Counter Argument

The Ultimate Experiment


Enlightenment and the intellectually fertile society

Freedom and Justice







 “The best thing ever invented in the history of the world is the controlled randomised double blind trial”

a colleague.

Lazy guesswork and pontification have passed for ethical thought since it began.

what constitutes guessing – personal experience what's good and bad about it.

In our personal experiences of other people, we see things in a lot of detail, that can lead us to think that personal experience is a better guide than statistical studies.

That is a mistake, but the reason why that is a mistake may not be immediately obvious. Although most statistical studies measure far fewer things, they allows us to know which relationships between those things are strong and have a large affect and which are weak or have no effect.

If you only see a few cases – as in your personal experience, you have no independent, rigorous way to tell which of the tens of thousands of factors affecting a person in their life led them to behave the way they did in a particular situation. You can use your intuition to guess, but that's the problem – it's a guess, and could easily be wrong.

Everybody seems to think they know the answers already.

Do often do you every hear ‘Moral Experts’, such as your taxi driver, suggest that that what we really need to do is carry out careful and tedious longitudinal (sociology and psychology) studies to tease out what really has an impact on the things that we all care about, like justice, honesty, enlightenment and peace[1]?No, we're usually told they know everything we need already, and just need to get other people to do what they know is needed.

Thinking we already know everything we need, is the hallmark of closed systems of thought everywhere.

What ethics desperately needs is real detailed and long term data; we need to stop guessing and start knowing.

*The studies of people’s values that there are, clearly show that people value these things irrespective of religious/political/philosophical belief systems [R1].


Counter Argument


Science is value free, so can’t say how we should behave, only how we do in fact behave.

Nonsense, science has been telling engineers how to behave for centuries

–      Don’t build your load bearing girders out of papier mache.

–      Don’t fill your petrol tank with water.

–      Do make your rocket as light as possible.

Science can’t tell you what to value, but it can certainly tell you whether actions/policies

designed to get what you value, will actually work in practice, and which ones are most effective.

The problem of ethics is not that we sit around wondering if we want an honest society,

Or an enlightened society, or a peaceful society – the great majority of us do want those things.

What we do sit around wandering about is how can we encourage the things we value, both in ourselves and in others.

Questions like this can in principle be answered by science.


The Ultimate Experiment


Imagine you could watch a hundred thousand people, from birth to death and could

See everything that happened to them over their lives, while we’re at it we’ll sequence

Their genomes and read their minds with a permanently attached mind reader device.

Then we’ll go through and tag all the data with honesty ratings etc with hundreds or volunteers,

Supercomputers will trawl through the dataset, flagging up correlations

That was the pilot study.

Then we move into the controlled randomised trials of treatments


What makes people do things:

A Few CautionaryTales from the History of Longitudinal Research in America John Modell

What have researchers learned from the national longitudinal surveys?

The Person and the Situation (Book)
DJ Bem - Psychological Inquiry, 1992 - Lawrence Earlbaum

Impressions of Milgram's obedient teachers: Situational cues inform inferences about motives and traits.

Authors conclude ‘fit well with multiple inference models of dispositional inference’


Why positive information is processed faster: The density hypothesis.

The rejection of moral rebels: Resenting those who do the right thing.

Monin, Benoît; Sawyer, Pamela J.; Marquez, Matthew J.





Ignorant first guess:

Always tell the truth, and expose deception wherever you find it.

Studies of honesty to date:

  1. Early characterisation studies: what sort of thing is honesty:

counter-factual communication, (mis)leading behaviour, omission

Counter-factual communication in very young children.

Babies crying and stopping to check?

Imaginative play/games/Fiction, Experimental Answers, Favourite Answers,

Children under 2 ½ (like some very autistic adults), don't seem to fully understand that other people do not know everything that they know (for example, when asked where another person will point to when asked where a dolly is that the toddler saw moved to a new location while the other person was out of the room, the toddler will point to the new location, not the old one). Yet they seem to lie – ( when asked have you done a poo-poo – the toddler replies no! When they have, and need their nappy changed ). This would seem like a contradiction: why would you say something you know isn't true when you think the other person knows everything that you do? It doesn't make sense in terms of 'knowing', 'deliberate deception', something has to give.

