Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, The Monty Hall Problem and Genocide Neglect

manicstreetpreacher’s brain is feeling rather sore.

Following his extraordinary appearance at TED 2010 discussing the link between science and human morality, this lecture by Sam Harris discusses in greater detail his upcoming book, The Moral Landscape, due to be published on 5 October 2010.

Harris raises The Monty Hall Problem.  This is an intriguing game of probabilities that appears to be a total affront to common sense.  People have it explained to them and they still don’t get it.  When it was first published in Parade magazine thousands of people, many with PhDs, wrote in to tell the publishers that the solution was wrong.

Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say Number 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say Number 3, which has a goat.  He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door Number 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

Many people think that switching doors will have no effect on increasing your chances of winning the car at all.  It will be 50/50.

However, this is incorrect!  Switching doors will increase your chances of winning the car to 2/3s!?!?!?!?!

I’m not sure that I understand it completely.  Wikipedia has the full story!

Aside from this brain ache, Sam Harris discusses the intriguing contradictions in human morality.  An interesting paradox he raises is “Genocide Neglect” as described in this paper by Paul Slovic: the more suffering people that humans are faced with, the less they will care.

Genocides such as those carried out in Rwanda and Cambodia attract minimal attention in the media, whereas the story of Jessica McClure, the 18 month old girl who fell down a well in Midland, Texas in 1987 gained round-the-clock television coverage during her 58 hour rescue and transformed CNN into a fledging cable channel into a global news service provider!

Harris has hit on something depressingly solipsistic about the human moral condition.  New Coke backlash anybody?

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3 Responses to “Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, The Monty Hall Problem and Genocide Neglect”

  1. Ernesto Tinajero Says:

    Actually this is Harris talk in Author talk at Google. is the link for TED talk.

    The philosophical quicksand that Harris finds himself by arguing against Hume is fun to watch, like a bad mud WWF match. (You think how can anyone buy such a clearly shallow and useless show) Harris argues from extremes and then makes the claims without structure and can only offer a neo-utilitrianism without defining human flourishing. The novel Brave New World described a world where people were kept shallow, drugged and happy. Aldous Huxley meant his novel to portray a certain kind of hell, but for Sam Harris, it would be the heaven and the point of the Human condition.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Yes, and I said in the first paragraph that this was a different lecture to Harris’ appearance at TED if you’d bothered to read it.

      Sam Harris has countered his critics who have accused him of committing sacrilege against David Hume by committing the heinous sin of deriving an “ought” with an “is” here and here.


      • Ernesto Tinajero Says:

        Yes, but saying you disagree with the argument and offering no arguments other than that is intellectually dishonest. It comes from the world of Glenn Beck rationality. Sam Harris IS a mediocre thinker, and He OUGHT to be classified as popular propagandist and not as a scientist. Sam, Brave New World,
        taken out of the current religious debate is a frightening totalitarian vision

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