Scientists at Oxford University have made a startling discovery: they’ve found a region of the brain that makes you wonder if you’ve done something wrong, and whether you’d have been well advised to do something better.
There are several things that you should know about this region, which is inside your head, and the head of the lady
sitting beside you on the Tube, and the heads of David Cameron and Lady Gaga and Rouge Dragon Pursuivant of the Royal
College of Heralds. One, it’s called the lateral frontal pole. Two, it’s unique to humans – they ran tests on monkeys in
the course of the research at Oxford and, nope, they don’t have it. Three, it’s the size of “a large Brussels sprout”. And
four, it’s a leap beyond current scientific knowledge into realms that can only be described as spooky.
We already knew (he says, hastily consulting his copy of Popular Science for Dimwits) that the brain can monitor decisions
it has made. It tells itself: “I have chosen to follow this track in the forest and it’s turning out to be a sunlit
pathway/sodden jungle”, but it registers no more nuanced reaction than that. What this newly discovered region does,
however, is to identify other paths that it might have been better to take, and register what a dolt the brain feels for
getting it wrong.
“This region monitors how good the choices are that we don’t take,” said Professor Matthew Rushworth, who led the research,
“How green the grass is on the other side.”
The lateral frontal pole, in short, is like a spouse who is quick to inform you that you’ve blundered and bungled it when
it would have been so easy to get it right. It’s the kindly-but-firm voice of authority that tells you to go to your room
and mull over what you’ve done, so you’ll be sure not to do it again in future…
Hang on. This isn’t some minor breakthrough of cognitive neuroscience. This is about good and bad, right and wrong. This is
about the brain’s connection to morality. This means that the Oxford scientists, without apparently realising what they’ve
done, have located the conscience.
For centuries we thought that the conscience was just some faculty of moral insight in the human mind, an innate sense that
one was behaving well or badly – although the great HL Mencken once defined it as, “the inner voice which warns us that
someone may be looking”. It’s been used by religions as a numinous something-or-other, kindly bestowed by God, to give
humans a choice between sin and Paradise.
From: The Independent, Wednesday 29 January 2014
Questions that should be answered:
1) Would Aquinas agree with the author’s judgment that this discovery is in fact about conscience? Explain your reasons by
reference to texts we have studied. Cite Aquinas in the way specified for the first assignment.
2) Do you agree? This part of the paper should take no more than one page out of a total of five.
Cite the paper by the numbers in the margin of the text.
-The two books that can be used to cite this paper, I only have in hard copy form. So I would recommend using your library
of books and/or the Internet.
-Book #1: Aquinas Political Writings, Edited by: R.W. Dyson, Cambridge texts in the history of political thought.
-Book #2: Treatise on Happiness, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Translated by John A. Oesterle.
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