Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sam Harris: can science answer "ought" questions?

3 comments:

Barnabus Sackett said...

Science is, or at least should be, non-bias and impartial when doing research. The "ought" questions should be left to society and its own philosophical ideas. Scientists can have their own opinions about what ought to be done but should be wary of them when conducting their own research as this could result in bias conclusions from their data.

Tom Paine's Ghost said...

Agreed Barnabus! However an interesting thought experiment is to question why certain research gets funded and how those decisions are made. For instance in biochemical research an investigator will often intentionally seek funding to study the molecular basis of some disease. The presumption here being that granting committees will agree with the premise "Yes we ought to fund this research because logically the disease 'should' ultimately be cured." Not that the research will cure the disease but that increasing knowledge about that disease will help further society down the path to a cure. It seems obvious that all disease "should" be cured. But there are instances where a more nuanced understanding of the context of disease makes it less clear cut whether disease eradication is worth it. example: sickle cell anemia and the selective advantage for this "disease" in malaria ridden geographical regions. Note that the word disease could be interchanged with "advantage" in the last sentence. Therefore an understanding of whether or not a disease should be "cured" is relative to the geographical area and anthropological context. the argument can not be made universally that all sickle cell anemia must be cured all over the planet. it must be understood in cultural context. The question then always needs to be posed in light of evolution. is this phenomenon maladaptive in the context of the particular geographical group of organisms afflicted. being afflicted with a disease in the carefully controlled hospital room is much different than having the affliction in a jungle.

Barnabus Sackett said...

TPG, I see what you are saying, in the context of evolution, we shouldn't always try to eradicate a disease because it may provide us with an evolutionary advantage. And I agree with that statement but the next question in my mind is how do we decide which diseases are most advantageous to not completely eradicate? I think that these types of decisions would be difficult because evolution is a random process. Also, how can that be explained to people who have the disease?