Here are some possibilities – which aren't mutually exclusive:

  1. Toddlers, have a theory of mind after all,

    1. Because it's a mistake to consider understanding to be an all or nothing phenomena. Fragments or facets of an understanding can still have effects. Or

    2. Because they don't have the linguistic skills to understand the weird questions they're being asked and chunk 'where will Cathy think the dolly is?' into 'where dolly?'.

  2. Toddlers are missing the inference capacity to detect the inconsistency, so can carry on regardless.

  3. It isn't 'knowing', 'deliberate deception'.

    1. Because it isn't deception: over months no → no poo poo → no poo poo, pop pop! But still insisting no poo poo when daddy's just checked and confirmed poo

    2. Because it isn't deliberate: What constitutes 'deliberate' behaviour? Behaviour that listens to our reasons – conforms to our will, is what we recognise as intended*, but we need to understand instructions in order to intentionally follow them. Following this line, 'deceptive' behaviours in infants should be considered proto-deception since if they believe everyone knows what they know then they don't understand that deception is what they are doing. 'Deceptive' behaviours in some other animals certainly looks as though it's uncomprehended and instinctive, Lapwings sometimes act as though they have a broken wing when predators threaten the nest, without themselves requiring any real understanding of what they are doing.

Note the process that puts our actions in synch with our reasons appears (counter-intuitively) to work both ways, that is to say that sometimes our reasons are quickly and quietly altered to match our behaviour. The evidence for this comes from split brain patients who for medical reasons had their corpus-callosum (the main communication pathway between the two halves of the brain) severed. In most of these patients, only one half of the brain can speak, but both halves can hear, and each half can see half the world (left or right) and each half can help control the body (e.g. dominating control of one hand each). If one of these patients were shown different pictures to each brain half and asked to pick out cards from a selection to 'match the picture' they will select two cards, each brain half selecting a card to match what it sees. However, only one half can speak. When you ask them why they selected the cards they did they confabulate – without realising that they're making stuff up. For example a patient shown a chicken leg to the left brain (that can speak) and snow to the right brain, selected a chicken coop card with their right hand (controlled by the left brain) and a snow shovel with their left hand. When asked to explain their selection the patient replied that they selected the chicken coop to go with the chicken leg, and the snow shovel to clean out the chicken coop. - the details of the questions asked and the patients responses are really important to our interpretation here – if our patient at first said they didn't know why they picked the shovel, and then after some cajoling by the questioner said that maybe the shovel could clean out the chicken coop – we wouldn't even consider it confabulation. Some other patient narratives give us pause for thought “my other hand has a mind of it's own, sometimes I pick a dress out of the cupboard to find my other hand has picked out a different dress” - the speaker has disowned the actions of the other hand here – Why didn't they do that with the cards? Or putting i

??What actually happens it very quick and the split brain patients seem oblivious to the fact that they are doing it at all. ?? - evidence?? The retrospective invention of intentions and reasons after the fact of behaviour may in fact be quite common – we're just not aware that we're doing it.

Hartshone & May 1928 Studies in the nature of character:

Hartshorne & May studied schoolchildren, and looked at their propensity to deceive in 30 or so situations, such as an exam with an opportunity to mark their own papers, a blind test with an opportunity to peep, or opportunity to steal. And situations where they would be deceiving different kinds of people – such as their peers, or a teacher or a parent.

Instead of simply seeing

they found that children who were reliably honest in one situation, were often reliably dishonest in other situations, and each child had a unique pattern of honesty. In fact they found they could not predict honesty in one class of situations from a child's honesty in other situations.

So in investigating a single character trait: Honesty, they actually found many different kinds of honesty.

This pattern appears to apply to adults as well

OSS study 1948 stress in spies:

The study tried to characterise how spies would cope with stressful situations,

and in doing so recorded under what circumstances the trainee spies would lie.

