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May 31, 2019

Food and Culture


Today, the diet of the USA population is a combination of numerous cultures and cuisines. Currently, Mexican Americans, Asian Indians, and African Americans are among the most widely spread and numerous ethnic groups of the US society, defining American nutrition. African Americans make over 15 percent of the total population of the USA. African Americans have their traditional nutrition habits, which are mostly different from the typical American diet. Nutrition traditions are best understood through the prism of the cultural context. Simultaneously, a better understanding of African American nutritional habits may provide avoidance of ethnocentric assumptions. In this regard, traditional nutritional habits of numerous minority groups of the USA, their common food habits, and interaction between the chosen cultures have to be examined in detail.
Traditional Food Habits
The nutrition habits of modern African Americans are based on certain health beliefs traced from generation to generation since their early settlement on the territory of the USA. Traditional African American food, which is also called "soul food", has been developed on the basis of numerous practices and traditions. Core commodities of the African American diet are represented by cornmeal, pork, and molasses, along with wheat flour and lard. Representatives of this ethnic group use flour for baking their traditional biscuits. However, flour has become cheap enough for regular purchases just recently. The most popular type of pork is commercially packed bacon, but a fat one.
Some families prefer to cook simple meals. For example, they slice a bacon or salt pork thin and cook it in fireplaces. Mixing bacon grease with molasses, they make a so-called "sap", which is eaten with meat and cornbread. Cornbread is made of cornmeal and water and baked on a griddle. In most cases, African Americans bake bread and fry meat. The preference for meat frying is usually given due to a short time of cooking; in summer, this feature is rather practical. Sometimes, in winter or late autumn, African Americans eat sweet potatoes and pork. Some families cook an opossum dinner. The carcass is seasoned with red pepper and baked with sweet potatoes in a pot. People of this ethnic group prepare crackling bread by frying it till a brittle condition. Then, they mix it with water, cornmeal, salt, and soda and bake it all. Oftentimes, African Americans eat turnips or cabbage boiled with pork fat.
Talking about spices, it should be mentioned that most African American dishes are heavily seasoned and salted. Members of the African American community widely use chilies and hot peppers, along with garlic, curry, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and sesame seeds. Seasonings made of ground seeds (for example, cotton and melon) and dried mushrooms are also rather common in the African American food. In the African-American community, breakfast meals are commonly light and lunch is usually represented by fast food. The dinner meal usually consists of one or several traditional dishes. Studies have shown that African Americans have from four to five meals per day with the largest one in the afternoon.
African Americans brought to the USA some foods, which are associated with superstitions. For example, the African diaspora brought black-eyed pea to the New World. Until today, a celebration of the New Year without black-eyed peas is deemed inferior and at least not lucky. Dried black-eyed peas have two physical properties, which symbolize good things: a significant increase in size when cooked and the guarantee of germination when planted. For historical reasons, eating black-eyed peas ensures good fortune, as stated in the Jewish Talmud.
Besides their beliefs into the good fortune of some products, modern rural African Americans also believe that some foods are capable of healing various illnesses. For example, in order to treat diabetes, they consume such dietary products as vinegar, lemon juice, teas made of roots and leaves, and herbal supplements from healthy food shops. Vinegar and lemon juice, for instance, are applied in order to reduce the level of sugar in the blood. Besides, many other natural remedies are used by African Americans for the treatment of numerous diseases. In order to treat the urinary tract infection, bearberry is used. Rheumatism, menstrual pain, and discomfort are eliminated by means of black cohosh or black snakeroot, while blue cohosh is appropriate for uterine contractions during work. At seizures, it is advised to use wild comfrey in the African American community and chamomile is used for poison ivy treatment and sleep aid. Sweet potato provides nausea relief during pregnancy.
Being an ancient ethnic group, African Americans have their own feasts and holidays, for which peculiar celebratory dishes are characteristic. For example, dishes containing peanuts, seeds, collard greens, sweet potatoes, and spicy sauces are traditionally cooked for Kwanzaa, one of the major non-religious holidays intended to honor African culture and inspire African Americans, whose labor has made a great contribution to the progress of the USA. In addition, the celebratory table also contains vegetables, fruits, and nuts symbolizing the harvest, which nourished the African people. African Americans also cook appetizers from black-eyed peas, peanut soup, fruit salads, and coconut pie and drink green tea with mint or ginger beer.
