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Scott Forschler

The first study does indeed identify a deficit in using prospective simulations to guide one's behavior. But this is entirely consistent with having a more general incapacity to use simulations, period to do so--including simulations not only of one's future experiences, but of other persons' experiences. It remains possible, then, that it is the latter which more directly causes psychopaths to make choices which are "bad for us" and the former causes them, unsurprisingly, to also make choices which are "bad for them." I actually didn't know that psychopaths are as bad prudentially as morally (is this all psychopaths, or an important subset?), so this is enlightening information. But still it suggests a more general incapacity for simulations of other minds, including those other minds which your future self might be. Indeed, it wouldn't even help RAF if they were found to have the former incapacity but not the latter, since RAF itself suggests that we identify w/ other minds *via* identifying with our potential future selves, so you either have both or neither.

The second set of studies are likewise consistent with all kinds of non-RAF positions. A feeling of power does indeed give us more confidence that we can attain our ends without either the help of others, or favorable circumstances (luck, institutions, resources, etc.) As long as results seems to spring more or less magically and effortlessly from our will, we will ignore both kinds of contingencies--and hence act with greater moral and prudential risk. But that hardly means that these risks are in any sense the same or the former derivable from the latter.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: You can of course render just about any plausible theory retrospectively consistent with the data (as any plausible moral theory has to have at least some relation to human behavior). As an analogy, one can of course gerry-rig Newtonian physics to be consistent with relativistic observations--but that is little reason to think such a theory is correct. After all, Newtonianism never antecedently predicted relativistic observations, whereas the Theories of Relativity did.

By a similar token, the salient question here is which moral theory out there *directly* predicts the various findings that are emerging, and does so before they were discovered. I just don't know of any other moral theory that predicts the specific findings I'm linking to here and previously as directly and systematically as RAF does (given its very clear identification with moral motivation and cognition with risk avoidance stimulating concern for others via concern for one's own possible future selves).

Also, I don't think your critique is paying proper attention to the full range of findings. As some of the other studies I link to indicate, it's *not* just a more general ability to run simulations that the data indicate is at issue here. Other studies indicate that brain regions for simulating one's own future are distinct from brain regions simulating others' perspectives, and it is specifically (A) gambling avoidance via one's future selves that (B) leads people to care about the perspectives of others--just as RAF directly predicts. As I note, many other studies show that prudential concern for one's own future is augmented or degraded in proportion to the extent to which one stimulates altruism (simulation of other kinds), and conversely, altruism/fair behavior is increased or degraded in direct proportion to the extent to which concern for one's own future is stimulated or degraded. Moreover, the various studies indicate that theory of mind parts of the brain (simulating others' perspectives) are not *identical* to the parts that simulate one's own future, but instead slightly different brain regions that nevertheless interact systematically with each other--thus supporting RAF'a prediction that concern for others is motivated and cognized *via* concern for one's future. These are all very unique findings about how prudential concern for one's own future selves is inextricably related to concern for others--and again, I do not know of any theory that directly makes these precise predictions in the way that RAF does.

In any case, I am happy to wait for evidence to continue to unfold--but I still think it is encouraging just how closely the evidence emerging hews to the unique moral psychology RAF presents.

Marcus Arvan

It's also clear if you look at the newest findings on psychopaths carefully that they do have the all-purpose capacity to simulate different possible futures and points of view (viz. theory of mind). What the research shows they don't do is *worry* about the future--they don't worry prospectively about how their possible future selves may come to regret their actions, including the ways in which their future selves might regret the treatment of others...which is exactly the mechanism that RAF uniquely argues underpins moral cognition and motivation.

Scott Forschler

I'm afraid I still don't see this. RAF predicts not merely a correlation but--in your own words--that psychopaths harm others *because* they have problems simulating their future selves. The study only finds a correlation. Granted, simulating one's future self and other minds are distinct, and the studies cited don't assess the latter for psychopaths. But in your view, the one (or effective use thereof) leads to the other (or effective use thereof), right? Hence a theory which found a deficiency in one but not the other wouldn't support RAF, and you had better hope that psychopaths have the second deficiency as well (we all should, of course; I wouldn't know what to make of a finding that psychopaths can fully represent the harm they do to others and are somehow "able" to guide themselves by this, but in the end just don't--does God intervene to make the guidance fail?)

Granted, I'm not aware of any other moral theory which predicts this result; but it is easily predictable from the fact that psychopaths are bad at prudential reasoning. I didn't know this fact, but given that fact, the study results are not surprising. Indeed, the abstract mentions that this idea had been floated before by psychologists, and for this very reason, and the study basically confirms a version of this, differentiating this from the alternative theory that psychopaths are emotionless. Critiquing other moral theories for failing to predict it when non-moral theories already predicted it on the basis of non-moral facts hence seems off-base.

