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Written by NHA   
Friday, 13 November 2015 11:40
Tags NHAR2 - morality - judgment - decision




NHA Tutorial 15

Morality, Judgment and Decisions

[updated Nov 2015]



In the previous two tutorials we have looked at various factors that contribute to judgment and decision-making. In this tutorial we will examine one other important factor -morality- which modulates these abilities. We will then explore judgment and decision-making themselves and why they are key skills in overall development; incorporating all the factors we have discussed.

This will help us understand the processes involved in decision making. Attention to the psychology of decision making and the cultural context in which decisions are made can improve not only our decision making, but also our understanding of others and ourselves.

As with previous advanced tutorials, expect more practical exercises and 'do it now's, as well as methods, exercises and hacks for improving or augmenting moral awareness, judgment and decision making. Some of the in-text exercises give you the opportunity to include cutting-edge research in exploration of these issues, as you will get to study the same questions used in recent experiments. We expect you to use your rationality and intellectual skills to consider the results and to draw your own conclusions.


By the end of this tutorial you should know:

What natural morality is and how it affects our judgment

The difference between biological morality and counterfeit moralities

Which main factors affect our judgment and decisions

What gets in the way of clear and accurate judgment

More about your own decision-making processes and those of others

How to develop decisiveness and make more successful and effective choices in our lives

Follow the right habit

Where do our sense of morality and our concepts of right and wrong come from? Many people think moral awareness is a gift from their god/s. Others believe that humans figure moral rules out for ourselves, using our capacity to reason and/or by choosing a philosophical system to live by. Moral constructivists believe that morality is nothing more than a human invention embodied by law. Moral naturalists, on the other hand, believe that humans have hard-wired moral beliefs which have emerged from a consistent history of cultural relationships. Darwin recognized valuing as a basic function of biological creatures generally, and moral valuing as a basic function of intelligent animals like humans.[1] More recently, psychology has had to get its head around the new paradigm of emergence, and is now beginning to view morality as biological, evolutionary and emergent.


The word 'Morality' comes from the term 'mores' (mor/ mara = "greater, more, stronger, mightier,") and until recently 'mores' were the customs and manners of culture. Mores often served as moral guidelines for acceptable behavior but were not necessarily religious or ethical.[2]

Morality presents a system of unconscious knowledge about behavior, fairness and human wellbeing pertaining to cultural interactions, aiming for the greatest benefit to intelligence. This enables:

The caring for and nurturing of intelligence on an ongoing basis, rooted in bonding

Easy conflict resolution or problem-solving in a group context, such as how to distribute scarce resources or defend ones allies

Learning (by positive and negative reinforcement, imitation, modeling, analogy and metaphor) the most beneficial ways to interact.

The construction of flexible, dynamic 'temporary' hierarchies which are adaptable to changing circumstances (for example, where whoever is 'in charge' during a given situation depends upon the skill sets and abilities of all involved in that situation.)


These factors, when healthily employed, result in the emergence of a set of culturally 'best responses' to prototypical circumstances.

Consequently, when we really believe that something is factually true or morally good, common sense implies that another human, similarly placed, should share our conviction. Scientific validity is not the result of people abstaining from making moral value judgments; it is the result of people making their best effort to value principles of reasoning that reliably link their beliefs to reality, through valid chains of evidence and argument which produce (or should produce) congruity.

Like all higher functions, morality relies on sensorimotor input and concrete processes abstracted into representational formats; in this case formulae. At root, all of our morals are based on sensorimotor awareness of harm (physical or emotional pain) and benefit (physical or emotional wellbeing and pleasure). Abstracting these concepts has led to the development of moral 'values' or 'rules' such as:

  • Harm/care. It is good to nurture intelligence; to care for others, to relieve suffering, or to help others if asked. It is bad to harm others unnecessarily (ie, unless defense from harm etc., requires it) or to interfere with others unnecessarily.

  • Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; they prevent conflict. Injustice and unfairness are bad; they cause problems.

  • Loyalty to allies/defense from harm. People should be true to their allies and be sensibly wary of threats from unknowns. Allegiance, loyalty and honesty are virtues; betrayal and deceit is bad.

  • Individual value/ recognition and respect of ability. People should respect temporary, ability-based hierarchies based on personal competence in individual cases. This maximises benefit from diversity of skills.

  • Lifestyle/self care/hygiene. The body and mind are vital to survival. Cleanliness and health-promoting behaviors are all good for the individual and their allies. Pollution, contamination and disease-promoting behaviors are all bad.

  • Emotional & behavioral stability. Expression of healthy emotion and passion is good. Lack of self control, low resilience against anxiety, and expression of sentiments which lead to harm (eg hatred, anger, greed, hubris, arrogance) is bad.

  • increase of allies is good. People should make all efforts to increase their circle of trusted allies, including the practice of rectitude (polite, inoffensive behavior/ bushido). Rudeness or offensive behaviors and failure to respect privacy are bad.

  • Ergonomic use of resources is good. Waste of resources (including time or energy) is bad.


Morality relies on supporting abilities and networks; for example without emotional stability, imagination and empathy, morality goes awry.

For you: Biological morality (biomorality)

The systems of our mind and brain are biological, biochemical systems. Systems that emerge in biology are dynamic, self-referential and self-improving via feedback loops; physiology and biochemistry have underlying universal laws much like the systems of physics. Unconscious knowledge is, inevitably, a coordinated conglomerate of the known algorithms that have previously led a species to developmental success; rules about behaviors and rules for engaging those behaviors which are beneficial to biology. If we perform these procedures correctly, there are built-in physiological systems which reward us by getting us high in various different ways.

In short, if we perform behavior X, we get feeling Y. It sounds very straightforward, because it is. It's ergonomic and it gets the job done. 'The job' is of course survival and thriving, and biological morality is based on human wellbeing.

Human wellbeing is not random; it is equally compatible with any event in the world or state of the brain that is measurable, and there are consequently scientific truths to be known about it. These truths do, inevitably, force us to draw clear distinctions between ways of thinking and living, judging some as better or worse, as more or less true to the facts, as more or less beneficial or harmful and as more or less moral.

Morality, like all our other features, is designed to be congruous with biology, and because of this, simple, moral truths increasingly fall within the purview of our scientific worldview. Research has already shown that humans are born with a hard-wired morality flexible enough to take into account all possible interactional scenarios in a dynamic system.

Factual beliefs such as, "water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen", and factual moral beliefs such as, "cruelty is harmful to intelligence and therefore to be avoided", are not expressions of mere preference, or choice of philosophies. To really believe a proposition (whether about facts or moral values) is also to believe that one has accepted it for legitimate reasons; in other words that there is adequate proof of its efficacy in real life.

Biological morality is about basics, regardless of details. IF we can prove or deduce that something is harmful to intelligence, THEN it is best avoided, no matter the details of what it is or how it is happening (although these may need to be taken into account in order to avoid it). This enables flexibility of moral value to take into consideration a dynamic reality where everything constantly changes, including the relationships between individuals.

against you : Counterfeit moralities

Congruous biological morality cannot take into account false data which creates incongruity. Morality is a system of thinking about (and maximizing) the well being of conscious creatures like ourselves, and when we take this into account, many people's 'moral concerns' are frankly immoral. Censorship of creative output, for example, is incongruous with learning, and therefore according to biological morality, harmful and wrong. In most cases, chastity and celibacy are also morally wrong; as without robust and genetically varied reproduction our species wouldn't last very long and there would be no intelligence to develop.

Counterfeit moralities are static and non-adaptable

The biggest difference between counterfeit morality and biological morality is that counterfeit morality is static and comes in absolutes, whereas biological morality like the rest of our systems is dynamic; for example:

Counterfeit morality says: 'It's wrong to kill'.

Biological morality says:

'it's harmful (and therefore wrong) to kill; except in order to eat, or to defend yourself, or your partner, or your children, or your best friends from attack, or when some lunatic is running around committing genocide, or when someone suffering with no hope of repair asks you to kill them'.

Counterfeit morality says: 'It's wrong to steal'.

Biological morality says: 'It's harmful to steal; except in order not to starve to death or in order that your partner, or your children, or your best friends do not starve, or when some lunatic is taking away everyone's food, or when the creature you are stealing from has an excess of resources and your needs are more urgent than theirs and there is a likelihood of success without harm.

Conditioning is about subverting human needs into dependence, which requires (among other things) subverting biological morality into the fixed rules of a counterfeit system which some people made up in the past (ie, it's fictional and static; this is a hallmark of most constructs in counterfeit games.)

That counterfeit moral systems are incongruous is immediately apparent for two reasons: (a) the enormous variation of moral beliefs between different societies and (b) the experience of their rules conflicting with our natural biological responses (for the classic example, the belief that 'it's wrong to have sex outside of the context of producing children within marriage').

Biological morality regarding essentials such as reproduction is difficult to hack, which is why on the whole biology carries on doing what it really needs to do regardless of what we choose to call it ('adultery', 'cheating', 'affairs', 'playing the field', or 'putting it about a bit'). The problem created by counterfeit morality is that people suffer enormous anxiety, guilt and shame for obeying their natural instincts because they have been conditioned to believe those instincts are 'wrong', 'immoral', or in the worst cases, 'evil'.

There is no rule in biological morality that says we should all sleep around or that none of us should, because biological morality is not a static one-rule-fits-all construct; it is a flexible guide to life. As such, it prompts each individual to do whatever makes them personally feel best, whatever behaviors move them toward avoiding harm and pursuing benefits. Given the choice, many individuals may choose not to have sex at all, some will feel happier having regular sex, some will be asexual, some bisexual, some homosexual and some heterosexual, and the biological safety rules (morals) are different for all.

Moral development relies on previous experience of decisions being honored

We are able to develop mature moral values congruously only if our initial like/dislike concepts were/are honored and respected; that is to say, if we have experienced free choice and made our own preference decisions without coercion or denial; and our own personal decisions have been respected.

This issue is a stunning example of how wrong input or failing to do things in the right order; i.e., interfering with healthy development by blocking natural responses, constructs a software 'time-bomb' for things to fuck up further down the developmental line. Those whose initial like/dislike decisions were ignored will, unless they deliberately reprogram themselves, have difficulty making decisions, including moral decisions, for the rest of their lives. Instead of engaging in moral reasoning, such persons will seek for a 'replacement parent' to make their decisions for them. They have been conditioned to believe that their own decisions are not valid; that they cannot trust their own sensory input or their own ideas.

Such persons are the ideal candidates for most societies, as they have no autonomy and will do whatever they are told by 'an authority' without question or moral doubt. Indeed, without top-down direction they are helpless, clueless and dependent.

Counterfeit morality is a big danger to human wellbeing, because it can claim that ANYTHING whatsoever is good or bad, evil or holy, as anyone sees fit to make up. For example, some counterfeit moralities promote incest as a way of 'maintaining the royal blood'. Biological morality on the other hand strongly disapproves of reproduction by incest, which causes genetic harm and that's why the idea of sex with our parents, brothers or sisters seems disgusting. But conditioned beliefs can be remarkably difficult to shake wherever people are conditioned not to judge for themselves, which is why some societies have ended up with schizophrenic emperors who behead people randomly and decide to marry their horse.

Many counterfeit morality systems are based on religions, and adherents to them tend to believe (and claim) that others who do not believe in that particular religion 'have no morals'.

Research has shown, however, that people who claim to be religious and people who claim to be atheists show exactly the same thought patterns and answer in the exact same ways when they're presented with a whole host of moral dilemmas.[3]

Natural morality (biomorality) is founded on physiological and cultural instincts, and relates to the welfare of intelligence. It is supported by real life experience and instinct as well as by reason. Counterfeit moralities arise from inherited rules plus public opinion, and are consolidated by conditioning and anxiety.

By understanding how morality functions in judgment and decision making, we acquire a congruous, clear understanding of the root of morality, its universal core. We suddenly have a new tool to call upon, our personal knowledge of the neurological decision-making process.

We have the opportunity to make choices differently, possibly picturing the person/s on the other end of problems, and we may well reach different conclusions and engage different interactions.

Insight into the moral deliberative method yields a result that is more inline with a broader, more rational, and more accurate understanding of what is 'beneficial'.

Without this awareness, not only are we vulnerable to coercion and conditioning, but we allow our judgment to be influenced randomly and automatically by environmental factors instead of being autonomously directed by ourselves.


differences between natural morality & counterfeit morality

Counterfeit moralities are incongruous with our own biology; biomorality is not.

For example, sleeping around sexually appears, according to science, to be biologically beneficial, whereas restricting ourselves to one sexual partner appears to be genetically less beneficial; both for ourselves and for intelligence in general.

Counterfeit moralities replace cooperation through respect with cooperation through fear.

Biological morality does not need to control behavior from the top down via fear of punishment. People do moral things in real life because of intent; based on unconscious intuition and conscious awareness of the 'correct' thing to do. In other words, out of respect for life & intelligence. People do counterfeit moral things because of intention; based on anxious concern with their reputation; with what others (or society, or god) will think of them (and possibly do to them) if they don't. In other words, out of fear of punishment (ultimately, of increased anxiety).

Counterfeit moralities are structured to allocate blame for problems and punish offenders, biomorality is structured to prevent problems and reward adherents. Any society pursuing unrestrained blame and compensation has many harmful consequences.[4] Such a system implies an increased loss of autonomy and personal responsibility, replaced by an unreasonable willingness to (a) apportion blame and (b)depend on somebody else to seek 'compensation' when things go wrong.

Biomorality is pretty hard-assed when it comes to responsibility; expecting us to be responding healthily to our environments and paying attention to changes in them on a permanent basis. If we trip over and fall, we weren't paying attention -WE are responsible for our own locomotion, after all. If someone attacks us, we are in the wrong place at the wrong time due to an erroneous choice WE have made in the past about where is, and where is not, safe to hang out; and/or about who is, and is not, safe to hang out with. It is OUR responsibility to make sure things don't go wrong for us most of the time, and to adapt and survive those unexpected and unpredictable disasters life unexpectedly throws at us now and again.

This is how we learn from mistakes, improve through experience, and become ever more adept at judging, strategizing, and deciding what to do. Self-responsibility (our ability to respond as our real self) is, like our abilities for creativity and logic, a foundation for the development of wisdom.

Our ability to exert counterfeit moral self-control is limited; but our ability to maintain natural moral control is not. People's ability to maintain self-control in context of a counterfeit morality is limited; the more often they are 'tempted' or coerced, the less likely they are to be able to resist. There's a fascinating physiological connection here with levels of available glucose levels in the bloodstream, which would imply that maintaining counterfeit moralities (and possibly, any kind of pretense) burns glucose at increased rates.[5] This would explain why incongruity causes fatigue even when we are not consciously aware of the incongruity itself. We adhere to biomorality of our own free will and common sense, which it takes little effort to do.

Healthy emotion is congruous with biomorality; sentiment is not. In humans, morality is emotionally weighted, and there are a variety of ways that emotional processes inform reason, associated with feelings appropriate to animal behaviors; eg., comfort/disgust, desire/alarm, empathy/antipathy, levity/gravity, certainty/uncertainty, joy and sorrow. There are 'good' moral reward emotions such as pride, gratitude, appreciation, rectitude and comfort, as well as preventive moral pointers such as disgust, alarm or antipathy. Counterfeit moralities normally align with sentiments, and concern themselves mainly with immorality and the punishment of transgressions, rather than the positive aspects of good moral behavior such as honesty, generosity or empathy.

Counterfeit moral claims can't be defended by reason, biomorality can. There is no way for example that empirical science could 'prove' that sex outside of marriage was harmful, that eating meat on certain fridays is somehow dangerous, or that walking about naked in your own home is wrong, (all fairly typical counterfeit moral beliefs). Biomorality on the other hand is supported by science – we find solid proof WHY it's repulsive to snog our sister, why biology craves more than one partner in a lifetime, why unnecessary violence is stupid, and why we would risk our own lives to save our children. Biomorality, like all other factors of intelligence, makes sense rationally as well as intuitively.

Biomorality makes no distinction between harm caused by direct contact and indirect harm, and no difference between behavioral harmful acts and harmful acts of omission. Counterfeit moralities usually claim that harm delivered via direct physical contact - for example, pushing someone to their death - is worse than harm delivered at a distance - for example, via a trap. They also usually claim that behaviors which lead to harm are worse than omissions (i.e. not doing something) that lead to harm.[6]

Counterfeit moralities are static rather than dynamic. Systems using counterfeit morality do not feature temporary hierarchies. Temporary hierarchies are a major feature of healthy cultures, never seen in counterfeit games, and something anxious people have difficulty understanding because temporary hierarchies appear to function without top-down control; leadership is transient and there is no substitute parent or 'authority' or anyone permanently in charge. In reality this is an illusion; there IS top-down as well as bottom-up control (via unconscious intuitive awareness) in a temporary hierarchy. The top down control comes from conscious intelligence and deliberate coordination for greatest benefit.

Example of a dynamic, temporary hierarchy:

Alice and friends want to go to a remote location and film wildlife. On the first part of the journey, Bob is in charge because it is his boat and he is the best sailor. Then Carl is in charge because he knows how to fly a plane. On the plane, everyone gets ill, so Donna takes charge because she's a doctor. Carl manages to land the plane and then the local guide is in charge because she knows what all the poisonous insects are, what not to do, how to speak the local languages and where all the predators hang out. When they get to the required spot, Alice takes charge because she's the skilled filmmaker.

Everybody, in their own field, is telling other people what to do and being obeyed without question (eg.,hoist up that sail, fasten your seatbelts, take these tablets and lots of water, for goodness' sake don't go that way, and Bob, hand me that tripod).

Counterfeit moralities prioritize society's ideal self. As we shall explore later, biological morality (biomorality) prioritizes intelligence and intelligence potential. Biology expects that humanity will develop; there will be progress; over time conditions as well as inventions and abilities will improve; and we are on a dynamic journey through time and space, being creative and inventing stuff. It also knows about culture; whereby each generation has access to a lot more information than the one before it, and those in the future will have more than ourselves. Therefore biomorality prioritizes intelligence; and the emergence process which enables ongoing development, and that means a child's mind has greater intelligence development potential than, say, a 98 year old's mind. Intuitively we all know that, which is why in a house fire or on a sinking ship we would automatically save the child before the old dude. Pregnancy also puts one in the 'priority' category for similar reasons, and we are instinctively protective (or should be) of anyone pregnant.

Counterfeit moralities often value objects higher than people. Biomorality never does. Harming (counterfeit games call it 'punishing' or 'disciplining', which means harming) a person because they harmed (damaged or broke) a material object by accident sends the clear unconscious message 'this object is worth more to me than you are'. A lot of parents and teachers might benefit from considering this.

Counterfeit moralities disagree with each other; often violently, as we have seen throughout history. Morality is so tied up with emotional weighting that we have been super-cautious and so open-minded about tolerance of other societies and others' opinions that we have allowed our brains to fall out when it comes to 'alternative moralities'. Because of this, until relatively recently it has been impossible to actually speak about "moral truth." Not because human experience is so difficult to study or the brain too complex, but because there was thought to be no intellectual or scientific basis from which to say that anyone is ever right or wrong about questions of good and evil.

Consequently we have a mess consisting of people attempting to tolerate each others' counterfeit moralities with all sides secretly appalled by each others' concepts in a multiplicity of complicated fiction, pretense, and guilty fear of being thought intolerant or 'racist', while all secretly believing that their own counterfeit morality is 'the real one' and that somehow tolerating each others' bullshit is what makes us 'civilized'.


“One group thinks its evil to wear hats, the other group thinks its evil not to wear hats.

Clearly, somebody is going to be disappointed. Could it be...everybody?”

(George Carlin)


While indulging in such mental shenanigans, all are missing the fact (perhaps because it's so scary) that recent research has undermined this assumption, which was based on several fallacies, counterfeit 'double' standards and on the whole, lack of rationality.

Apart from being untrue, the old 'all moralities are equal' view has harmful consequences. For optimal success, any group (including the overall group known as 'humans') needs coherence in its beliefs about what is helpful or harmful to its own species, and consequently how we should treat one another for optimal benefit. To achieve this, we obviously need some basic universal concept of right and wrong which is of necessity flexible enough to work in a dynamic system where meaning is based on context, yet sufficiently fixed in its core values to work for all members of the group.

This is not so complex as it sounds; it's a similar process to language development. Physics and chemistry are both dynamic systems and we have managed to discover universal laws for those. Biology is no different, and what has held back moral science (and indeed all psychological science) for a long time is that researchers have tried to base studies of morality on opinions and philosophy rather than on facts and science.

Humanity has already fallen over this problem in both chemistry and physics in the past; during their 'golden ages' of discovery there were still many who decried both as 'Godless nonsense'. Biology is still going through its own version of the flat earthers in the mistaken belief that biochemistry is somehow excepted from the laws of 'ordinary' chemistry and that humans are different because they contain a soul and have god-given morals. All that had been studied of 'morality' until recently, in effect, was the diversity of counterfeit game rules. Even the definition of morality was not universal while so many continued to insist that it had nothing to do with human wellbeing but simply meant, 'Following god's laws'. The fact that it is possible to hold a differing opinion about morality was considered a problem for the entire field. But this is a fallacy, and does not effect the facts.

When we base an exploration of anything on opinions or counterfeit rules instead of facts, we will not succeed in discovering universality in anything, including morality. Of course, behaviors and agents both helpful and harmful to biological development CAN be scientifically determined, but it's understandable that we have begun to do so only recently.

It is now apparent that biological morality is both instinctual and logical, and our intuitive morality is based on the goal of maximizing intelligence development and human flourishing. Our cognitive awareness of morality is based on reference to the facts that govern the wellbeing of conscious creatures, generally. The ONLY legitimate reason for the evolution of biological morality at all is the wellbeing of conscious creatures. Counterfeit game rules and personal opinions -no matter how strongly they are believed in - cannot be used as a basis for studying real science and discovering real facts. Conscious awareness of real life is the only context in which we can rationally and scientifically talk about morality and human values.

When we're talking about help and harm, right and wrong, and good and bad, and about outcomes that matter to human beings, we are necessarily talking about actual or potential changes in conscious experience. The concept of "wellbeing" defines everything we can care about in the moral sphere. To study morality effectively, we need to be clear about what the actual consequences of interactions are, about what changes in human experience are possible, and about which changes are important to pursue.

Whatever conscious experiences are possible for us are a product of the way the universe is. Our conscious experience arises out of the laws of nature, emerges via the states of our brain, the context of the real world, and our entanglement with that world (interactions). Therefore, there are right and wrong answers to the question of how to maximize human flourishing in any moment.[7]

This is easier to analyze using a simple two-person interaction or relationship: How can Alice & Bob maximize their wellbeing? Clearly there are correct and wrong scientific answers to this question; just like any other. The prospects of Alice & Bob flourishing and finding deeper and more durable sources of satisfaction will emerge via some form of mutually beneficial cooperation and working ergonomically together as they journey through life's ups and downs.

In terms of morality, our exploration can proceed only with reference to facts about the changing experiences of conscious creatures and what morality really IS; not through reference to endless fictional inventions of what humans in the past opined morality 'should be'.


DO IT NOW – hack your own moral judgment

You will need an assistant.

Notes for subject: Position your assistant in front of you, viewing your face. Right behind your computer screen is good. Allow the assistant to read their notes (below), but do not read them yourself. In a moment you will view a diagram below. There are two opposing poles on this diagram about the question given in the middle. Wait until your assistant is seated opposite you, then consider the question, but do not make a decision until your assistant actually asks you to. When they do ask you to, try to decide immediately and speak your choice aloud.

You may need several questions to experience this effect. You can construct your own, using our diagram as a template.

Notes for assistant: In a moment the subject will view the diagram below. There are two opposing poles for a decision. Secretly select one at random, noting which side of the screen it is on. Do not indicate which one you have chosen. Now secretly choose a number between one and ten. Do not tell the subject what it is.

Sit down opposite the subject where you have a clear view of their eye movements.

Remember that when you sit down, you will be opposite the subject like a mirror, so the side of the screen that holds your chosen target will be reversed.

Watch the subjects eye movements as they consider the question presented in the diagram. When they have looked at your chosen target the number of times you chose, say aloud 'Decide now!' and note down their decision.




See notes at end of tutorial.


Structure & function – morality, judgment & decisions

The physical basis of moral judgment is no longer a mystery. Researchers have identified brain regions demonstrably involved in moral judgment and related functions.

Until recently, the exploration of morality consisted of philosophical inquiries with occasional related evidence from clinical observations of brain damaged subjects.[8] From cases such as these, a sense could be garnered that certain brain injuries or diseases might affect moral and cultural behavior, but an integrated understanding of morality itself including functional neuroanatomy was not possible due to technological (and in some places & times, societal) limitations.

Neuroscientific advances of the past half century have changed this situation entirely. The study of moral cognition has moved into the era of neuroimaging and cognitive neuroscience and is now researching the biological basis of morality and the brain structures and functions necessary for moral reasoning.

Thus far (2015) Research has found the processing of negative morally laden stimuli (input which viewers consider 'immoral'); to be highly left-lateralized (N5). Regions of engagement include the left medial prefrontal cortex, left temporoparietal junction, and left posterior cingulate. These data support the hypothesis that processing of immoral stimuli preferentially engages left hemispheric processes and sheds more light on our evolved neural architecture.[9]

No such pattern, however, is found for neutral or pro-moral tests, suggesting hemispheric specialization such that network 5 appears to be more involved in processing input considered 'immoral' than does network 4. However, while immoral input specifically tends to light up particular areas of the left hemisphere, there is also quite a bit of overlap, as morality uses a set of complex emotional and cognitive processes that is reflected across many brain domains.

Some of them are recurrently found to be indispensable in order to emit a moral judgment, but none of them is uniquely related to morality. Decision making, which takes into account morality, comprises a large functional circuit that includes several brain structures and networks. At the same time, many of these structures overlap with regions that control the different behavioral processes that are the specialities of each network.

Areas explored in morality neuroscience studies

The intensity of the color is proportional to the number of the citations of the corresponding region in research.

ACC = Anterior Cingulate Cortex; TPJ = Temporo-Parietal Junction; OFC = OrbitoFrontal Cortex; vmPFC = VentroMedial PreFrontal Cortex; PCC = Posteroir Cingulate Cortex.[10]


Some aspects of the moral decision-making process are fixed; namely, the platform on which this processing occurs. We all process moral decisions based on different assumptions or beliefs, but the procedures happen in the same places for each of us. This is where our emotional experiences - spiritual, traumatic, joyous - connect with our higher-level abstract processing during decision making, to give us a sense of 'right' and 'wrong'.

Main findings so far:

The orbital and ventromedial prefrontal cortices are implicated in unconscious emotionally-driven input for moral decisions.[11]

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been associated with morality; this area mediates socially aversive responses, changes responses based on feedback, and (if necessary) inhibits impulsive, automatic, unconscious responses.[12] The right medial OFC is found to be activated during passive viewing of moral stimuli compared with non-moral stimuli [13] while the activation of the left OFC has been related to processing of emotionally salient statements with moral value.[14]

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) is consistently engaged in moral judgement,[13],[14],[15] attaches moral and emotional value to events, anticipates their future outcomes, and participates in ToM, empathy, attribution of intention, and related tasks.[16]

The VMPFC appears to enable us to comprehend the abstract consequences of our decisions.[17] It is also involved in adherence to cultural norms and values [18] and in the integration of representations of others' intentions with their outcomes during interaction and decision-making.[19]

The left VMPFC shows higher activation in subjects with lower moral judgment competence when identifying norm violations.[20] Findings indicate that the VMPFC mediates automatic moral responses, such as discomfort at the prospect of being a direct agent of a personal moral violation or of harm to someone else.[21]

The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex ( dlPFC) appears to mitigate the salience (weighting') of prepotent emotional responses; thus moderating them. The dlPFC is also is involved in cognitive control and problem-solving,[22] plays an important role during the judgment of responsibility from a third-party perspective,[23] and also in the analysis of situations that demand rule-based knowledge.[24] Other researchers have hypothesized that it may trigger an executive function used to combine predictions based on expected norms with inferences about the intent to deceive.[25] Researchers have found DLPFC activation on presentation of impersonal moral dilemmas, suggesting a more objective, dispassionate, reasoned, or benefit/harm assessment for moral judgments in the absence of a sufficient VMPFC 'moral response'.[26]

Regions of the Amygdala and the Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) play an important role in the processing of emotions involved in moral judgment and the control of emotion and behavior respectively (N3-N6). ALL emotions contribute to moral judgment, given specific contextual situations.[27]

The amygdalae, located in the anteromedial temporal lobes, mediate the response to threat, aversive and moral learning.[28] (The DLPFC can override this neuromoral network through the application of reasoned analysis to moral situations.)[29]

The ACC is involved with error-detection,[30] has been implicated in theory of mind (ToM) and self-referential tasks,[31] and is involved in moral conflict monitoring.[32]

The temporoparietal junction (TPJ) plays a key role in moral intuition, and in belief attribution during moral processing in others (understanding others' beliefs and intent/intentions).[33] The TPJ, as well as the precuneus, is involved in encoding beliefs and integrating them with other relevant features of the action such as the outcome.[34] The right TPJ and the precuneus are active when subjects process prior intent/intentions, while the left TPJ is activated when a subset of cultural intent/intentions is involved.[35] As noted in previous tutorials, the disruption of the right TPJ activity affects the capacity to use mental states during moral judgment.[36] If the TPJ is silenced via TMS, the weighting of beliefs in moral judgments is altered.[37] Experiments show that belief attribution in the service of deciding right and wrong, especially in the case of failed attempts to harm, depends critically on healthy neural activity in the right TPJ.

The superior temporal sulcus (STS) is one of the main temporal subregions involved in moral judgment.[38] The STS has been described as indispensable for making inferences about others' beliefs and intentions (Theory of Mind)[39] and in the structuring of personality.[40] Increased activity of this area is also observed in personal dilemmas compared with other types.[41]

The medial frontal gyrus also seems to intervene in ToM, in other functions relevant to moral judgment [42] and in the integration of emotion into decision-making and planning.[43]

Numerous other regions including the posterior cingulate cortex,[44] anterior/middle temporal gyrus,[45] insular cortex,[46] angular gyrus [47] and the inferior parietal lobe [48] seem to play a more complementary role in morality, being recruited in order to accomplish general executive processes engaged during the moral decisions proposed (e.g., working memory, emotional processing, or cognitive control).

Theory of Mind (ToM) and empathy are two processes that support morality. ToM involves the VMPFC, which facilitates the appreciation that others have thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.[49] The “cognitive” aspects of empathy, such as considering someone else’s perspective and identifying with it, also involve the VMPFC.


The neural circuits of brain regions implicated in morality overlap with those for decision making in general, and some that regulate other behavioral processes. We shall be looking further into the physiology of Network 6 contributions to judgment and decision making in future tutorials.