Again it was found lying was very situation specific and very different between individuals.

Questions from the two previous studies.

How did they get like that? - what determines the pattern of deceit shown by different individuals.

Does that pattern change over time – as children grow into adults

What can we do to encourage honesty in different situations

Darryl Bern -

Honesty increased by perceived surveilance

2.     Longitudinal studies:

Seattle longitudinal study Showed honesty varied over 35 years with a stability coefficient of 0.29

3. Controlled trials of interventions:

4. Unanswered questions:

How many statistically independent varieties of honesty are there:

Are there a fixed number or are they a fractal-like collection.



The Seattle Longitudinal Study: Relationship Between Personality and Cognition
KW Schaie, SL Willis, GIL Caskie - Neuropsychology, development, and cognition. Section B, …, 2004 -

Hartshone & May 1928 Studies in the nature of character:

Lying as a problem behavior in children: A review - ► [PDF] 

Predicting Adolescent Moral Reasoning from Family Climate:: A Longitudinal Study

Mother-Child Mutually Responsive Orientation and Conscience Development: From Toddler to Early …

Boys who lie fraudulent science – how it can start.

Parenting and Gender as Predictors of Moral Courage in Late Adolescence: A Longitudinal Study

Examining the efficacy of truth/lie discussions in predicting and increasing the veracity of children

Care reasoning development and family socialisation patterns in later adolescence: A longitudinal

Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Relations Among Children's Trust Beliefs, Psychological …

Lessons learned from a longitudinal qualitative family systems study

'The fault lies not in our students, but in ourselves': academic honesty and moral development in …

Overcoming the Odds: High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood

conscience: early mother-child mutually responsive orientation and children's moral emotion, conduct … - ► [PDF] 
G Kochanska, DR Forman, N Aksan, SB Dunbar - Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2005 - Blackwell Synergy

Small-scale deceit: deception as a marker of two ...

Small-scale deceit: deception as a marker of two-, three-, ... game as a context within which to observe children's spontaneous use of deceptive strategies, ...

Childrens everyday deception and performance on false-belief tasks
P Newton, V Reddy, R Bull - British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2000 -

The Tangled Web: Delinquency, Deception, and Parental Attachment

Analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health ... and distrustful of deceitful children, their children’s fabrications may say ...

From Children to Citizens
FA Esbensen - Criminal Justice Review, 1989 - HeinOnline

At-risk and not at-risk primary school children: An examination of goal orientations and social …
A Carroll, AJ Baglioni, S Houghton, P Bramston - British Journal of Educational Psychology, 1999 -

Functional differences: comparing moral judgement developmental phases of consolidation and …
WP Derryberry, SJ Thoma - Journal of Moral Education, 2005 -

Handbook of Parenting: Volume 4: Social Conditions and Applied ... - Google Books Result

by Marc H. Bornstein - 2002 - Psychology - 600 pages

Moral Development and the Social Environment: Studies in the ... - Google Books Result

by Georg Lind, Hans A. Hartmann, Roland Wakenhut - 1985 - Psychology - 327 pages

The Construction of Personality: An Introduction - Google Books Result

by Sarah E. Hampson - 1988 - Psychology - 320 pages



Verbal and Nonverbal Dynamics of Privacy, Secrecy, and Deceit

Invention and innovation : Article : Nature

Enlightenment and the intellectually fertile society

Ignorant first guess:

Learn everything you can and freely pass on anything you find to anyone who will listen.

How do we measure intellectual fertility

How do we measure the quality of an idea:

Lots of possible ways to join the dots...

Internal measures:  


“Throughput” → quantity transformed by model,

Predictive power

“snapping into place”

External measures:

Number of citations or references or allusions

Studies of intellectual fertility to date:

Unanswered questions:


OU pages on the effect of temperament on cognitive development in children:

goodness of fit between temperament and social context (eg different children's impulsiveness , needs for routine or susceptibility to stress, and different availability of stimulation or routine) – see also Lerner 1989

Tizard, B. and Hughes, M. (1984) Young Children Learning: talking and thinking at home and at school, London, Fontana.

