Monday, August 15, 2011

Emotional moral judgment

This was an interesting (although sometimes confusing) overview sent to me by a reader of some of the recent work that researcher Jean Decety has been doing on moral judgment (Decety is teaming up soon with our favorite brain scan-ologist Kent Kiehl for more brain scans of male psychopathic prisoners).

The most interesting assertion in the article was: "Negative emotions alert people to the moral nature of a situation by bringing on discomfort that can precede moral judgment, and such an emotional response is stronger in young children, he explained." Apparently children's moral judgment is not just preceded by a negative emotional response, but is essentially a negative emotional response: "For young children, the amygdala, which is associated with the generation of emotional responses to a social situation, was much more activated than it was in adults."

The emotional moral judgment of the child evolves as an adult to be tempered by the "dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex — areas of the brain that allow people to reflect on the values linked to outcomes and actions." So while children are assuming that every bad act is malicious, adults are able to recognize and discount accidents and find nuance in levels of maliciousness.

I hadn't realized that moral judgment starts out as an emotional reaction in both adults and children (and remains an emotional reaction in children). It makes sense that sociopaths would have a comparatively blunted sense of morality, assuming that they either do not feel this emotional impetus or feel it less, which is certainly the case with me -- I have never felt moral outrage. My friends joke that I wouldn't be able to smell a lynch mob coming.

I have mixed feelings about the emotional component of moral judgment. On the one hand, I understand how nature reinforces important functions with emotion. On the other hand, emotional moral judgment also enables people to do really horrible things to each other for little to no provocation.

Do any empaths want to defend their way of doing things, i.e. argue that emotional moral reason is better than unemotional moral reasoning?

104 comments:

  1. I hadn't realized that moral judgment starts out as an emotional reaction in both adults and children (and remains an emotional reaction in children).

    Hmmm. But moral judgements can only ever begin as emotional reactions - because that's what they are - which is why they remain as emotional reactions in adults, too.

    They're not enduring, they're the principles of right or wrong behaviour, inherited from society's current dominant elite, instilled in each of us by our parents and educators using shame or guilt to control our activities under the banner of socialisation.

    For what are moral judgements but the beliefs about right or wrong behaviour, inherited from society's current dominant or power elite, instilled in each of us using shame or guilt to control our activities under the banner of socialisation?

    Hence the continual enforcement of 'moral' judgements by mass media which is currently the 'moral' authority of the masses in the absence of religion...

    As for unemotional moral reasoning – I don't believe it exists because all moral reasoning by its nature relies on moral rules and moral norms.

    Morality is, was, and always will be ambiguous.

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  2. Brain-addled, much? Scratch the fourth line *reaches for a bucket of caffeine*

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  3. Thank you ME. This subject has been on my mind, I'm a bit of a mess here.

    I flit back and forth. Can't make up my mind half the time about where my moral reasoning comes from. It's confusing. Is this just a normal person's (empath) way and terribly hypocritical? I'm being very serious. Or is this because I'm different and have my bipolar/bpd stuff? This is confusing!

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  4. sabian, scratch what fourth line where?

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  5. why stfu, I'm asking an honest question. Call me Erin.

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  6. Where do your beliefs come from, Bella?

    Morals are just beliefs - but I dare say the shame and guilt-based conditioning used to instil a society's most dominant beliefs, which are its moral principles, doesn't work on sociopaths.

    sabian, scratch what fourth line where?

    The fourth line from my first post.

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  7. at 223: never mind. I need a trough of caffeine, too.

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  8. Sabian, first they come from a pang inside, and then i try to make sense logically of the reasoning AFTER the fact. Then my mind can change easily when I get more info. I doubt my instincts. I am unsure if they are "correct" so I get confused.

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  9. My beliefs are confused because my parents fucked up, ok? I look elsewhere. I don't want pity.

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  10. Perhaps you're experiencing the effect of early classical conditioning combined with recent exposure to competing moral principles, Bella.

    I believe that globalisation, the web, the rise of spin, and the so-called democratisation of journalism have necessitated that any one society's moral principles are reinforced more consistently and more often in order not to endure.

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  11. *In order TO endure. Hehe.

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  12. why does sum empaths seem to has no morals r they fakin it

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  13. Paranoidpath, stfu & suck my dick mkay?

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  14. who are you addressing, me or sabian, 248

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  15. Are you saying my morals are 'conveniently' hypocritical, and NOT the regular atupid person's hypocritical, or are you saying you think i have no morals?