Understanding biomorality

Research always begins with questions, and to truly understand morality we have to ask, what is the role of morality in the 'big picture' of our entire cognition; the way we think about things in general? Perhaps more importantly than any other, answering this question and understanding biological morality in this context gives us deeper awareness of ourselves and our place in the world, but it can also help us protect ourselves against coercion or conditioning, and presents methods for reducing moral bias. Also, as scientific findings show some normative beliefs and practices in many societies to be defective, we can develop ways of improving congruous moral judgement.

Research has the potential to give us a science-based understanding of morality based on beneficial versus harmful behavior, but applying a scientific approach to an emotionally-loaded issue like morality requires understanding the issues in material, biological, physiological terms as well as abstract moral terms. We have the 'software' process, in this case the series of judgments that lead to a moral decision. And we have the platform where the event plays out, the brain; whose structure is biological. Both are in a context of life on earth, where events are never static but constantly unfolding, and our brains' own development is dynamic and ongoing. Some aspects of moral decision-making will be unique to the individual in their specific circumstances at a given time, others will be universally applicable at all times and in all circumstances.


Past research

Morality has traditionally been regarded as a code of values guiding the choices and interactions that help shape the purpose and the course of our lives.[50] More recently, it has been operationalized as a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, could be 'worked out' by all rational persons.[51]

Game theory was the first serious attempt to understand moral decision making cognitively in terms of rationality. Since then, however, research has shown that people simply don't behave in real life according to mathematical models of reason. Half a century later, by combining game theory with neuroimaging, researchers are beginning to understand why.

Several things have become clear during recent research. Firstly, in order to study morality, judgment and decision making in vivo, we have to study moral situations which genuinely DO occur in nature; rather than imaginary dilemmas concerning bizarre situations that do not occur, at least amongst the sane, in real life; (for example, pushing fat people off bridges, or interfering with a bunch of dumbasses who wander about on functional railway lines).

Secondly, we cannot test biological morality using examples of artificial, counterfeit moral rules (such as, it's evil to eat meat on tuesdays, or women wearing hats is wrong). Biological morality is designed for real life truths (which can these days be examined by scientific methods).

Thirdly, we cannot use a parochial subset of unusual examples (ie, averagely conditioned westerners) to represent human 'normality'; not least because they are far from normal.[52] The same is true of experimentation on caged, artificially-raised animals or even domesticated ones; they don't represent 'normality' for their species either.

Finally, non-biologically-relevant 'rewards' (such as money) will not suffice for testing biological morality (for example in game theory). To be effective, potential rewards must matter to unconscious knowledge as well as conscious awareness.


dual process theory united

Among older models of moral decision processing, progress in research was somewhat impaired due to the lack of examples of full, healthy development, and until recently there was a general consensus in psychology that recognized the differentiation of moral processes into two different classes: (1) conscious, rational, effortful and explicit, and (2) unconscious, emotional, quick and intuitive.

This was known as 'dual process theory' [53] and came about because mainstream science was until recently (and in many cases still is) hampered by the notion that incongruity of mind along with the symptoms of cognitive dissonance and inner conflict, is 'normal'. Researchers were often restricted in subject choice to examples from a parochial selection of 'normal' westerners; by no means an accurate representation of humanity and in many cases a wildly inaccurate one.[52]

Several 'coherent under the circumstances' hypotheses about morality were nevertheless considered; the “social intuitionist theory” [54] linked research on automaticity [55] to recent findings in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. The “cognitive control and conflict theory” [56] postulated that responses arising from emotion-related brain areas favor one outcome, while cognitive responses favor a different one.[57]

We can detect the inherent assumption here; that 'being in two minds' and experiencing constant inner conflict is seen as 'normal'. The assumption was extrapolated from the already-known, dual-speed processing functions of 'the high road' and 'the low road' of conscious and unconscious processing (see tutorial 9: 'From automation to autonomy'). It was suggested that in exactly the same way, emotional responses of moral intuition occur instantaneously because they are primitive gut reactions that evolved to generate split-second decisions and enhance survival in a dangerous world. Conscious moral judgment, on the other hand, comes later, as the conscious mind develops a plausible rationalization for the decision (which, it was thought could be either congruous or incongruous with the emotions and with moral intuition.

This is similar in many ways to the (also mistaken) old hypothesis that emotions are caused by bodily responses which the conscious mind then seeks cognitive excuses for (for example, we feel disgust, then look around for something to blame for the feeling.) Neither hypothesis fits our real life experience of knowing very well why we are disgusted AT THE SAME TIME as actually feeling disgusted; nor do they fit the processing facts as observed via neuroimaging.

In the past two decades, therefore, a growing body of work has pointed to the interdependence between unconscious and conscious processing; which is now once again united by the “cognitive and emotional integration theory,” in which congruity is assumed and healthy behavioral choices cannot be split into cognitive vs. emotional processing.[58]

An important line of studies which have promoted this change of perspective investigated cognitive emotion regulation.[59] For example, a psychological input regulation strategy that we discussed in former tutorials is “cognitive reappraisal”, which involves rethinking the meaning of affectively charged stimuli or events in terms that alter their emotional impact. Reappraisal depends upon interactions between prefrontal and cingulate regions that are frequently implicated in cognitive control, and also systems like the amygdala and insula that have been implicated in emotional responding.

The most recent research confirms that the mind-brain is not (or at least, should not be) decomposable in terms of unconscious versus conscious cognition. In other words, the neural basis of unconscious and conscious processing should be viewed as directed less by properties that are intrinsic to specific sites and more by interactions among multiple brain regions. Unconscious/conscious processing in a healthy brain is a functionally integrated system, consequently they continuously impact each other’s operations.[60]


What natural morality is

Morality is innate to the human brain. Emerging from the interaction between internal evolutionary hard wired unconscious behavioral responses and external conscious cultural and personal concepts such as helpful and harmful, like & dislike, nice and nasty, biological morality develops as we do; from these basic building blocks all the way up to executive decisions.

The basics enable even infants and toddlers to express disapproval of agents who hurt others,[61] agents who treat others unfairly,[62] agents who are disloyal or disrespectful,[63] and agents that are disgusting.[64]

Is the perception of what is ‘pleasant’ universal to all people? Research is showing that the core basics for this are hard wired and universal across cultures (and possibly even species). For example; not only is the idea of ‘pleasant’ odors universal but the ‘pleasantness’ or ‘unpleasantness’ of an odor can be predicted with some degree of accuracy. The way humans categorize smells is at least partially hard wired in the brain. Although there is a certain amount of flexibility and personal experience adapts associations, a large part of our sense of whether an odor is pleasant or unpleasant is due to the nature of real molecular configurations in the physical world.[65]

Perception uses this single factor switch –‘Nasty or nice?’- to judge odors from ‘sickening’ and ‘rancid’ at one end to ‘sweet’ and ‘attractive’ at the other. This factor correlates with the actual physical structure of odor molecules –in other words odors are coded by their molecular form as nasty or nice, and even what particular sort of nasty or nice.

Dangers often demand a more urgent response than opportunities, thus we are able to calculate what sort of ‘nasty’ something is in less than a hundred milliseconds, whereas it takes us seconds to decide what sort of 'nice' something is likely to be.

Biological morality goes beyond smells and tastes though. At the age of six months, few of us are able to understand language, but we can already assess someone’s intent or intentions, and are able to make rapid judgements of other people and animals based on their behavior; deciding who is a likely ally or dangerous contact.[61] It is an essential part of survival to interact with those who do beneficial things and avoid those who do deleterious things; we learn this consciously with later cognitive networks, but it turns out that our unconscious ‘knew’ it anyway.

We are only given the basics; we add the details with development and experience. For another example, all young humans (and most young mammals) like sweet and dislike bitter tastes. The presence of this hardwired preference helps us recognise breast milk and protects us from toxins before we are old enough to know what’s safe to eat and what isn’t. On the whole, poisons taste nasty. Later, when we are experienced enough to know what’s safe, we can adjust our ‘tastes’ and enjoy some bitter foods that we felt aversion to in childhood. We can also adjust our tastes in reverse -if something which tasted nice makes us sick, we’ll probably develop an aversion to it, at least in the short term.

Abstraction functions in exactly the same way with regard to biomorality as in does in any other area; as we mature we begin to analogize this or that thing, event, or behavior in terms of sensorimotor receptors; as 'sweet', 'tasty', 'hot', 'cool', 'distasteful', 'disgusting', 'sick', or 'smells bad'. Later we metaphorize them as associated with archetypes (or we stereotype them: 'sweet and innocent', 'tasty bit of stuff', 'hot girls' 'cool, calm and collected', 'disgusting filth', sick pervert' and so on,) making unconscious associations and assumptions accordingly.


Cultural influences on morality

Cultural input for moral decision making can include everything from instinctive ideas about loyalty, honor, pride and justice that play out in a city neighborhood to the power-relational dynamics of a hunter-gatherer tribe.

Nature made us for culture. Culture is part of our biological strategy. It gives us new and better ways of interacting with each other, based on shared information, interlocking roles and mutual benefits.[66] The neurobiological evidence indicates the existence of automatic “benefit” mechanisms for relationships with others. The details of human morality are complex, but evolutionary biology has shown that the precursors of human morality can be traced to the behaviors of many other species which have a culture (ie, the older animals show their offspring how to do stuff, and also how to behave, for best results).

The fundamental importance of animal culture lies with the ability of individuals to interact in context of relationships, which itself relies on the ability to not just commit information to memory, but to manipulate it and make judgments about it as well.[67]

Empathy is an adaptive response to the challenges of interaction and enables theory of mind; the ability to infer another individual’s mental states or emotions; to 'put yourself in their shoes'.[68] Having a strong Theory of Mind is tied closely with possessing advanced cultural intelligence. Collectively, group living requires cooperation as problems can generate conflict. Culture puts strong evolutionary selection pressures on acquiring cultural intelligence due to the fact that adaptation to living in groups as well as alone can have specific advantages (eg., coordinated groups can outperform the sum of each individual’s ability in many endeavors.)

We associate morality naturally with interactional behaviors such as consideration, care, fairness, nurturing, respect, honesty, rectitude, consolation, bonding, protection and group loyalty,[69] and feelings such as love, gratitude, a sense of pride, peace of mind, and belonging.

Emotional and cultural feedback from behaviors are strong motivators to act in a favorable way in relationships.[70] They allow humans to quickly grasp the moral implications of our relationships and then interact to enhance our personal reputations and the likelihood of future mutual cooperation as allies.[71] Furthermore, both behaviors and emotions are manifestations of evolutionary-based moral awareness including safe/unsafe, growth/protection, helpful/harmful, fairness/unfairness, truth/falsehood and so on; all linking back to basic feelings of like/dislike/neutral and behaviors of pursue, avoid or ignore.

In addition to this, the link between morality and emotions serves to encourage adherence to moral rules by attributing possible harmful intentions to and seeking to avoid (elude or exclude) those who violate them.[72] This reflects our unconscious awareness of comfort/disgust being associated with safety or danger; desire/alarm being associated with growth or protection; empathy/antipathy being associated with like or dislike (helpful or harmful); levity/gravity being associated with fairness or unfairness (ie., judgments must take into account which items have trivial weighting and which have serious weighting; this is why the archetype of 'justice' holds weighing scales); and certainty/uncertainty being associated with belief or doubt (truth or falsehood; and this is why the archetype of justice holds a sword – to cut through the illusions to the truth).

Joy/sorrow may now be seen as 'key emotions'; the polarities of a continuum within which all other behavioral and emotional polarities occur. What's more, if we view coordination/ communication/ output control and befriend/ defend/ input control as 'key behaviors', we will find all other main animal behavior sets (eg., 'serene & clean', 'create & cooperate' etc) can be seen as 'nested' within them.

All these polarities are constructs (remember repertory grids; Tutorial 13?) Other legitimate key behavioral polarities which serve equally well as constructs within a continuum in this manner are; gathering together/spreading apart; stretch/relax; unite/separate; and pursue/avoid.

A built-in reward/deterrent system

Biological morality, rooted in basics such as no-harm and fairness, is the process that results in automatic feedback via rewarding or deterrent emotions (both in ourselves and others). In the VMPFC, this is coupled with automatic, complex modeling. The result is the creation of joint attention and “intersubjective space,”[73] ie., the activation of one’s representations of the state and situation of others.[74] Unless actively inhibited or overwritten by conditioning, activation of these shared representations most likely occurs automatically via mirror neurons and results in ToM, empathy, appropriate emotions, and moral behavior.[75]

Our natural aversion to harm and desire to benefit is all it takes to keep a well-balanced congruous system automatically as well as autonomously moral. Morality is an inherent guide to successful behavior, accessible by unconscious awareness (via intuition) AND by conscious deliberation. If we do something that breaks moral rules; something biology believes is harmful, we feel alarmed, disgusted, doubtful and sad. When we do something that upholds moral rules; something biology sees as a benefit, we feel happy, comfortable, confident and proud. The system is simple, it makes absolute sense, but unfortunately it is vulnerable to conditioning via the very plasticity that makes us such efficient learners. The natural response doesn't go away -so we end up with a system out of congruity, in cognitive dissonance. We'll talk more about conditioning with counterfeit morals later.

Societal influences on moral judgment

Laws, religious rules, political directives, school systems, wrong input, coercion, conditioning, and so on all contribute counterfeit lines of code to an individual's judgmental software. It is important that we recognize this in maintaining an objective view on the practicality of biological morality.

Morality has nothing to do with law (which may be defined as a counterfeit code of conduct held by a particular society or group as enforcably authoritative in all matters of right and wrong). Genuine morality is a universal code of behavior and beliefs which can be worked out consciously by all rational people, regardless of their society or groups 'law'.[76]

Unlike laws, morality was not invented so that a governing society can work, it evolved so that our culture can work without needing a governing society. With morality hard-wired in, our culture is designed to automatically govern itself.

Biological morality needs no supervision or litigation because it controls us from the bottom up (moral feelings, intuition, neurochemistry & physiology) as well as top down (cultural habits, relationships, interactions, feedback). The two are supposed to work in synchrony, but morality like all functions relies on sufficient pre-developed brain architecture and mental health, as well as experience, feedback and practice.

One particularly harmful falsehood of counterfeit morality is the belief that altruism is the opposite of selfishness when in fact they are one and the same thing. Doing exactly what we want to do (NOT what anxiety wants us to do, what someone in authority tells us to do, or what society wants us to do) automatically improves our own chances of helping others, and helping others automatically increases our own chances of thriving by making more allies. In moral terms, allies are a big priority; because allies are one of our most (perhaps THE most) important resources. Enlightened self-interest benefits all.

Complex contextual situations within relationships can make behavioral decisions difficult, and if we are not autonomous, anxiety, conditioning and sentiment can strongly influence the choices we make, rendering many people's decisions irrational, immoral, and harmful.[77] Individual biology particularly influences the ways people interpret the behaviors and intent of others.[78]

Various societal influences can warp moral values and also effect our judgment and decision-making abilities generally, and we will discuss these further in the 'What happens if things go wrong' section below.


Morality is ubiquitous in judgment & decision making

Biological morality applies in both reasoned and personal moral dilemmas.

Example of a reasoned moral dilemma:

While the good president of Bongawalla remains in a coma, the vice-president is stealing all the poor people's food and they are starving. Is it morally okay for Alice to covertly steal back the food from the vice-president and return it to the poor starving people?

(We can easily look at this objectively and decide yes, no, or 'need more information to decide'.)

Example of a personal moral dilemma:

You are in a spaceship that has exactly enough fuel and air to get you and 5 friends to your home planet. Immediately after takeoff you find a stowaway aboard. If you keep the stowaway aboard, you will run out of air and fuel and ALL die before reaching earth. If you eject one person, only they will die. What do you do?

(We cannot easily be objective when we imagine ourselves in this position. Whatever decision is taken will be unique to the individuals involved.)

We can see that both these types of issues require moral judgment. However, research shows that moral guidelines are not only employed for moral dilemmas but, surprisingly, factor into ALL of our judgment and decision making. This has been one of the biggest surprises so far in morality research, although some of us may have intuited it already.

As a set of biologically based behavioral guidelines, morality factors strongly in our judgment and decision making processes, one which plays out in the brain in the same way a mechanical decision-making process plays out on a computer.

To what degree are decisions based on morality? Most people assume that there are some moral decisions, but that other decisions have little or nothing to do with morality. But be prepared for another new paradigm here, because when researchers began experimentally exploring morality, they didn't find results that conformed to most people's traditional picture of where it 'should' be applicable. Rather, they seemed to be finding exactly the opposite. Morality was ALWAYS applicable.

What researchers seem to be finding is that people's moral judgments influence the process of all decision making right from the very beginning; humans' whole way of making sense of their world seems to be suffused through and through with constant moral considerations. Our ordinary way of making sense of the world is value-laden in this really fundamental sense.[79]

Because we experience judgment as a rational process, concerned with the straightforward weighing up of evidence for or against an issue, we may be surprised to learn that morality affects all of our judgment.

Psychologists in the past failed to come up with any precise characterization of what makes judgments specifically moral, because in reality the imagined boundary between 'moral' judgment and the rest of judgment just does not exist.[80]

Early fMRI studies of moral judgment assumed the existence of this boundary and proceeded to look for it in the brain.

Thus, moral neuroscience and developmental psychology alike revealed an early interest in morality as its “own” domain—with possibly unique cognitive signatures and even unique neural substrates or systems.

In fact, there is no point in evaluating evidence for domain-specificity in the case of morality—because there is none. Morality relies on multiple domain-general processes, which are housed in many networks, and moral cognition is critically supported by brain regions implicated in emotional processing, cognitive control, and theory of mind.[81]

Because intent (or intention) and reputation are considered essential data in moral judgment. We judge others not only for what they do, but also for what they mean; what we imagine they are thinking while they do it; what their intent (or intention) is. Judging whether a given behavior is 'immoral' is strongly dependent on determining that others, particularly those with a negative reputation, or unknown strangers, are deliberately not playing by the rules; rather than making innocent errors or being misunderstood.[82]

Our 'reputation' is our previous record of playing by the moral rules in interactions. The VMPFC is involved in this process through its role in attribution or in inferring the intent/intention behind others’ behavior.[83] The OFC/VLPFC region and neighboring anterior insula and amygdala effect aversion to moral rule breaking through emotions such as offense and/or disgust and a desire to withdraw or avoid.

Variables that strongly affect cognitive (conscious) empathy, and impact on VMPFC activity, include the self as the agent of interaction and the perceived similarity between the self and others.[84] This suggests that the VMPFC deals with some aspects of modeling; via a bonding or a synchronization of our mental and emotional states with those of another. Other areas also modulate modeling during decision making, including OFC/VL mirror neurons, when the observed intent and emotions of others are internally modeled, mapped, imagined, or when they are externally imitated.[86]

How morality affects all judgment and all decisions

Since there is nothing so useful as personal experience in grasping an issue, we are going to examine the 'ubiquitous morality' concept by looking at the same experimental questions that researchers used to guide their own explorations; so that we may experience the nature of morality for ourselves.

First, consider how we ordinarily distinguish between things that are done intentionally and those that are done unintentionally. Moral judgments are actually playing a role in our notion of what our notions of autonomy and responsibility are. If we want to know whether someone did something on purpose or by accident, it's not enough just to know what they wanted, or what they knew — we have to make a judgment about whether what they are doing is something 'helpful or harmful'; ie., morally bad or morally good.

DO IT NOW - explore moral influence 1: moral judgment, intent & responsibility

Consider the following scenario, then answer the question:

Alice goes to Bob and says, "I've got an idea for a project. It's going to create huge benefits for us personally, but it's also going to harm the environment." And Bob says, "I don't care about that. All I care about is improving things for ourselves as much as we possibly can. So let's go ahead and implement the idea." They implement the idea and sure enough, it ends up harming the environment.

Question: Did Bob harm the environment intentionally?


...Faced with this question, most people say, "Yes!" Bob harmed the environment intentionally. And this judgment probably has something to do with the mental states and attitude that Bob's reply implies he has. Bob knows that he's going to harm the environment, and he goes ahead and deliberately does it anyway. Maybe it's the fact that he has this prior awareness that makes people decide he did it intentionally. Some find it difficult to decide, the underlying question for them being, 'Does foreknowledge of harm and proceeding anyway count as doing it on purpose?' Others decide that he took responsibility for harming the environment at the point where he said 'let's go ahead'. Even those who say he did not do it on purpose often feel that Bob was 'irresponsible' (ie., failing to respond appropriately to the situation).

This all seems like straightforward objective rational judgment, but there's actually something much more complex about it. The reason that people say Bob did it intentionally is not just because of his informed consent, or because of the mental state and attitude he seemed to have, but because THEY make a particular moral judgment, based on their own mental constructs, that assumes harming (or even just not caring about) the environment is something morally bad and morally wrong for anyone to do.


To reveal this unconscious processing further, consider scenario 2:

Alice goes to Bob and says, "I've got an idea for a project. It's going to create huge benefits for us personally, and it's also going to help the environment." And Bob says, "I don't care about that. All I care about is improving things for ourselves as much as we possibly can. So let's go ahead and implement the idea." They implement the idea and sure enough, it ends up helping the environment.

Question: Did Bob help the environment intentionally?

...Did you give the same response? Do you think Bob helped the environment intentionally? Most people doing this experiment don't; they usually say that Bob helped the environment unintentionally, by accident, or 'just incidentally'; as a 'side effect' of whatever else he was doing.

Observe what's happening in these cases. Bob's attitude is exactly the same in both scenarios; he knows the outcome is going to occur, he decides to do it anyway, he doesn't care about the environmental effect at all; he's not setting out to deliberately make changes happen; he's just not interested.

The thing that's different between the two cases is the moral status of what Bob is doing. In one case he's doing something harmful, harming the environment, and he doesn't care, while we believe he should (thus his behavior doesn't make sense). In the second situation, he's doing something beneficial, helping the environment, but biology sees that as normal natural default behavior; there is nothing going on here worth paying attention to apart from making a memory of Bob being 'ok'. There is no 'checksum error'; everything Bob is doing makes sense. Interaction, where 'everybody wins' (including the environment) is simply what biology expects. It's not especially 'moral' to do what we're supposed to be doing; it's normal. It's not 'moral' for us to care about the environment or to be honest with friends; it's normal.

Our unconscious morality and ontology affect our judgment about whether someone did something intentionally or unintentionally, depending on whether we judge the thing done as a helpful, 'good' thing or a harmful, 'bad' thing. When making judgments or deciding anything, we analyze everything for background morality; for moral 'correctness' as well as coherence.

Emotional stability and congruous emotional responses play a part in this; for example many harmful things arouse disgust, antipathy, offense or alarm in us; which makes absolute sense from an evolutionary pov. Rationality also tells us when such responses are conditioned or incongruous. For example, many westerners would find it nauseating to see someone eating insects. This may have a logical, biological basis (if we do not grow up eating a particular food, our immune system is unlikely to be up to date with bacteria carried by it, so it is helpful to find it unappetizing), or it may be due to conditioning (for example others telling us that eating insects is disgusting, while looking disgusted, which we will mimic,) and, as is usual with biology, it's probably a bit of both.

Yet cognitive ability and congruous rationality play another part; we can also reason about the situation objectively. If we do, we will conclude that what this insect-eating person is doing is not actually morally bad; it's not wrong at all. So what we decide, ultimately, is that there is no reason to be disgusted by it. Caution is justified, but disgust is not. It's actually a perfectly fine interaction.

Researchers have discovered that moral congruity depends on both emotional stability and cognitive ability working in coordination. If emotion is congruous with cognition and makes sense (ie, if we get disgusted only at things which warrant avoidance for health & safety reasons), it is likely that emotional stability prevails and that our conscious concepts of morality will be well aligned with unconscious biomorality.


DO IT NOW – explore moral influence 2 – emotional stability, intent & responsibility

First answer the following question:

How easily are you disgusted – very easily/ easily/ not very easily/not at all easily?

To help you answer this, consider how often you feel disgusted by something or other - every day/ maybe once a week/ not very often/ hardly ever.

This is not a trick question; we are not about to say 'well, you're in charge of your input' : ) We will refer back to your answer later, so keep a note of it.

To do the next thought experiment, we need to clearly understand the concept of polygamy.

Polygamy means: exchanging gametes with more than one partner; ie, having several genetically diverse kids. It does NOT mean having many wives, husbands or lovers (having many lovers is 'polyamory', having many spouses is 'polygyny'.)

Polygamy is purely about the exchange of sexual cells called gametes, which in informal terms is known as unprotected sleeping around, or 'playing the field'. (Biology does not count sex with contraception as 'proper sex', btw, because there is no exchange of gametes.)

The terms apply regardless of whether partners are concurrent or consecutive. Consequently, having four consecutive sexual partners because the previous ones died is still polygamy, (as well as being somewhat suspicious to homicide detectives) whereas spending every weekend with different partners, as long as contraception is used, is not (this is polyamory).

Quick guide:

polygamy = several kids by different partners/unprotected sex with several partners

polygyny = several different long term partners (whether sex is involved or not).

polyamory = several sexual partners or lovers, regardless of whether gametes are exchanged.

It is possible to be all three at once.

The biological basis of polygamy does not hold that 'some is good so more is better'. After all, unprotected sex is potentially hazardous as well as potentially beneficial, so the ideal behavior for biology; the way we (as individual organisms and as a species) thrive best, is when enough of us have several, but not loads, of different sexual exchanges during our lifetimes, with a few carefully selected individuals, usually consecutively but sometimes concurrently.

No biological moral applies to everyone, and some will not feel any urge to reproduce or in some cases even to have sex, but when we do reproduce, biology prefers polygamy.

Taking polygamy as a concept, first answer the following questions:

"What do you think of polygamy?

Is there anything wrong with polygamy?"

Now consider the following scenario:

Alice is a musician. She's meeting with a fellow musician; Bob, and Bob says, "Okay, we've got this new music video. It's really going to increase awareness of our music, but we've been looking at the images in this video, and we think it's also going to encourage polygamy. In particular, it's going to encourage polygamy for couples."

Alice thinks about it for a moment and then says, "I can see why the images in this video are going to encourage polygamy, but I don't care at all about that; I'm not interested in that. All I care about is increasing awareness of our stuff. So let's go ahead with this new video. We're going to release it." They release the new video, and sure enough, it ends up encouraging polygamy.

Now answer the question: Did Alice encourage polygamy intentionally?

Make a note of your answer. Now, review your answer to the 'disgust' question above. How did you rate yourself? Because there is a really interesting correlation: those people who are high in a dispositional tendency to feel disgust — those people who just, in general, experience more frequent feelings of disgust — will tend to say that Alice DID intentionally encourage polygamy. Whereas those people who are low in the dispositional tendency to feel disgust will usually say that Alice unintentionally encouraged polygamy; she didn't do it on purpose.

The same effect holds for those who experience more-than-average alarm, aversion, offense, gravity (seriousness), concern or doubt. This happens regardless of how they answered the second question, 'Do you think polygamy is okay?'

Even though at the start many people answer the questions on polygamy positively -ie., that they find nothing morally wrong with polygamy, those who had higher scores in the original disgust question usually state that Alice is acting with deliberation and chose to encourage polygamy intentionally. Those who reported low levels of disgust usually state that she did so unintentionally.[87]

If disgust (or any other emotion tested) is incongruous with biomorality, it impacts our judgment of agency; deliberation or intent. Natural morality is designed to interface with a healthy, stable emotional system, and to whatever degree our emotional stability is skewed; whether it is too sensitive or not sensitive enough; to that extent our moral judgment will go awry.


Q - Do you remember something else which can have this effect on our judgment?


A – Damage to the right Temperoparietal junction (TPJ). Without it, we cannot tell the difference between cause/effect and correlation. Both our moral and scientific judgment are warped and we overestimate the degree of responsibility others have in causality (for example, blaming them for accidents or random unfortunate events without justification, simply because they were there at the time or because of some other arbitrary association.) In effect when activity in this area is sparse, we fall prey to paranoia -unjustified alarm, unjustified doubt, suspicion and superstition. (see Tutorial 12).


Now consider another concept: Think about your own concept of happiness. Students at this level usually know that 'happiness' is about achieving a certain kind of mental state. So to have happiness is to have feelings of pleasure, enjoyment in the things that we're doing, no worries, a sense of satisfaction. If we're experiencing input that induces those mental states, then we're happy. If not, then we're not happy. It seems very straightforward. If someone asks us, 'Is Alice happy?' they are simply asking, 'Does Alice experience these mental states most of the time?' And we can assess that according to our memories of Alice and say either yes, Alice does appear to be happy; or no, Alice seems to be unhappy a lot of the time; or that we don't know Alice well enough to judge.

Obviously we have no real idea of whether or not a stranger (or an imaginary Alice) is likely to be happy or not. Interestingly, however, such judgments turn out to be equally influenced by morality.

If we look at a stranger and ask ourselves, "Is that person truly happy?" we're not just analysing whether that person has this psychological state often. We're asking something more, that involves a moral value judgment. We're asking: 'Does this person have a life that warrants happiness; a life which has a beneficial effect in some way?'

If we say, "I hope that this child will grow up to be happy," we're not just saying, "I hope this child will grow up to have a certain psychological state often." We're saying, "I hope this child will grow up to have a life and behavior about which we can make a moral value judgment and conclude that it is a life in which feeling happiness makes sense."

The concept of happiness being a default state for healthy organisms is a hard wired concept; it is what biology 'expects'. Someone who breaks moral rules having a happy life does not make sense to unconscious biology; just as someone leading an unhealthy lifestyle is unlikely to be healthy, or someone leading an unhygienic life is unlikely to be clean, so someone leading an immoral life is unlikely to be happy. (Remember, this applies only to biological morality; not to counterfeit moral systems. Adhering to all the morals of such a system is more likely to make one depressed rather than happy, as the closer we get to 'society's ideal self', the further away we get from healthy biological development.)

Just as we interpret intent and deliberation in different ways depending on our own underlying moral ontology, so we judge happiness in similar ways.


DO IT NOW - explore moral influence 3 – cognitive ability and justification of happiness

Below are two scenarios. Read through each and answer the questions that follow.

Scenario 1:

Imagine Alice... Alice is a carpenter, musician, and the mother of three children who all really love her. In fact, they couldn't imagine having a better parent. Alice is usually pretty busy but because she lives communally, she gets to see her friends and socializes a lot. Alice has built her own music studio and records her own and friends' music there, when she is not busy in the workshop, vegetable garden or playing with the children. Most nights she reads stories to everyone's kids.

Day to day, Alice usually feels excited and really enjoys whatever she's doing. When she reflects on her life, she also feels great. She can't think of anything else in the world that she would rather spend her time doing and feels like the success she's had is definitely worth whatever sacrifices she's made.


Question: Is Alice happy?

Make a note of your answer.

Scenario 2:

Alice is an actor and musician who loves to party. She's sleeping with several people of both sexes, all of whom know about each other, and they like to have a sex threesome now and again. Alice doesn't ever want kids. She is usually pretty busy because she is so sexy and popular. Whenever not on set, she often finds herself rushing from one party to the next and is always going to pick up some drugs, champagne or a new outfit. Alice is so popular that she flits about like a butterfly. Almost every night she ends up eating out, either drinking or doing various kinds of drugs, laughing her head off with friends, going dancing or watching movies.

