Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Project

After another week I figured I should give some information of the project I am assisting. It is titled Evolutionary Precursors of Morality, the aim is not to understand the biological roots of human moral behavior but to investigate the biological foundations and to identify possible evolutionary precursors of morality, the PhD students are working to answer the question of whether it is possible that our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, possess evolutionary precursors of morality. Then by comparing what is known of human behavior, the data will help to reveal both similarities and differences in addition to a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of human moral behavior.

The behavioral experiments and observations center on two main focuses, food sharing (altruism and cooperation) and whether the chimps are capable to form and enforce social norms in their groups. In our society such norms exist, as a function to maintain social order and facilitate cooperation. Any norm violation may cause strong emotional reactions in humans, whether chimpanzees are also capable of such reactions is the question. The specifics of this focus of the project is based on the understanding that chimp infants are normally liked and protected by the whole colony, we will observe reactions to what one (chimpanzee) ought to do or ought not to do in situations of infanticide. The food sharing experiments put attention on the nature of moral-like behavior and gain sight of what reasoning and emotional operation favor or restrain such behaviors and whether we can find these same mechanisms working in humans.

Morality is a concept made up of varied components and the existence/enforcement of social norms are considered to be uniquely human features. For the past quarter century human nature was viewed with a large influence of Veneer Theory, a thin cultural overlay where people are born nasty and selfish and it was with only the greatest effort we could`ve hoped to become moral, noble tendencies was the icing if at all. Just because this school of thought has almost been put to rest does not mean we should stop searching for other explanations. The project`s working hypothesis is basically, human morality has an intuitive core composed of a set of moral emotions and motivations backed by reason. This project should gain evidence for a continuity between humans and other primates, supporting the view that the building blocks of morality are older than our species. Using a multidisciplinary perspective, hoping to merge philosophers, anthropologists, neurobiologists and sociologist, you can feel the endeavor.

I am learning a lot about my field of study at the University of Colorado, this opportunity seems so different than other internships even though I wouldn`t classify this experience as such. While at the zoo (hence those four words), after going to lunch and arriving back to where you left with observations, only now one of the male chimps has a large and bleeding gash on his left cheek, you appreciate this is real and with life involved. Filing insurance documents and continuing the same routine, day after day at the job I have in Colorado, brings to my attention the drastic difference.
Thinkswiss has exposed me to the world of continuing education, a decision I will make in two years. Of course it would be at a school in the US so consideration has it`s realizations. being an academic you must "publish or perish" so I see there are degrees of energy expense no matter what it is you do.

I am certain though that it is the present I should respect my focus of intentions on, every step of the life excursion. For instance, yesterday walking from the train into Central station, I could hear the collective cheering growing louder as I got closer, fans for Romania and Italy echoing from the moving crowd under the giant soccer players in the building. During those present moments nationalism has never felt so alive. Although attending the final game (I wish!), let alone any of the games, would triumph that. Italy vs Romania was in Zürich that evening and you would`ve to have been deaf and blind to not take notice walking through downtown.
The score ended without a loser or winner, 1 to 1, even after all that excitement and belief.

Well I look forward to the meeting in Lausanne, and visiting with the family there.
Till next time.

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