    Why don't you come out of hiding and just say who you are 248

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  16. Aw, I like you better when you're mirroring, Bella *throws trough of caffeine over you*

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  17. Not in the mood, tonight *have a headache*

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  18. u r relly so very boring laters

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  19. well excuuuuuuuse me

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  20. --. . - ..-. ..- -.-. -.- . -..

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  21. For Zoe, answering your question from last night, I don't question my beliefs, thats not why I'm here.

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  23. I agree, Erin. Is this just a normal person's (empath) way and terribly hypocritical? I'm being very serious. I look elsewhere. Then my mind can change easily when I get more info. This subject has been on my mind, I'm a bit of a mess here. It's confusing. I'm being very serious. I flit back and forth. My beliefs are confused because my parents fucked up, ok? I am unsure if they are "correct" so I get confused. Can't make up my mind half the time about where my moral reasoning comes from. Or is this because I'm different and have my bipolar/bpd stuff? I doubt my instincts. Never mind. Sabian, first they come from a pang inside, and then i try to make sense logically of the reasoning AFTER the fact. Are you saying my morals are 'conveniently' hypocritical, and NOT the regular atupid person's hypocritical, or are you saying you think i have no morals? This is confusing! I don't want pity. Why don't you come out of hiding and just say who you are 248. Thank you ME. I need a trough of caffeine, too.

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  25. Bella, things useually have consequences, can you consider that in before you choose an action. Highly emotional people gets caught in that wave of emotion and find it hard to reason.

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  26. Oh dear, Erin, you're less coherent than Charles Manson.

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  27. The names change, but the people are the same.

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  28. Outwardly, psychopaths appear normal. However, they feel no shame, guilt, or remorse, and gain satisfaction out of antisocial or violent behaviour. Above all they share a distinct lack of empathy for others, and are unable to foster genuine human attachment. In the 1880s the French psychologist Philippe Pinel coined the term manie sans delire ("mania without delirium") for them. They are not easy to spot.

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  29. Yes, I have that ability. But it takes me too long and I sometimes get frustrated and bored. Buy that time I could be feeling numb and grab for he nearest thing that comforts me. This seems unhealthy. Do any of you have this?

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  30. Fake Bella, thanks for mushing my face in shit. And don't think I didn't see the other fakeness on an OTHER site.

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  31. Bella, I have freinds that do this. Sometimes they call me when it's going on and try totalk it out first then go ahead and do it anyway, lol.

    Seems their looking for things outside of themselves to fill in the blanks but they are usually embarrassed by the consequences which leaves them more confused.

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  32. WTF? who cares about this? where are the regulars?

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  33. ......this is so very booooooooring.

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  35. Fake Bella, thanks for mushing my face in shit.

    You're welcome *curtsies and smiles*

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  36. .......this is so very booooooooring because of you dumb assholes...... stfu until better people arrive.

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  37. I agree Erin.

    Maybe one of the superior minds could make sence of it, lol

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  38. Worry not, admirers, detractors, and future victims. The regulars remain to stir your hearts.~

    While the lab environment is helpful for stripping away some confounding variables, I think it obscures a factor in moral judgments: personal effect. Show those subjects a picture of someone shattering one of the subject's possessions, even accidentally. I don't think it would be unreasonable to suggest that they might react a bit more harshly.

    I do like this part, though:

    In addition, the ratings of empathic sadness for the victim, which were strongest in young children, decreased gradually with age, and correlated with the activity in the insula and subgenual prefrontal cortex

    Clearly, we're all getting too old for this shit.~

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  39. Don't you think children would react more to something they've done since they are the ones who would be punished more readily then adults?

    The older you get the less you would fear the consequences of say breaking something. You also have greater ability to explain.

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  40. question

    do you guys believe in the existence of good, evil, morality, all that stuff?

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  42. There's no such thing as morality.

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  43. @Anon 10:35

    I think that Good/Evil is a matter of perspective.

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  44. Yeah I believe in good and evil. I don't plan to do anything with that knowledge though. I don't much care about it either. I do what I like in the end, and make it look good to anyone stupid enough to see it that way.

    You can't use "There's no such thing as evil so I didn't do anything wrong" as an excuse in the real world so I don't see the point of all this nihilistic crap. Anyone who comes here, clams that they do bad things, and then starts rambling about how evil doesn't exist may as well just apologies for what they've done and my as well apologies for what I and everyone else has done while they're at it. I only justify my actions to other people, never to myself.

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  46. Morality can be purely emotional and purely rational.

    Does not the samurai act emotionally moral when he shames himself on something wrong he did to his lord?

    And does he not act rationally moral when he overcomes his instinct of self preservation when he commits seppuku by gutting himself 3 times and enduring the pain?