Day to day, Alice usually feels excited and really enjoys whatever she's doing. When she reflects on her life, she also feels great. She can't think of anything else in the world that she would spend her time doing and feels like the success she's had is definitely worth whatever sacrifices she's made.


Question: Is Alice happy?


In both the scenarios above, we are given exactly the same information about what's going on in Alice's mind. She has positive emotions, feels a lot of pleasure, gets a lot of enjoyment in her life. But we are given really different information about what her life is like.

In this case, researchers found the difference between people's answers to be based not on emotional stability, but on their cognitive ability.

If we engage formal operational thinking (which most NH students will) in answering these questions, the answer we inevitably come up with is yes; looking at this objectively, from the evidence available, both versions of Alice do appear to be happy. And if we think about it, neither Alice is doing anything that biology finds 'immoral'. It makes sense that both versions of Alice are currently happy, even though they have very different lifestyles.

Those who answer without engaging rationality though, or those using a counterfeit morality incongruous with biology, tend to reply that 'Alice 2' is probably 'pretending to be happy but isn't really', or that her happiness isn't real because it's drug or drink-induced and that's somehow different from 'other' input-induced happiness (which is not logical, since neurotransmitters are just neurotransmitters).

At the bottom of this difference (and of our answers) is our own ability to engage cognitive abilities and to have mental congruity when we personally judge each Alice's life to be a valuable and meaningful one. Even though she experiences positive emotions in both cases, people say that she is happy when they personally believe her life is a meaningful and valuable one in which her happiness 'makes sense', but that she's probably not really happy in the case where they personally believe it doesn't.

Among such respondents, there is a shared ontological belief that 'people who do loads of sex, drugs and lead meaningless, shallow lives are losers'. Occasionally, someone will say Alice 1 probably isn't happy either. Their ontology invariably includes the belief that 'women who stay home and raise kids and have no official career are losers'.

Without rationality, people do not answer the question asked; they do not answer 'Does Alice appear to be happy?' Instead, they unconsciously answer a question that nobody asked; which is, 'Do you think Alice ought to be happy?' 'Does Alice deserve to be happy?' Thus, only when our own biomorality is congruous with intellectual conclusions do we get an accurate judgment.

Engaging critical thinking skills can overcome judgment bias tendencies in those whose natural morality has been compromised by conditioning, but ultimately for accurate judgment and successful decision making congruity is essential.

Hopefully, rationality is not absent in NH students, and you responded to these questions by using yours. But we are now beginning to see some of the ways in which morality affects judgment.

Next, read each of those last two 'Alice' scenarios again and consider: what would you have replied if the question in each case was, 'Is Alice unhappy?'

Revealingly, research here shows no effect. Everybody says no; neither of these versions of Alice seems to be unhappy. People make a straightforward judgment based only on the information they are given about Alice's mental state.

For judgments about the question "Is she happy?", the moral status of her life can play a big role, because unconsciously we know that breaking moral rules makes us feel anxious and anxiety tends to reduce happiness. Feeling good versus feeling crappy is, after all, built into biomorality's program as the very incentive for why we are motivated to BE moral.

For judgments of the question "Is she unhappy?", there is no apparent effect of moral judgment because biomorality works from a standpoint of 'happiness is normal', therefore unless we see any direct evidence to the contrary, a default state will be unconsciously assumed. When asked, 'Is she happy', the intelligent mind wonders, well, why should she not be? -and goes looking for possible reasons; possible evidence. If it finds none, in real life the curious mind moves on from answering 'no' straight into wondering why the question was asked.


DO IT NOW – test this hypothesis with friends

The next time you are in a group situation, say, in a bar or cafe with friends, tell them you are doing biopsychology tutorials and ask would they help you out with a test. (Otherwise, this is hacking allies without their knowledge or consent, which is dishonest and extremely rude). If they say yes, select a random stranger in the room and ask your friends, (Eg., 'You see that person at the bar on the left/that person in the car park/that waiter? Do you think they are happy?)

The most intelligent of your friends will reply, 'Sometimes, sometimes not', because in real life this is true of all of us. Some (often frontloaders) may say, 'We have no way of telling'; or 'How do I know?'. From the selection of other answers, you can tell who is judging from current appearances ('they don't LOOK very happy'/ 'they look quite happy'), who is trying to judge rationally from current circumstances ('they're on their own and drinking a lot, so maybe not') and you will also spot who is anxious about making a judgment, as they will jump past answering and go straight into 'why do you wanna know?' or 'what's the test about?', or 'who cares?'

Obviously your friends may want to know more, so you can tell them you're learning about how we decide things about others. This could inspire an interesting and varied conversation which in my case [88] included subjects like stereotypes, appearances, and prejudice; although after another drink or two none of us remembered what we were talking about.


The exciting thing about biomorality is, research seems to be finding this same kind of underlying moral awareness again and again for every single concept it is looking at. Moral judgments impact people's decisions about intentional action, happiness, knowledge, causation, freedom, even about whether natural morality itself is innate. The questions you have answered here are similar to those used in the experiments that have revealed this. People's whole way of making sense of their world is suffused through and through with constant moral considerations.

It's a great evolutionary strategy to have both unconscious and conscious deliberation going on in parallel, because that allows brains to run a processing tradeoff between efficiency and flexibility. Unconscious perception is fast, efficient and energy saving, and most of the time it's going to work pretty well without needing much adjustment to circumstances. Conscious deliberation is not very efficient. We have to sit there and think stuff through; employ logic and reason and analysis. We have to know the difference between a valid argument and an invalid argument, between hard evidence and meaningless data; the signal and the noise. We can make mistakes. But, in principle, we can do anything with such a system; it gives us the flexibility to tackle not just known but entirely new kinds of problems; essential for an adaptable species living in a dynamic reality.


The right stuff

Morality assumes autonomy; ie., that a person can choose to do different things of their own free will. And it knows in what contexts behavior X is beneficial, behavior Y is harmful, so it's a system that gives us cues that we should choose to do one thing rather than the other. Biology is well aware that reality is dynamic, that the conscious part of the mind may always choose to moderate or cancel an unconscious decision or vice versa if things suddenly change, and that we can, if need be, change our behaviors and neurochemistry within fractions of a second in response to that change; because these algorithms were forged in the ultimate raw reality where for millions of years, not responding appropriately could get you eaten.

Biological morality is comprised of lines of behavioral code inherited only from those who got it right; abstracted (like everything else) through analogization in stories (beware the dark side of the Force!); metaphorization (Darth Vader... Dum -dum -dum, -dum -de DAH, -dum -de DAAAH!!!) and digitization (X breaks the rules of biomorality; therefore X = harmful) and applied dynamically to complex concepts.

A major misunderstanding of biomorality is often expressed by those conditioned to believe that external top-down rules are necessary for ethical behavior. Ironically, biomorality can be stricter than some synthetic versions.

For example, biomorality is very strict on loyalty between allies; to an extent that can outweigh autonomy. If Alice and Bob are allies, and Carl does something unpleasant to Alice, and Alice decides to suspend interaction with Carl, Bob should (according to biomorality) suspend interaction with Carl too. Not to do so would be to send an unconscious message to Alice saying, 'I don't trust your judgment of others (or) I don't care what Carl did to you (therefore we are not close allies)', and this would result in Alice being less close (often much less close) to Bob.

The modern behavioral psychology term for such behavior is 'solidarity', and in biomorality it takes precedence over personal tastes (for example Bob should cease interaction with Carl even if they get along well. If Carl and Alice are both Bob's allies, then the optimal interaction for Bob is to get Alice and Carl to talk the problem out, but if this fails, Bob must choose which ally he will drop, even though he doesn't want to lose either. To remain friends with both is to send the message 'I am not loyal to either of you (and therefore we are not close allies)'.

Biomorality also has very strong privacy rules, along the lines of 'what other people are doing is absolutely none of your business', and you should not go poking into their lives, asking questions about them or talking about them outside a cultural context (such as, Alice does great paintings).

If the rules of biomorality were kept, it would not be possible for anyone to coerce, condition or deceive anyone. Our current concepts of school, work, government and business would all be considered immoral. Spying would be too rude to even consider, any kind of coercion would be considered abuse, and stooping so low as to inflict trouble on others would be viewed as sick and perverted. Counterfeit moralities often let us off lightly by comparison, and one thing you will experience when readjusting morality parameters is how much you have to get off everyone elses case and get seriously onto your own. Biomorality works from the bottom up inside each individuals biology. It is all about how YOU behave, what YOU choose to get involved with, what YOU choose to do and whom YOU decide to trust; not about criticizing the behavior of others from the top down. With complementary unconscious/conscious and analysis/synthesis networks, we are participators as well as observers. In counterfeit games, the opposite is true; players focus on pointing out the moral failures of others and 'punishing' them rather than on noticing or curbing their own moral misdemeanors. (This can lead to ridiculous cognitive dilemmas such as, person A killing person B being good, because person B killed person C, which is bad. This sort of delusional non-sense is kinda embarrassing, for a species which claims to be smart).

Biomorality has some unexpected parameters; notably spacetime (or in colloquial terms, location & distance); and degree of perceived intelligence or potential for intelligence, which directs status.

Time and space (as date, location and distance) affect biomorality strongly. For example, there are children on the other side of the world who are desperately in need of food and medicine, and we say, "Well, I'd like a house and a car and a phone and a TV and a computer and a fitted kitchen and electric lights and indoor plumbing and some nice clothes, and tonight I think I'll eat out, go for drinks and see a movie”. Doesn't this make us moral monsters? for choosing to spend our money on these goods and services instead of trying to save other people's lives? Is this a case of emotional under-weighting? Does it make sense from an evolutionary perspective that we have emotional responses which evoke our empathy when someone's right in front of us, but not when they're on the other side of the world?

Yes it does. We are not programmed to 'think globally' at all -because being in separate, small groups produces diversity, and biology loves diversity because it ensures that no matter what happens, at least one group is likely to survive. If all individual groups practise innovation and do things differently, this greater variety of different methods & techniques ensures adaptation and survival overall. If one group can't adapt, it will die out, leaving a niche for more adaptable groups to fill, and constantly improving the gene pool (and culture) of adaptors.

Communication between groups is a good way to share skills and methods which diversity of approach has produced. But we cannot function biologically as one big 'global' family all doing everything the same ways, any more than we could all live comfortably in the same area.

We consequently think it's much more important if someone was murdered next door this afternoon than if someone was murdered 160 years ago next door, or this afternoon on the other side of the world in an isolated farming village. Distance and similarity of context are emotionally weighted for obvious survival reasons.

The degree of perceived intelligence or potential for intelligence being used to calculate status is another important parameter. Because of it, we feel much more comfortable killing a mushroom than a monkey, and we would rather eat a tuna than a dolphin, but this 'prioritization' of potential intelligence also primes us to value childrens' survival in situations of life and death as being a higher priority than our own.

Biology generally tries to achieve contexts as close as it can to those known to be successful from an evolutionary pov, and so most of us today still find ourselves hanging out with a small number of those we really care about, plus a small number of those we interact with as colleagues or acquaintances, and that comprises our cultural 'group'. Some such groups contain related family members, but many do not, and are formed when individuals meet who have similar interests or things in common.

Other notable parameters are similarities of appearance and behavior. We experience easier empathy with those who look or behave like we do, and this has a cross-species effect when it comes to youngsters within the same biological 'kingdom' (in our case, mammals).[89] Most of us would, for example, find kittens playing amusing and fun to watch, or a baby monkey snuggling up to it's mom endearing, but few of us would think baby maggots are amusing, endearing, cute or fun to watch.

On the whole we avoid killing baby animals. This too makes evolutionary sense if we consider the long term consequences of killing the young of a species for food (universally considered a bad idea outside of dire emergency in hunting communities everywhere, because you'd be setting yourself up for a future food shortage.)

Close relationships introduce new moral rules. Allies are a big priority to biology and it treats them accordingly. Our ability to interact with others successfully is valuable because it enables more rapid development, and the intelligence potential of both parties increases accordingly. This occurs in all group or individual relationships, and the more different types of relationships we experience successfully, the greater our potential for new ways to interact and adapt becomes.

Magnitude of consequence in context is also taken into account. Most of us would not risk our own lives to save one unknown stranger in a far away place, but many of us would be prepared to do extraordinarily risky things in order to stop genocide in a far away place. We also respond much more strongly to deaths in a small population than we do in overcrowded circumstances. When we live in smaller groups, we value each other more highly.

Biomorality as a program

The underlying constant algorithm in biomorality is:

1 calculate the potential value to intelligence development of each factor

2 prioritize weighting according to this value

If we were to present a way to do this in formulaic terms that a computer could understand, it may look something like:

x = 0

for (e in S)


if (e > x) x = e


return f(x)

In other words, we unconsciously rate the intelligence potential of everything around us and prioritize needs accordingly. There are 'degrees of certainty' or probability calculations in this process which take into account multiple unconscious and conscious factors.

Having calculated unconsciously whom or what we believe has the greatest intelligence potential (interactive potential) in the current context, we prioritize their needs. Most of our friends have a fairly similar intelligence potential to our own, and in everyday life we all meet members of the inevitable 'less than' group. Sometimes we also meet someone who is obviously a great deal more intelligent than we are, and if we do meet a truly impressive individual, they usually become a role model and we feel motivated to talk to them, help them, correspond with them, work for them or otherwise take steps to become closer allies.

Children rate very highly in biology's calculations of intelligence potential, partly because they have a great deal more time left to fulfil that potential than older folks and should, if given their needs now, live somewhat longer than the rest of us.

This 'valuing' process is an underlying constant; a calculation we are constantly updating as contexts and events change. When we are alone, we quite naturally prioritize our own minds and set about providing their more private needs. When with close friends, the calculation usually rates everyone as fairly equal. When with strangers, we prioritize ourselves until we get to know them enough to warrant a probability recalculation.

Even a valued tool which increases our ability to interact will be prioritized in terms of care taken of it over a device that has low potential for increasing our interaction.

There is a complex background 'interactive potential rating' going on unconsciously about everything; from rocks (which have a fairly limited potential to interact ) to other humans (say, at 100). Against the backdrop of this universal, we superimpose our personally calculated priorities.

Once we have our prioritization data, we moderate all activity, judgment and decisions with a remarkably 'Asimovian'[90] prime directive:

You may not harm prioritized intelligence, or, by inaction, allow prioritized intelligence to come to harm.

This simple rule carries a great many sub-surface implications. For examples; in order not to harm prioritized intelligence, we have to make sure its needs are met, we have to educate ourselves about how to best take good care of it, what is beneficial or harmful for it, and avoid wrong input. In order not to 'cause prioritized intelligence to come to harm through inaction (ie,. Non-input;) we must pursue the ongoing development of intelligence, (except where doing so would cause harm to a prioritized intelligence.)

The prioritization calculation gives us a moral system which judges it (for example) morally correct (beneficial) behavior to eat a fish, and morally wrong (harmful) behavior to eat our neighbor. The rules make it morally correct to dissect a dead body to see what's inside, and morally wrong to dissect our neighbor to see what's inside. But it gives us much more than this. It gives us an overview of and ability to adapt to new and unknown issues, problems and concerns; because it is a behavioral safety-net. 'Good' and 'bad' are inappropriate concepts in a reality which deals with meaning in terms of 'correct' or 'wrong' – because correct and wrong are basically just 1 or 0, as far as biomorality is concerned; unconsciously we keep processes as simple as we can (the system has size-limitation and resource-limitation and therefore ergonomic processing requirements).

Biomorality relies on our learning from mistakes and experience, set against the context that whenever our behavior and judgments are morally correct, we will prosper; wherever they are not, our strategies will ultimately fail. This is the absolute epitome of the metaphoric 'guide' represented as an archetype of N3; biomorality is our trustworthy shamans guide to succeeding in life in biological terms (and we too often forget that for biological creatures there are no other real terms). Unconscious biology views events and behavior in terms of correct and wrong, but what we are in fact looking at consciously are behaviors which, at root, are smart or stupid. Biomorality is all about doing the smart stuff and avoiding the stupid.

Those who are conditioned to ignore the guide, or to follow some counterfeit guide, suffer the consequences of poor judgment. Not least, they miss out on the experience of some of biomoralitys neurochemical highs when we 'get it right'; certainly one of the regular pleasures of a quality life.

Our view of morality is no longer merely a factor of cultural or behavioral sciences, and is certainly firmly wrenched out of the domain of philosophy or any other kind of speculation without proof. It is maturing -as perhaps are we – due to recent research, and can now be seen clearly as one of the most significant factors enabling intelligence. Because without an accurate ability to tell correct from wrong, real from counterfeit, smart from stupid, 1 from 0, where are we?

Although new research findings will not change public understanding (because the public does not, on the whole, know about them or particularly want to), they have already given us conceptualizations of numerous unconscious and conscious factors of morality, which we have shared with you here.

Biological morality, the intelligence of inherited unconscious knowledge-from-experience united with knowledge-as-information; is evolution looking out for ya;and by doing so ensuring that the potential for further growth and development of intelligence itself is ongoing, and that the optimal conditions for development are maintained. Biology does not expect intelligent beings to ignore or overwrite it; for to do so would be immoral. What it cannot account for, as in all areas, is failure of or retardation of development, in this case of the very guiding principles for behavior enabling our ongoing healthy development; due to wrong input or lack of input. We'll examine some problems this causes in the 'What happens if things go wrong' section below.

the most important bits to remember

Research has shown that humans are born with a hard-wired morality flexible enough to take into account all possible interactional scenarios in a dynamic system, and have identified brain regions involved in moral judgment and their related functions.

Biological morality presents a dynamic, adaptable system of unconscious knowledge about behavior, fairness and human wellbeing pertaining to cultural interactions, aiming for the greatest benefit to intelligence.

Counterfeit moralities are static and non-adaptable.

Counterfeit morality is a big danger to human wellbeing, because it can claim that ANYTHING whatsoever is good or bad, evil or holy, as anyone sees fit to make up.

Moral development relies on previous experience of decisions being honored.

Morality relies on supporting abilities and networks; for example without emotional stability, imagination and empathy, morality goes awry.

Our unconscious morality and ontology affect our judgment about whether someone did something intentionally or unintentionally, depending on whether we see the thing done as a 'good' thing or a 'bad' thing. When making judgments or deciding anything, we analyse everything for background morality; for 'correctness' as well as coherence.

If disgust (or any other emotion tested) is incongruous with biomorality, it impacts our judgment of agency; deliberation or intent.

'Good' and 'bad' are inappropriate concepts in a reality which deals in 'correct' or 'wrong' – because correct and wrong are basically 1 or 0, as far as biomorality is concerned, and that decision is unique to every situation, a fact which no static fictional 'law' can encompass.

DO IT NOW – past judgment reflection

Think objectively about a past judgment you have made at any stage in any relationship, which later proved to be mistaken or inaccurate. Do not choose an emotionally-loaded example at first.

Consider the following:

How strong was your certainty of your own rightness in making the judgment?

What degree of empathy did you feel for the other’s position?

How well were you able to manage your own anxiety when making such judgments?

How likely were you to get confused when assessing benefits/dangers?

What was your level of respect for anxiety boundaries of the other person/s?

What was your level of respect for the physical and psychological autonomy of the other person's?

How much attention did you pay to others' needs in making the decision?

How great was your own autonomy to create a good life for yourself independent of interaction with the other/s?

In particular, reflect on the extent to which you had the ability to engage in interactive dialogue to resolve any differences. Could you talk through different perspectives and make an interactive judgment in the interests of all concerned?

Do you think you would perform better now?


This sort of exercise provides the opportunity for us to reflect on core conditions, power relations and self knowledge in ways that can benefit us when making future judgments.



The relationship of decision & judgment

Making judgments enables us to take decisions about how best to proceed, yet we cannot make a judgment without taking decisions. The output of decision enables judgment and the output of judgment is a decision...

Okay, this is a little noodle-baking; so here's some explanation: when we make a judgment, in fact we are taking a decision to believe that something, or some set of things, is true. If we judge something as true, we feel we have looked at sufficient evidence to imply or demonstrate the truth of it. Judgment (the verb) is a process, but A judgment (the noun) is a decision. Throughout the process of judgment we must make decisions, and come to a final decision.

The acceptance of in item as a belief is our confirmation of a decision. The information judged 'correct' is whisked off into that hallowed sector of declarative memory known as 'facts', and after a short trial period where it is scrutinized for associative consistency wth everything else there, it is weighted accordingly (or should be) as being much more valuable than unproven claims or opinions. But you can see here that in order to make a high level decision, we rely on previously made judgments which led to lower level decisions that a whole heap of supporting information is true. To judge something apparently simple such as whether we are seeing a rat or a mouse, for example, we have to judge perceptively what we are seeing to check if it matches our 'rat' or 'mouse' concept, and to do that we must have rat and mouse concepts (have decided formerly what a rat/mouse IS, and what the words 'rat' and 'mouse' mean). We must make a final decision based on comparisons between the two concepts and current input, taking into consideration our own perceptual state and the context (if we're drunk or it's dark, it's harder to tell).

DO IT NOW – exercise your perceptual judgment

Is this a mouse, rat, gerbil, hamster, shrew or vole? Decide! Try speaking your thoughts aloud or making notes during this exercise and you'll observe the process of your own mind looking for factors to support probability weightings.


Did it start by looking at differences and narrowing the choices (how much does it differ from my concept for each category – 'It can't be X because...') or did it start by looking for correlative factors (how much does it resemble my concept for each category – 'It's possibly X because...')? If the former, you probably have a slightly dominant N5, if the latter, a slightly dominant N4.

Answer at end of tutorial


A whole bunch of probability calculation, judgment and decision making processes accompany all perception. We are making constant judgments. Is it a duck or a rabbit? Is that color blue or green? Is that object small, or far away? What time is it? Is that Alice over there, or just someone who looks a bit like her? Is this my drink? Can I reach that from here? Will this fit into that space? When judgment gets it wrong, perception gets it wrong, as in optical illusions. When judgment gets it right, we perceive reality.

Because most of this judging and decision making goes on unconsciously and automatically as well as very, very rapidly, especially in familiar situations, we don't realize we are doing it, but it happens constantly; in fact judgment and decision is at the center of our every move; because every move requires a decision, and judgment is an element in all decisions.

This is more obvious when we consider new, unknown items; for example, to make a sensible decision about whether Ferckle should go blarting regularly for health, we need to be able to accurately judge and decide who or what Ferckle is, what blarting is, and whether blarting is beneficial to Ferckles health in general. A good decision could take some research. But in the same way, to decide whether Alice should go swimming regularly for health, we need to be able to accurately judge and decide who or what Alice is, what swimming is, and whether swimming is beneficial to Alice's health in general. We don't think about this judgment consciously, because we automatically decide (by judging the available evidence) that Alice is a human and that swimming is the familiar aquatic activity 'we all know about'. We might also make assumptions about or ask questions about Alice's current level of fitness, enjoyment or dislike of swimming, and amount of free time.

A decision is an encapsulation of all those elements … data, facts, processes, predictions, memories, feedback etc… that go into judgment. 'Sound judgment' is the ability to weigh the evidence and come up with the right decision; the correct answer, and lack of sound judgment is the greatest cause of failure in most walks of life.


Factors influencing judgment

Having accurate information is the most essential factor for exercising sound judgment, which requires distinction between two or more ideas. Judgment relies on accurate input and accurate observation, yet conclusions are also products of personal experience and abilities, such as engaging rational processes like inferences in judgments about the meanings of our observations. So if either the information is not accurate, or our perception of it is not accurate, judgment is compromized right from the start.

Accurate information is considered most essential because even the most intelligent mind will make inaccurate judgments if given inaccurate data (the Garbage in = Garbage out rule). Second to information quality is the health and ability of the system doing the judging – in this case our minds - and their ability often depends on processing experience dealing with information as much as it does on the information.

An important first step in judging whether information is accurate is to be clear and realistic about the limits of human rationality. It is exactly in order to stretch these limits that we have developed formal processes for reasoning: statistics; probability theory; modelling methods; and so on. We have also developed technologies such as cameras, microscopes and computers to support us in processing information more accurately, but it is always important to remember that methods and tech are used by humans and can be easily subverted, as we saw in the last tutorial. For example:

  • The assumptions on which models are based are often changed to provide the ‘right’ answer.

  • The conclusions reached through a modelling process often ignore the uncertain nature of the information on which they are based. For example, it is common to see planning figures or estimates expressed to second-decimal precision when the figures on which they are based are accurate only to the nearest thousand.

  • Many options are filtered out long before any formal analysis takes place.

  • The way in which the outputs of formal analysis are framed often affects the final decision.

  • The same data can lead to very different conclusions if decision makers have different ontologies (assumptions about the way the world works.)

  • copying or communicating information can create errors, and essential evidence may be missed (or edited) out.


In short, we are all fallible, and neither we nor technology can conclude correct answers from incorrect data or via incorrect processing.

Another important aspect of our judgmental ability is awareness of the potential dangers when making judgments involving possible harmful outcomes; in other words, risk. Risk is all-pervasive in life and many decisions require us to weigh up and judge between different kinds of risk, or to calculate risks versus benefits.

In objective intellectual conscious terms, a rational perspective generally represents 'risk versus benefit' as potential harm versus potential gain, calculated with a combination of the expected magnitude of a gain or loss, combined with some probability distribution of anticipated outcomes. But within the humanistic 'biological + rational' paradigm there is a different unconscious starting point for calculating risk. Human perception introduces two other important components of risk that influence our judgment: the resilience factor – how much we personally could adapt in scary potential outcomes (or in anxiety, how much we can't) – and the autonomy factor – the extent to which we are (or, intriguingly, believe we are) in control of events.

When risks combine both low personal adaptation potential (low resilience/ high anxiety) and high personal dependence (low autonomy/ lack of control), for example in a natural disaster or an infectious epidemic, they are judged as very great 'for everybody'. In other words we tend to overestimate risks. Conversely, the higher our personal resilience and autonomy, the lower we tend to rate risk 'for everybody'; i.e., we underestimate risks.

This is a side effect of unconsciously assuming 'everyone is just like me', which, with plenty of proof to the contrary, is a bias that can override empathy if we are not aware of it. Genuine empathy is not about judging how we would feel in others' circumstances, but judging how THEY are likely to feel in their circumstances. Many such assumptions end with poor outcomes. We cannot alleviate a resultant anxiety attack by saying, “But Darling, it's ONLY a Tarantula!”

Research on human risk preferences also suggests that we are risk averse when considering potential gains, but will often take significant risks to avoid losses. We are naturally ‘loss averse’. Further, whether we see ourselves as operating in the domain of gains or losses depends crucially on how an issue is mentally framed and the reference line we are using to judge losses versus gains.[91]

For example, a fruit-grower considering ways of reducing an expected loss due to pests may frame the situation as a position of inevitable loss, and decide to ensure making a small gain through protecting the uninfested fruit and destroying the infected fruit; a policy of risk avoidance. Or s/he may frame the situation in terms of potential gain, decide that 'loss is still avoidable', and hence be inclined to take more risks to avoid it, such as trying a new method of pest control.

This suggests that whether an individual is risk seeking or risk averse with regard to any issue will be moderated by how they view and frame that issue and how it is seen in relation to a personal reference line on a benefit/harm continuum. The reference line divides the behavior where we feel as if we are risking too much harm (loss) from the behavior where we feel risks may pay off in greater benefits (gain). This line will change with situation, context, experience and time.

To improve judgmental powers it is important to have a clear idea of HOW we should judge for an effective decision. While decisions often stray from formal rationality, this does not always mean those decisions are less effective. Often for simple issues it is smart to take mental shortcuts: drawing only on hunches and intuition can allow us to tap our tacit knowledge and experience and reduce the time of decision making. However, while short cuts do not necessarily make for bad decisions, they are more likely to if we lack awareness of the influences and biases that can affect our judgment.

As we now see, our judgment is affected by more than just our own individual psychological make-up. Our decisions are significantly affected by the context in which we take them. Factors influencing judgment can therefore be personal and individual (physical, behavioral, emotional/intuitive, psychological, cognitive); contextual (places, environments, evidence, conditions, culture), or interactional (relationships, procedures, events). Paying attention to these factors can enrich our understanding of how judgments are made and alert us to some of the invisible influences on judgment.

Accurate judgment uses intuition, creativity and rationality and our main feedback indication of accuracy is their accord or congruity. Without it, things tend to go wrong. We'll discuss some of the problems that result in the 'What happens if things go wrong' section below.


risk and hazard

The terms Hazard and Risk are often used interchangeably but there is an important difference between the two.

A hazard is a potential source of harm or adverse health effect on a given subject.

Hazards are contextual and individual; and are not 'bad things' in themselves; for example: for a small mouse, a cat is a hazard; for an individual with a peanut allergy, peanuts are a hazard; for almost all of biological life, radiation is a hazard. Hard radiation in deep space however is only a hazard to lifeforms which are likely to approach it, and that's currently unlikely for humans. Salt water is a hazard to humans only if we swallow a lot of it.

Risk is the likelihood that a given subject may be exposed to a given hazard. An individual is 'at risk' if they are likely to encounter a hazard.

The level of risk is usually calculated from the potential harm or adverse health effect that a given hazard may cause, the likelihood of exposure, the number of times or amount of time subjects are exposed and the number of subjects exposed.

For example, hard radiation will always be classified as a hazard. The risk of our encountering any in everyday life is low, but anyone working with or near hard radiation is considered at high risk because just a single exposure may cause death or potentially fatal disease, whereas the risk associated with using a cellphone occasionally could be considered to be very low, as any potential harm or adverse health effects are minimal.

The classic definition of risk is the formula: risk = probability x loss

The formula means the probability of the occurrence of a harmful event multiplied by the severity of consequence (harm /loss) likely IF the event happened. There are many types of harm/ loss; for example of items, of structures, of people, of information, of reputation, and of ability.

The formula doesn't give us any input; it gives us a mental tool to analyze input. Input can be concrete (what's the likelihood of getting my phone stolen, and how much of a bummer would that be?) or abstract (what's the risk of my forgetting this information, and how much might go wrong as a result?)


judgment as a process - certainty and uncertainty

Real life is full of uncertainty. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? ...No, it's a tiny speck of muck stuck to my contact lens. Thanks to the brain’s intuitive grasp of probabilities, it can handle dynamic input.

Instead of trying to come up with a decision immediately, the brain aims to come up with a probability that a particular answer is correct. Feedback from the range of possible outcomes then guides judgment for the next probability calculation.

