While studying at USC, I took a life-changing class outside the confines of my comfy cinema school called Origins of the Mind, Psychology 339, taught by Dr. Justin Wood, an examination of how human knowledge emerged in our evolutionary history and emerges during human development. The last section of the class took a close look at morality. In one lab, we watched and analyzed a TED talk by author, philosopher and “New Atheist” neuroscientist, Sam Harris. It’s worth a watch:
Harris argues science can dictate morality and that a universal understanding of right and wrong, namely that which promotes the wellbeing of conscious creatures, would benefit humanity. It’s at once an alluring and troubling proposal. For who dictates the choices you make? You or a man like Harris who claims he know best? If his argument strikes you as rather fundamentalist, in a religious sense–you are not the first. Chris Hedges writes in TruthDig:
“Harris, like all utopians, has reduced millions of human beings and cultures he knows nothing about to primitive impediments to his vision of a better world.”
But what does any of this have to do with me? Next weekend, I begin production on an interactive web-series called Virtual Morality, in which you are thrust into classic moral dilemmas and forced to make choices: some are right, some are wrong. But whose to say what’s what? That’s for you to decide. The results may challenge your expectations and specifically the presumption that black and white can be so easily drawn as they are by men like Sam Harris. At the same time, the web-series will examine whether Harris’s noble attempt to perfect humanity with a universal scientifically sacrosanct moral algorithm could actually work. Is it even possible? What do you think? Next Monday, September 22, make your choice in the pilot of Virtual Morality.