Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bodhisattva actions - and how not to elicit "good"

Here is an interesting review of research regarding doing good, and attempts to elicit good through rewards, punishments and more. The beginning research in this area, including brain imaging and stimulation, challenges notions that we often take for granted, even ideas of self, intention/free-will and body-mind.

"It turns out that doing the right thing voluntarily is very different from doing it to avoid punishment. Recent research even reveals a basis in the brain for this distinction..."

After a review of the research findings, the review ends with the following:

"Einstein once said that you can't simultaneously prepare for war and peace. There's something analogous here. This key brain region can't simultaneously prompt you to do the right thing because it's the right thing and because otherwise you're going to get your butt kicked."

For the full article with interesting comments see:

and the Science article abstract is here:

and here is further discussion on this matter in another journal which also touches on the issues of "intention" and "voluntary":

"The brain stimulation had very different effects depending on whether students were voluntarily following the norm as opposed to when they were threatened with punishment.
When the threat of punishment was present, brain-boosting stimulation caused students to give away more money, while brain-reducing stimulation made them give away less money. In contrast, when giving was voluntary, boosting and reducing brain stimulation had the opposite effects, making the students give away less money or more money, respectively....

"Here, brain stimulation to the exact same region has opposite effects on cooperative behavior that depend entirely on context," said neuroscientist Joshua Buckholtz of Harvard University, who was not involved with the study. Buckholtz suggested that the context of having a punishment threat or not could be changing the connectivity between the rLPFC and other brain areas.
The idea that the brain could be manipulated to make people more compliant with social norms has far-reaching implications for the legal system. "If we know this mechanism, we might think about ways to influence it to help people who have trouble following norms," Ruff said. But it's not as easy as simply zapping a criminal's brain to make them comply with the law.
"There's a big difference between acute modification in the lab and a long-term change in the way people represent and process social norms in nature," Buckholtz said."

This "voluntarily" being present intimacy, intending actions - this most basic human functioning - this bodhisattva functioning, is our life practice opportunity.