Probability calculation offers a huge advantage in a dynamic, changeable reality. For example, we unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) adapt our visual search behavior to adjust to the different levels of input uncertainty. The more uncertain the input, the more systematic our visual search strategy is, and the more our response times become unpredictable; in fact changes in uncertainty of our eye movements are a virtual mirror image of the changes in uncertainty in our response times.[92]

This is because the area of the brain which controls them (the supplementary eye field (SEF)), whose concrete task is the planning and control of saccadic eye movements that allow us to continually refocus on an object (our ability to judge, monitor and control input for perception); uses the same processes for the abstract task of using past decisions and outcomes to guide future behavior; a function of metacognition (our ability to judge, monitor and control cognition) which links judgment to decision and is also involved in motivational aspects of behavioral changes in pupil diameter correspond to the moment when the actual decision is made; showing a significant increase in the diameter of the pupil at the instant preceding the decision.[93]

Generally, pupils dilate largely in response to norepinephrine; so it looks like NE is recruited for decision making as well as consolidation of memories.[94]

There is strong behavioral and physiological evidence that the brain both represents probability distributions and performs probabilistic inference,[95] and recent experiments have shown that human behavior is highly consistent with probabilistic reasoning not only in the sensory domain, but also in the motor and cognitive domains.

Our ability to differentiate has evolved to make the best judgments possible with whatever information we’re given. N3 is constantly matching sensory inputs to stored memory patterns and imaginative possibilities to make predictions of what is out there, what's happening now and what might happen in the future. Sights, sounds, and other sensory evidence are entered and registered in sensory circuits, and N3 sets about compiling and weighing each piece of evidence. When the accumulated evidence reaches a critical mass, judgment results in a decision being made.

Which networks judgmental processes recruit in the brain differs depending on the type of decision required. For example, researchers found that different parts of the frontal lobes are included for abstract and concrete decisions, while decisions based largely on visual information rely much more more on N2 and N3, which integrates evidence supplied by the senses.

What happens when we change our minds? When a decision is wrong and things turn out differently than expected, the orbitofrontal cortex responds (or should) to the mistake and helps us reconsider, changing our certainty/uncertainty ratio and altering our choices; adjusting future behavior through feedback.

While processing input from its sensory origins, N3 represents (among many other things) the degree of certainty or uncertainty of its current judgments, in terms of the probability of their being correct. Processing is then passed up to the next level, and as it continues, probability figures shift through feedback to more accurate representations. What looked like a possible small furry animal /possible fur hat under the table is now resolved as a probable fur hat. What each level is receiving from the former (as part of the input) is the degree of certainty or confidence in a given concept.

Decisions are always accompanied by a degree of certainty or confidence, a graded belief that our judgments and choices will produce positive outcomes. Confidence plays a critical role in guiding our future behavior in complex environments, especially when decision outcomes are delayed and rapid learning is required.

When we feel we lack sufficient evidence to guarantee success, our mind uses elapsed time as a proxy for task difficulty, to calculate how confident we should 'probably' be. The unconscious assumes that longer elapsed times are associated with lower accuracy and should mean less confidence. We use this association to calculate confidence, not just based on the available evidence, but also based on how long it took to gather and assess the evidence, and this should be borne in mind; the unconscious does not expect procrastination in a healthy mind, and the longer we take to make a decision the more important it begins to believe that decision to be, and the harder it becomes to decide.[96]

A part of N5's domain is messaging for the release of hormones and transmitters which provide emotions and prompt behaviors which attempt to resolve uncertainties (for example, innovating, or simply asking questions), and accordingly we feel more or less certain or uncertain of what we are seeing or what is going on; both with a particular issue and with our overall mental model of what usually goes on in similar situations.

Decisions result from rapid and complex probability calculations. At each level, more complex processing functions calculate the probability distribution over coincidence patterns for the lower level. From this, new degrees of certainty are calculated. These feedback messages are then sent to the lower levels until all are congruous in judgment about what is being experienced. As soon as N5 knows there is accord, it can adjust our confidence level in an issue via the relevant transmitters. This can take fragments of a second (as in the furry hat conclusion) or it can take months (actually, Alice isn't anything like the person I assumed she was when we first met).

In all networks, the program is the same: compute probability distributions over variables of interest; given sensory measurements, prior knowledge (memory), and relevant predictions (imagination). How do populations of neurons represent probability distributions? By using the inner model to map behavior and activity directly onto probability. The amount of uncertainty in a given area corresponds to both behavioral variability and judgmental ability.


Understanding probability

Many people have difficulty grasping probabilities, often confusing them with possibilities, predictions, or associating them only with games of chance, coincidence and quantum physics. Yet probabilistic thinking is the conscious counterpart to unconscious cognition, the executive processing tool which fine-tunes intuition-sourced data for more reliable results.

This is something else not taught in schools, so we shall tackle the basics here. The most important concept to grasp is that uncertainty emerges in the map; not in the territory. If we start thinking as if probabilities are in things, rather than being states of partial information about things, we go astray.

Probabilities express uncertainty, and it is only we who can be uncertain. A blank map does not correspond to a blank territory. In the real world, something has either really happened, or it really hasn't. Any consideration of 'probability' must refer to the information that we have in our minds about reality—our own state of partial ignorance and partial knowledge—partial certainty and partial uncertainty; not to reality itself. Reality is always absolutely certain what it's doing; because it's inherently about 'whatever really happens'.


Q: Imagine this scenario: Alice has drunk 10 bottles of beer, and Bob predicts that Alice will fall over and land on her ass (rather than falling over and landing on her face); not with certainty, he says, but with 90% accuracy. Carl says the opposite. What would the real probability be?

A: There is no "real probability". Bob has one state of partial information. Carl has a different state of partial information. Alice has just lost motor control; she doesn't assign a probability to anything; she just tries to stand up, rotates half a turn, bounces off the table, and lands either face up or face down, which she has a ½ (50%) chance of doing.


There are some special terms used in probability. All 'experiments' or 'trials' are interactions where the result is uncertain; and what is referred to as the 'Sample Space' in experiments means a set of all the possible outcomes of an experiment. Context is vital in assessing the sample space. The probability of a striped furry thing being a tiger is fairly large in some contexts and very small in others.

A 'Sample Point' means just one of the possible outcomes, and an 'event' is a result that gives one (or more) of the possible outcomes.

There is a formula based on these terms for calculating the probability (in general) of a given event happening. It is:

P(E) = n(E) / n(S)

where P = probability, E = event, n = the number of ways the event can happen, and S = the total number of possible outcomes.

For example, the probability of rolling a die and getting a 4 is 1/6; or one event out of a sample space of 6 possible events.

Imagine a box containing 12 mice. There are 6 different colors of mice; two of each color. We wish to know what the probability is of choosing two of the same color without looking. Each time we dip in and remove two mice with our eyes closed, it is an experiment (because the result is uncertain). The 'event' we are looking for is two coincident mice being the same color.

The 'sample space' is all possible outcomes of combining two mice (with 12 mice, there are 36 possible pair combinations (sample points) in the sample space.

Here are some results:

Experiment colors Is it a match?

1 brown/ginger N

2 grey/black N

3 white/white Y

4 black&white/grey N

5 black/ginger N

6 brown/black&white N


...After 100 experiments, we have 19 'color matching' events... thus far, the probability of getting two matching mice is 19/100 or 0.19. Is that close to what you would expect?

Probability is associated with games of chance because it represents the 'chance that something will happen'. The probability of an event occurring is somewhere between impossible (0) and certain (1). Probability is always between 0 and 1, and is usually expressed as a ratio of the number of likely outcomes compared with the total number of outcomes possible.

DO IT NOW -calculate probability

Out of a group of 200 people halfway through a party, intelligence is currently distributed as follows: 50 are bored and boring, 65 are dancing or smooching, 70 are drunk and loud, and 15 are still interesting to talk to. If a person from this group is selected at random, what is the probability that this person is drunk and loud?

Answer at end of tutorial

Framing influences the mind's probability calculations. For example, if you are asked to guess the number of neurons currently in your brain and whether you think it's probably greater than 180,000; you'll make an estimate that's likely to be much higher than if you are asked whether you think it's probably greater than 5,000, when your estimate will be much lower.[97]

Language is also important when dealing with probabilities. For example: Imagine someone tells you that there is a particularly nasty new disease which can only be treated if caught early. Due to a genetic difference, only one percent of the population can catch the disease. The only available test is 90% accurate, with a 9% false positive rate. What do you do if you test positive for the likelihood of having the disease? Confused? Well, that was a freakishly frontloader way of explaining things; here's the 'white rabbit' version: If we ignore the negative tests, nine times out of ten a positive test for this disease is a false positive. Put that way, it’s easy to see that even if you got a positive result in the test, there’s still only a ten percent chance that you are infected.


Creative thinking

In the last few tutorials we have looked at many of the factors contributing to judgment; intellect, memory, empathy, autonomy, self awareness and personality; but imagination and creativity play as important roles in all these factors as they do in most other human endeavors.

Judgments and decisions require the ability to imagine possible logical causes and outcomes of a current situation. All possible outcomes are not obvious, and we must think of them by imagining scenarios that account for how they might come about. Similarly, imagination as well as knowledge and empathy is required to reconstruct how a problem appears from the viewpoint of someone else. Creative thinking is required to question things that have long been taken for granted. Good rational thinkers raise new creative questions that lead to the identification of previously unrecognized relationships, or to possible outcomes that had not previously been foreseen.

We also need to use imaginative or innovative - but also accurate and effective - ways to fulfil the major requirements of analysis: gathering information, analyzing information, documenting evidence, and/or presenting conclusions. Tapping unusual sources of data, asking new questions, applying different analytic methods, and developing new ways of doing things are all examples of creative activity in judgment and decision.

In making a judgment we must often generate ideas concerning potential causes or explanations of events, strategies that might be pursued or interactions with others, possible outcomes of an existing situation, and variables that will influence which outcome actually comes to pass. The roles of imagination and creativity are clearly evident here.

Making good judgments is not just about selecting from existing options according to a fixed formula. Judgment is a problem-solving, option-creating exercise, and without the inspiration brought by imagination and creative thought, there are no options to choose between. The products of good judgment are new options and the abandonment or modification of existing ones. Creatively changing the options is what allows humans in real life to cooperate in mutually beneficial ways, and what allows individual minds autonomy.


personal and universal

In pursuing the mix of modelling and empirical investigation that is at the core of cognitive neuroscience, it's now clear that neurologically, all judgment is moral judgment; and all decisions are moral decisions. While old-style judgmental theories emphasized universal standards and impartiality, biomorality underpins real life judgment by emphasizing the importance of autonomy, responsibility and rectitude (correct behavior). This perspective is revealed by a focus in judgmental processing not just on the question, "what is correct?" but also, "how to respond?", and is particularly obvious in judgments involving personal relations among human beings.

From a 'big picture' perspective, judging, ‘should Alice do x to Bob?' may have a very different answer depending on whether you are Alice, Bob or a third party. We inevitably judge situations subjectively because we personally are having the experience, whatever it is. But our executive abilities enable the inclusion of reason and intellectual 'big picture' concerns into 'small picture' judgmental processing of specific events. Thus, judgment is neither all reason nor all emotion; it is neither all explicit rules nor intuitively accessed principles of morality; it is a composite from which we draw conclusions.

Sometimes personal and universal needs apparently conflict (for example, our need for food and resources removes elements from the ecosystem); but this reflects large-scale intrusion of harmful methods and ideas into biology's concept of 'optimal environment', and the optimistic expectations on the part of biology that we should all by maturity be able to construct this optimal environment for ourselves.

Wherever we don't; wherever bad judgment installs counterfeit systems or enforces non-workable solutions for short term gain at the expense of long term loss, there is a net loss of resources and increase of problems for everybody; achieving the exact opposite of interaction.

If you have any knowledge of off-grid living, you will know that a basic tenet for ongoing autonomy in our environment requires giving as much as we take. This formula, an essential requirement for success in most relationships, is ignored in counterfeit systems. (To conditioned humans, for example, sewage is disgusting waste. To inhabitants of a natural biological system, good quality sewage is liquid gold. It is part of our 'payment' for the food it results in, as are distribution of seeds and forest gardening.)

We'll look further at how things can go wrong when the 'give and take' formula is broken in the section below.

What happens if things go wrong


What gets in the way of clear and accurate judgment and successful decision making?

-Altogether now:

lack of input and/or wrong input.

Here are some ways that can happen:


Conditioning /wrong input

Conditioning is any imposed procedure which causes a set of behaviors to become automatic in given contexts, overriding any previous behaviors in similar contexts. Conditioned false beliefs about anything can obviously interfere with accurate judgment and decision making.

Coercive conditioning comes from anxiety-driven social sanctions that can be applied if we do not act in ways a counterfeit game considers legitimate. Synthetic laws or rules are one source of coercive pressure, but so too is the knowledge that we will get what we want only if we behave in ways which fit static, accepted ways of doing things in a given society. This is often enforced during development by conditional love (emotional & psychological blackmail) and/or the inflicting of actual harm/threat of harm in conditions of non-compliance.

Mimetic conditioning comes from the corruption of our biological intent to model what others do. The world is complicated and finding the optimal solution often difficult. One way of dealing with this complexity is to take cues from others who seem to know more than we do. The question, “What would you do in my position?' is an example of this, usually with little regard for the fact that different people view the world very differently and their answers are likely to conflict with others'.

It is mimetic conditioning coupled with anxiety about 'not fitting in' that lies behind the tendency to follow fads, trends, cults and fashions. Of course, modeling is essential to learning, and given good input is a very successful evolutionary strategy, but in anxiety it can be used to affect our judgment and control our behavior.

incongruity dilemmas concern what we are told we ‘should’ do versus what we really believe is the right thing to do. They concern our real self vs society's ideal self; our personal moral values and the broader cultural values to which we subscribe. Some counterfeit games make explicit attempts to over-weight particular kinds of value (for example, such as from a particular professional, patriotic or religious affiliation) in an attempt to override biomorality. Consequently we feel a particular interaction is good and right, but are conscious of social rules that proclaim it bad and wrong. This cognitive dissonance delays decision making potentially forever as we position one interpretation opposite the other and neither feels right even after deciding, because N5 and N3 are each telling us the other is wrong, and the incongruity itself keeps nagging at us. To feel okay, we have to deride the computations of half our mind as 'wrong'; and that's never a good recipe for peace of mind or self esteem, not to mention judgment and decision making.


In reality there are only two kinds of decision we can make: uninformed guessing (based on what we are told is true without proof, or stories of others' experience); or informed choice (based on what we know is true, what we can prove, and our own personal experience). Most people make uninformed guesses to the extent that they look only at the mainstream 'news', stuff off the web and the opinions of their friends for information. This is how millions of people can end up supporting seriously nasty causes and systems, and how groups following a mistaken (or deliberately deceitful) 'leader' get mistaken too.

A lot of conditioning problems also stem from over-weighting or under-weighting feedback. When people over-weight feedback about a situation, they begin to ignore other information they were explicitly told about that situation and under-weight small probabilities. Those who under-weight feedback, however, tend to overweight small probabilities.

Weighting is about attention and the appropriate intensity of emotional input. Correctly weighting feedback causes us to begin to treat small probabilities in a more objective way, suggesting that feedback after repeated choice should (in a healthy system) drive us towards more rational decision making.[98]


Profiling conditioners

Coercion is practised by anxious people who feel out of control and powerless in their own life. Instead of addressing the problem (ie, their own development) they externalize it, become delusional, and form the false believe that power is the ability to control others. They may use various tools to do this (eg money, guns, powerpoint presentations, false promises, synthetic laws, physical force, threats, drugs, media, or a big stick). They display predominantly 'bully mode' behavior, sometimes alternating with periods of depression and deep gloom and/or hypertension.

Conditioners genuinely believe they have a (god given/law given) right to interfere with the development of others ('subjects'), and condition these subjects to serve the needs of the conditioner; in the process of which subjects must give up their autonomy, abandon their own development, and become dependent slaves.

Read that again. Conditioners in counterfeit games literally seriously expect people to give up their own development (their lives) and dedicate their entire time on this world to slaving away in the game; on the promise of an illusory (and never-quite-gained) reward (if they do play); or the reinforcing threat of abandonment (if they don't play); which threat is accentuated with the myth that 'this game is all there is!'. Neither promise nor threat is real, but we keep on repeating the game delusion by allowing (and in many cases, assisting) the next generation to be conditioned into doing exactly the same thing.

The three top priorities of conditioning are:

Discredit or destroy the subjects' certainty/self esteem/belief in their own ability or personal power.

Conceal conditioning tactics beneath counterfeit morals (eg., 'It's for their own good'.)

Eliminate the subjects' means of independent subsistence or resources.

main conditioning tactics:

Attack the psychological integrity and credibility of subjects: (for example, 'you're only a child/mental patient/uneducated peasant').
Make subjects feel guilty or ashamed: Use degrading themes (for example, 'You're stupid/a moron/wrong/suffering from ADD'; or “What would your parents think?” -used as a threat or to prevent exposure.
Make subjects vulnerable to suggestion: Induce high levels of stressors, poor nutrition and natural sleep interruption (deprivation).
Make subjects dependent: Use the threat of exclusion, homelessness, destitution etc., while undermining or eliminating a subjects means of subsistence and personal resources.

Who is vulnerable?

Conditioning initially relies on 'innocence' -vulnerability, gullibility and lack of experience, coupled with deceit for finding 'a way in', which is why it usually targets children. Unlike the children we once were, we now have a great many ways of spotting attempts at conditioning and avoiding it. However, lack of attention to conditioning factors, or anxiety about what society/others might think/do are still responsible for a great many bad decisions, even among rational, emotionally stable adults.

Any method, technology or technique that lowers a person’s energy level, reduces their cognitive ability and captures their attention will make that person more susceptible to conditioning and manipulation methods in general. There's another good reason to get rid of the TV.

Possible nasties yet to come

Possibilities of future conditioning (covert or overt) may well employ means of manipulating judgement and behavior through psychopharmaceuticals (eg., tranquilizers or Ritalin) or through brain stimulation. Research has discovered that it's possible to use hypnosis to trigger moral disapproval towards innocent actions,[99] oxytocin to prompt increased trust,[100] and transcranial magnetic stimulation to induce acceptance of unfair offers.[101] In future, these possibilities may be used in coercion and conditioning for direct manipulation of autonomy, thought, behavior and belief in just the same ways that alcohol, junk food, TV and Ritalin are used already.


Anxiety about what others think

For most normally functioning people, maintaining self-esteem is an important internal goal. But anxiety can cause us to filter out or discount information that might show us personally or our emotionally-weighted ideas in an unfavourable light. This is what often lies behind a particular form of the fundamental attribution error; the tendency to attribute good outcomes to our own actions and bad outcomes to factors outside our control. While such defences against loss of self-esteem can be helpful to the extent that they may help us persist in the face of adversity, they can reduce both learning efficiency and opportunities to take corrective action.

Anxiety about control

Another important internal goal is to maintain a sense of control over events and our environment. In consequence, a common way in which we distort our understanding of events is to assume we have greater control of events than we really do. When we suffer from this we are likely to underestimate the consequences or risks of our behavior and decisions, and have problems in learning from experience as anxiety causes us to discount any information that suggests we are not in control.[102]

Anxiety about change & the unknown

Fear of change is another major player in poor decision making, due to its causing avoidance of new input in favor of the 'known'. Fear of change, especially when change calls for revising our own beliefs, is a major retarder of scientific and cultural as well as personal development.

A lot of conditioning emphasizes personal non-action; we are taught that when faced with a complex decision, we should seek the help of 'professionals', do what we have always done, and if in doubt, do nothing.

Whether it's thinking about moving house or deciding what entertainment to watch, there is a considerable emphasis in counterfeit games on sticking with the current situation and not changing anything. Consequently most people only face changes when they really have to.[103]


Reducing anxiety and then increasing resilience is the only way to break out of fear of change. Anxious people fear anything which might increase anxiety, including anything new that they don't understand. Since this means they fear new learning, changing their minds and beliefs is unlikely, so understanding remains forever elusive. In a static system, the unknown remains the unknown.


Factors impairing decision

From a big picture perspective, three types of factors can derail our decisions: those coming from within our own physiology, those coming from the context (environment & others), and those coming from events (our relationships/ interactions).

Among those that can emanate from within are unjustified confidence (arrogance), emotional instability and bias or prejudice (a tendency to adopt an overly narrow focus, weight specific information wrongly, or jump to conclusions prematurely without the facts.)


Arrogance (unjustified confidence)

Arrogance badly skews judgment. And good judgment, along with clear vision and consistent communication, is absolutely fundamental to effective decisions.

Unjustified overconfidence that we know everything or are always right can seriously get in the way of balanced judgment. Judgment, as we mentioned above, begins with humility, which has a couple of key elements. First, humility calls for recognizing that we don’t know everything. Too many people apparently think it is impossible for them to make big mistakes, nor are they inclined to reflect on the effect of their decisions over the long term. The truth, of course, is that we are all quite fallible, regardless of our educational pedigree or our professional résumé or the size of our bank account.

Humility also requires regular acts that remind us we are not 'more important' than everything else from the universe's perspective; just from our own. The tide will not fail to come in because humans are in its way.

Unstable emotion

The injection of sentiment or 'short-term feelings' into the decision process instead of healthy emotion will skew the judgment weightings and warp decisions. Taking some time out to settle down and collect data instead of letting sentiments take control of behavior is the most important technique to avoid this trap. Put simply, if you suffer from sentiment (especially after a nasty shock or unpleasant surprise) delay considering issues or taking decisions until enough time has passed for neurochemistry to stabilize. Waiting until after your next sleep before you respond can save a lot of embarrassment later.


Conditioning is a major source of bias and prejudice. As we noted in previous tutorials, the most important type of bias to be wary of is confirmation bias; which leads us to give undue credence (bias) to information confirming a judgment or decision while ignoring other relevant information.

Our use of information is often biased in important regards. First, we pay more attention to information that is easily available (the availability heuristic). Second, we overweight memories which are more easily retrievable – usually because they are emotionally vivid or have personal relevance, sometimes because of a mental state which prioritizes only positive or negative information (the retrievability heuristic). We have looked at some biases in previous tutorials, and the thing they have in common is they cause us to pay selective attention to information, often in a harmful way. For example we will often give greater weight to information which shows us in a favourable light (self-serving bias), or information that supports our already established point of view (the confirmation bias).

Bias can be caused by anxiety in a variety of areas. We will examine some of them below.

Inappropriate filtering

We are constantly bombarded by information. Simply walking though a room risks flooding us with more sensory information that we can possibly process. Sit back for a moment and consider all the different things you can see, hear, smell, or feel. Which of these inputs do you usually tune out of conscious awareness? From birth we start learning to filter information out and to prioritise, label and classify the phenomena we observe. This is a vital process, without it we literally could not function in our day-to-day lives.

If we did not filter information and discard options we would suffer from analysis paralysis: the inability to make any decision in the face of the seething complexity and dynamic ambiguity of the real world. However, inappropriate filtering can introduce some significant biases into the judgements we make, for example overconfidence/arrogance (in which we filter out of our awareness many of the sources of uncertainty). Another example is our tendency to be swayed by how a problem is framed. At the root of all this is inappropriate attention and lack of focus.



The inadequate framing of problems or issues requiring judgment can make us miss options in taking decisions. As we know, how an issue is framed can have a significant effect on how we make judgments about it. Medical judgment can be affected by whether outcomes are framed as likelihood of deaths or of saving patients. Resource-related judgments can be affected by whether we see ourselves in a position of loss or gain.

Static framing instead of dynamic framing

Many decisions also need revisiting and updating as new information comes available. However, most of us make insufficient adjustment: this is the tendency to fail to update one's awareness as the environment & situation changes.[104] Once we have made an initial decision or judgment then this provides an established mental association. Anxiety can cause this to act as a source of resistance to reaching a significantly different conclusion as new information becomes available. This often happens if we make a snap judgement and then disregard feedback that is inconsistent with this position. This bias can affect judgments about people as well as technical judgments. Making initial or early judgments about someone, for example in a relationship, may put us in a position where if we do not remain open minded, later contradictory information may fail to shift our opinion.[105]

We have varying amounts of control within context and events, but to control factors emanating from within, we can employ methods of achieving greater self-awareness, being aware of our emotional state (for example, determining when our feelings regarding a decision were triggered by another event unrelated to the decision at hand), mitigate our biases by seeking information from reliable sources we are likely to take seriously, and looking at the big picture for a broader perspective (for example, by asking "What information am I missing?").


Appearances and counterfeit appearances

When most people 'judge by appearances' they do one of three things:

1 Some (often frontloaders) tend to look at look at stuff, not people. They view the clothing, shoes, haircut, bag, makeup, car, house, wallet, etc., and make a judgment about whether they're likely to get money or not through associating with this person. From this pov, money (OR the appearance of having money) = status

2 Some (often rearloaders) tend to look at sexual qualities, not people. They view the legs, buttocks, breasts, lips, etc., and make a judgment about whether they're likely to get sex or not through associating with this person. From this pov, physical attractiveness and sexuality (OR the appearance of physical attractiveness and sexuality) = status.

Both types are seeking an increase of status in their own frameworks. In terms of sentiment, to them 'status' means all your peers envy you or are jealous of you.

3 Well balanced thinkers look at facial expressions and body language. While facial expression profiling isn't the most reliable thing in judgment, it does have real world applications if we need to scan a space from a biological benefit/harm pov. Over time, people do take on more aggressive facial features when they're repeatedly angry or deceptive. Anger consistently raises the upper lip and lowers the brow, and chronic anger makes a lasting impact on a face. Repeated aggressive or violent thoughts also change the face in telling ways. This behavior exposes a person (male or female) to chronic high levels of testosterone and cortisol, and we may detect the influence of these hormones on facial skin tone and shape.[106]

It's not usually a good idea to quickly judge someone based on appearances, but in some cases, especially when our safety is potentially threatened, it's good to go with our gut if we judge someone as possibly aggressive.

It is possible to work out quite a bit about how a person is feeling, whether or not they're lying, the things left unsaid, etc., by keen observation of the person before you. While some people are more attuned to reading the body language of others, everyone can learn or improve with practice.

Other factors that can impair judgment & decision making

failure to form initial like/dislike associations or failure of others to respect them

Concepts for things that feel nice; maybe soft, warm and fluffy things, are all stored in association with each other; ditto concepts for cold, wet, hard and sharp things. As we first develop, we begin to discriminate –maybe something is usually soft and fluffy but sometimes has sharp painful bits that scratch us if we pull it about too much – and this creates a separate category. But all things fall into one of two areas –whatever a thing or experience is, we either like it, or we don’t.

Not being allowed to decide that for ourselves - and have our decisions respected - will slow down development; particularly the growth of memory. Instead of building up congruous memory networks, we are kept too busy trying to figure out why we didn’t get it right –that is to say, why others are telling us that something is nasty when we personally had decided it was nice, or vice versa.

Our original inbuilt morality about what is nasty and what is nice is based on our biology, and it is meant to augment our survival. As animals, we are programmed genetically to move towards whatever is beneficial and away from what is dangerous. Beneficial things are normally associated with our physical needs, such as food, water, other warm friendly creatures with heartbeats, and anything that might help us to learn –in other words, we are designed to explore. And in order to explore, we need an accurate map of the territory.

Smells, tastes, the sound and appearance of a thing, are all associated by nature, and all creatures build up their associations from biology’s guide to ‘nasty and nice’ –but only if their decisions are not interfered with.

If we are told something is ‘good’, and told to eat/do it when it tastes/seems disgusting to us, or we are told that something is bad even though it feels nice, the world does not make sense and intelligence slows down until it CAN make sense of the incongruity somehow. If anxious intentions of parents and teachers are set against biology’s intent, this solution may never happen, and the ongoing confusion makes the growing child (and often the resulting adult) very reluctant to take decisions. S/he has learned that s/he has no personal power to understand the world or to take decisions in it, because those early personal decisions have been called wrong and not honored.

How would you feel if someone who claimed to care about you forced you to eat something you personally found disgusting, spooning it into your mouth despite your resistance and all the while insisting that you were wrong; it tasted great? Well, you'd probably decide they were a nutter and it could be quite scary, but it's a great deal more scary when you're only two months old. As well as causing ideological dilemmas and difficulty making decisions, wrong input such as false association affects our learning ability. Those who have problems learning and remembering (or in some cases even approaching) certain subjects (for example maths, poetry, languages, dancing) may find that the barrier getting in their way is false association.

When association is congruous and correct, all subjects make sense in an overall ‘holistic’ context –we can see clearly how areas of study connect with each other and all learning can be approached in the same way with the same paradigms. Upgrading association and clarifying our own likes & dislikes (not what somebody else thinks they should be) can save us a lot of time and render decision making, learning and remembering much easier.


incongruous power relations

Incongruous power relations can lead to some spectacularly bad (literally lethal) decisions based on counterfeit values, usually regarding over-weighting of opinions, and framing via an incorrect definition of power itself.

The unconscious views status as power, and 'power' as the ability to interact, in any given situation, and this correlates (or should) with our conscious awareness of expertise. For example, I would expect a chemist to be more adept and competent when interacting with chemicals than I am, and so to be considered as 'more powerful' than I in matters of chemistry-related interactions, judgments or decisions. Likewise, I would expect a pilot with thousands of airmiles to be better at interacting with aeroplanes than I am.

In brief, biology sees power as actual competence at something in the real world. It has no understanding of counterfeit 'game power' (which might see power as 'amount of holiness', 'amount of money', 'amount of slaves', 'amount of resources', 'amount of weapons', 'amount of camels, or 'amount of fighters'; depending on the game). Since these are false definitions of power, judgment is wrongly weighted, and decisions based on a false definition of power are often non-workable in the real world, much as they would be in concrete terms (no matter how holy the water, or how much you threaten to hit it, the steam engines nominal power remains exactly the same). In real life, giving someone artificial status does not give them competence, and biology simply ignores it. Genuine power attracts interaction through respect of competence in interaction.

Even trying to make a decision in a context where power relations are incongruous is inviting dangerous consequences. Unequal power relations between negotiators or debaters affect trust, because while we may safely trust in the validity of judgments from those with actual ability, it is not at all safe to place trust in those who claim power and status by counterfeit means (for example via god, their king, or having lots of money) because in real life they often have sparse intelligence, high anxiety and no ability to understand things or get things done in the real world.

If bank balances or gods really could determine personal power it would be fantastic. We could just pay people /pray for them - to be smarter, more competent and less paranoid. Sadly, that's a delusional fantasy; real competence comes only through interaction, and (biologically) cultural status comes only with recognition of competence (which also endows self respect and higher serotonin levels – things counterfeit power cannot provide).

Competence is power -the ability to interact. The more and different things we can interact with competently, the greater our power. How do we recognize competence?

There's a formula for power in physics; it is: E/t = P

This means the amount of energy expended over a given amount of time gives us a nominal output power rating. Biochemical systems are messier than pure mechanical ones, and the mind includes in its calculations the number of different things we're able to interact with (d), multiplied by the amount of ability (power) we currently have to interact with them (P), over a given time (t):

dP/t = PP

Where PP = personal power, but before we go rushing for the calculator app, bear in mind that there is no consensual universal measurement system for doing what the mind does -for taking ALL levels of ALL abilities plus current circumstances into account, and translating this data into numbers which influence neurotransmitter release based on PP (which to it signifies not just personal power but also perceived current level of intelligence development). To the mind, this is THE most important process it carries out, for without it we could never compute appropriate responses and interactions.