Innovation policy: not just a jumbo shrimp : Article : Nature

Invention and innovation : Article : Nature

Technological innovation may have driven first human ...

Innovation series from Nature Opinion forum on Nature Network


Peer discussion improves student performance with 'clickers,' says CU-Boulder study

Freedom and Justice

 Ignorant first guess:

Act fairly in everything you do, and expose injustice wherever you find it.

Try to spot when people are being coerced into situations or behaviours that they're not genuinely comfortable with – including yourself – and air it.

(acting out and frustration)

what sorts of things do we count as injust

affecting us negatively without our free uncoerced permission.

Crime statistics:

UK Home office statistics:



UK Police recorded Homicides 1951-2003:

(source: UK Home office )

British Crime Survey results from 1981 (the start of BCS recording) to present.

Relative frequencies of different offences in 2008 in the UK.

(source: UK Home office )

criminality: what sorts of behaviours co-correlate.

biology of criminality:

emerging picture of dopaminergic involvement and the nucleus accumbens in

certain types of criminality.

Naltrexone inhibits teenage theft - doing it for the buzz - reduced buzz -> reduced theft

Naltrexone affects the dopaminergic system.

Monoamine oxidase levels in prison populations

Correlation of MAO levels and risk taking behaviour - risky professions and hobbies.

Testosterone levels and violence:

violent offenders tend to have higher testosterone,

winning fights increases testosterone levels

injecting testosterone increases violent response.

Why aren't we all criminals?

Studies of justice to date:

Serious & Violent Juvenile Offenders. Risk Factors and Successful Interventions
R Loeber, DP Farrington, R Programme -

Meta-analysis: why does criminality run in families

40% reduction in bullying in school in norway

Reoffending rates reduced by 50% simply by giving prisoners bank accounts:

Banking on a fresh start report: Paul A Jones, Claire Hogan & Greg Sheen

Good summary article in the guardian:

sciam article “stick em up” - do economic recessions lead to spikes in crime

Locked out report - CAB evidence on prisoners and ex-offenders: Francesca Hopwood Road, Kim Maynard and James Sandbach

Maternal presence serves as a switch between learning fear and attraction in infancy
S Moriceau, RM Sullivan - Nature Neuroscience, 2006 -
Here we show two circuits for odor-shock conditioning, with maternal presence
providing the 'switch' by lowering pups' corticosterone levels. Because pups
must learn the diet-dependent maternal odor for interactions with the

Social learning of fear : Abstract : Nature Neuroscience

Neuropsychopharmacology - Effects of Tryptophan Depletion on the ...

 buses conductors and antisocial behaviour

Some common misconceptions and controversies
R Loeber, M Stouthamer-Loeber - Psychology of Education: Major Themes, 2000 -

Making Choices Impairs Subsequent Self-Control: A Limited-Resource Account of Decision Making, Self-Regulation, and Active Initiative (PDF: 106KB), May 2008
by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, Brandon J. Schmeichel, Jean M. Twenge, Noelle M. Nelson, and Dianne M. Tice -- part of the reason power corrupts??

Developmental Trajectories of Aggressive and Non-Aggressive Conduct Problems
B Maughan, A Pickles, R Rowe, EJ Costello, A … - Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 2000 - Springer

Serious & Violent Juvenile Offenders. Risk Factors and Successful Interventions
R Loeber, DP Farrington, R Programme -

Components of Machiavellian beliefs in children: relationships with personality
J Sutton, E Keogh - Personality and Individual Differences, 2001 - Elsevier

NS article Deteriorating home life puts kids at risk – longitudinal study – matched socioeconomic status

Unanswered questions:



Ignorant first guess:

Talk: Negotiate imaginatively with others,

Do not assume that you understand what it is that they consider important.

Do not assume that they themselves understand why they are doing what they are.

The other side might just have a point – but not necessarily the one they think they have.

Oh, and try to avoid starting wars.