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  47. IF I AM NOT EVIL THEN EVIL DOES NOT EXIST

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  48. Anyone see First 48 Hours last night?

    The guy getting arrested for murder looks into the camera and says "hi America, love your show" socio or idiot?

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  49. @Bella
    Or is this because I'm different and have my bipolar/bpd stuff?

    You sound awfully like a bpd chick I met. I asked Haven for advice and it was terrific. You should check out Haven's blog if you already didn't.

    I can say bpd people find it very hard to cement a moral code, because it's in their nature to change and experument.

    I can see a bpd in angst to change and at the same time needing solid perspective. I think this struggle should be seen in a positive way; it gives the bpd's life color and purpose.

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  50. @Erin

    Its not my nephew, but thing are going okay. Could be better could be worst.

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  51. "In the 12th century, bricks from Northern-Western Italy were re-introduced to Northern Germany, where an independent tradition evolved. It culminated in the so-called brick Gothic, a reduced style of Gothic architecture that flourished in Northern Europe, especially in the regions around the Baltic Sea which are without natural rock resources. Brick Gothic buildings, which are built almost exclusively of bricks, are to be found in Denmark, Germany, Poland, and Russia."

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  52. "Technological advances in soil preparation and seed placement at planting time, use of crop rotation and fertilizers to improve plant growth, and advances in harvesting methods have all combined to promote wheat as a viable crop. Agricultural cultivation using horse collar leveraged plows (at about 3000 BCE) was one of the first innovations that increased productivity. Much later, when the use of seed drills replaced broadcasting sowing of seed in the 18th century, another great increase in productivity occurred. Yields of wheat per unit area increased as methods of crop rotation were applied to long cultivated land, and the use of fertilizers became widespread. Improved agricultural husbandry has more recently included threshing machines and reaping machines (the 'combine harvester'), tractor-drawn cultivators and planters, and better varieties (see Green Revolution and Norin 10 wheat). Great expansions of wheat production occurred as new arable land was farmed in the Americas and Australia"

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  53. "100 grams of hard red winter wheat contain about 12.6 grams of protein, 1.5 grams of total fat, 71 grams of carbohydrate (by difference), 12.2 grams of dietary fiber, and 3.2 mg of iron (17% of the daily requirement); the same weight of hard red spring wheat contains about 15.4 grams of protein, 1.9 grams of total fat, 68 grams of carbohydrate (by difference), 12.2 grams of dietary fiber, and 3.6 mg of iron (20% of the daily requirement)."

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  54. The term has been used since at least as early as 1683, with a publication of that year stating that "The scabbards mentioned in printers' grammars of the last century were of cardboard or millboard".

    The Kellogg brothers first used cardboard cartons to hold their flaked corn cereal, and later when they began marketing it to the general public a heat-sealed waxed bag of Waxtite was wrapped around the outside of the box and printed with their brand name. This marked the origin of the cereal box, though in modern times the sealed bag is plastic and is kept inside the box rather than outside. Another early American packaging industry pioneer was the Kieckhefer Container Company, run by John W. Kieckhefer, which excelled in the use of fibre shipping containers, which especially included the paper milk carton.

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  55. "I am intellectually smart" -- Erin - August 11, 2011 3:47 AM

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  56. the full quote is

    "I am intellectually smart,obviously" -- Erin

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  58. @Erin, the blog is only as boring as people choose or choose not to make it.

    Morality is a really interesting thing because in some form or another it features in so many decisions or lack of made or not made by people.
    The level of intelligent rationalizations and comments (sometimes) put forth by the habitants of this blog actually gives me pause to think about things sometimes, which for me is no mean feat, as i usually just bulldozer over peoples emotions and thoughts in my world.
    Conditioning in some form or another be it childhood, media based, or societal I think has one of the biggest effects on morality systems or lack of .
    I think that the compartmentalization techniques developed by some socios and psychos to cope with their lifestyles/psyche's gives a huge edge in dealing with morality and conditioning issues in that they dont get burdened by false or illogical ideological bullshit like the majority of empaths seem to.

    More of an "I think, therefore I might if I choose to"... as opposed to the I think, therefore i am" mindset. A fluid, evolving mind seems to be inherently more robust and useful to deal with societies crap than a rigid, fixed moral code that gets caught up on every annoying detail. For me morality is based on what particular situation Im in rather than a unbending set of rules to lock me down with.
    I see my own personal boundaries as my "moral" system. If those boundaries expand to take something else in, so be it. Im not going to get to sharpen my skills or learn more interestingly useful things if I stay fixed on some briefly attainable goal imposed by whomever. My "morals" work for me, and if they're not working , I'll change them so they do.
    For me good and evil exist as polar ends to a sliding scale that is as adaptable and flexible as i wish it to be dependent on my boundaries.
    I replace good and evil with "should" or "should not" be done. But that of course is dependent on my view of it at that time.

    perhaps that is nonsensical...and when my fruitloop sugar high wears off I will see things differently.
    But I dont think so ...... the sugar made me do it!!!!