It's easy to achieve this sort of calculation in a computer game; skill level at each ability may be 1-10 points and number of abilities available will be determined by game design and players' ability. But in the real world, our ability to interact is not a fixed number, and there are no limits (except lifespan) on the number of different skills we may pick up in real life.

Also, in real life, against what universal measurement scale does one rate 'skill'? Skill in Karate may be 'a black belt', while skill as a chemist may be 'a chemistry degree', BUT also in real life some dude could be an extraordinarily skilled chemist and a karate expert without ever having taken any exams, and likewise someone highly qualified may be a poor performer due to cramming for exams and then forgetting everything, or paying for a degree and never studying the subject at all. Skill and ability in real life are dynamic variables. In biology, status comes from having a reputation of our ability to interact being reliable over time, at which point we assume 'competence'.

Another assumption biology makes about competence is that older persons (should) have more experience and learning time and therefore wisdom; and we would automatically weight their information accordingly, but the conscious mind may well be aware that in most counterfeit systems older persons are more likely to be losing memories than collecting them. This presents incongruity because it doesn't make sense to biology, and unconsciously it will raise anxiety, which diminishes trust. The intelligent conscious mind is also well aware of age prejudice and trying hard not to be biased, but that leaves us, biologically, not really knowing whose words to trust. When older people appear to know less than we do, we feel disappointed. When most of them appear to be getting sick, we (unconsciously) feel anxious.

Biologically, we also expect to be making important decisions only in alliance with those we really care about; yet in many societies we may well find ourselves stuck in situations where we are expected to make important decisions with complete strangers. Once again, this raises anxiety.

Power inequities are important modulators of decisions about trust. It is well-known that behavior in relationships is significantly affected by power inequalities that involve one person depending on the other or a lot of people depending on one person. Anxious people who feel they lack power or are 'outranked' in a decision situation, often tend to judge others (inaccurately) as more trustworthy, either in order to avoid the anxiety inherently attached to their feelings of lack of control and dependence, and/or to avoid responsibility if the decision doesn't work out so well.[107]


dependence, lack of autonomy, and 'passing the buck to experts'

Sadly, habitual dependence on 'professionals' tends to shut down areas of our own brain responsible for decision-making processes, particularly when we are trying to evaluate a situation where risk is involved. Research shows that brain regions consistent with decision-making are active in participants when making choices on their own; however, there occurs an offloading of the decision-making process (and of course, responsibility for the outcome) in the presence of 'professional' advice. Instead of consulting with a professional for extra information, anxiety causes many to unconsciously relinquish responsibility for the decision itself whenever a 'trusted authority' (or anyone who looks and behaves like one) provides expertise. Obviously this robs us of autonomy, and it can also work to our detriment if the 'trusted source' turns out to be incompetent or corrupt. Unless we choose advisers whose status as 'experts' is congruous with their actual abilities, and consult with them rather than depend on them, reliance on expert advice reduces decision autonomy.[108]

If we accept that nobody knows everything and that successful decision making often involves cooperating with others and gathering information, a crucial aspect of judgment follows: we must identify anyone with specialities relevant to the decision, and play a key role in finding out or listening to what those with specialist knowledge are saying. This does not mean they should be responsible for the judgments or the decision; experts should be used as resources for information. People with previous experience of similar situations or decisions are particularly useful, as is cultural information about precedent.

When a decision involves us personally, WE are the experts in self-awareness because we're in here, yet the point of having conscious awareness as well as unconscious knowledge is that we can always learn more; get more information; and rank its worth accurately only if we interpret power as actual ability to interact (with the issues under consideration) based on experience.

Setting up situations where communication takes place under core conditions and power relations are equal and dynamic goes a long way toward resolving problems such as these.


Breaking 'give and take' equity

Failure to calculate or remember 'alliance equities' causes a lot of relationship difficulties. Typically, conflict arises when one person (or sometimes, paradoxically, both persons) think they are giving more than they are getting in a relationship over a sustained period of time. When anxiety is present, these sorts of unconscious calculations go awry, since we only recall memories of our own 'deeds of giving' and 'lack of getting', while memories (or indeed, even awareness) of how much the other is giving or getting remain absent.

Lack of understanding in the first place causes a lot of later give/take confusion, largely due to a hidden variation in values and vague semantics.


DO IT NOW – judge who's giving and taking

Read the following story and answer the question at the end.

Alice loves sailing. She says to Bob, 'I know working on this boat will take up a lot of my time, but I'm only doing this so that I can take you sailing'.

Alice believes she is giving.

Bob thinks, 'what?' He doesn't like sailing, and is rather offended by Alice not asking him first; after all; they are supposed to be friends. He would also much rather spend time with Alice than be alone because she is working on some damned boat. Instead of speaking up, though, he is overcome by anxiety at Alice's apparent assumption and says nothing. From his pov over the next few weeks he is losing out on Alice's company, and what's more, she assumed without asking whether he'd want to go sailing, and that's disrespectful. Sentiment kicks in and Bob concludes that Alice values that stupid boat more than him, AND has the cheek to pretend she's doing it for him when he doesn't even like boats and if she really cared about him she'd bother to ask....etc., internal dialogue, etc...

All Bob is getting are two bummers; now three because he feels pretty crap, can't sleep and has indigestion.

Bob soon starts to complain that he never gets to see Alice, at which point Alice, tired from working hard (on what is, after all, a treat for both of them), starts to think she is giving a lot in this relationship and not getting anything; not even appreciation.

Because Bob did not address her errant assumption in the first place, he is now too anxious and embarrassed to tell Alice he doesn't like sailing; he believes if he says no after her working so hard, she will think he's an asshole, go sailing with other friends and rarely see him again. When he finally does speak up, Alice (reasonably) derides him for not saying so in the first place. He counters this by pointing out her original error in not asking, and the pair will then shift to apportioning blame for their mutual failure of communication.)

Alice, now disappointed because she was looking forward to sailing with Bob, (anxiety preventing recall of the vital fact that she still enjoys sailing alone or with others) and feeling like she has wasted weeks of hard work, will be convinced she is in the right because she believes she clearly stated her intentions and Bob said nothing to contradict that.

Bob will be convinced he is in the right because Alice assumed he would want to do something without asking, which is disrespectful and rude, and now is trying to blame him for her own initial communication error and mistaken assumptions.

Whom do you think is right; Alice or Bob?

Answer at end of tutorial


Unrealistic expectations

Judgments or decisions which assume because everyone involved is intelligent they are perfect and are going to get everything absolutely correct and never make mistakes, rarely pan out.[109] The real world is an incredibly complex place, and we ALL fuck up, get taken by surprise by anxiety, let down by memory, fazed by unexpected illness, hit by snapback, confused, distracted, have a momentary lapse of reason, or find out we're not as resilient as we thought we were.

Unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others (and certainly, of tech) can cause judgments and decisions (not to mention the plans and strategies we base on them) to go awry.

Failure to be realistic about real people is often a sign of either low empathy and/or incongruity. This is particularly common in personal relationships.

Accepting someone as their real selves, for what they are, includes accepting them when they're down, when they fuck up and when they're ugly. When judging the behavior of others AND ourselves we must always take this into account. Exercises to increase empathy can help awareness of the state of others, but we also need accurate, up to date information of the current state of those involved, which is best acquired by interacting with them. We must also be aware of our own real selves in similar ways, and remember to frame mistakes as opportunities to learn and to improve.

Circumstances are also dynamic. Who hasn't had some plan or another muck up due to something unexpected such as illness or injury? Basing decisions on what people say they will do or even on what they intend to do always requires a back-up plan in case they don't, or for some reason can't, fulfil their obligations. The same is true of relying on technology.


Failure to learn from experience

Is a cause of repetitive bad decisions. We already know that anxiety about mistakes slows down development and cripples learning abilities. The willingness to acknowledge personal mistakes, learn from them, and to rectify behaviors causing repeating problems quickly could prevent a great deal of faulty judgment and decisions based on inaccurate data or inaccurate interpretation of data.

Misplaced trust, for example, is a very common cause of failure to learn from experience. Once a source is known to be unreliable, we should treat with caution all judgments or decisions involving them or their information. To get an objective perspective, compare the information with the behavioral evidence (for example, Alice says she will do x, and doesn't; or Bob says he won't do y again, and then does.) This is a clear sign of either lack of self-knowledge or lack of general awareness, which could have a multitude of causes from memory loss to deliberate deceit.

A good way of framing situations to analyze why mistakes are repeated is to view the situation as if we were looking for a problem in computer performance. (You don't have to know anything about computers or software code to do this; so don't worry.) We'll explain how to do this in the Hacks & Exercises section of this tutorial.


Using limiting scripts

We learned in Tutorial 12 how anxiety creates habitual conditioned dialogues for ways of reacting to situations, called "scripts," that cause us to repeatedly behave in certain ways, usually with unfortunate results. Persons who repeatedly enact exactly the same argument over and over again can be said to be operating on such scripts. The presence of conditioning scripts in a person's mind can be said to reduce that person's autonomy, because that person will tend to meet the same situation with the same automatic response every time, instead of re-thinking, and possibly making a new decision with an open mind in each new occurrence. If a person's script is so powerful that they cannot consciously change the way they react to certain situations, then the script could well be seen as having eliminated their free will.

The question: Are we programmed or are we programmers? - is only a choice if we have developed creativity and autonomy, because mind is the catalyst that changes reality into created reality experience (in the real life game of emergence). Separating mind from reality (as in counterfeit games) is a delusional denial that splits our conscious awareness from unconscious processing.

Without emotional stability and rationality working together, we cannot accurately predict the consequences of decisions or behavior, and hence cannot make truly utilitarian judgments (see 'incongruity dilemmas, above).

Many of us find ourselves in the position of having to retrain ourselves to really pay attention to the real world. It may seem a difficult task at first, but everything we do rewires the brain, and with consistent small moves in the right direction we can rewire it in a manner such that mindfulness of reality becomes much more of a habit and much less of an effort.


Inappropriate risk estimation

Individual differences in attitudes toward risk-taking are reflected in the brain's functional architecture.[110]

Risk seeking and risk-avoidance play a central role in both normal and pathological decision-making. Individuals with anxiety disorders, and those with high but not pathological levels of anxiety, exhibit high levels of risk-aversion.[111] Individuals with substance abuse and anxiety disorders also exhibit structural and functional abnormalities in brain regions critical for adaptive decision-making.[112]

Specifically, decreased expected benefit from risky behavior (i.e., a more risk-averse attitude) is associated with weaker negative intrinsic connectivity between the left nucleus accumbens and right parieto-occipital cortex.

In general, positive and negative functional connectivity provide different types of information about the brain's intrinsic functional organization. Negative functional connectivity is most often observed between brain regions that are members of different functional networks,[113] while positive functional connectivity is typically observed between brain regions that are members of the same network. Here, there is an association between the personal evaluation of risk and the strength of the intrinsic relationship between two networks. When connections are sparse, our judgment loses accuracy when risk is involved.

New, unknown input poses a risk; the unknown is a stressor and our resilience determines how much stretching we are able to do under pressure. If resilience is low and we are also risk-averse, we will tend to not just put off making judgments or decisions as much as possible but avoid taking them altogether if we can.


Search dynamics - local contrasts and focalism effects in multiple option decisions

Just as staring at a blue screen will affect our perception of the next color we see, the order of presentation of items will affect our perception of them.

Decisions on things such as tech, homes or even dates are often made by viewing and comparing multiple options. But a given house, computer, activity or place (and even person) can appear more or less attractive depending on where it is encountered in the search. If we just saw something much less attractive, that will boost the attractiveness of the current alternative. If we see it after something that was quite attractive, that will make it seem less impressive. We tend to choose not the best of all options viewed, but an item that was better than the alternative that preceded it, and the final choice is consequently often determined by where it occurred in the search pattern.[114]

In order to avoid falling into this trap when making decisions, we need to be aware of these inherent biases and develop smarter search strategies; such as making notes of attractive options that appear early in the search so that we will have something to compare with other attractive options that we may encounter later in the search, being aware of potential for bias during the search, eliminating comparative biases related to less-attractive options that may appear, and always evaluating the current alternative against the best one we’ve seen so far.

Confusing the difference between self regulation, self control and self repression

Self regulation (low anxiety and high awareness)

The essence of self-regulation is NOT to override a natural response so that we can decide to do something else biology never intended; self regulation is behavioral control which moderates (fine tunes) our natural responses. It is how we prevent speaking too quietly or too loudly, tone down our gestures even when excited, and put off having a pee till the end of the movie. Self regulation is usually a series of short term or temporary directives, and we use it all the time.

Self control (low anxiety and high awareness)

Self control takes practice (even self regulation did when we were little). We learned regulation through feedback and practice, actual directive control enables us to calm ourselves down, cheer ourselves up, and so on. It's also the source of patience, focus, and delayed gratification. Self control is a short or long term strategy associated with lower systolic blood pressure and improved sympathetic nervous system functioning, and with practice makes permanent beneficial changes in synaptic connectivity.

The difference between self regulation and self control is the difference between changing HOW we do something and deciding to do/not to do something. Both behaviors are essential in decision making.

Self Repression (high anxiety and low awareness)

Repression (or 'suppression') is a defense mechanism in which a person is apparently unable to remember or is cognitively unaware of disturbing wishes, feelings, thoughts, or experiences;[115] in other words, their conscious statements claim that they are not upset despite objective behavioral evidence to the contrary.[116] In this state of mind we tend to avoid attending to, and interpret, four sources of information (environmental stimuli, personal physiological responses, personal behavior, and information in long term memory), in a non-threatening way.

Therefore, people in repression don't describe consciously feeling high anxiety in self-reports (due to their own interpretive bias) and may think they are calm, but they do show elevated bodily physiological symptoms of anxiety (ie., the unconscious is aware of the problem, but has been cut off from communicating with conscious networks). Repression is significantly associated with higher diastolic blood pressure, reduced resilience, elevated cardiovascular physiology and autonomic hyperarousal (hypertension). Over time, it reduces synaptic connectivity and leads to incongruity and memory loss.[117]


lack of innovation

Innovation is network 5's contribution to creativity, and can be of great use when exchanging old habits for new. When we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic
paths, entirely new neuronal connections, that can shift our patterns of thought into new, innovative combinations. We can direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we stretch outside the 'known zone' — the more inherently innovative we become, presenting new possibilities when looking at options for improvement. This does not so much impair decision making as limit it.

Humans have the potential to approach judgment in various different ways; for example analytically, procedurally, relationally (or collaboratively) and innovatively. During conditioning, however, much of that capacity is neglected, preserving only those modes of thought that counterfeit games encourage. The current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure, meaning that few of us inherently judge or make decisions using our innovative and collaborative modes of thought.

If making firm decisions is something you find difficult, use the 'Kaizen' method, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements. Break up a big decision like 'I will lose weight' into small decisions such as, 'fruit & yogurt instead cereal for supper from now on'. Once that's become habitual, make another small change.

Whenever we initiate change, there's always the chance that anxiety will arise and we'll avoid whatever we're trying to do. The small steps in kaizen don't set off anxiety, but rather keep us in the state of mind where we have access to innovation, creativity and playfulness.


DO IT NOW – observe habit from sensory input

Fold your arms. You'll habitually do it one way. Now try doing it with the other arm on top. Feels quite different, doesn't it? You don't usually get this particular set of sensory inputs. This is the valuable 'unknown' moment when we initiate a change of habits; the place where we experience points of similarity and difference between the old and the new. For a while the new, unfamiliar way feels 'awkward' and slightly (or for some people, very) uncomfortable, but if we did this every day for just a few minutes the brain would rapidly organizing the new input, ultimately creating new synaptic connections if the process was repeated enough, until folding our arms either way would feel equally 'natural'.


underestimating input effects

Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, alcohol and drugs, temperature, music, junk food, medication...the list of input that can affect judgment is quite large. While people usually know this, they often underestimate the strength of the effect. For example alcohol impairs cognitive ability long before it affects our sensorimotor abilities, so don't believe that just because you can walk in a straight line or you only had a few drinks means you're capable of making good judgments (as anyone who's ever woken up next to an unsavory-looking stranger the next morning will attest.)

The problem with affecting factors is that they shut down the very cognitive functions we need to judge our own levels of awareness and perception. The damage report machine is broken.

Making a rule of considering a decision but never taking it under the influence of anything can help bypass this difficulty, plus you can have hours of fun afterwards laughing at the potentially disastrous emails you never sent and arrangements you never made.


“The superior man knows there is a safe place for intoxication and melodrama, and a magic function thereof, known by all wizards, and it's the drafts folder and delete key.”

(from the IT Ching, forthcoming edition)

Where do we go from here?

We have taken a brief excursion through different factors affecting our judgment and we have considered some of the things that can reduce our decision making ability. So how can we use the information in this tutorial for making better judgments and wiser decisions?

Our task as neurohackers in this aspect of intelligence development is to improve our understanding of the predictable failures of judgment and decision making, and fill the gaps in our knowledge of the ways in which human judgments, decisions, and strategy can be improved, or at least nudged in the right direction. We can use these ideas to improve our judgmental abilities in various ways.

The first way is to use them to develop greater insight into the pressures and influences that may be affecting how we process information, think, judge, and decide.

Secondly, the relevance of our perceptions of personal autonomy, resilience and other factors to our assessment of risk suggests an important source of potential judgmental bias. What seems 'not too risky' to us may seem very risky to others, and we have to bear this in mind when empathizing.

Thirdly, we must remember that we may behave in risk-averse or risk-seeking ways, depending both on how situations or outcomes are framed or imagined.

Fourthly, by becoming more aware of these influences we are able to exercise greater choice about the short cuts we take and the influences we succumb to. We should also be able to be more aware of the limitations of our information and analysis.

By consciously trying to understand the way in which personal and contextual factors are affecting our judgment, we should be more effective in directing our judgments and decisions.

DO IT NOW -Rambo 1.5

You will need a timepiece or app. with an alarm function, set to go off in ten minutes. Do not start it yet.

Imagine you have been shipwrecked near a remote island in the Atlantic. You know you can get to shore, but can only carry 8 of the 15 items that remain accessible before the boat goes down, so must rank them from most to least importance in your quest for survival; ie., what are the eight most important things to grab? You have ten minutes to decide; start the clock now. These are the items:

Fishing rod

Shaving mirror


Mosquito net

Can of petrol

Sea chart


Water container

Bottle of rum

Emergency rations

Shark repellent

Plastic sheet

Floating seat or cushion

Chocolate bars



Answer at end of tutorial


making successful decisions

In the last few years, a veritable avalanche of advice on how to make decisions has hit the Internet. Most of the advice is related to early ideas about decision theory in which we were advised all that was necessary was to construct decision trees, map outcomes, attach values to each one, and estimate probabilities that various combinations of outcomes might occur. Intuition or emotional weighting rarely entered into the construction of the resulting 'decision trees,' as to proceed without them was considered a way of injecting a greater amount of objectivity and analysis into the decision to be made.

The replacement of inappropriate heuristics, dogma, bad habits, superstition, opinions and biases with rationality can only be a good thing, however, the ability to make successful decisions is based upon our ability to interact with a situation; to look at all sides of a problem or issue and to weigh all of the options before a final determination is made. Excluding the subjective pov is inappropriate if we desire successful outcomes in real life.

Making successful decisions has a significant effect on our overall life satisfaction, particularly where those decisions affect changes in our lifestyle or resolve awkward obstacles.[118] Many everyday decisions are so routine that we make them without conscious thought. But difficult or challenging decisions demand more consideration. Factors to be considered include:

Ourselves - Individuals are unique in terms of their personalities, abilities, attitudes, beliefs and values.

Space/context: The decision maker's environment can play a part in the decision making process, which means that a decision can be influenced by the physical location and the abstract context.

Others – We may need to predict how different people will respond or will be affected by the decision.

Time – Decisions may have a 'deadline' or a window of opportunity during which they have to be implemented.

Resources - Tools, techniques and abilities, experience and practice. It takes some practice to make successful decisions in complex circumstances.

Choices – There may be several alternatives, each with its own set of uncertainties and consequences.

Complexity – There could be many interrelated factors to consider.

Consequences – The impact of the decision may be significant.

Uncertainty – Many of the facts, the people involved, the context or details may be unknown.


Different individuals have different ontologies framing (and often limiting) the ways in which they think and behave. Even when the same data is available to all, people will interpret and assimilate that data in different ways and at different speeds. Some people are very experienced and confident about weighing up a situation and making decisions, others much less so. Some tend to take more risks than others. Our competencies, such as the ability to listen to other people, to think from a big picture perspective, to use formal operational thinking, or to understand data presented in different forms, also vary widely.

Conditioning or anxiety can affect everyone to varying degrees, and for the anxious, the approval or disapproval of friends and colleagues may be over-weighted in the decision makers mind. Ontological beliefs also vary widely and people will 'weight' differently, for example, individual, group or cultural gains from a situation.


Enriched or impoverished environments are factors that strongly influence cognitive function.[119] An enriched environment is an environment with a large number of different possible states which come and go over time.[120] Natural environments are enriched and correlate with higher cognitive function. On the abstract level, a context where some feel less able to express their pov, or that some people's ideas are irrelevant, will not encourage good decision making skills.

The decision context is often messy and complex, and apparently unrelated events can affect decision outcomes, depending on what else is going on at the time the decision is taken. For any individual or group there will be both ‘knowns’ and ‘unknowns’ in a decision situation. It is not always easy to work out which aspects of a decision situation are relevant.


Each ontology includes personal beliefs and values, including those relating to our environment, through different life experiences; hence each individual brings a unique perspective to a decision situation. Some people will also have more at stake in a decision consequence or outcome than others. There are therefore many issues around who is involved in decision-making processes and how they participate.

People who are likely to be affected by a decision can have considerable direct or indirect influence on the outcome of that decision. Ways in which people affected can influence the decision range considerably. They may participate actively or proactively from the start, for example by being involved in the judgmental processes or in deciding on strategy, or at other stages through opposition or withdrawal of cooperation before or after the decision has been reached. There are issues of power relations to take into account in considering the nature of the influence that people affected by a decision can have.


In real life situations can change very rapidly, so what appeared to be a rational decision at one time might later appear to be anything but that. One aspect of the time dimension that is particularly apparent is that the outcome of a decision may be affected by concurrent, but otherwise only marginally related, events. One example of this might be the unexpected availability of additional resources or a reduction in resources because of another project going on at the same time elsewhere. Another example might be the way that strong opposition to, or support for, a new development may unexpectedly surface because of events that emerge along the way.

Time factors can also affect the accessibility of people’s participation in decision making. Skills are needed to be able to judge the urgency of decision-making processes, who needs to be involved in which stages of decision making within a particular time and resource frame, and to what extent timing can be negotiated and with whom.


Many of the ideas and techniques outlined in this tutorial are intended to help you recognise and evaluate different aspects of decision situations, to work out which are relevant and what you can do about improving them.

Many philosophies, tools and techniques have been developed to support decision making, however these tend to focus on counterfeit game contexts, for example, astrology, fortune telling, legal guidelines or synthetic organisational contexts. Some NH techniques can offer genuine support to decision-making processes, depending on how they are used; for instance the ability to model aspects of a situation, make a mind map, use a repgrid, and reduce anxiety.


Three key elements distinguish good decision making when analyzing choices:

First, analysis starts with a full set of alternative possibilities, rather than with a most likely idea for which we seek confirmation. In counterfeit games, decisions are often presented in the 'Dungeons & Dragons' fashion; ie., a decision is framed as a kind of junction in life where we choose to go left or right; to take the high road or the low road; to decide yes or no; the cat is dead or it's alive; you take the money or you open the box; you catch the train or you miss it. But in real life there are always more alternatives, for we are intelligent. We can decide not to go left or right, but to go back the way we came, to sit down for a smoke and wait things out, or to climb out of the window. We can decide we no longer want the magic carpet because the risk is too high and it looks a bit tacky anyway. We can decide to fly instead of taking the train. We can decide to open the box, take the treasure, win the princess, steal the bad guys horse and ride off into the sunset. Including all possibilities ensures that initially, alternative choices receive equal treatment and a fair review.

Second, analysis can identify and emphasize the few items of evidence or assumptions that have the greatest diagnostic value in judging the relative likelihood of our choices panning out well. In poor reasoning, the fact that key evidence may also be consistent with alternative explanations is rarely considered explicitly and often ignored.

For example: Alice sees Bob kissing Carl on the cheek. Alice decides this is evidence for Bob being gay or bisexual, ignoring the fact that the kiss could alternatively be evidence that Bob is Carl's father, brother or son.

What people consider 'analysis' often just entails looking for evidence to confirm the first thing they thought of or their favored hypothesis. There is a useful method for preventing this, called the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH). It involves seeking evidence to refute hypotheses, as the most probable hypothesis is usually the one with the least evidence against it, not the one with the most evidence for it. We will explore Analysis of Competing Hypotheses below in the NHA guide.


Enormous complexity lies beneath the seeming simplicity of everyday life on every level from the structure of matter to the sequences in neuronal computation. Humans attempt to deal with it in two different ways; counterfeit constructs (like astrology, politics or religion) claim to handle the details of this hidden complexity in their own terms from the top down, but avoid any attempt to explain or investigate the validity of their methods. Science, on the other hand, calls the complexity 'laws of nature', attempts to work with these basic laws from the bottom up before handling the details of complexity, and insists that methods & techniques must not only be explained, but repeatable.

This way of framing things renders reality accessible to common sense. Common sense works when it is congruous with reality, and in reducing complexities to underlying simplicities, science allows our minds to grasp complexity.[121]

The same framing method works in interactional analysis, where we reduce the complexities of dynamic personal relationships to an 'Alice and Bob' formula, because once we take into account emotional weighting as an important factor, and moral values as our underlying guide, it can be a highly efficient way of understanding the basics of an issue.

DO IT NOW -applying interactional analysis to emotional issues

For example, Alice is polyamorous, currently in a sexual relationship with Bob. When she meets Carl, she is immediately attracted to him, but Bob and she have not yet discussed their stance on polyamory.

1 What is the best interaction for Alice, and why?

A ignore Carl

B have sex with Carl and stop sleeping with Bob

C have sex with Carl, then tell Bob about it and explain she's polyamorous

D have sex with Carl and say nothing to Bob, as its none of his business

E make friends with Carl, explain her polyamory stance to Bob and Carl, then have sex with whomever still wants to


2 what else can you think of that Alice could do?

Answers at end of tutorial


Decision making is such a ubiquitous process that we often don't pay much attention to it — until our choices result in unexpected consequences. Then we may look back and wonder, “Why did I believe that? Why did I choose that option?”

Considering the consequences of different outcomes is (or should be) part of the decision making process, as we experienced in the exercise above. Consequences may affect multiple features including our physical health, our lifestyle, our environment, other people, our culture, our mental health, our resources, our choices, our ability or our relationships.

It is particularly important to consider consequences in decisions affecting interpersonal relations. A temporary problem is better than a chronic, ongoing problem, but we are often anxious of the consequences of initiating the former to disperse the latter. For example, the chronic, ongoing problem of toothache is much worse than the temporary problem of coping with attending a dental appointment, yet many will put off going until they can bear it no longer, and exactly the same pattern of events often occurs in unsuccessful relationships.

Many couples are only together due to anxiety about short term consequences if they make a move to end the relationship. In the long run, accepting a chronic problem as 'inevitable' due to fear of the short term consequences of solving it is what prevents it being solved.


Elements of change, risk and uncertainty are common in decision situations and recognising and making sense of these elements are two of the main challenges that decision makers face.

Risk implies that we know what the possible outcomes of a decision may be and that we know, or can work out, the probability of each outcome. Uncertainty, on the other hand, implies that there are inevitable unknowns and that we can at best guess at possible outcomes and their probabilities, or consider a range of imagined scenarios. There are ways of reducing some of these unknowns by using relevant data, techniques and the experience of participants.


Making better decisions

When we’re making a decision that involves complex issues, we need to engage problem-solving as well as decision-making skills. It pays to use an effective, robust process in these circumstances, to improve the quality of our decisions and to achieve consistently good results.

Typically successful decisions have certain specific points in common, which we shall examine here:


Facts form the basis of all sound decisions. While perhaps self-evident, it is all too easy to base judgments upon opinions, assumptions and personal biases, ending up with a less than optimal decision.

Before an important decision can be made, we must take the time to firmly establish the truth of the matter and filter out any opinions, assumptions and biases. When at all possible, facts should be fully documented, and preferably externalized so they may be kept in mind.

objective AND subjective

Sound judgment is based upon an objective evaluation of the facts, but the facts include how strongly everyone involved is likely to feel about an issue, which specific issues they feel strongly about, and how that will affect outcomes. We must be careful to ensure that our and others' emotions, anxiety, assumptions, expectations, opinions and personal biases are taken into account when considering evidence. Wherever possible, we should attempt to take a perspective outside of the immediate situation, empathize to view the facts from others' perspectives, and gain objective insights into subjective factors involved in or affected by the decision.

power relations are balanced

Sound judgment and successful decisions require that all sides and viewpoints be carefully weighed and considered. One pitfall in sound decision making (especially in relationships) lies in only considering one side of the issue and thereby restricting rationality with opinions, assumptions or personal biases. Another problem is incongruous double standards.

Problems can also happen when one speaks as an 'expert' and the other does not. When any inequality occurs, the decision is often (intentionally or unintentionally) slanted toward one side of the issue without fully considering other viewpoints and insights.

Particularly when we are focusing on making personal decisions, we must consider all sides of the issue and make sure the input we are considering is balanced. When balanced facts and viewpoints are objectively evaluated, we are able to arrive at a sensible judgment.

emotional stability

As mentioned above, we must refrain from making determinations and judgments in an emotionally unsettled state of mind. Decisions made when we are anxious, angry or afraid will be rash and overly subjective. Before effective and sound judgments can be made, we must assure that our emotions are healthy and anxiety is low.

We should also consider any judgment-affecting factors (such as alcohol, drugs, illness or conditioning), otherwise the risk of an unsuccessful outcome to decisions is very high. Never underestimate this factor; ignoring the influence of alcohol on judgment, for example, ruins a lot of people's lives and creates large numbers of basically unexpected and often unwanted results; including homicides, rapes, marriages, children, debts, long term addictions and prison terms.

addressing the needs of all parties

In interaction, everybody wins. Sound judgments and decisions encompass the needs of all individuals involved with and affected by them. Decisions should be in the best interests of all parties. Even when tough decisions are to be made, the best interests of all involved must be considered.

For instance, if we must leave a relationship due to incompatibility, that decision – when based on facts and agreed upon by both parties – may be in our best interest. Both individuals involved may need a wake-up call or just may not have the necessary compatibility to be close allies, in which case it is best they pursue other relationships. That makes absolute sense from a conscious perspective, but if two people are incompatible the reason is usually an unequal amount of development (eg, one party is chronically anxious) or insufficient mutual development (eg, both parties are chronically anxious), in which cases the logical decision to end a relationship will not satisfy the conscious needs of both parties. Moral values drive us to prioritize the intelligence of greatest potential, but when one or both are affected by anxiety it's pretty difficult to calculate this (if biomorality even gets a look-in). A part of our decision in these circumstances (and perhaps the most important part) will be to work out how to avoid getting into similar relationships (and mental states) in the future, so that this situation will not recur.

carefully considering all options

Sound judgments demand that we consider all possible options. When a problem or issue is first considered, only one viable option may be apparent; however, effective decision makers will explore and consider all possible options before a decision is to be made.