War is violent conflict between groups of individuals (generally armed, sustained over at least several days, and large scale).

There are commonly cultural differences between the warring groups, and individuals in the groups may well wear special clothing or body paint to distinguish themselves from members of the other groups. The lengths members go to in order to make their group membership obvious, may give an indication of the physical danger involved in accidental misidentification*, and these group identification behaviours may become stronger as the likelihood of violence increases.

Conflicts may be quite uneven, with one group attacking other groups that have shown little or no violent aggression toward the first group ( for example Nazi violence towards Jewish people, Gypsy people etc.)

Quite tiny and invented cultural differences can lead to violent conflict, as can be seen in clashes between supporters of rival football (soccer) teams in Europe – people can literally be killed for wearing the wrong colour shirt.

*(then again maybe not – dangerous lot those Amish!!)

However, in civil wars ( the majority of wars) significant differences in political and economic power, make armed conflict more likely.

Studies of peace to date:

Unanswered questions:

 references /article/mg18825192.100-war—peace--war-by-peter-turchin.html (war climate + food prices) (retuning land)

sciam article Hooliganism: Taming the madness of crowds – hard line confrontational policing appears to increase the likelihood of violence

Children observing violence towards a doll more likely to copy the behaviour (Bandura)

& conversely copy prosocial behaviour...

refs from page - not great -

Culture and moral judgement: How are conflicts between justice and interpersonal responsibilities resolved?
from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, pages 541-554
JM Miller, & DM Bersoff 1992

Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models
from Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, pages 575-582
A Bandura, D Ross, D, & SA Ross 1961

Helping Others and Moral Development
Chapter 8 of Understanding Children's Development
PK Smith, H Cowie, & M Blades; Published by Blackwell.

Eck, Kristine. Department of Peace and Conflict Research

A beginner's guide to conflict data. Finding the right dataset. (2005)

Root causes of violent conflict in developing countries Commentary ...

On War Carl von Clausewitz 1832 (Imposition of will)


Ignorant first guess:

Try to Smile once in a while.

Studies of sociability to date:

OU child development

OU attachment theory pages

Attachment theory references from OU site

Bowlby, J. (1969) Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment, New York, Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1973) Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger, New York, Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1988) A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development, New York, Basic Books.
Bretherton, I. (1990) ‘Open communication and internal working models: Their role in the development of attachment relationships’, in Thompson, R. A. (ed.), Socioemotional development, pp. 57-114, Lincoln U.S.A., University of Nebraska Press.
Bretherton, I. (1991) ‘Pouring new wine into old bottles: The social self as internal working model’, in Gunnar, M. R. and Sroufe, L. A. (eds), Self process and development: Minnesota symposia on child psychology, vol. 23, pp. 1-41, Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bretherton, I. (1993) ‘From dialogue to internal working models: The co-construction of self relationships’, in Nelson, C. A. (ed) Memory and affect in development: Minnesota symposia on child psychology, vol. 26, pp. 237-263, Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Winnicott, D. W. (1953) ‘Transitional objects and transitional phenomena’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 34, pp. 89-97.

Children & Happiness:

(security of attachment of toddlers to primary caregivers and behaviour later in life – the strange situation test)

positive effect of mastery and negative effect of conditional goal setting. → refs??s

genetic/epigenetic components of character.

Right frontal lobe activation and shyness, Left frontal lobe activation and extrovertion.

Well-being and affective style: Neural substrates and biobehavioral correlates from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
R J Davidson

Happy Child, happy adult: The childhood routes of adult happiness
E M Hallowell

The pursuit of happiness from Scientific American, 274
D G Myers & F Diener

The Optimistic Child
M E P Seligman, K Reivich, L Jaycox and J Gillham

references from those pages:

