Target Neuro Anatomy of Ethics

Ethics is to the brain’s sense of right or wrong, what a noble life is to a highly intelligent and thoughtful person. Truth is – the brain comes with moral potential.  It equips people to do what is good – even when that good comes with personal cost.  Sure, it takes a bit of work, yet ethics physically reshapes the human brain. No wonder it also shapes our lives and entire communities. But did you know that magnets can change your moral values?

Interestingly, when your brain determines what good looks like – and leapfrogs you over bad habits, new neuron pathways are created to lead toward that action. Ethics engages the basal ganglia, and enables you to move past bad habits, in favor of ethical rejuvenation.

Moral values engage the brain - through heaping supply of intrapersonal intelligence. Each person is born with a unique mix. As one of your multiple intelligences, intrapersonal capability depends on both your gene pool supply as well as ethical acumen you cultivate each time you do what is right on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly,  a person strong in ethical capability not only knows what is right, but does good and in that way finds happiness. What may come as a surprise though, is the brain’s practice of rewiring its plasticity to act morally in future dilemmas.

Called neuro-anatomy of ethics here,  it’s simply an adult brain’s ability to grow a stronger moral code, through generating new dendrite brain cells for ethical choices.

Ethics in real life situations usually involves a choice about what is right and what is wrong in controversial settings. Unethical practices most prevalent in the news this week involved:

Cheating among students.
Questionable financial practices.
Conflicts of interest.
Greed that governs corporate America.
Inequity that underlies learning.

We could all add to this list of unethical practices that impact any ordinary day. More importantly, what would an ethical person do to rewire the human brain for more ethics.

You’ll know ethics guides your brain if you:

  • feel good when you do good, and feel bad when you act unethically.
  • find courage to live life cheerfully
  • create space for your own spirit and value spirit in others
  • act compassionately
  • avoid lies, cheating, or greed
  • revere life, and welcome differences in ways that teach all
  • depart from old ways in favor of more ethical discoveries
  • attempt to model values in your community to benefit others
  • care for the earth and preserve its riches for future generations
  • protect freedom for yourself and others
  • love justice yet act with mercy
  • learn, grow and remain open to opposing views
  • use good tone to communicate with respect for all
  • help others and shrink from anything that harms humankind
  • live so that others clearly see a code of morality embedded in your actions
  • care for animals in ways that recognizes their vulnerability
  • open your understanding to grapple with great mysteries of the universe
  • remain loyal to doing good for others in your world
  • refuse to promote your own well-being at the expense of another’s
  • reverence sacred parts of life, and value other’s sense of sacred
  • work hard, and pay others fairly for their labor
  • apologize and make restitution whenever you harm another person
  • never think less or more of yourself than is true
  • develop a conscience that remains sensitive to goodness
  • believe in and do the right thing when faced with choice
  • avoid conflicts of interest
  • live transparently so that others can evaluate your actions
  • grow and develop with each new discovery about the good life
  • express gratitude for all that is given to you
  • practice the Golden rule daily
  • act morally rather than preach morality to others
  • sacrifice to maintain goodness over evil
  • recognize the good in others, before you identify differences

Would you agree that daily ethical practices, the kind that Dr. Robyn McMaster described in Uncle Earl’s story here,  could lead each of us to a life far more worth living?

For further consideration, check out interesting research on the possibility that magnetic pulses to certain parts of the brain appear to manipulate a person’s sense of morality. This relates to additional research which affirms how moral judgments can be impaired in patients with damage to ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It infers that moral judgements depend on our ability to  infer intentions. What do you think?

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13 Comments

  1. Interestingly, some of the most ethical people I know are the most humble. I just finished writing a piece about Uncle Earl’s generosity and I came to see what you wrote and I cannot believe that my piece is a microcosm, while yours a macrocosm. Talk about synchronicity!

    Robyn McMasters last blog post..What I Learned from Uncle Earl’s Generosity

  2. eweber says:

    That also amazed me, and I used Uncle Earl’s story here as a way to inspire the rest of us. Not sure I have a car to give away … but let’s see … hey – we are both ethically primed. It should be a great day at the MITA Brain Based Center today! What fun to work at a place where ethics sits at the heart of what we care about and do! Thanks Robyn!

  3. rummuser says:

    The answer to your question is an unqualified yes, subject to one proviso. ‘Ethics’ is subjective. What is ethical to one society need not be so for another. The one universal value of not wishing to do anything that you would not like done to you is the only one ethical value that is the exception to the rule.

    Let me illustrate – A Muslim is permitted by his ethics to marry four women. If he practices this in say, the USA, is he being ethical? Will he be happy? How will his non Muslim neighbors view his behavior?

    This is where the rewriting of the brain to accept a modern universal ethical value assumes great importance but one tends to get carried away by ones own conditioning and make value judgments, instead of attempting a reform in an acceptable manner.

  4. eweber says:

    Ramana, you always make us think:-) Love it – and thanks. Yes, I agree – but there is more:-)

    Ethics are also relevant to what focus is key to a person’s mind, and even more so perhaps than what is carried out in traditions.

    Traditionally we kept slaves. HOW WRONG ETHICALLY.

    If one is deeply concerned about the ethics of equity – they might question: Does a wife have equal privileges in any society? The bigger questions are the same. Most societies simply fail to ask the great questions:-) Not you though – and that is what brings such gems to discussions:-)

    Ethics is at the center of all we do here at the MITA Brain Based Center – so the topic is one we constantly grow in with delight.

    Thanks Ramana, for your ethical approaches, often seen at this site!

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  11. linda jackson says:

    good values are and will always be needed especially now. children learn values by what they see, hear and what they are taught. when we learn good values we are finally mature, mindwise. age is not what makes us grown, it is the knowledge of knowing whats right and wrong and making thinking first anc then choosing whats is right.

  12. linda jackson says:

    ethics values are not only instilled in us, but we choose how to use them. we make choices, no matter what the situation, in the long run your choice is yours. if people took the time to think before they do and chose the right thing to do of course this world would be a better place. by choosing to do the wrong thing also shows how heartless and numb a person can be inside and out.

  13. linda jackson says:

    a child that has been instilled with good values will always reap rewards because of the right choices. there may be a time in life where they stray but they will always come back to the good values that they have been taught.

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