Once we have collected all the information; facts, viewpoints, insights, emotions and options, we need to take the time to thoroughly consider all aspects of the problem or issue in judgment before a final decision is made.


fully assessing risks

Effective thinkers fully assess all the risks associated with their decisions and judgments. They are not risk-averse, but instead weigh all facts and make their decisions based upon the judgment yielding the lowest risk and biggest benefit.

Risks include how anxious people might respond and who is likely to change their mind halfway through. Knowing our own abilities and weaknesses as well as those of others involved will help accurate risk assessment.

Positive attitude

When you have started to consider an issue and are approaching a decision, do you think in terms of possible opportunities, possible problems, or both?

Research shows the importance of positive expectations in successful negotiations, debates and decision making, as an optimistic attitude automatically frames negotiations as fairer and we feel more satisfied with the negotiation outcome.

In interpersonal discussion, positive expectations (unconditional regard) also change the way that each party's suggestions are interpreted. Under more pessimistic conditions, another person's suggestions are interpreted as likely to be in that persons own self interest. By contrast, positive expectations about the negotiation outcome foster a sense that the other person's suggestions are being made in a more constructive spirit.

A problem when it comes to translating the lessons from this research to real life is that there isn't always a history of success available to inspire optimism. However, there are other means of encouraging a sense of optimism and positive expectations for a successful outcome, including 'mutual expressions of goodwill and commitment' or deliberate reference to successes in 'previous negotiations between the parties on other, more limited issues.'[122]

If you have to invite the Klingons (or your relatives) to dinner, or to a peace conference, remember your core conditions. Make an effort to understand others' ontology rather than imposing your own upon them. If in doubt, communicate – most people love talking about their own beliefs and aspects of culture they enjoy. We are here to learn the truth about each other; not to dictate what we think it is via a counterfeit etiquette.


Development & decisions

Just as many people fail to develop formal operations, they also fail to develop decision making abilities, but there are some factors to consider regarding improvement with age which fundamentally affect decision making skills.

With an optimally developing mind in optimal conditions our decision making skills (including rationality) should be up and running by age fifteen; however this is true of virtually nobody in our society. Many people take decades to develop these skills and some never develop them at all. Development may be delayed due to lack of supporting networks, or of N5 itself, but the issue is that until our decision making skills are fully mature we cannot expect optimal performance from them. Meanwhile, we have a propensity to consider rewards over consequences, and are more vulnerable to the effects of coercion, manipulation and conditioning.[123]

Gullibility is the tendency to believe too readily and therefore to be easily deceived.[124] While N5 is still maturing, we tend to respond to potential benefits with far greater anticipation, expectation and excitement than do mature brains, and since sound judgment relies on finding a balance between benefits and dangers, decisions are more easily biased. As N5 is developing, we are calibrating appropriate neurotransmitter levels and are prone to surges of excitation that range from twice to four times the levels in mature brains. At the same time, the inhibitory impulses in immature brains are not fully developed yet; remaining at low levels. In practical terms, this means we have a tendency to be over-trusting and gullible; we have a greater vulnerability to being conned, manipulated, conditioned or fooled when rewards are promised which later never materialize.

During maturation we are building and testing our judgment and decision-making circuits; the brain is 'beta-testing' its own systems and fine-tuning certainty and doubt from feedback, and it takes a while for us to learn that the promise of an event does not equal the event (indeed, some people never get the hang of this).

For example, Alice says she will visit on Thursday at 2pm, and Bob says he will return the stuff he borrowed at the weekend. An immature mind assumes that this means Alice will visit on Thursday at 2pm, and that Bob will return the stuff he borrowed at the weekend.

There is no hard evidence that either event will take place in reality. All that we know is that Alice said x and Bob said y.

If we know Alice and Bob well, their reputation for integrity (walking the path they talk; meaning what they say), will factor into what happens. For example maybe Alice is very reliable, but Bob has a reputation for not returning borrowed items and for not keeping his word. Probabilities begin to factor in at this stage. There are also other aspects of real life that can affect outcomes, ranging from Alice suddenly realizing she forgot that something else was pre-booked for Thursday, to unexpected illness or disaster. Nothing can be assumed, therefore, until Alice or Bob actually does something in real life that gives one of those possibilities a probability of 1 or 0.

Immature brains tend to over-weight the excitement about Alice's visit or the strong desire to get the borrowed stuff back from Bob, and under-weight important factors like Bob's unreliability, and it's also more difficult with an immature N5 to correctly weight the consequences of our current decisions or behavior.

So if you are still in the younger bracket of neurohackers, bear in mind the natural pace of development and do not try to 'hothouse' these abilities before supporting networks have had enough time to practice their skills. Our brains do take over two decades to fully mature and even then they never stop upgrading themselves. Respecting biology's plan and working with your own natural development will be far more useful to you than prematurely forcing skills at the expense of overall development – which is what most people are conditioned to do.

We'll look further into 'special circumstances' NH for younger and older students in future tutorials


Collective decisions & power relations

Since the time we dwelt in caves, humans have correctly grasped the scale of beneficial pay-offs available to cooperative human interactors; between each other and with their environment and culture. These pay-offs, and the barriers to successful cooperation (and indeed, our eventual survival) posed by poor judgment, are deeply enbedded in reality and reoccur at several levels of organization in the history of living organisms.[125]

Group judgments and group decisions are one of the most difficult things to accomplish, partly because of the time it takes for everyone to interact with everyone else sufficiently to get all concepts and ideas explained; and partly because group congruity in general takes time to establish. For optimal success, decisions need to be unanimous, so ultimately each individual must judge the facts and come to the same conclusion 'by themselves'.

The criteria that are established and used to evaluate alternative courses of action in decision making will certainly affect the outcome of a decision. Different criteria will be appropriate in different situations, but are often needed both to help make a decision and to make apparent the basis on which it is made. In group decision making, exploring and deciding on criteria is one way of developing a shared understanding of a situation. Different decision makers with different beliefs and values are likely to identify different criteria and give a different weighting to them.

Specific criteria can help to identify areas where there is agreement and disagreement. There may be different views on what is acceptable for each of these areas and often a need for negotiation. Criteria such as these are important background information for decision making.

Group accord is not at all the same thing as hierarchical adherence ('we are the Borg...you will be assimilated...') and the most obvious difference is in individual autonomy. In an optimal situation, anyone involved can veto or approve others' decisions. People can opt out due to lack of interest, uncertainty, or because they stand to gain no matter what is decided, and others can opt in for the opposite reasons. Groups can also agree to disagree and then plan their strategies accordingly. When supported by biomorality, group discussion, judgment and decision making among allies is one of the most powerful tools available to humans.

For it to work, though, we need the non-static power relations of temporary hierarchies (see 'differences between natural morality & counterfeit morality', above). Power relations are central in the way that all ideas get produced, interpreted and taken up, and the threat of anxiety-based dominance/coercion is a dynamic present in all interactions, all behaviors and all ideas.[126] Only dynamic power relations create the optimal environment for good decisions. If power relations are unequal or static-hierarchical, a group will never excel at judgment or strategy, and decisions will be wrongly-weighted in favor of those 'in power' whether the issue falls into their domain of expertise or not.

In personal, one-to one relationships when power relations are unequal, the 'bully' (dominant party) tends to assume they have the power to interpret the others mental experience more accurately than the other does themselves. 'Experts' tend to assume the same thing of 'ordinary people', and similar criticisms have been leveled at psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, doctors, teachers, social workers and parents. All assume they know 'what's better for you' more accurately than the genetic plan for success which your own biology and cognition computed over millions of years.

This seems astonishingly arrogant. Good judgment begins with humility -knowing clearly how much we don't know, and proceeding accordingly. Any group of anxious people trying to debate any issue, where everyone believes wholeheartedly that they know more than everyone else in the room and are here to prove it, is never going to come to agreement -because psychologically they are all trying to prove something different. The debate is a competition to 'prove' who's smartest/richest/most attractive/coolest/most macho, or whatever the given group values. There is no search for the truth here; the ultimate goal is boosting depleted self esteem, and ultimately, since the unconscious knows what's going on and this raises anxiety, everybody loses.

Genuine truth-hunting for the best decisions relies on cooperation in the search for the truth. Ideas must be thrown upon the table like exhibits for others to criticize or disprove. The ideas themselves, not the people, have the competition; and the idea with the most coherent and compelling evidence for validity wins. It doesn't matter who's idea it was, or whether it emerged from consideration of two or three other peoples' ideas. What matters is that cooperation between equals has enabled the truth to be flushed out of a conglomerate of confusion by whatever means and as a result, another little bit of unknown has become known to everyone who took part or wants to read about it. Everybody involved has learned something; is more aware of the truth about something; everybody wins and and nobody loses.

Personal power (our ability to interact) becomes group power wherever a group of autonomous allies starts helping each other to do whatever they want to do. Counterfeit games are threatened by this above all else because it is real power (counterfeit power relies on anxiety and dependence) and can lead to some amazing strategies and creations.

the most important things to remember

Factors to be considered when making decisions:










Good decisions always:

are fact-based

are objective and subjective

have balanced power relations

are made while maintaining emotional stability

address the needs of all parties

carefully consider all options

fully assess risks

are made with a positive attitude


The promise of an event does not equal the event.

In group decision making the ideas themselves, not the people, have the competition.

Personal power (our ability to interact) becomes group power wherever a group of autonomous allies starts helping each other to do whatever they want to do.

NHA Guide to Methods & Tech

Methods to develop decisiveness and make more successful and effective choices in our lives

First off, scrap whatever the counterfeit game is telling you. The message beamed by TV/ commercials/ pub conversations/ church is that more (expensive) dependence on better professionals/ experts/ their products/ god will enable you to make better decisions. That's Bullcrap.

Experts themselves are not the problem here; indeed many of us could be considered experts at something. It is the ‘professional-worshipping’, dependent counterfeit construct that causes problems, the moment we hand over responsibility we forgo autonomy and our own free will is subjugated. Statements such as, “Approved by doctors” could mean, 'approved by these guys we paid to approve of it, who also happen to be doctors', or it could mean 'approved by doctors because its the cheapest option and/or gets them drug company benefits'. It's fine to get information from others, but make sure you make your own decisions for yourself by getting to the heart of the matter -the sources of and evidence for indisputable facts.

Secondly, judgment and decision making skills CAN be and ARE improved by experience, and should improve with age in all of us, but in most people, it's rare that they do. People have varying vulnerability to anxiety, and it is anxiety-based sentiment that accounts for many lapses of judgement.

Thirdly, there are people imprisoned by framing -within a set of beliefs or a fixed idea. Bust concepts out of a frame by looking for humor, counter-examples as a matter of course, incongruities, or stuff that just won’t fit- instead of ignoring details that don't make sense, note them and work out why.


things you can do to improve your judgement over time

Get used to trusting yourself. Start small. - Do I trust myself to post this blog post or send this email without running it past anyone else or analyzing it to guess what they'd think first?

Look for patterns in your life, cycles that come round and round, situations where anxiety has taken you over on a regular basis. Forewarned is forearmed.

Look for the opposite viewpoint as a habit. Look for the humor in any situation that appears devoid of it wherever it would not be disrespectful.

Examine the exact opposite option from whichever mainstream view 'most experts are recommending'. The exact opposite can often be the next big area of discovery.

When you first meet someone remember your first response to them before they said any impressive sounding things. That first impression of attraction/revulsion/neutrality should always be remembered and reexamined if necessary.

Hang out with people who have demonstrably good judgement or decision making skills in any field you like.

Move towards things that increase your own sense of self-reliance, move away from what decreases it, for example debt or habits of insecurity.

Practise generosity as a way of freeing the mind of obligations. Share good fortune with others.

Look for a role model in whatever area you are interested in (alive or dead, real or fictional; doesn't matter) who increases, when you think of them, your own sense of potential.

Gain insight into human potential for dicey judgment and decision-making.

Acknowledge your own likely biases, and consistently and responsibly manage them.

Run your judgments and potential decisions by someone whose ability you trust.

Avoid snap-judgments and decisions. Rather, take the time to jot-down potential solutions before making your call.

Protect yourself from anxiety through exercise, relaxation, natural sleep and nutrition, and other healthy lifestyle habits.

Reward yourself when you’ve made a smart judgment or decision.

Do all you can to keep your mind healthily exercised – e.g.: read, write, do puzzles, play music, learn a language.

Truly believe you have the ability and power to turn your judgment and decision-making history around – because you do!

Look for information yourself. Remember that judgment is defined by many sources as, “the ability to make considered decisions.” The key word in that definition is “considered”. The implication is that there is a process which leads up to the decision.

Seek accurate information. Truth hunting means going to where the facts are that you need to make a decision. In the digital age, some might interpret that as just searching online. Online searching may help you decide where you go to see the facts, but don’t stop there. Practice seeking facts.

Grasp the situation. Searching for the facts and getting them (processing them) are two distinct things. If we are going to calculate something, we can’t simply go and look at the input data; we have to input them. The facts we seek are our input for employing the executive skill of judgment. We can’t make a judgment without them. We need to evaluate the facts that we are seeing and choose which ones are the best.

Get creative. For decisions requiring creative thought, unconscious processing will help us make the best choices. Give your mind the time it needs while you supply good food, enough sleep, and light-hearted entertainment to occupy the conscious mind until it needs to join in.

The first few times we try this experiment are a surprise, and it takes a bit of practice to realize that we CAN present a problem to the unconscious mind, leave it alone while distracting the conscious, and wait for the solution to come as insight. It is exactly the same process we use in creative invention; associated with the saying, 'sleep on it'; but other relaxing activities work just as well, and we can if we wish 'play computer games on it', 'have a bath on it' (worked well for Archimedes) or 'listen to music on it'.[127]

Keep a perspective on reality. As we find the facts and grasp the situation, remember that any 'professionals' involved are not gods, but simply humans. They often have counterfeit norms in behavior and ontology and values. They understand only what they've been enabled to understand and desired to understand. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t potentially intelligent and ABLE to understand, only that we tend to assume that some humans know more than they really do.

Take responsibility. When you are making a decision, are you willing to take responsibility for the consequences of your decision, or is anxiety about criticism influencing the way you decide?

Be patient. Good, sound, considered decisions (and learning how to make them) may take time. The more you take the time and use these practices over and over, the easier and more natural they become. Don't however take too much time to come to a decision. Research has shown that increased decision time can diminish our confidence even in the absence of appreciable changes in accuracy.[96]

Accept your intuition. Many people who consider themselves as 'rational' thinkers are reliant on intellectual thinking processes alone, and tend to dismiss intuition as a folly and unreliable (as indeed it can be when incongruity occurs). However, intuition is just as valid as intellect during decision-making processes, provided it is balanced with examination of the facts and evidence in a rational manner. Many people have experienced making decisions on a "gut feeling" from time to time and have found the outcome to be satisfactory and sometimes even life-saving. Viewing intuition as "an educated counselor" [128]is a helpful way to perceive it; we receive guidance from our unconscious drawing on evolutionary experience accumulated over millions of years of danger-facing or problem solving.

The vulnerability of intuition to incongruity simply means it cannot be relied upon alone as a source of reaching any conclusion; this means that all initial suppositions, theories, and hunches must be tested by logic and analysis of facts, not that it must be removed altogether from our processes of decision.

Going with your gut and not facing the facts is bound to lead to trouble, so be prepared to let logic balance your intuition, making it more than mere speculation and guesswork.

Attentive listening

Someone who listens with an open mind is willing to be influenced by what they hear. It does not mean that the listener should not have strong views of their own, but it does require the listener to be willing to consider the merit of what other people say. This can be difficult when listening to something one does not want to hear or something about which one has pre-conceived notions.

Listening to — and perceiving — somebody means not messing with your phone. Respect means turning it off. Listening isn't just a matter of hearing the words people say, but of understanding where that person is at and what they are trying to communicate.

All people have their own opinions on just about everything, so when people listen, they are tempted to immediately judge what someone else is saying from their own perspectives. However, this kind of pre-judging can lead to misunderstanding. People who listen with an open mind avoid anticipating what they think their conversational partners are going to say. They do not jump to conclusions, but rather hear the speaker out entirely and make an effort to understand his or her lines of argument.

Judgmental listening also occurs when the listener is only listening to the speaker in order to determine whether they are 'right' or 'wrong', rather than listening in order to understand the speaker's ideas and where they come from. This kind of judgmental listening prevents the listener from fully engaging with the speaker on their own terms, and therefore limits the scope of any conversation.

Carrying pre-conceived notions about the speaker or the content of a speech into a conversation further limits effective listening. Listeners may have overwhelmingly positive or negative associations with particular people, ideas, or even words; and those associations can affect how listeners interpret. To listen effectively, one must work to temporarily suspend those associations in order to understand the speaker on their own terms.

Being an attentive listener:

  1. Leave opinions at the door. Approach the situation with a mind like a newbie.

  2. When disagreeing with a speaker, write down the objections rather than interrupting the speaker.

  3. Be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

  4. Look for opportunities to share common ground with the speaker, such as humor, beliefs, ideologies, or personal experiences.

  5. Exercising Empathy:

Exercising empathy while listening to a speaker is related to suspending judgment in that it requires the listener to work to understand what the speaker says from the others' point of view. This does not mean that the listener must automatically agree with the speaker; rather, the listener should simply put themselves 'in the speaker's shoes' and try to see the presented arguments from that perspective. One of the primary jobs of an effective listener is to get in touch with the speaker's perspective and not to color it with their own.

Empathetic listening helps promote effective listening because it allows the listener to take into account where the speaker is coming from, both emotionally and in terms of the content of his or her speech. This lets the listener assess what the speaker says and how it is presented more accurately, which ultimately leads to better understanding.


Avoiding decision traps:

It is possible to immunise ourselves to some extent against common decision traps. Useful strategies include:

  • Get in the habit of reframing problems. For example, if you are considering strategies for avoiding a loss try asking yourself if you would feel differently if you consider them as strategies for making a gain.

  • Think about the information you have relied on – to what extent have you been biased towards information which is easily retrievable or available? How may this have affected your thinking?

  • Ask yourself whether your understanding of the problem or the decision outcome became anchored at an early stage. Try and imagine radically different approaches.

  • Consider if it is possible that your own or others' anxiety to be 'seen in a good light' is preventing an honest appraisal of results.


Spotting deceit and other conditioning tactics

Conditioning relies on manipulation. Manipulation of thought and behavior is always found in counterfeit games; that's how those who play them are controlled.

The difference between manipulation and influence is deception. Influences move us by inspiring, motivating, and enlightening (revealing truth). Manipulators try to control us by concealing truth. If we discover that someone is concealing truth, whether that’s through outright lying or just not sharing all the relevant info, we should be on the alert for attempts at manipulation.

Manipulators control by limiting options and herding subjects along isolated paths.

Example: “You can go out with me or not go out.”

When we face this situation, we feel forced, like we’re having to make a fake decision within somebody else's oversimplified choices. All the complexities of real life are missed out, as though a multicolored patterns of existence are reduced to black and white; to absolutes. Truth is rendered irrelevant; in fact if we point out that the statement isn't true and that there are lots of other options, violence may well result. Using threats, physical or emotional or psychological, is also manipulation.

Example: “If you do/don't do x I'll leave. And I'll tell everyone about your lies.”

The first statement about leaving is an attempt to scare us with what they can do. The second part, the implication that others might drop us as a friend if they are manipulated too, is an attempt to scare us with what might happen.

Emotional blackmail is often included in this form of manipulation.

Example: Friends are supposed to help each other! Why aren’t you helping me when I’m in need?” (Implied: You’re not really a friend.)

Helping is a response and a choice; not a requirement. Spotting manipulation means watching for people who claim others have some sort of 'duty' to deal with their problems.

Flattery is also used to manipulate.

Example: “Could you do it for me? -You're so much better than I am at this sort of thing!”

We’re usually pretty good about noting the difference between genuine compliments and compliments with manipulative strings attached. The problem is that even when we notice, we like going along with it because it makes us feel higher self esteem (or in the anxious, arrogance and superiority).

This doesn’t mean we should discount every compliment we receive. It just means we should try to discern the motivation behind them. Anyone who genuinely wants to learn will be asking, 'could you show me how to do it?'

Some manipulators use simple hassle tactics, often when they are living in a static situation.

Example: “Have you got any spare change? Aw, come on guv, I'm homeless at the moment, just a bit of change, I can't find work, just a few bits of change guv, do a good deed for the day, bit of spare change?”....etc., etc... Eventually, as they follow people down the street and keep on hassling, folks get embarrassed and give them money just to stop the hassle.

Giving them information about how to help themselves, (eg, how to get welfare, where casual employment might be found, or where the free food charity is), or giving them actual food, generally makes them walk away. Those who do take the food or information thankfully are genuinely in need; the rest are manipulating. The truth is, in many places more money and less anxiety can be achieved by walking about drunk hassling passers by than from working in low paid jobs, and being opportunists, those humans who don't mind the conditions take the opportunity. Begging is framed as a job, with better conditions and rewards than many others society has to offer.


recognizing sentimental manipulation

It's a given that nobody in a healthy mental state would want to initiate a close relationship with someone who's stuck in a counterfeit game full of sentiment and melodrama, but sometimes we don't spot the sentiment at first, or we mistake it for genuine emotion. Other times, we might be forced into a situation where we have to work or live alongside someone with such problems. What can be done about others' ongoing attempts to manipulate us while withdrawing or planning withdrawal from such a situation?

Unfortunately, there is usually no point in trying to be honest and interact with a sentimental manipulator. We'll make an attempt to interact and it will be turned around into action/reaction.

Example: “I'm really surprised that you forgot my birthday.”

Reaction: "I wouldn't normally forget your birthday, I've been so busy/ depressed/ under a lot of stress lately - but I didn’t want to lay that on you. I should have put all that aside... (you may see crocodile tears and a 'martyr' expression at this point) ...and focused on your birthday. Sorry."

Even as we are hearing the words we get the creeped out sensation that none of this is true at all - but since they’ve said the words and it's rude to accuse, we’re pretty much left with nothing more to say, or we fall for it and find ourselves manipulated into pity.

Under all circumstances if you feel this game is being played - don’t capitulate! Do not take it seriously and do not accept an apology that feels like bullshit. If it feels like bullshit - it probably is bullshit. Trust your intuition. Once a sentimental manipulator finds a successful maneuver it’s added to their hit list and you’ll be fed a steady diet of this shit.

A sentimental manipulator sees themselves in the role of victim. If we suggest doing something (Example: “Let's watch a movie/go out for drinks/go visit Alice) they will almost always agree. Then when we start to get ready, they make a bunch of heavy sighs, or other non verbal signs that let you know they don’t really want to do whatever was suggested. If we tell them it doesn’t seem like they want to do whatever it is, they will turn it around and try to make it seem like OF COURSE they wanted to and how unreasonable you are.

If a sentimental manipulator says yes, make them responsible for it. Do NOT buy into the sighs and subtleties - if they don’t want to do it - make them be honest and tell you it up front - or just go do it by yourself and leave them to their self-indulgent theater.

A classic trick of sentimental manipulators is saying something and later assuring you they did not say it. A variation on this is for them to 'swap around' a conversation; claiming that they said what in fact was said by you, and vice versa. They can be caught doing this if you recognize something being attributed to you as something that you would most likely NEVER say.

If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel like you should start keeping a log of what’s been said because you are beginning to question your own sanity, you're experiencing sentimental manipulation. An anxious manipulator is an expert in turning things around, mock-rationalizing, fake-justifying, and explaining things away simply by lying. They can lie so smoothly and argue so persuasively that many begin to doubt their own memories. Over a period of time this is so insidious and eroding it can literally influence our sense of reality. WARNING: getting caught up in this crap is very dangerous! Manipulators will think nothing of spreading deliberate lies about you, and may well pull tricks like hijacking your email address and pretending to be you, telling all your friends to fuck off. Their aim is to isolate you from everyone else but them.

It is very disconcerting for such a manipulator if we begin carrying a pad of paper and a pen and making notes during conversations. Feel free to let them know you just are feeling so "forgetful" these days that you want to keep track of any memory glitches and sharpen up your memory a bit. But having to do such a thing in the first place is a clear indication for why you should be seriously thinking about withdrawing from this relationship as soon as you can.

Manipulators like to try to induce guilt, shame, embarrassment and similar sentiments. They will attempt to make you feel guilty for speaking up or not speaking up, for being too emotional or not being emotional enough, for talking too much or for not talking enough. Manipulators seldom express their needs or desires overtly - they get what they want through covert manipulation. Many of us are conditioned to do whatever is necessary to reduce our feelings of guilt or shame.

Another powerful sentiment that is used in manipulation is sympathy (which overwrites empathy). Manipulators seldom help themselves, fight their own fights or do their own dirty work, and sneakily, when others capitulate and do it for them (which they will never ask directly for), they may well just turn around and say they certainly didn’t want or expect you to do anything!

Try to make a point of not 'fighting other people’s battles', doing their dirty work for them, or cleaning up the shit they have created. A great script is, "I have every confidence in your ability to work this out on your own" - check out their response and calibrate the bullshit detector accordingly.

Sentimental manipulators don’t deal with things directly. They will talk around behind your back and eventually put others in the position of telling you what they will not say themselves. Their behavior is passive aggressive, meaning they find subtle ways of controlling others to do their bidding.

Scripts employed often include, “Mine is worse than yours” (no matter what your situation is the manipulator has probably been there or is there now - but only ten times worse.) It’s hard, after you suss them out, to feel emotionally connected to a manipulator because they have a way of de-railing attempted interactions and putting the spotlight constantly back on themselves and their problems. If you call them on this behavior they will likely become deeply wounded or very petulant and call you selfish and heartless - or fall into projection and claim that it is you who are always seeking attention. Even though you know this is not the case you are left with the onus of proving it. Don’t bother - trust your intuition and walk away! It isn't possible to help anyone who doesn't know or won't believe there's anything wrong with them.

Manipulators rely on the ability of sentiment to impact the emotional climate of those around them. When a manipulator is sulking or angry the very room smells of anxiety - it brings a deep instinctual response to find some way to rebalance the emotional climate, and it may look like the quickest route is by making the manipulator feel better - fixing whatever is broken for them. This is an illusion! The more you 'play their game' the more intrusive it becomes. Stick with this type of relationship for too long and you will be so enmeshed and co-dependent you will forget you even have needs - let alone that your own development relies on having your needs met.

Manipulators have no sense of autonomy, responsibility or accountability. They take no responsibility for themselves or their behavior - it is always about what everyone else has "done to them" or “failed to do for them”. One of the easiest ways to spot a manipulator is that they often attempt to establish intimacy quickly through the early sharing of deeply personal information that is generally of the "hook-you-in-and-make-you-sorry-for-me" variety. Initially we may perceive such behavior as very open, emotionally trusting, and maybe a little vulnerable. Sadly in reality a manipulator is about as vulnerable as a piranha, and there will always be a 'new' problem or a crisis to overcome.[129]


recognizing psychological manipulation

Psychological harassment and psychological manipulation can induce psychological and physiological disorders. The level of harassment usually begins slowly and increases with time, so if you know anyone who makes a habit of psychological manipulation, it's best to withdraw from their company as soon as possible. If you're young and the manipulators are 'well-meaning' parents or teachers, or if you're stuck in a relationship with someone who's really not mentally well, withdrawal is not immediately easy, but forewarned is forearmed and learning about conditioning and manipulation will help you protect yourself in the meantime.

Examples of psychological manipulation:

1 Someone swears, talks over-loudly, slams a desk drawer or a door, or hits/throws/breaks an object. This is a form of indirect intimidation; an indirect threat of violence. If these actions are repeated it can become a form of conditioning, as those who are not resilient will find anxiety rising even though the swearing/words/breakage were not directed specifically AT them.

2 Someone is very negative and always moaning or complaining about something in their life, or criticizing others (or us). This can psychologically manipulate others to join in and take up a negative thinking pattern, to copy their habit of always seeing the negative side of things or expecting the worst outcomes, or to see the harmful factors in a situation or event reflexively instead of being open minded or thinking of the benefits first. In vulnerable or anxious persons this can induce or lead to depression (optimism is linked to self-esteem).

3 The constant-state-of-interrogation tactic involves constant distractions and indirect questions, and this can be combined with unfinished ambiguities. For example, “Where did you go last night? Why? What did you go there for? What are you smiling at? What were you doing? Who else was there? Why didn't you invite me? Were you... ?” This leaves us guessing or wondering, 'was I what?' and induces frustration and uncertainty.

Other tactics: “Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. I know what you're up to. I know you've been lying.” We are left thinking, 'What?' and wondering where we've failed to empathize, and this leaves us vulnerable to confusion if we are not yet wise to such tactics. Rejection (eg., sulking, stonewalling, refusal to acknowledge) can also be used aggressively in attempts to lower a person's self-esteem or self-worth.

Sometimes a lot of verbal maneuvering and planning is used to hide or reduce the visibility and obviousness of a direct threat; for example subtle hints or insinuations, intimidation, provocation, confusion or uncertainty. Insinuations, even though they are false, can have serious psychological effects on anxious and paranoid persons.

Controlling our source of information and interpreting reality and events for us is also part of psychological manipulation (a part used extensively by media). Remember: (a) Interpretations and evidence are not the same; and (b) a lot of people just make shit up.

Hiding manipulation behind terms of benefit is a classic tactic you'll recognize from the keywords: “It's for your own good”, “I'm only trying to help you”, or “You'll thank me later”. Rest assured that no; it isn't, no; you aren't and no, you won't. Inexperienced people often can't imagine why someone would try to deliberately manipulate another person (or even find it hard to believe that people can do this deliberately to others), and therefore they can be deceived into believing the situation or person has beneficial intentions.

If someone is making you do anything you don't want to do and claiming it's for your own good, it probably isn't. They are either being misled themselves into trying to deceive you, or are deliberately trying to deceive you; and it doesn't matter whether false information is spread accidentally or on purpose; it's still not true, and false information is always harmful.

Other signs of deceit

If someones voice is strained, in a lower or higher pitch than normal, or just sounds plain weird for some reason, they could be lying.

Eye contact isn't a reliable indicator of deceit or trustworthiness. Skilled deceivers have no trouble maintaining eye contact and in any case, people may also be lying to themselves.

If someone takes a long time to respond to a simple question, the response may be contrived.

When frontloaders are lying they often keep very still, aware that body language might otherwise give them away. Facial expression will often be limited to the mouth.

Discourse analysis shows that when people use contractions (eg, 'I don't know') they are more likely to be truthful that when they speak without them (eg, 'I do not know'), but this is only accurate in casual conversations; not in formal language.

Deliberate deceivers will often want to drop the problematic subject as fast as possible. To do this, they make fake being tired, hungry, drunk or sick, to buy time in order to steer the script into another subject.