All this is aside from the fact, which I noted earlier, that equal concern for *all* your possible future selves, merely on the ground that they are possible, is *not* at all the same as, nor likely to lead to concern for the interests of all *actual* people (whose interests are a very small subset of the possible ones). So even if you showed a strong correlation between the two, using more of Mill's methods than are demonstrated here, the absence of a further mechanism to go from the first to the second leaves the connection very implausible, kind of like a correlation between, say, skirt lengths and economic booms or whatever. Even given some correlating evidence and a successful prediction of a crash when skirt lengths change again, one must strongly suspect that this remains either coincidental, or mediated by a third common causal factor, or if more directly connected, connected via some further mechanism more complex than the theory has so far described.

Scott Forschler

And certainly, it's common knowledge (well, for me anyway) that psychopaths can distinguish agents from non-agents, and can simulate the former enough to predict their future behavior. The issue is whether they *worry* (or more generally, care) about, the harmful consequences of their actions to themselves or to others. And again, we had better find that they don't worry about the latter either--lest how on earth would that not influence their behavior? The finding that they *also* don't worry about the former is interesting, but again not terribly surprising given their prudential deficiencies, and both predictable (and actually predicted) on non-moral grounds.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Scott: You write, "Granted, I'm not aware of any other moral theory which predicts this result...". I will provide a fuller response later, but in brief this is the relevant point. Good theories make good predictions. RAF makes an unique prediction here, and it was confirmed--a prediction that (as you note) no other moral theory makes. Yes, as you note, these results were *hypothesized* (not predicted) by psychologists in the past in relation to prudence. However, they were *not* hypothesized in connection to morality (i.e. concern with other people's interests). Only RAF makes that unique prediction--about how morality emerges *from* prudential concern for one's possible future selves. Further, on that note, it is *not* just correlations that have been observed here. You write:
"But in your view, the one (or effective use thereof) leads to the other (or effective use thereof), right?" Yes...and this prediction has been *confirmed*. Inhibiting concern for one's future selves has been shown to *cause* lack of concern for others, and stimulating concern for one's possible future selves has been shown to *increase* concern for others and fair behavior toward them.

See https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-switch-off-self-control-using-brain-stimulation/?utm_content=buffer7fa4e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

In other words, it is important to look at the emerging empirical results as a whole. You focus on the purely prudential aspect of the new findings with psychopaths--yet psychopaths are also morally deficient, and the causal connection between concern for one's possible future selves and concern for others has already been established in *other* research. So, one has to interpret the results of the various studies together. RAF makes not just one prediction, but a *variety* of very unique predictions that no other moral theory makes--and now several of its most central predictions, not just about (A) psychopaths, but also about (B) the *causal* relationship between concern for future selves and concern for others, as well as (C) the role that risk-avoidance plays in the process, have significant amounts of confirmatory evidence. Given that RAF makes these predictions, no other moral theory makes them, they have been confirmed thus far, and the relevant predictions are *not* just about nonmoral facts, but their relation to moral judgment and motivation...all of this has to be good news for the theory. Most moral theories don't even make empirical predictions! RAF makes quite a lot - and its predictions are faring very well so far.

Scott Forschler

NO Marcus, the study did *not* confirm your prediction, as I pointed out; it was merely compatible with it. And it is irrelevant that moral theories did not make this prediction (either the one found, or the unconfirmed one you made), just as it is irrelevant to the test of an economic theory that it didn't predict the latest terrorist attack, or to the latest astrology column that it did. Indeed, I would find a theory which "predicted" an event so tangential to its basic subject area, and which offered no specific mechanism for the connection, and especially one which its proponents harped on as a major sign of success, to be a rather desperate move, perhaps implying that the theory had few enough intrinsic merits and had to rely upon something else instead.

You point me to a SciAm article that, in your words, shows that affecting "concern for one's future selves has been shown to *cause* lack of concern for others" and vice versa. But Marcus, this demonstrates more than anything else that you are making stuff up in order to defend RAF, and abusing the concept of empirical support outrageously. Because this is NOT what the linked article says, not at all! It says in the very subtitle/byline: "A clever experiment pinpoints the brain region involved in taking the perspective of our future selves **OR** that of others." [my emphasis added so you don't miss it] This is repeatedly made clear in the short article: they found that they can stimulate a given brain regions to affect BOTH of these simultaneously, not that affecting one separately somehow causes the other to change. This supports, either that they are essentially different manifestations of the same underlying capacity, or (if we grant that they are different, and I do not care whether [we say] they are or not) that they are in any case both susceptible to manipulation by what is manifestly a third, independent causal factor. There is nothing here to suggest that we have an independent way of causing the one which in turn causes the other. If you A, and B and C result, you need to do a lot more than this before you claim that B causes C (and not vice versa, or that--more plausible--they are both independently caused by A).

