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Vail Daily column: Can morality be influenced by magnets?

Robert Valko
Dear Darwin
Vail, CO Colorado

Should a woman send her husband across a bridge that she knows is unsafe, one where he might break his pinkies? The answer most certainly depends on how many Ritz crackers slipped through those pinkies, into the couch cushions, during the last Masters tournament.

Or, should she let him walk over a bridge if she’s fully aware that planks might break lose, sending him on a little rafting expedition? That answer would undoubtedly depend on how he pronounces nuk-u-ler. If that’s how he pronounces nuclear, there’s a good chance he should take a little walk, maybe back to Texas.

And what about guys who forget to sweep up after using the BackShaver 2000, or who won’t stop to ask for directions –human Chia Pets and guys that rely on their knowledge of their kingdoms to get them from the backyard Smokey Joe to the 7/11? Should they be sent over the bridge? It’s a tough one.



Why the odd questions? Research carried out by scientists at MIT, Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that when a certain area of the brain was exposed to magnetic pulses from a procedure called trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), they made moral judgments didn’t quite make the grade.

In the study, the sexes were reversed from those above. During exposure to the Magnetron 9000 –or whatever brain scrambling device they used – people were asked if a man should allow his girlfriend to cross an unsafe bridge. The study focused not on a “yes” or “no” answer, but on how the respondents judged the outcome.



To keep a long story short, respondents essentially said that failed attempts to harm were OK. In other words, if the woman did not get hurt during the crossing, then it was OK to send her over the rickety bridge. Not exactly the kind of answer that will get you brownie points for the Pearly Gates.

Speaking of Heaven, the purpose of the study may have been to show that our morals – whether they be in line or out of whack – are not rooted in divine intervention or demonic possession. Instead, they appear to be spawned – created – by good old-fashioned neurons (brain cells).

But this “evidence” of non-divine origins of a trai – morality – that makes our species noteworthy need not exclude us from all things spiritual.



Indeed, John Wheeler, a colleague of Einstein’s and one of the 20th century’s leading physicists, espoused a most intriguing hypothesis. It’s called the Anthropic Principle. Many of you may be familiar with it.

It states (due to findings in the fields of quantum physics and sub-atomic particle research – two fields that seek to explain what matter is and how life and the cosmos came into existence) that universes without life don’t exist. Thus, life and consciousness manifest universes. Living entities, especially conscious ones, are not inconsequential agents in this or any other universe. Rather, they create the universe(s).

Actually, that possibility is one of two raging in the fields of cosmology and quantum physics these days. The alternative is that there are countless parallel universes out there.

The details are too lengthy to go into a column about the BackShaver 2000.

So, just remember, in the words of Paul Davies, author and professor of cosmology at the University of Arizona, “Observers [conscious life-forms] give rise to physics even as physics gives rise to observers.”

Robert Valko is a graduate of Northwestern University. For a list of academic sources used for the piece or for new column ideas, e- mail Robert at vailko@yahoo.com.


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