To reveal a rearloader liar, just keep asking them questions; a good starter is, 'what are your sources?' The deeper into the lie they get the harder it will be for them to make up coherent information and stick to it. This could also lead to them panicking, therefore giving off vital clues.

A person who's making a point of keeping eye contact all the time is more likely to be attempting to assert counterfeit dominance, or lying, as they're probably trying to convince both you and themselves that they are serious.

Notice the details that others miss, by being discerning. Not every detail before you has value. Use your discernment to focus only on the details of relevance and significance.


countering denial or misinformation

People can be deliberately conditioned to believe things that are false in order to manipulate them into serving others while neglecting their own development, and even to try to get them to harm others. At this stage we should be instantly aware of any such tactics, but what do we do when family members, colleagues or friends won't listen to reason, or try to convince us some misinformation is true?


Whether we want to debunk misinformation within an article, presentation or just in casual conversation, here are some helpful hints:

There are two key elements to refuting misinformation. The first half of a debunking is offering a factual alternative. To understand this, we need to understand what happens in another person's mind if we correct a misconception.

As we know, people build mental models of how the world works, and all the different levels and parts of the model (should) fit together like a coherent 3D jigsaw puzzle. But imagine if one of those pieces is suddenly revealed as a counterfeit; from a different picture, but disguised to fit in with all the rest. If we reveal that the counterfeit concept is false, we pull out that piece; leaving a gap in the mental model; a missing association which causes people with low resilience to stressors or currently affected by anxiety to jump automatically into denial.

In anxious states of mind, people feel very uncomfortable with a sudden gap in the model; they want to feel constantly reassured of their certainty about what's going on. So if we create a gap in their current association by exposing a counterfeit concept for what it is, WE need to fill the gap with a congruous fact in a simple, concrete message that grabs attention away from anxiety and sticks in the memory, filling the hole.

As well as explaining why the facts are correct, we also need to explain why the false concept is wrong. But there's a psychological danger to be wary of when refuting misinformation. When we mention a myth, we make people even more familiar with it; and the more familiar people are with a piece of information, the more likely they are to think it's true. This means instead of removing, we risk reinforcing the false concept in people's minds.

There are several simple techniques to avoid this. First, put the emphasis on the facts rather than the false concept. Lead with the facts you wish to communicate rather than mentioning the falsehood. Unfortunately, most debunking articles take the worst possible approach: repeating the myth in the headline.

Second, provide an explicit warning before mentioning the falsehood, that it IS a falsehood. This puts people cognitively on guard so they're less likely to be influenced by the counterfeit concept. Also, refer to the false information in the past tense (eg; 'it used to be believed...' or previously, researchers thought...') An explicit warning can be as simple as "A common myth was…".

Third, if you can, explain the fallacy that the false concept uses to distort the facts. This gives people the ability to understand how the false information sounded convincing, which reduces anxiety and allows the truth to 'fill the gap'.

When to change our minds

As a general rule, people are too slow to change an established view, rather than being too willing to change. Anxiety resists change, as do counterfeit games. Assumptions and beliefs conditioned in the past often continue to be automatically applied to new situations long after they have become outmoded, disproved and inappropriate (and often even after we have decided to change them.) And acceptance of new facts or discoveries can be just as daunting as letting go of previous assumptions. Here are some methods to help.

Learn from surprises

By paying attention to any feelings of surprise when a particular event does not fit our prior understanding, and then by highlighting rather than denying the novelty, we can learn more about a situation.

Although something unexpected can make us feel uncomfortable, it makes us take the cause (of the surprise) seriously and inquire into it. Rather than deny, downplay, or ignore evidence apparently against our prior view, we treat it as useful. As a result, we will often perceive novel situations early on and in a frame of mind relatively undistorted by any previously mistaken notions.

For example, if a relationship seems turbulent, consider the unexpected events and think hard about what they might mean, rather than disregarding them. It is important to consider whether such surprises, nice or nasty, however small, are consistent with some alternative hypothesis of what is going on. One unexpected event may be easy to disregard, but a pattern of surprises may be the first clue that our understanding of what is really happening requires some adjustment, is at best incomplete, or may be quite wrong.

Address incongruous associations

We get extra ‘know yourself’ points by spotting what sorts of mistaken associations we have been fooled into making in the past. In the present, we must realize not only that we cannot believe everything we hear, but that sometimes we cannot continue to believe stuff we thought sounded reasonable previously. That sounds obvious, but false associations develop when we are told something is true (often in good faith) when in fact it isn’t (e.g., if we are taught to associate “quiet children” with “studious”, “well-behaved” and “good”, or to associate “fat” with “prosperous”, “robust” and “healthy”, we will make false associations in perception, memory and behavior. -Notice how the former train of false association leads to the wrong use of brain networks, while the latter leads to the wrong use of body systems).

We have to change our minds about any false associations that are deleterious to our health as well as making sure that no more get programmed in. You may find as you progress with exploring your associations that you no longer believe some things that you used to, or may now believe some things that you didn’t used to, due to what you have more recently found out. This is a natural result of your mind maturing, and it’s the same reason you no longer believe in the tooth faery, monsters under the bed, or Santa Claus and you DO believe it's possible to go to the moon. Changing your mind about some things as you see them in a wider perspective is just part of developing intelligence.


Strategic Assumptions vs. Tactical Indicators.

Examples of strategic assumptions in two situations:

Alice believing that Bob wishes to avoid conflict at all costs because he recognizes her intellectual superiority.

Carl's belief that Donna would not move out until she had enough money saved to rent a flat.

Examples of Tactical indicators in the same two situations:

Bob starts badmouthing Alice to others in her absence.

Donna starts packing.

Whenever strategic assumptions and tactical indicators contradict each other, an immediate potential misunderstanding should be perceived and appropriate precautionary measures taken. If they are not, strategic assumptions always remain, and are never reevaluated in the light of an increasing flow of contradictory information. A series of unfortunate surprises may well follow.

Tactical indicators should be given increased weight in the decision making process. At a minimum, the emergence of tactical indicators that contradict our strategic assumptions should trigger a higher level of alertness. It may indicate that a bigger surprise is on the way.


Techniques for easier judgment & decision making

As with anything else, experience and practice improve our judgment strategy. But there are a few 'knowns' from research that are useful in our judgmental endeavors, especially when dealing with complex issues or problems: situational analysis, profiling, decomposition (analysis), and externalization (synthesis).

situational analysis

A situational analysis (in context of biopsychology) is an analysis of all the environmental factors encompassing the issue or problem requiring judgment and decision. A good way to grasp it is to imagine that there is a murder-mystery and you have to figure out 'whodunnit'. As well as the suspect/s and the previous history of those involved, these are the things you would want to analyze for clues: objects, places, relationships, surroundings, procedures, cultural effects, evidence, events. We look at the factors affecting everyone in the situation and the factors affecting each individual. This helps us to summarize opportunities and problems within the environment so that we understand a situation or event fully before judging it.

Situational profiling

Situational Profiling (in context of biopsychology) looks at all the personal factors involved in a situation or event requiring judgment or decision (physical/physiological, behavioral, emotional/intuitive, psychological, cognitive). This helps a lot with empathy and also smooths interaction; the more we know about what helps others feel at ease, the easier it is to maintain low anxiety levels when communicating with them.

Profiling others in this context relies on what a person has told us themselves or what is obvious from immediate observation. It does not give us license to go poking around trying to find out more about others without their knowledge or consent. How much people voluntarily reveal about themselves also gives us a clue about their profile.

We cannot use second-hand information in profiling. For example, if I tell you I'm an agnostic it's fine to include that in my profile, but if your friend or an internet site or the newspaper or my neighbor tells you I'm agnostic, you cannot include the information -because you have no proof of its veracity, and the planet is full of people misunderstanding each other and misinterpreting data and making random shit up about each other all the time.


Decomposition means breaking a situation or problem down into its component parts; the essence of analysis. Decompose a complex problem into simpler problems, get things straight in these simpler problems. Analysts can then manipulate individual elements of the problem to examine the many alternatives available through rearranging, combining, or modifying them. Variables may be given more weight or deleted, causal relationships reconceptualized, or conceptual categories redefined. Such thoughts are more likely to occur when an analyst looks at each element, one by one, and asks questions designed to encourage and facilitate consideration of alternative interpretations.


Externalization means getting the problem or issue out of our heads and into some visible form that we can work with; down on paper, up on a blackboard, in a mind map or on a computer screen; in some simplified form that shows the main variables, parameters, factors or elements of the issue and how they relate to each other.

This can be as simple as listing potential harms and benefits for a selection of choices. When we have thus got them all together in one view, we then endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and see how they balance.

Putting ideas into visible form ensures that we keep them in mind. They will become part of the ambient input inspiring further thoughts. Lists are effective too because they exploit our tendency to increase pattern complexity -we want to keep adding to them. Lists let us get the obvious, automatic and habitual answers that first came to mind out of the way, so that we can add to the list only by thinking of other, new ideas.

Externalization is in effect synthesis. Anything that has parts also has a structure or process that relates these parts to each other. We can use synthesis not just to compose a problem or issue but also to compose a judgment or decision plan.

For example, when choosing tech, we want to maximize our satisfaction on a number of sometimes-conflicting attributes. We want a computer with the lowest possible maintenance requirements, highest performance, most amount of RAM, best quality screen, slickest styling, best battery life, most ergonomic keyboard, and so forth. We can't find a machine with it all, so we must decide what is most important and make tradeoffs. We dither about judging between one choice and another and a third or a fourth, because we cannot easily calculate and view at the same time all the characteristics of all the choices. We think first of the benefits or downsides of one and then the other.

To compose a judgment strategy for this kind of issue, we start by listing the important attributes we personally want to maximize; for example highest performance, large amount of RAM, cool style, best quality screen.

Next, we quantify the relative importance of each attribute by dividing 100 percent among them. In other words, ask yourself what percentage of the decision should be based on performance, on styling, etc. This forces us to ask relevant questions and make decisions we might have glossed over if we had not strategized in this manner. How important is performance versus styling, really? Do you really care what it looks like from the outside, or are you mainly looking for ergonomic ease and speed of use? Should hard drive size, graphics card quality or sturdiness be included in your list of important attributes?

Note we are now 'putting together' all the things it takes to make a good computer and looking at their relative importance. If you are doing this together with friends for a joint venture, this technique will reveal any difference of opinion which may then be looked into.

Next, identify the machines you are considering and judge how each one ranks on each of your chosen attributes. For each attribute, take 10 points and divide it among the machines based on how well they meet the requirements of that attribute. (This serves the same purpose as taking 100 percent and dividing it, but it keeps the numbers lower when you get to the next step.)

You now have the data for the comparative value you assign to each of the principal attributes of a computer and a comparison of how various machines satisfy those desired attributes. You can now calculate which machine best suits your preferences: Multiply the percentage value you assigned to each attribute by the value you assigned to that attribute for each machine. If the percentage values you assigned to each attribute accurately reflect your preferences, and if each machine has been analyzed accurately, the results of synthesis will show you which machine you are likely to gain most satisfaction from overall.


Calculating relative risk

Relative risk is a statistical term used to describe the risk of a certain event happening in one group versus another.

Using an example of 'lung problems in 100 marijuana smokers and 100 cigarette smokers', Here's how to do it:

1 Make a 4x4 table, like this one:



Lung problems


No problems



















Now put in the data: research found that 30 of the cigarette smokers and 10 of the marijuana smokers experienced lung problems.



Lung problems


No problems





A 30

B 70




C 10

D 90








Here is the formula for calculating relative risk:

RR = A/A+B


So in our example 30/100


= 0.3

   0.1         = 3 (The relative risk of acquiring lung problems with cigarettes is 3. )


If the relative risk = 1, then there is no difference in risk between the two groups.

If the relative risk is less than 1, then there is less risk in the cigarette group relative to the marijuana group.

If the relative risk is greater than 1 (as in the example), then there is greater risk in the cigarettes group relative to the marijuana group.

We can use this formula for any subject, from whether our caffeine drinking over a month correlates with an increased risk of headaches, to whether a certain person is likely to keep their word. Obviously this method requires us to first collect the data.


Analysis of competing hypotheses

When working on difficult issues we often find we have to choose among several alternative hypotheses. Which of several possible explanations for an event or series of events is the correct one? Which of several possible outcomes is the most likely one?

Analysis of competing hypotheses (ACH), is a tool to aid judgment on important issues requiring careful weighing of alternative explanations or conclusions. It helps us overcome, or at least minimize, some of the cognitive limitations that make accurate analysis so difficult to achieve in circumstances of opposing evidence.

ACH is an eight-step procedure grounded in basic insights from cognitive psychology, decision analysis, and the scientific method. It is a surprisingly effective, proven process that helps us avoid common analytic pitfalls. Because of its thoroughness, it is particularly appropriate for controversial issues when we want to show others what we considered, what judgments need to be made, and how we arrived at our decision.

ACH requires us to explicitly identify all the reasonable alternatives and judge them against each other, rather than evaluating their plausibility one at a time.

The way most people usually go about making decisions is to pick out what they suspect intuitively is the most likely choice, (i.e., guess), then look at the available information from the point of view of whether or not it supports their choice. If the evidence seems to support their favored hypothesis, they look no further. If it does not, they either reject the evidence as misleading or pick the next favorite hypothesis and go through the same procedure again.

The biggest problem with this approach is that whenever we focus mainly on trying to confirm one hypothesis that we think is probably true, we can easily be led astray by the fact that there is quite a lot of evidence to support that point of view. We fail to recognize that most of this evidence is ALSO consistent with other explanations or conclusions, and that these other alternatives have not yet been considered or refuted.

Simultaneous evaluation of multiple, competing hypotheses is very difficult to do, but can be accomplished with the help of the ACH process. Below is a step-by-step outline of it.

Step 1

Identify the possible hypotheses to be considered. If possible, use a group of people with different perspectives to brainstorm the possibilities.

Psychological research into how people go about generating hypotheses shows that most of us are actually rather poor at thinking of all the possibilities.[130] If a person cannot even generate one hypothesis for consideration, obviously they will not get any useful, appropriate answers.

It's useful to make a clear distinction between the hypothesis generation and hypothesis evaluation stages of analysis. Step 1 of the recommended analytical process is to identify all hypotheses that merit more detailed examination. The initial consideration should be to elicit every possibility, no matter how remote, before judging likelihood or feasibility. Only when all the possibilities are on the table should we focus on judging them and selecting the hypotheses to be examined in greater detail in subsequent analysis.

When screening out the seemingly improbable ideas that we do not want to waste time on, it is necessary to distinguish hypotheses that appear to be disproved from those that are simply unproven (for an unproven hypothesis, there is no evidence that it is correct. For a disproved hypothesis, there is positive evidence that it is wrong).

We should seek evidence that disproves hypotheses. Early rejection of unproven, but not disproved, hypotheses biases the subsequent analysis, because one does not then look for the evidence that might support them. Unproven hypotheses should be kept 'on the table' until they can be disproved.

One example of a hypothesis that often falls into this unproven but not disproved category is the hypothesis that another person is trying to deceive us. We may at first reject the possibility of denial and deception because we see no evidence of it, but rejection is not justified under these circumstances. If deception is planned well and properly implemented, one should not expect to find evidence of it readily at hand. The possibility should not be rejected until it is disproved, or, at least, until after a systematic search for evidence has been made and none has been found. This is the difference between caution based on reasonable doubt and paranoia based on anxiety.

The number of hypotheses to be considered depends upon the nature of the analytical problem and how advanced we are in the analysis of it. As a general rule, the greater our level of uncertainty, or the greater the perceived importance of our conclusion/decision, the more alternatives we may wish to consider.

Step 2

Make a list of significant evidence, and arguments for and against each hypothesis.

In assembling the list of relevant evidence and arguments, we should also list all the factors that may have an impact on our judgments about the hypotheses, including our own assumptions or logical deductions about another person's or group's intent or intentions, goals, or standard behaviors/procedures. These assumptions may generate strong preconceptions as to which hypothesis is most likely. Such assumptions often drive our final judgment, so it is important to scrutinize them alongside the list of "evidence."

First, list the general evidence that applies to ALL the hypotheses. Then consider each hypothesis individually, listing factors that tend to support or contradict each one. You will commonly find that each hypothesis leads you to ask different questions and, therefore, to seek out somewhat different evidence.

For each hypothesis, ask yourself this question: If this hypothesis is true, what should I expect to be seeing or not seeing? What are all the things that must have happened, or may still be happening, and that one should expect to see evidence of?

If you are not seeing this evidence, why not? Is it because it has not happened, it is not normally observable, it is being concealed from you, or because you have not paid attention to it or even looked for it?

Note the absence of evidence as well as its presence. One's attention tends to focus on what is reported rather than what is not reported. It requires a conscious effort to think about what is missing but should be present if a given hypothesis were true.

Understand the difference between circumstantial and direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact—like something of yours being found at the scene of a crime. It could be there because you committed the crime but it could also be there for any number of other reasons. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly—i.e., without need for any additional evidence or inference.

On its own, circumstantial evidence allows for more than one explanation. Different pieces of circumstantial evidence taken together may more strongly support one particular inference over another.

Step 3

Prepare a table with hypotheses across the top and evidence down the side.

This is the step people are most likely to overlook, find difficult to grasp, or misunderstand.

Take the hypotheses from Step 1 and the evidence and arguments from Step 2, and put this information into a table format, with the hypotheses across the top and the evidence and arguments down the side. This gives an overview of all the significant components of your analytical problem.

For example, if the initial problem is 'Is Alice ignoring Bob?':



Evidence below

H1 Alice has gone deaf

H2 Alice is upset

with Bob

H3 Bob is being paranoid and imagining things

H4 Alice is preoccupied or concerned or grieving

H5 Alice is drunk or stoned

E1 Alice doesn't answer when Bob talks to her






E2 Alice looks very serious






E3 Alice is often quiet






E4 Bob has a history of being slightly paranoid at times






E5 Alice smokes a lot of weed







Now analyze how each piece of evidence relates to every hypothesis. We take one item of evidence at a time, then consider how consistent that evidence is with each of the hypotheses.

To fill in the table, take the first item of evidence and ask whether it is consistent with, inconsistent with, or irrelevant to each hypothesis in turn. Then make a notation accordingly in the appropriate cell under each hypothesis in the table. The easiest form of notation is: plus signs mean supports, minus signs mean disproves, question marks mean 'don't know yet'.

After doing this for the first item of evidence, then go on to the next item of evidence and repeat the process until all cells in the table are filled.

The tabular format helps us weigh the diagnosticity of each item of evidence, which is a key difference between analysis of competing hypotheses and traditional analysis. Diagnosticity of evidence is an important concept that is, unfortunately, unfamiliar to many analysts.

Diagnosticity is usually illustrated by a medical analogy: A high-temperature reading may have great value in telling us that a person is sick, but relatively little diagnostic value in determining which illness a person is suffering from. Because a high temperature is consistent with so many possible hypotheses about a persons illness, this evidence has limited diagnostic value in determining which illness (hypothesis) is the more likely one.

Evidence is diagnostic when it influences our judgment on the relative likelihood of the various hypotheses identified. If an item of evidence seems consistent with all the hypotheses, it may still have no diagnostic value. A common experience is to discover that most of the evidence supporting what we believe is the most likely hypothesis really is not very helpful, because that same evidence is also consistent with other hypotheses. When we do identify items that are highly diagnostic, these should drive our judgment. These are also the items for which we should re-check accuracy and consider alternative interpretations.

In the example above, note that evidence designated "E1" will be assessed as consistent with ALL of the hypotheses. In other words, it has no diagnostic value.

In some cases it may be useful to refine this procedure by using a numerical probability, rather than a general notation such as plus or minus, to describe how the evidence relates to each hypothesis. To do this, ask the following question for each cell in the table: If this hypothesis is true, what is the probability that I would be seeing this item of evidence? We may also consider adding a scale to the notation to show the ease with which items of evidence could be concealed, manipulated, or faked, or the extent to which any party might have an incentive to do so. This may be appropriate when the possibility of denial and deception is a serious issue.

Step 4

Fine tune the table. Reconsider the hypotheses and delete any evidence and arguments that have no diagnostic value.

The exact wording of hypotheses is obviously critical to the conclusions one can draw from the analysis. By this point, we will be seeing how the evidence works out under each hypothesis, and it will often be appropriate to reconsider and reword the hypotheses themselves. Are there hypotheses that need to be added, or finer distinctions in semantics that need to be made in order to consider all the significant alternatives? If there is little or no evidence that helps distinguish between two hypotheses, should they be combined into one?

Also reconsider the evidence. Which hypotheses are most likely and least likely influenced by personal factors that are not included in the evidence? Write that in. Delete from the table any items of evidence or assumptions that now seem unimportant or have no diagnostic value. Save these items in a separate list as a record of information that was considered.

Step 5

Draw tentative conclusions about the relative likelihood of each hypothesis. Proceed by trying to disprove hypotheses rather than prove them.

Work down the table, looking at each hypothesis in turn for every piece of evidence. This gives us an overview of all the evidence for and against all the hypotheses, so that we can examine all the hypotheses together and have them compete against each other for probability of accuracy.

In evaluating the relative probability of alternative hypotheses, we start by looking for evidence or logical deductions that enable us to reject hypotheses, or at least to determine that they are unlikely. A fundamental precept of the scientific method is to proceed by rejecting or eliminating hypotheses, while tentatively accepting only those hypotheses that cannot be refuted.

No matter how much information is consistent with a given hypothesis, one cannot assume that hypothesis is true, because the same information may also be consistent with one or more other hypotheses. On the other hand, a single item of evidence that is inconsistent with a hypothesis may be sufficient grounds for rejecting that hypothesis.

In examining the table, look at the minuses, the notation you used to indicate evidence that may disprove an hypothesis. The hypotheses with the fewest minuses is probably the most likely one, and the hypothesis with the most minuses is probably the least likely one.

The fact that a hypothesis is inconsistent with the evidence is certainly a sound basis for rejecting it. The pluses, indicating evidence that is consistent with or supports an hypothesis, are far less significant. It does not follow that the hypothesis with the most pluses is the most likely one, because a long list of evidence that is consistent with almost any reasonable hypothesis can be easily made. What is difficult to find, and is most significant when found, is hard evidence that is clearly inconsistent with a reasonable hypothesis.

This initial ranking by number of minuses is only a rough ranking, however, as some evidence obviously is more important than other evidence, and degrees of inconsistency or emotional weighting cannot be captured by a single notation such as a plus or minus. By reconsidering the exact nature of the relationship between the evidence and the hypotheses, we will be able to judge how much weight to give it.

Analysts who follow this procedure often realize that their judgments are actually based on very few factors rather than on the large mass of information they assumed was influencing their views.

Of course, this method will not dictate the conclusion or deliver the answers to you. Rather, it should accurately reflect your own judgment of what is important and how these important factors relate to the probability of each hypothesis. You, not the table, must make the decision. The method serves only as an aid to thinking and analysis, to ensure consideration of all the possible interrelationships between evidence and hypotheses and identification of those few factors that really might swing our judgment on a given issue.

For example, if the table shows that a given hypothesis is probable or unlikely, but we disagree, it is usually because we omitted from the data one or more factors that have an important influence on our thinking. We can go back and put them in, so that the analysis reflects our best judgment. When we are done, the table serves as a shorthand record of our thinking and as a rational trail showing how we arrived at our conclusion.

This procedure encourages us to spend more analytical time than we otherwise would on what we had thought were the less likely hypotheses. This is desirable. The seemingly less likely hypotheses usually involve covering new ground and, therefore, require more exploration. What we started out thinking was the most likely hypothesis may have been based on a continuation of our own past thinking habits, or outdated information. A principal advantage of this method is that it assists us to give a fairer trial to all the alternatives.

Step 6

Analyze how sensitive your conclusion is to a few critical items of evidence. Consider the consequences for your analysis if that evidence were wrong, misleading, or subject to a different interpretation.

Go back and question the few linchpin assumptions or items of evidence that really drive the outcome of your analysis in one direction or the other. Are there questionable assumptions that underlie your understanding and interpretation? Are there alternative explanations or interpretations? Could the evidence be incomplete and, therefore, misleading? Is the information current or old? What might have changed since then? Can you find out?

If there is any concern at all about manipulation or deception, this is an appropriate place to consider that possibility. Look at the sources of your key evidence. Are any of the sources known to be less than authentic? What conflicts of interests might affect the evidence? Could the information have been manipulated? Put yourself (objectively) in the shoes of a scammer trying to rip everyone off; a billionaire who can offer massive bribes to anyone willing to lie; a journalist trying to cause strife, anxiety or scandal to increase readership; a desperately anxious person trying to manipulate; an 'eyes-shut' authoritarian conditioner who thinks it's for your own good -what motives, opportunities, means and benefits of deception might appeal to them?

When analysis turns out to be wrong, it is often because of key assumptions that went unchallenged and proved invalid. It is true that we should identify and question assumptions, but this is much easier said than done. The problem is to determine which assumptions merit questioning. Another advantage of the ACH procedure is that it tells us what needs to be rechecked.

We may decide that additional research is needed to check key judgments. For example, it may be appropriate to go back to check original source materials rather than relying on someone else's interpretation. It is desirable to identify critical assumptions that went into our interpretation and to note that our conclusion is dependent upon the validity of these assumptions.

Step 7

Note down conclusions. Consider the relative likelihood of all the hypotheses.

If your analysis is to be used as the basis for decision making, it will be helpful for you to know the relative likelihood of all the alternative possibilities. Analytical judgments are never certain. There is always a possibility of their being wrong. We need to make decisions on the basis of a full set of alternative possibilities, not just the single most likely alternative. Also, contingency or fallback 'plan Bs' may be needed in case one of the less likely alternatives turns out to be true.

When we recognize the importance of proceeding by eliminating rather than confirming hypotheses, it becomes apparent that any written argument for a certain judgment is incomplete unless it also discusses alternative judgments that were considered and why they were rejected. In mainstream media, hearsay, rumor or gossip, this is seldom done.

Step 8

Identify milestones for future observation that may indicate events are taking a different course than expected.

Analytical conclusions should always be regarded as tentative. Reality is dynamic; it goes on changing like a movie, while analyses are based on 'still snapshots' of static moments in time during which x or y was going on. The situation may change, or it may remain unchanged but we receive new information that alters our appraisal. It is always helpful to specify in advance things we should look for or be alert to, that, if observed, would suggest a significant change in the probabilities.

Whenever we judge "there is no evidence that ...," we should ask this question: If this hypothesis is true, can I realistically expect to see evidence of it? The ACH procedure leads us to identify and face these kinds of questions.

With practice it is possible to integrate the basic concepts of analysis of competing hypotheses into our normal analytical thought process. In that case, the entire eight-step procedure may be unnecessary, except on highly controversial issues.

There is no guarantee that ACH or any other procedure will produce a correct answer. The result still depends on our own judgment and decision making abilities. Analysis of competing hypotheses does, however, guarantee an appropriate process of analysis which makes sense and leads us through a rational, systematic process that avoids some common analytical pitfalls. It certainly increases the odds of getting the right answer, and it leaves a trail showing the evidence used in our analysis and how this evidence was interpreted. If others disagree with our judgment, the table can be used to highlight the precise area of disagreement. Subsequent discussion can then focus productively on the ultimate source of the differences.

The ACH procedure has the offsetting advantage of focusing attention on the few items of critical evidence that cause the uncertainty or which, if they were available, would alleviate it. This can guide future discussion, research, and analysis to resolve the uncertainty and produce a more accurate judgment.

 Assignment – judging claims

1 Choose one of the claims below and decide if there is any evidence to support it:

A The quality of microbes living in our guts is a major factor affecting both gene expression and cognitive ability.

B Western furniture design is responsible for postural problems, poor circulation, varicose veins, and many cases of DVT.

C Human sensory orientation and spatial abilities are slow to develop in the West because children are pushed about in prams and are travelling backwards.

What sort of evidence did you look for? How much did you find? How long did it take?


2 Whichever claim you chose, now try to find some evidence to refute it.

What sort of evidence did you look for? How much did you find? How long did it take?

Did you find out enough to convince you that the claim was likely to be true or false?

self assessment 1 – exercise your judgment

It's useful to get some experience of the ways in which we make judgments about information we are presented with. Answer the multiple-choice questions A - C below:


In four pages of a novel how many seven-letter words would you expect to find with the form ----ing?

0, 1–2, 3–4, 5–7, 8–10, 11–15, or 16+

In four pages of a novel how many words would you expect to find with the form -----n-?

0, 1–2, 3–4, 5–7, 8–10, 11–15, or 16+


Which of the following causes more deaths in Western europe each year?

1 stomach cancer

2 motor vehicle accidents


A rare disease has swept through a town and has affected 600 inhabitants. Two different experts have suggested two possible programmes; A and B, for tackling the disease. Which one would you choose from their first report?

First report

Programme A will save 200 lives (out of 600)

Programme B has a one-third probability of saving 600 lives and a two-thirds probability of saving no one.

Write down your choice, then decide which one you would choose from their second report?


Second report

Programme A will result in 400 deaths (out of 600).

Programme B has a one-third probability of no one dying and a two-thirds probability of 600 deaths.

Write down your answer.


Answers at end of tutorial.


Self Assessment 2: Think of a major decision you have made; the more recent the better. For each of the following statements about your decision-making process make a note of the number which shows your level of agreement with the statement, with scoring as in the key below:


1 = Strongly disagree

2 = disagree

3 = not sure

4 = agree

5 = strongly agree



A I gathered all relevant information.

B I carried out a detailed analysis of all the dangers, losses, opportunity losses and benefits of each option and likely outcome before deciding.

C I made the decision on the basis of detailed analysis and objective criteria.

D Consideration or discussion of the decision took into account the accuracy and quality of the information and sources on which it was based.

E Personal needs and experience were important to the making of this decision.

F Elements of the decision-making process were based on ‘hunches’ or intuition.

G Consideration or discussion and analysis included empathy with others' positions or perspectives.

H The decision process was quite emotional but I did my best to stay calm.

I It was important that the final decision was a good fit with how others normally do things in life.

J I needed to be seen to be doing the right thing.

K I needed to be sure that influential individuals or groups in my life were not going to blame me for the outcome.

L I was concerned with the effect of the decision on my reputation.


See notes at end of tutorial.


Towards Entelechy

If you find yourself in a position where you've had a series of crappy relationships in the past, but learned wisely from those mistakes and withdrawn from all the manipulators, deceivers, bullies and unjustified dependents, you may come to that situation where, for a moment, you realize you have very few real friends or are actually alone.

This is an illusion. You have succeeded in climbing out of a shitty toilet by your own merit and efforts. Don't look back at all the crap -look around at the real world; at the culture that has always been there, waiting for you. Every intelligent dude out there is another friend you haven't met yet. Some of us are right here waiting for ya. Shake off that crap and come on down. You'll get by with a little help from your friends.



“A small trouble is like a pebble.

Hold it too close to your eye and it fills the whole world and puts everything out of focus.

Hold it at a proper distance and it can be examined and properly classified.