Thus, the SciAm article shows the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you claimed: it does not support your view, but strongly supports the exact criticisms I gave earlier of how you were reading the other study you placed so much weight upon. Sorry to be a bit blunt here, but this really is a fairly extravagant misreading of the article in question, and if you want to be taken seriously you need to not make such obviously incorrect claims about the findings of such research.

Marcus Arvan

Scott: we are going to have to agree to disagree. I keep inviting you to look at the literature as a whole, whereas you keep focusing on what a particular isolated finding is irrespective of other *related* findings established elsewhere (when, in my view, it is the complete set of findings that reflect well on RAF). There is not another moral theory on the planet, as far as I can tell, that coheres as as well as RAF with the findings that have emerged so far, which clearly do causally link concern for one's own possible future selves + dramatic risk avoidance to concern/fairness to others. I invite you to take a closer look at the literature. See many of the findings linked here http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2017/02/empirical-underpinnings-of-moral-judgment-and-motivation.html I am happy to let the empirical facts sort themselves out, but I'm not going to sit here and be insulted.

Scott Forschler

Marcus, I do think that your initial statement that the SciAm article suggests "that prudential concern for one's possible future selves is neurobiologically inseparable from moral concern for others" is much closer to the truth. I'm still not sure that the article *shows* this, as perhaps more detailed neurological examination could identify different ways of affecting one but not the other, or different mechanisms behind each (indeed, as long as we think the mind supervenes on the brain, there must be *some* neurological difference between the two, which are certainly different, albeit very closely related, mental states). But I'll grant that they are very hard to separate and typically co-functioning, noting only that a much more general theory--that they both rest upon the capacity to simulate a self other than the here-and-now one--also predicts exactly this very general result. But again, your follow-up comment about the one simulation causing the other is not so supported. In fact, if the two are truly "inseparable," how could you even test for B causing C as distinct from C causing B?

Scott Forschler

Marcus, I'm sorry that you feel insulted. For my part, I myself feel a little insulted that you twice cited and linked to a SciAm article which very obviously does not support the specific claims you made about both its own content and its relationship to your views. Did you think that I couldn't read the article and see that you were making false claims about its content?

Pointing to some kind of holistic evidentiary support when individual ones fail is dangerous. While it is possible that S, T and U together support V, even if none of them in isolation would do so, this is a bad strategy to appeal to when your interpretations of S, T, and U have individually failed. Appeals to holism--like those of certain religious believers who say that everything (morality, the cosmos, biological teleology) supports their views, even though they show misunderstandings of each of the individual evidence areas discussed--may say more about the speaker than about the evidence.

Your final link to an earlier blog post must have been typed incorrectly, for "this page cannot be found."

Marcus Arvan

Scott: I still don't think I've misinterpreted the SCIAM article, nor its relationship to my view. But I've failed to convince you, and you've failed to convince me. Why don't we let future findings determine who's right. I've taken the risk of actually formulating a theory that makes empirical predictions. If the predictions are borne out, great; if not, then not - and I'll have learned something important - that the theory is wrong.. Either way, I'm happy to live with it: the matter will be settled not by you nor I, but by the evidence - as it should be.

Scott Forschler

Well, but we can only let "future findings" determine this if we correctly represent to ourselves and others what those findings are. So it is important to point out when this seems not to have happened, as when you claimed twice that the SciAm article established a relationship between inhibiting/stimulating "concern for one's own future selves" and concern for others, when in fact it only talked about inhibiting or stimulating *a specific brain region*, viz. TPJ, and the effect of this action on both of these types of concern. We agree that the evidence rules--of course!--but the evidence is simply not what you said it was. If you still can't see this (I did a ctrl-F search for "inhibit" and "stimul" on the article to make absolutely sure of this myself, please do so yourself), then I have nothing more to say.

Peace out.

Marcus Arvan

I still can't see it, Scott. The TPJ is involved in empathy with one's future selves and other people (in line with RAF's picture), and other brain regions in the default mode network--which have been systematically implicated in moral judgment and motivation--correspond closely with other elements of RAF. You think I misinterpret them each of the findings, and I don't. I'm happy to let the facts--and other observers--sort things out.

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