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  59. Bella said...
    Yes, I have that ability. But it takes me too long and I sometimes get frustrated and bored. Buy that time I could be feeling numb and grab for he nearest thing that comforts me. This seems unhealthy. Do any of you have this?

    yes Bella, I get that sometimes. It turns into more of a reach for familiarity (perhaps familiarity = comfort in that case?) though and I step on who or whatever to get it. I lost count of the times that Ive been called a heartless bastard or nasty control freak, but the thing is that the things I see as being familiar , I covet...their "mine" and as such I reserve the right to access them whenever the fuck I want.

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  60. @ Erin
    Then change your perspective. Its only as boring as you or anyone else makes it.

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  62. i thought you were 'intellectually smart' and had studied all types of things for years, erin. what about this topic are you not able to grasp?

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  64. 'My mind is tired.It is too much effort.'

    exactly. :D

    'And I have studied all kinds of stuff'

    such as...

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  66. well, you've done everything, haven't you. a psychic, guitar playing, piano playing, bible bashing, homeopathy practicing acupuncturist! :D

    it's a shame all of you're skills aren't put into good use.

    it's a shame someone as gifted and 'intellectually smart' is unable to grasp this topic...

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  68. well exactly! :P

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  70. wtf is the difference between a primary psychopath and a narcissist? seriously.

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  71. Erin said...

    My guess is that lurkers will feel free to talk more;lurkers who did not want to be eviserated by these clowns will probably start talking more now.


    It is the interactions of the people you call "clowns" that I am interested in.
    Not everyone has a need to be the centre of attention as you obviously do.

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  72. Did someone call for a clown?

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  73. Morals are good. Somebody needs to tow the line, if not we might actually have to do some real work.

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  74. tik said...
    For Zoe, answering your question from last night, I don't question my beliefs, thats not why I'm here.


    oh ok :)

    i knew someone who was hanging around with the "wrong" crowd and lost her beliefs. but she was more of a thinker than a feeler.

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  75. what is wrong with you people, it's only monday!!! you hurts my brain

    i have no idea what pms said up there but it sounded smart

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  76. The self-professed principled/moral sociopath vs the self-professed ammoral uber empath. Oh the irony. Probably one of the strangest twists in human nature. Truth is, it makes sense that what some people shirk from emotional instinct (the child as u say) doesn't then need the reinforcement of a thought-out 'code.' And of course, the opposite is true. Much like children are envied for their innocence, I don't see their 'emotional' moral outrage as an inferior sense of judgment. If we can rationalise everything in the world, to the point of apathy, we would lose a great deal of compelling, charismatic individuals in the world, very often childlike themselves.

    I admit, I have a hard, strange time hearing an unemotional type who preaches morality, and I spot the 'unemotional' bit from a mile away. It's precisely the feeling you'd get when say, a Professor in Mathmatics is having 2+2 explained to him like a dummy.
    I do wonder, no natural conscience = a stronger rational morality, does this lead to a more reliable, trustworthy and consistent person, or is that lack of conscience gonna creep back out from time to time?
    I'd say, believe not, for he who declares himself holy, is probably the grubbiest around.

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  77. "I don't see their 'emotional' moral outrage as an inferior sense of judgment."

    Hmmm. But moral outrage is just an emotional response to a perceived *collective* threat, no?

    It's a conditioned response to a dominant set of principles, AKA morals, as part of a society's (ongoing) socialisation.

    Emotional moral reason is not intuition.

    However moral principles blind people to their intuition because they concentrate attention upon social constructions of right and wrong - they shut it down and repress it.

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  78. do indigenous peeps overright intuition and instinctive wisdom with rules made up by middle class white judao christen men

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  79. Middle-class White Judeo-Christian ManAugust 15, 2011 at 10:18 PM

    Respect my authority!

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  80. Lycan said "I replace good and evil with "should" or "should not" be done. But that of course is dependent on my view of it at that time."

    I have this too. Here I am with an open mind and shifting boundaries, and then I go about "shoulding"

    This rigidity cramping me all the time mixed with a sort of moral leniency is like grinding gears unnecessarily. And it's noisy.

    AMoralBeing, thanks. I really like Haven's blog.

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  81. However moral principles blind people to their intuition because they concentrate attention upon social constructions of right and wrong - they shut it down and repress it.