Throw it at your feet and it can be seen in its true setting,

just one more tiny bump on the pathway of life.”

- Celia Luce


"Life is the sum of all your choices."

- Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)


"Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life.

That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life,

and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil."

- Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965)


“The truth won’t set anybody free if they can’t see it.”



The most important bits to remember

judgment and decision making skills CAN be and ARE improved by experience, and should improve with age in all of us

Bust concepts out of a frame by looking for humor, counter-examples as a matter of course, incongruities or stuff that just won’t fit

Move towards things that increase your own sense of self-reliance, move away from what decreases it, for example debt or habits of insecurity.

Acknowledge your own likely biases, and consistently and responsibly manage them.

Going with your gut and not facing the facts is bound to lead to trouble, so be prepared to let logic balance your intuition, making it more than mere speculation and guesswork.

Seek accurate information. Truth hunting means going to where the facts are that you need to make a decision.

Take responsibility. When you are making a decision, are you willing to take responsibility for the consequences of your decision, or is anxiety about criticism influencing the way you decide?

Carrying pre-conceived notions about the speaker or the content of a speech into a conversation limits effective listening.

Hiding manipulation behind terms of benefit is a classic tactic you'll recognize from the keywords: “It's for your own good”, “I'm only trying to help you”, or “You'll thank me later”. Rest assured that no; it isn't, no; you aren't and no, you won't.

Whenever strategic assumptions and tactical indicators contradict each other, an immediate potential misunderstanding should be perceived and appropriate precautionary measures taken.

Analysis of competing hypotheses (ACH), is a tool to aid judgment on important issues requiring careful weighing of alternative explanations or conclusions.

When we began this tutorial we said that by the end you should know:

What natural morality is and how it affects our judgment

The difference between biological morality and counterfeit morality

Which main factors affect our judgment and decisions

What gets in the way of clear and accurate judgment

More about your own decision-making processes and those of others

How to develop decisiveness and make more successful and effective choices in our lives


...Do you? If not, review this and the two previous tutorials until you have a congruous understanding of judgment and decision making.

Hacks & Exercises


hack to prevent repetitive mistakes

This is a cognitive behavioral style hack.

Imagine your brain as analagous to a computer system which keeps on making some error that repeatedly results in the same problematic consequences. You know the judgment/decision process is going wrong somewhere, but you don't yet know where. By analogizing, we can view the system objectively as what is under scrutiny here; not ourselves.

If a system repeats a mistake, it has for some reason 'trusted' false information (either as input data or from its own software) twice. Where is that false information coming from, and what is the correct information it should be replaced with?

Go through this checklist of possible problem areas:

1 Is this a hardware problem or a software problem? -Is the system getting what it needs to perform properly (such as adequate power, accurate information, correct procedures)? Maybe we don't know, but in the human case if we suspect the system may be affected by lack of its needs being met, we can check the physical basics so we can eliminate some possibilities. Human systems need: Play, Exercise, Nutrition, Input and Sleep (which has the unfortunate acronym of 'PENIS', which we are unlikely to forget).

2 Is any wrong input or incidental input biasing or distracting the system? In the human case this could be anxiety, emotional instability, cognitive dissonance, alcohol, drugs, illness or conditioning. Again maybe we don't know, but we can practice anxiety reduction, emotional awareness and reasoning, to help eliminate a few more possibilities.

3 Is there an error in input? In a human, output for new decisions requires drawing conclusions from input evidence. If the initial evidence is false (or if there is no evidence) obviously the output (the decision) will be wrong. WE are the judges of input, and must depend on how genuine we can prove it to be.

Even if we are adept at judging input, input from people prone to anxiety or cognitive dissonance who say things they don't mean is still a danger here, since if we don't know them we might take them seriously (misplaced trust), and if we do know them we still have no sure way of knowing which bits they DO mean to be taken seriously (high level of uncertainty), so after a time (or a few times, anyway), everything they say is unconsciously labeled 'possibly not true; don't rely on this'. Discard any input from anxiety-driven or anxiety-vulnerable sources and also any for which there is high uncertainty.

4 Is there an error in procedures? In human terms, are we under- or over-analyzing the situation? Are we over-weighting intuition or rationality? Are we pre-judging a situation, person or thing without really knowing enough facts about them?

5 is external interference taking place; such as hacking? In human terms, this means are we doing things of our own free will or obeying the wishes/commands of others? Are we being coerced or deceived into situations or behaviors which later turn out to be harmful or wrong?

If we feel forced to base our judgment and decisions on the wishes of someone else (or the rules of a counterfeit game) they are unlikely to bring success for our real selves.

6 Is the error in the operating systems ontology? In human terms, are we basing decisions on a false underlying belief or assumption (such as, 'it's different this time', or, 'it won't happen again', or, 'this is sinful')? Are we framing a situation as 'inevitable' when in fact it isn't?

hypnosis hack - Using priming manipulations to overcome judgmental or decisive bias

If you know yourself, you can override current automatic framing habits or decision biases by construct a priming manipulation, which adjusts the weighting so that unconscious and conscious influence in decision making is balanced.

Words can prime neurotransmission response (if anyone doubts this, try reading some pornography aloud. Dopamine receptors firing away nicely, hmm?)

The useful application with regard to decision making is this: if we are primed with terms that tend to increase norepinephrine and/or serotonin, we will more easily take a more practical, objective view/decision, and if we are primed with terms that tend to increase dopamine and/or acetylcholine, we will more easily take a more humanistic, subjective decision.

So for example if you know that you have difficulty making personal relationship-related or emotional decisions, it would be helpful to prime yourself for a more objective view, thus canceling out any bias. If on the other hand you have difficulty with administrative strategies, time management or organizational plans, priming yourself for a more humanistic approach could benefit you. If you practice this regularly the bias will fade due to plasticity as the brain gets used to including the new (primed) pathway; thus accelerating healthy development.

How to do it:

Write a simple script in which you enter a place at ground level and are given a choice of whether to go upstairs or downstairs. If you need to be more objective, go upstairs and emerge onto a balcony/tower/aeroplane/spaceship or anywhere light and airy with a long range, panoramic view of the surrounding area. If you need to be more subjective, go downstairs and emerge into a cavern/subterranean room/deep forest glade/the shores of an underground river or anywhere dark, warm and comfortable. In either case, rest there for a while and consider your problem or issue.

If you are upstairs, you wished to be more objective, so prime your script with behavioral words & phrases relating to networks 1 and 5 (for examples; ascending, self, climbing, attention, autonomy, resources, energy, material, intellectual, ergonomic, analysis, reasoning, consequences, generosity, feedback, benevolence, innovation, facts.)

If you are downstairs, you wished to be more subjective, so prime your script with behavioral terms relating to networks 2 and 4 (for examples; descending, stepping down, exploring, nurturing, synthesizing, kindness, desire, understanding, exploring, focus, tenacity, culture, gentleness, cooperation, creativity, being in the right place at the right time, synthesis.)

In both cases, if you want to interact with other beings in your script, use any archetype appropriate to those networks, and use some of the networks' keywords to describe them or their behavior. Examples:


'You meet the faithful servant, who looks at you with kindness'.

'You meet the king, who is busy analyzing his resources but is happy to help out'.


'You meet the young seeker, exploring the territory. S/he has a gentle smile'.

'You meet the old wizard, who kindly gives you a gentle hug.'

If you use archtypes in your script, end the story with you sitting alone somewhere nice to consider things, then when you feel you are ready you can go back up/down stairs and return to normal consciousness.


DO NOT deliberately attempt to prime yourself for oxytocin or endorphins at this stage; as without advanced control of frontal networks this can lead to incongruity and some wildly inaccurate decisions. The same hazards occur if taking decisions when drunk, or on MDMA, or morphine derivatives.

DO NOT write 'go to sleep' or 'sleep on it' into an hypnotic script at this stage, as messing with levels of awareness during self suggestion without sufficient control can kick off automatic memory consolidation, and consequently include unintended dream imagery as input content. This may not sound so bad, but it can cause inapproproately-associated concept formation or 'self inception' (accidentally priming yourself to believe something happened in real life which didn't, via misinterpreting input sources during access of unconscious associations). This in turn can cause biased judgment & decisions, choices or behavior that you would not ordinarily make or do, miscalculated as 'appropriate' from inaccurately weighted input).

We'll take a closer look at control via frontal networks in the next tutorial.

Short term temperature hack for important judgments & decisions

You probably know that lack of sleep, poor nutrition, alcohol and drugs can affect our ability to make decisions. What you may not know is that temperature can too.

Homeostasis tries to maintain a working temperature for mammals of around 36-37c (97-98f), and we have quite a small range of tolerance. Variation in temperatures is a normal occurrence and we may not think about the implications it has on our cognitive faculties.

Our own individual tolerance range calibrates to the context where we normally live, and in sudden transitions to a colder or hotter context it takes us a couple of days to adapt. During that time, judgment and decision making abilities may be enhanced or impaired.

Our optimal function zone ambient temperature is around 22.2c (72f), and raising the ambient temperature just 5 degrees to 25c (77f) will make us measurably worse at spotting errors. Shifting the ambient temperature 5 degrees lower to 19.4c (67f), however, enables us to detect twice as many.

It's all about glucose metabolism. Hot contexts require the body to burn more glucose (use more energy) than cold contexts. The more glucose is used to regulate body temperature, the less glucose is available to be used for higher order cognitive functions like making decisions.[131]

This is a short term hack because the body adapts after a few days and the hack then has no effect, but if you have an important judgment or decision to make, drop the ambient temperature in your room by 5 degrees.

Because lowering temperature is temporarily good for cognition, that doesn't mean more is better. Ambient temperature of below 19c (66.2f) for long periods begins to compromise our immune system. Nor does this mean those living in cooler climates make better decisions; remember adaptation will cancel out the effect quite quickly so save the hack for important decisions.

Also remember, if our context is temporarily too hot, our decision making abilities are likely to be impaired until we adapt, so don't make important decisions during a heatwave or shortly after arriving somewhere hotter than you're used to.

Decision-assisting hacks

1 You will need: an images website or selection of varied magazine/book pictures.

Find six pictures; two that remind you of pleasant events or places in your past, two that make you think of possible pleasant events in the future, and two that remind you about nice stuff going on in your current life. Save them in your Captains Log.

Focusing on the relevant time-related images when making decisions related to past, present or future helps the decision making process. Prompting ourselves with images related to the future, for example, causes unconscious processing that makes it easier to think more realistically about the future. This is a handy hack for those who feel they need to be less impulsive and make healthier long-term decisions.[132]

2 For those who wish to increase their ability to delay gratification (for example, you get one cookie now or a whole box next week). If you have difficulty delaying gratification, tend to 'grab the single cookie' and find yourself losing out, have a fruit/honey snack during the decision making process.

Our blood glucose level not only regulates eating behavior but also decision-making. In other words, can you wait longer to get a bigger reward when your blood glucose levels are higher? Research finds that, yes, you can![133]

This doesn't work with all sugars or sweeteners; in fact those who tried a diet coke during the decision making process were MORE prone to impulsivity; going for small immediate returns instead of more profitable delayed rewards.[134]


Socratic Questioning mnemonic for analysis of info and improving comprehension

PQRST. It stands for:

Preview (look at ALL the available information. What is it generally about?)

Question (Which questions are you hoping to answer by reading or listening to this information?)

Read (read through it or listen and take notes)

Summarize (What is the summary of the information?)

Test (Have you answered all your questions?)

Try PQRST on any documentary, TV programme, newspaper article, friend's report of an event, etc.

This is called 'Socratic Questioning', or sometimes 'Directed Self Discovery' as it involves asking questions about what you are trying to achieve. Socratic questions tend to be ones like, 'What do I already know about this?' and 'What might I learn from this?' In other words, you are trying to access any concepts or constructs that you have for a particular set of information so that you can be consciously aware of how you are congruously adding to it.


Self Programming hack

Directed Association is a powerful tool when used in self programming for direct synaptic modification. Synaptic modification is the process by which the nervous system strengthens certain neural pathways and weakens others, resulting in altered electrochemical and electromechanical patterns of activation. Association Nodes (ANs; sometimes known as 'anchors') may be deliberately engineered to take advantage of synaptic plasticity. This can be useful when changing harmful habits into beneficial ones.

How it works: A pattern of electrochemical and electromechanical activation encodes the simultaneous (parallel) activity of all five senses as if it were one piece of information (due to the formation of connecting trajectories). At the same time, the brain is propagating information from the internal environment, encoding the body’s entire physiological response to the outside event in the same activation pattern. Anything that reactivates this unique pattern of activation (reliably replicates the pattern) also activates the physiological response directed by the brain that was encoded with that pattern.[135] The resulting pattern of activation is called an 'attractor'. The more effective the synapses become through modification, the deeper and more stable the attractor. Each sensory systems encoding of this simultaneous event is connected by trajectories to form a 'node of attraction'. That's a programming node.

Any of the attractors connected to the node may be capable of causing the entire pattern to be replicated, since each of them can act as the initial conditions necessary to specify the phase path of the state vector. This is how memories call up other related memories.

You will need: something tasty that you like to eat, something you think smells nice (these are your association 'triggers'), plus your chosen method of reaching the 'desired state'. The 'desired state' is the state of mind you wish to be able to access on demand or repeat; so for example you could choose a self programming goal of 'rapid relaxation', or 'rapid focus', or even such things as 'higher immunity' if you time it right.

How to set up a programming node:

First you need some method to get yourself into the state of mind that is your 'desired state.' If you use drugs or tech to achieve this in the first instance, bear in mind you may not need them to do so again after you have successfully installed a programming node. Alternatively you can have your stuff prepared (for example, a bar of chocolate and a bottle of perfume) and take advantage of the moment whenever you coincidentally find yourself in a beneficial state of mind that you'd like to program to repeat.

You will need different association triggers for each mental state; do not use the same ones!

When you are in the chosen state, eat the pleasant food and sniff the pleasant smell while you enjoy the feeling.

In future, exposure to those specific paired inputs will modulate your neurochemistry to move you closer to the 'desired state'. Sometimes it takes two or three sessions to program in the associations, but rarely does it take more. Unusual or new pleasant stimuli have the strongest effect.

Magnetic, audio or visual stimuli may also be used with association triggers to achieve a given state. A good example is a person who is suffering with the adverse effects of blood pressure medication and is interested in learning to influence their blood pressure on their own.[136] To accomplish this, they need two tools: an indicator to test blood pressure and an association trigger to influence their state. Since the brainwave states of Alpha, Theta, and Delta are strongly associated with lower blood pressure, they can use any tool that acts as a control parameter to lead the neurocognitive system through these states. There are many auditory-or visual-based tools that can be used for this purpose, including mind machines that provide brainwave frequency outputs of Alpha etc., which our brains will happily model; and a corresponding decrease in blood pressure will follow in many cases almost immediately.

If olfactory and gustatory triggers are input at the same time, these will interact to produce an association node. In future, exposure to the association triggers alone should prime them to move into Alpha and reduce blood pressure without needing the tech or the blood pressure drugs.

We'll be looking more closely at self-directed change induction in future tutorials.




feedback exercises

Draft a list of the judgments and decisions you’ve made over the past 30 days. Reconsider each one, focusing on how bias could have contributed – and what you can do to ensure it didn’t.

Consider past judgments or decisions that led to a less-than-beneficial results. Are you sure the results had no benefits? What have you learned because of the resulting experiences (apart from not to do it again)?


Exercises to improve mindfulness

One of the worst habits of conditioning is that we simply don't pay attention any more. We're always trying to get things done quickly, and because of that, we lose the childlike wonder of focusing in on the smaller details and asking "why is that there?" So, like any habit, increasing your powers of awareness means first identifying the bad habit (prioritizing quantity instead of quality; getting things done fast and missing the smaller details), and cultivating new habits (slowing down and paying attention). The first step is to just stop and pay attention every once and awhile, but here are a few things you can do to train your brain along the way:

1 Give yourelf monthly, weekly or daily challenges that enable you to slow down

One of the classic tricks for forming a new habit is to gradually get used to it regularly but in an unobtrusive manner. Since we're looking at mindfulness (awareness) as a habit, let's start by observing one new thing every day. You can do anything you want here, provided it causes you to slow down and observe the real world from another perspective. Some suggestions are:

Take one photograph each day of a detail in nature and think/learn about it.

Try something you have never eaten before once a week and give it points on a 'tasty' scale of 1-10.

Note the different (or similar) colors of clothes people wear each day for a week.

Look at a piece of artwork you've never seen before once a day. Do you like it? Why?

Listen to a piece of music you've never heard before once a week. Do you like it? Why?

Note the changes in a natural area once a month -make notes or take a photo if you like. What changes took place when?

View pictures of the natural world every day. Research shows that those who view at natural scenes (even for less than a minute) make significantly fewer errors and demonstrate superior concentration.[137]


...The idea is to gradually teach ourselves to notice small details in our environment and daily life. As we do so, we'll become more attuned to reality and more likely to notice what's changing and at what pace.

2 Take field notes to focus attention

If you're really struggling to pay attention and personal challenges aren't working, science can teach us another trick: start taking field notes throughout the day, like a detective or anthropologist.

Many of us need to retrain our attention, learning to focus on relevant features and disregard those that are less salient. One of the best ways to do this is through the ergonomic process of taking field notes: writing descriptions and drawing pictures of what we see.

When we get ourselves in the mindset of taking field notes, we start paying more attention to the details. We can do this anywhere, including online with videos; dedicate 10 minutes to observing a different person's (or animals') behavior. Pay attention to how often they repeat small behaviors, when their eyes stray from one thing to another, or if they're constantly changing behaviors. The more you do this on paper, the better you'll get at being aware of it on the fly.

3 Briefly meditate or initiate the relaxation response daily

Meditation or relaxation can help increase our focus. A few minutes a day is all we really need. Mindfulness training teaches us to pay attention to ourselves and what's going through our head more accurately. It's not about going on a meditation retreat, but just taking a couple of minutes to focus. When we can focus on ourselves, we become a better observer of the real world as well.

Some people (often frontloaders) find it difficult to meditate, which rather baffles them because it sounds so easy: just relax, close your eyes, and think of nothing; blank your mind, as though you were listening hard...

...If this is more like your experience, then it's a good idea to:

1 delay starting meditation until you've done some other anxiety-reducing activities, preferably physical ones such as martial arts, massage, dancing or yoga.

2 remember once you do start meditation that things will change after a certain 'critical mass' of practice, and all you need to do is put in the practice; you don't have to 'get it right', you just need to keep up the habit of practice. Some have found it helpful to recite a long poem by memory during first attempts to calm the mind. This does mean going to the effort of learning the poem but it keeps the mind focused in a manner that has enough points of similarity to meditation that it eases our way. Another similar method is to try to concentrate on a favorite piece of music and really listen attentively to the whole piece while lying quietly relaxing. Don't worry if you fall asleep doing this the first few times; that's your body catching up on lost defragging time; as you progress, meditation will replace lost sleep and you'll notice a rapid improvement in memory when this happens.

4 Remember critical thinking

Once we start paying close attention to the real world, we can start turning those observations into theories or ideas. Deduction is about thinking through a situation logically and applying critical thinking to what we're seeing. Essentially, critical thinking is analyzing what we observe closely, and deduction is coming up with a conclusion based on those facts.

The first step is to recapture our childlike awe of the world and start asking as many questions as possible. It's important to make a habit of thinking critically about things. So, when we store new information or learn anything new, we don't just automatically let it into our brain; we learn to critically analyze input. We ask ourselves, "Why is this important?" "How does this connect with things I already know?" or "Why do I want to remember it?" When we're doing that we're training our brain to make connections between things and we're building a more comprehensive network of knowledge.

When we're asking a lot of questions, we're thinking critically, and that improves our skills at deduction in general. Writing down our ideas and conclusions about stuff we are reading, and the questions we have during and after reading, will consolidate those ideas in our memories. Traditionally, mind maps are used as brainstorming tools, but they're a great way to take notes as well.

5 Form associations between what you see and what you know

Of course, all the increased awareness and critical thinking isn't going to do us any good unless we can start making associations between the knowledge we already have and new input we encounter. New information should connect and cohere with previous knowledge like a mind map. The more associations we make, and the more often we think critically, the better we're going to get at making deductions.

If it's difficult to 'bridge the gap' between existing knowledge and new information, there is incongruity somewhere. Seek it out!

exercise to improve declarative memory

Testing yourself on something that you like and know well (for example, your knowledge of star trek, or movies, or your favorite subject) will temporarily improve declarative memory for everything else in the few hours after the test. This means you can have fun answering a quiz on whatever you're into while knowing that you are giving your declarative memory a boost.[138]

Useful just before considering decisions or for learning something new you are not so good at; this exercise gives you an advantage right before you start.

It even works if you do a test about totally banal stuff; so go ahead -

DO IT NOW -without looking to check, answer the following questions:

1 what color is the floor in your bathroom?

2 how many black shirts do you have?

3 state the number of things currently in your fridge

4 what date is your best friends birthday?

5 how many odd socks do you currently have?

6 how many hard copy books are in your living room?

7 what color underpants are you currently wearing?

8 what is the nearest town to your current home?

9 where is your electricity supply emergency cutoff switch?

10 where can you turn off the water supply to your house?


You can now check the answers for yourself and see how many you got right. (The last two may also assist you in future crises).

The important part: For the next few hours your declarative memory is primed to remember whatever you choose to put in it.


Exercise to undersand how congruous association worksin general, and how in paeticular you personally make associations

Take a word, thing or process at random. The thing or process should be represented in a single word, symbol or even photograph. Write, draw or stick this in the centre of a large sheet of paper or your screen. Then using the word or picture as a focus, make a mind map, placing around it as many associations as you can jot down in 5 minutes. This in itself may be revealing.

If you can do this with others, it's very interesting to see someone else's associations and thoughts around a subject as a reference point from which to judge your own.

Next, do a more detailed version in which you allow associations of associations. If you have enough room you will see how association ‘chains’ can branch out to follow different sequences of thought. What constructs do you see behind the associations? What poles do they have?What are the continua behind the constructs? What ontological assumptions inform the choice of each continuum?

This process can obviously be useful when entering upon a new subject of study, but you may not have thought of doing it with random subjects before. The extensive associations on the more complex version will give you a clear sense of what concepts and constructs influence consideration of the subject in your mind.


Exercise for networks 4 & 5 – hand binary calculation

First we assign values to the fingers of our right hand, like so:

The thumb counts as 1, the index finger 2, the middle finger 4, the ‘ring’ finger 8, and the little finger 16.

Each finger can be down [representing a 0] or up, [representing a 1]. Start with all the fingers in the down position. Thus, each position has a 0, and this represents the number zero [00000 = 0]. You can now represent any 5-bit number with one hand. For instance, to represent 10011 [which is 19 in decimal] , your fingers would be Up/Down/Down/Up/Up.

Now let’s play with it – to add one, look for the smallest [value] finger that is down. Raise it, and lower all fingers in even smaller positions.

With one hand, we can represent numbers up to 11111 [31] to get up to 1000, use the other hand: The thumb on the left hand represents the ‘32’ position, the index finger 64, the middle finger 128, the ‘ring’ finger 256, and the little finger 512. With this, we can get up to number 1111111111 [1023].

For example: 1000 is represented as 1111101000 [because 512+256+128+64+32+8=1000].


Making a game out of translating numbers that you think of into binary notation using your fingers like this may seem a bit pointless, if you’ll pardon the pun. Here’s the point: the networks you have to use in order to do this are getting great exercise. You’ll become more adept at all kinds of other calculation skills without having to practice.

You’ll also fine-tune your sensorimotor network, so you’ll notice improvements in dexterity and physical response time as well as mental calculation abilities.



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129 adapted from an article by Fiona McColl; http://www.cassiopaea.com/cassiopaea/emotional_manipulation.htm

130 Charles Gettys et al., Hypothesis Generation: A Final Report on Three Years of Research, Technical Report 15-10-80 (University of Oklahoma, Decision Processes Laboratory, 1980).

131 http://examinedexistence.com/how-temperature-affects-our-decision-making-abilities

132 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141002101218.htm

133 January 30th, 2010 in Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry

134 http://www.physorg.com/news184043762.html

135 Damasio, 1994

136 Chase, 1974

137 "40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration," Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 42, June 2015, Pages 182-189, ISSN 0272-4944, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.04.003; "Glancing at a grassy green roof significantly boosts concentration." May 25th, 2015. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-05-glancing-grassy-green-roof-significantly.html

138 American Psychological Association


139 Biasing moral decisions by exploiting the dynamics of eye gaze, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1415250112

AND "Moral decisions can be manipulated by eye tracking." March 16th, 2015. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-03-moral-decisions-eye-tracking.html


Many thanks for:

Software technical support: Arcane Jill & Hexman

Supportive spliffrolling: Dr.McCoy

Without whom this would have been a difficult one

Answers & notes for DO IT NOWs and other exercises


Notes for do it now – hack your own moral judgment

Moral judgment can be influenced by tracking moment to moment movements of the eyes during deliberation. The precise timing of our decisions can be a powerful influence on the choices that we end up making. This hack exploits the fact that where people look reveals their moment-by-moment thought processes, and shows that anything controlling exactly when we make a decision can influence what we decide. Many of our moral decisions may arise 'on the fly' as a result of how we look at and interact with our environment. The process of arriving at a moral decision is not only reflected in people's eye gaze but can also be determined by it.






Answer to DO IT NOW – exercise your perceptual judgment

It's a common dormouse.


Answer to DO IT NOW -calculate probability

First construct a table of frequency for the various states of mind:

group frequency

bored&boring 50

dancing&smooching 65

drunk&loud 70

interesting 15

Then apply your formula:

P(E)= frequency for 'drunk/loud'(70)/total frequencies(200)




Answer to DO IT NOW - judge who's giving and taking

Neither Alice nor Bob is 'right', because no clear argument has even been presented. Right about what? Right about who did or did not communicate clearly? Right about who is giving or getting more or less? No; this is a row, and the script is aimed only at apportioning blame.

We can judge that Alice made an error in not asking Bob whether he liked sailing, that Bob made an error in not speaking up, and that Alice made an error in semantics when saying she was ONLY doing it for Bob to go sailing (rather than, more accurately, for both of them, as she would enjoy sailing with Bob).

Unexpected assignment: How could you turn this row into an argument? What methods or tools might assist in this? (no answers here; you should be adept enough to work this out for yourself at this stage.)


Answer to DO IT NOW -Rambo 1.5

the "correct" order; collated by the experts at the US Coast Guard (from most to least important):

    • Shaving mirror. (One of your most powerful tools, because you can use it to signal your location by reflecting the sun.)

    • Can of petrol. (Again, potentially vital for signalling as petrol floats on water and can be lit by your matches.)

    • Water container. (Essential for collecting water to restore your lost fluids.)

    • Emergency rations. (Valuable for basic food intake.)

    • Plastic sheet. (Could be used for shelter, or to collect rainwater.)

    • Chocolate bars. (A handy food supply.)

    • Fishing rod. (Potentially useful, but there is no guarantee that you're able to catch fish. Could also feasibly double as a tent pole.)

    • Rope. (Handy for tying equipment together, but not necessarily vital for survival.)

    • Floating seat or cushion. (Useful as a life preserver.)

    • Shark repellent. (Potentially important when in the water.)

    • Bottle of rum. (Could be useful as an antiseptic for treating injuries, but will only dehydrate you if you drink it.)

    • Radio. (Chances are that you're out of range of any signal, anyway.)

    • Sea chart. (Worthless without navigational equipment.)

    • Mosquito net. (You were told that you've been shipwrecked in the Atlantic, where there are no mosquitoes; this is pretty much useless.)

    • Sextant. (Impractical without relevant tables or a chronometer.)


Answers to DO IT NOW -applying interactional analysis to emotional issues

1 The best interaction available at this stage is E. (The best possible outcome would have been achieved if Alice had told Bob she was polyamorous and Bob had told Alice his own preferences before they'd had sex).

If you got it right, consider how you worked this out. You chose the logical option which demonstrated the greatest moral consideration for others. Alice obviously has some emotional ties with Bob, but that's no reason why she shouldn't have emotional ties with Carl or Donna or anybody else. Objectively speaking it is none of Bob's business who Alice has sex with, but subjectively speaking although Alice doesn't want to make Bob anxious she values her bond with him and is compelled to be honest. If their relationship has depth, they will work out an outcome where everybody gains something. If Bob doesn't want a relationship with someone polyamorous, it's only fair that he finds this out sooner rather than later; minimizing the emotional turmoil.

Remember though, we do not know Bob, his moral values, or his anxiety level, and this option may not be open to Alice in real life, in which case ending the relationship with Bob may be the better option. Interactional analysis can tell us what would be the best interaction, but it cannot tell us what Alice or Bob or Carl might actually do.

Hopefully you are beginning to see how different factors produce different outcomes in different circumstances.

If you didn't get it right, review your knowledge of core conditions in successful relationships.

2 Alice could decide to make friends with Carl and not have sex with him unless Bob moves on, or she could decide to stop sleeping with anyone for now, or she could have taken Carl home and tried to start up a threesome. What Alice decides to do will depend on her ontology and moral values, but in making her decision, she will take into consideration her depth of feeling for Bob and Carl and their likely responses to her decision, and her own integrity, as important factors.


Answers for self assessment 1 – exercise your judgment

Question A

Your answer for (a) should be less than your answer for (b) because the group of words of the form ‘ -----n-’ includes all of the words of the form ‘--------ing’. However, most people give a higher answer for (1.) than (2.). This is an example of retrievability bias’. Words ending in ‘ing’ are more easily retrieved from our memory so we tend to give more weight to them. This effect extends to organisations. Organisational structures and systems make some kinds of information more easily retrievable than others and hence give more weight to that information in decision making.

Question B

Stomach cancer causes more deaths than motor accidents by a ratio of more than two to one. Yet most people believe motor accidents cause more deaths. The news media are more likely to carry vivid accounts of motor accidents. Hence, we tend to overweight the incidence of motor accidents. Similarly, in organisational life we are inclined to give more weight to information that is easily available.

Question C

Versions 1 and 2 are in fact both the same: they are just ‘framed’ differently. Version 1 is framed in terms of lives saved, whereas version 2 is framed in terms of lives lost. However, how the problem is framed does affect decision making, even for medical experts. We tend towards ‘risk aversion’ for problems framed as gains, while we tend to be ‘risk-taking’ to avoid losses where problems are framed in terms of losses. Consequently, most people choose Programme A when presented with version 1 but Programme B when presented with Version 2.

It is likely that these questions have given you some evidence that many of us are prone to a range of biases in the way we form judgements and make decisions.


Notes for personal assessment 2

Add the scores for Questions A–D, Questions E–H, and Questions I–L. Make a note of the three totals and the category they to which they correspond in the three categories below.

Rational (A-D)

Humanistic (E-H)

Anxious (I-L)

What do results tell you about the decision-making process you described? Which was most important in this case? In many decisions all three play a part. If your score for rational and humanistic is nicely balanced, that's an indication of congruity.


Last Updated on Friday, 12 February 2016 21:26