, and “when we talk about human wellbeing, we are, of necessity, talking about the human brain.” We feel right and wrong for topics that relate to the suffering or hurting of a conscious being –whether it’s that we feel it’s wrong, like most of us in our society, or that it’s necessary, like those in a Taliban type society. So, why do we know right and wrong and how can these values be changed if they’re so embedded in us? What makes us make these decisions and form opinions, and have such a hard time really living out our true values and beliefs on a day to day basis? We learn right from wrong based on our experiences, incidences and events that are taken in and perceived by our brains. Peers shape us, culture shapes us, our environment certainly shapes us. All of these factors have a direct effect on our brains. This is why things normal to other cultures seem barbaric or completely odd to us. The world around us and our values are all just a matter of opinion and perception based on the environment we live in.
I’m going to end this presentation with an idea. The idea that we can explore the possibility that all these seemingly impossible to answer questions do have answers, and we can open our minds to the fact that values and opinions and beliefs can be interchangeable, an understanding can be reached, and an equality can be obtained.