Theists and Atheists alike are hypnotized to feel they are ONE person. In Theists, this reinforces their belief in a soul. In some Atheists, this one-person (one-self) illusion tricks them into seeing theists as being deluded buffoons, unlike themselves.
Morality is a topic both atheists and theists have strong opinions about. They both feel they have thought, read or prayed hard on the matters of morality and by using their soul or their singular, logical self, they have come to a good understanding of what is right and wrong (preferable and detestable).
However, studies have shown that our moral thinking is complicated by the fact that our brains have different, conflicting moral calculators. These calculators are triggered by different stimuli thus can lead to contrary decisions for the same person. The classic experiment revealing this principle is the two trolley car dilemma problems — if your don’t know about it, you should read on it.
This PLOS One study (n=317), published April 2014, also using the trolley dilemma experiment, continues to reveal the multi-self aspect of the human mind by showing that when using a foreign language, a person tends to make more utilitarian moral calculations (saving the group over the individual) but when using their own language, they are more willing to sacrifice more people for an individual. The theory is (and it is also my experience) that the foreign language does not trigger the same strong limbic (emotional) signals as the native language — depending on fluency in the language. The study also revealed difference in calculator weighings between cultures. Our moral thinking is not as free and self-made as we even begin to imagine.
If nothing else, read the Discussion section of the study linked above.
This is part of my series on how studying language can help explore religious thought — see my Linguistics section.
Take home messages:
- We are not who our brain tries to tell us we are.
- Knowing more than one language illustrates the mechanisms of our moral complexity