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E. and Wall, S. (1978) Patterns of Attachment, Hillsdale, N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum.
Bell, R. Q. (1968) ‘A reinterpretation of the direction of effects in studies of socialisation’, Psychology Review, vol. 75, pp. 81–95.
Belsky, J. and Isabella, R. (1988) ‘Maternal, infant and social-contextual determinants of attachment security’ in Belsky, J. and Nezworski, T. (eds) Clinical Implications of Attachment, pp. 253–99, New York, Lawrence Erlbaum.
De Wolff, M. S. and Van IJzendoorn, M. H. (1997) ‘Sensitivity and attachment: a meta-analysis on parental antecedents of infant attachment’, Child Development, vol. 68, pp. 571–591.
Dunn, J. and Kendrick, C. (1982) ‘Temperamental differences, family relationships and young children’s response to change within the family’ in Porter, R. and Collins, G. (eds) Temperamental Differences in Infants and Young Children, pp. 1–19, CIBA Foundation Symposium No. 89, London, Pitman.
Egeland, B., & Farber, E. A. (1984) ‘Infant-mother attachment: factors related to its development and changes over time’, Child Development, vol. 55, pp. 753–771.
Goldsmith, H. H. and Alansky, J. A. (1987) ‘Maternal and infant temperamental predictors of attachment: a meta-analytic review’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 55, pp. 805–16.
Keogh, B. K. (1982) ‘Children’s temperament and teachers’ decisions’ in Porter, R. and Collins, G. (eds) Temperamental Differences in Infants and Young Children, pp. 269–85, CIBA Foundation Symposium No. 89, London, Pitman.
Lerner, J. V. and Galambos, N. L. (1985) ‘Maternal role satisfaction, mother–infant interaction and child temperament’, Developmental Psychology, vol. 21, pp. 1157–64.
Lerner, J. V., Nitz, K., Talwar, R. and Lerner, R. M. (1989) ‘On the functional significance of temperamental individuality: a developmental contextual view of the concept of goodness of fit’ in Kohnstamm, G. A., Bates, J. E. and Rothbart, M. K. (eds) Temperament in Childhood, pp. 509–22, Chichester, John Wiley.
Mangelsdorf, S.C., McHale, J.L., Diener, M., Goldstein, L.H. and Lehn, L. (2000) ‘Infant attachment; contributions of infant temperament and maternal characteristics’, Infant Behaviour and Development, vol. 23, pp. 175–196.
Notaro, P. C., & Volling, B. L. (1999) ‘Parental responsiveness and infant-parent attachment: A replication study with fathers and mothers’, Infant Behavior and Development, vol. 22, pp. 345-352.
Quinton, D. and Rutter, M. (1976) ‘Early hospital admissions and later disturbances of behaviour: an attempted replication of Douglas’s findings’, Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, vol. 18, pp. 447–59.
Rutter, M. (1982) ‘Temperament: concepts, issues and problems’ in Porter, R. and Collins, G. (eds) Temperamental Differences in Infants and Young Children, pp. 1–19, CIBA Foundation Symposium No. 89, London, Pitman.
Sameroff, A. J. and Chandler, M. J. (1975) ‘Reproductive risk and the continuum of caretaking casualty’ in Harrowitz, F. D., Scarr-Salapatek, S. and Siegel, G. (eds) Review of Child Development Research, pp. 187–24, Vol. 4, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Sameroff, A. and Fiese, B.H. (1990) ‘Transactional regulation and early intervention’ in S. J. Meisels and J. P. Shonkoff (eds) Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention, pp. 119–149, New York, Cambridge University Press.
Scarr, S. and McCartney, K. (1983) ‘How people make their own environments: a theory of genotype-environment effects’, Child Development, vol. 54, pp. 424–35.

romantic love:

Other references

The Roots of Prosocial Behavior in Children

Unanswered questions:


 "Walking on eggshells": How expressing relationship insecurities perpetuates them.



Given the extent to which traditional moral authorities have been exposed as frauds,

We shouldn’t be surprised at parents who tell their children “don’t let anybody tell you what to do” they need something reliable they can trust.




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©Roger Gill-Carey 2009


The Roots of Prosocial Behavior in Children

Locked out report - CAB \evidence on prisoners and ex-offenders: Francesca Hopwood Road, Kim

 buses conductors and antisocial behavior


clifford stott