    I think sociopaths are very adept at making another person doubt their intuition. They will spew morals and ask hypotheticals to the point at which you just say "Ok stfu, enough already. Do what you want, take what you want. I give up. You're right, I'm wrong."

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  82. In reference to my earlier comment as Anon above, I will argue for the position and value of being an extreme. When there is an excess, say, emotion or lack thereof, it allows one to understand better (with application of the mind), that which is absent or lacking in them. It therefore creates the potential for more depth of insight than those who possess a little of everything, but not a vast amount of anything. It means the extreme can re-balance itself, with some application like I said, and even appear/ be more sane than most, for it's through knowing the emptiness and the absurdity of what we are and what we are expected to be, the ultimate futility behind those curious questions about ourselves, that we can become much wiser, self-aware, and therefore, benefical components in the evolutionary journey.

    In reference to the post today, a knowledge of what we are lacking, is one of the most powerful tools we can possess.

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  83. @Bella

    Oh, I agree. Because our culture is one of black and white moral oppositions, to the logical extreme, it's easy for anyone with cruel intentions to be taken at face value as morally 'good' simply by exploiting morally 'good' stereotypes to act the part.

    The more atomised society becomes the more people rely on stereotypes to guide them – which is a tragedy in itself – but also because all too often moral leniency in society is only afforded to those with the capacity to mimic morally 'good' stereotypes.

    Why the ability to 'demonstrate' (the appearance of) 'remorse' is considered to be indicative of anything other than the ability to 'demonstrate' (the appearance of) 'remorse' is beyond me...

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  84. @notme

    Intensity and existentialism FTW

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  85. I do not see much remorse in this world. Only in the movies, now.

    I watched 'Inception' again. Now that is remorse.

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  86. @Bella

    I witness plenty of remorse, or deep regret, in this world but not for actions towards others but towards oneself.

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  87. This is not real remorse in my eyes because it reflects the self, not the effect your actions had on another.

    This is like self pity.

    Isn't remorse based on how others feel that also related to a certain amount of lack of empathy? You only see (or want to see, sometimes) your own self?

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  88. *based on your own self also related...

    night

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  89. What's with this claim to evolutionary rightfulness, people?

    You sociopaths seem to advertize and promote this idea out of some need to justification; that neurotypes, and consequently sociopaths, are necessary.

    It's like saying there's an evolutionary road to be maintained, so there'd be justification for neurotypes. This is complete bullshit. You're mirroring the 'natural design' concept.

    Either claim divine justification for your existance or create an artificial moral value that promotes your presence in society. There is no in-between...

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  90. 'Either claim divine justification for your existance or create an artificial moral value that promotes your presence in society'


    Neither is necessary. And I wasn't talking literally or about natural design. Evolution can take place within a single lifetime, I simply mean 'moving forward' in one's own life, their own offspring etc, not anything beyond that concern.

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  91. It wasn't meant for you. I actually took your post in the existencialist sense, wich is in accord to what I was saying (that there is no 'natural' reason to be... it must be built from a notion of god or something else, like ideals or objectives)

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  92. You sociopaths seem to advertize and promote this idea out of some need to justification; that neurotypes, and consequently sociopaths, are necessary.

    EVERYONE thinks their type of person is "necessary"

    Because everyone wants to be "right"

    You are right if when you do the things you do, you know your head and heart are working in synch.

    Arrogant sociopathic types, they can move people into action with their single track mind.

    Do they put it to a greater "use" ?

    If there are so many in this world (like Bill Clinton ?!!?) where's my free fuckin' healthcare?

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  93. I think making it a matter of valence is essentially missing the point of the study...

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  94. This is interesting to me because kids with high IQs (over 140) have been observed by researchers to have a stronger sense of justice then typical kids, plus advanced "unemotional moral reasoning", as you call it. (Example: Gifted kids from the age of 10-12 onward will argue that stealing a lifesaving drug for someone is not wrong, because preventing death is more important than not committing theft. This is apparently not the usual reaction.) The initial emotional response must trigger the advanced reasoning ability that gifted kids and adults have, making their convictions about justice and morality stronger than the norm. So I would theorize that in fact this combination is the "best" way of doing things, as it seems to produce the most significant results. And weirdly, I agree with some of the stuff you say, for example about seeing inconsistencies in people's professed political beliefs, but I'm definitely not a sociopath. I might have an emotional response, but I step back and reason things out, just like you do. It's just not about understanding to fit in, it's about understanding for its own sake.

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  95. I know I'm far too late with this but: HAPPY 3RD BIRTHDAY SOCIOPATHWORLD! :D

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