Undoubtedly, understanding of the interconnection between religion and food can help better understand the African American community, especially taking into account the fact that African Americans are very religious Christians and Catholics. Scientists mark that Christian faith makes significant transformations in their diet habits of the African American community. For example, eating crackers is an important part of Christianity because they are transformed into Christ's body. The Christmas Day breakfast usually contains such traditional for this ethnic minority dishes as eggs, ham, biscuits with butter and syrup, grits, and sausages. Other core dishes served for religious holidays usually include baked ham, green vegetables, candied yams, baked macaroni, baked chicken, cornbread, rice, and fruitcakes or apple pies for a dessert.
Adaptation of African American Diet to the USA
Several studies have shown that in the African American community the process of acculturation to the USA culture plays a crucial role in shaping their attitudes, cultural behavior, and, undoubtedly, dietary habits. Scientists have noticed that acculturation to the American culture is associated with unhealthy diet behaviors among African Americans. Acculturation to the American culture has led to shifts from traditional healthy foods containing whole grains, meats, and vegetables to more sugary, processed, and high-fat foods, which are currently rather popular and widely spread in the U.S. community.
Acculturation to the U.S. dietary style was not a difficult process for a long time. From the beginning, acculturation was inhibited by the elderly generation of African Americans who honored and highly valued their native traditions. However, new generations of the African American community strove to adapt to the cultural environment they were born and lived in. As a result, African Americans' acculturation to the U.S. dietary habits supposed partial or total acceptance of foods classified as "American". Thus, eating fast-food, for example, pizza or hamburgers and frequent ignorance of traditional long-cooked dishes, has become a consequence of these ethnic minority members becoming American and assimilating to their peers.
Experts argue that the dietary habits of African Americans are likely to take a turn for the worse due to the increase of the African Americans' length of residency on the territory of the USA. Eventually, African American ethnic minority groups will assimilate with the U.S. culture because with the course of time they obtain a broader variety of food options, thus becoming more likely to eat both healthy and unhealthy native and American foods. Moreover, African Americans have obtained more opportunities to expand their traditional menu and try exotic foods, which were unavailable for them in their motherland. Nonetheless, African Americans are likely to change their dietary behavior if they are limited in access to ingredients required for cooking their national dishes. As a result, they will slowly assimilate to the American unhealthy diet, straying away from homemade meals.
Food and Health Relations
The preference for a certain type of diet, a so-called "soul food", has caused numerous health problems among African Americans. Soul food usually includes a lot of fatty meats, sugar, and fried foods served with rich gravies, regular consumption of which leads to high rates of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and obesity. In comparison to the white American population, the African American ethnic group is characterized by higher incidences of hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer. High incidences of cancer among African Americans are caused by low consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Thus, obtaining lower amounts of vitamins, magnesium, and calcium and consuming a great number of calories from the saturated fat, members of this community have the highest rates of obesity in the USA. Moreover, some studies have shown that African American men experience the most frequent incidences of hypertension and prostate cancer in the world.
Like any other diet, soul food has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, this type of food is rich for nutrients since it contains leafy yellow and green vegetables (collard greens, for instance), potatoes, legumes, rice, and beans. In most cases, many products required for cooking traditional African American dishes are cheap enough in the USA and, thus, available to African Americans with different levels of income. Having brought many local products with them during slavery times from Africa to the USA, African Americans have contributed to the expansion of the U.S. food market supply. On the contrary, soul food is poor in fiber, potassium, calcium and has a high level of fat. High levels of fat and cholesterol cause numerous diseases, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart attacks, etc. Moreover, not all ingredients necessary for this diet are easily accessible on the territory of the USA or in particular states. Experts recommend to boil or bake some products instead of frying in order to decrease the fat amount. Focusing on fruit can help to enrich an organism with fiber and necessary vitamins, hence saving human health. Moreover, some heavily available ingredients can be replaced with other products with lower prices that are healthier and easily accessible.

Taking into account the above-mentioned information, it should be noted that the African American diet represents a combination of numerous cultural influences. As a result of stable acculturation, soul food has turned from healthy dishes for early slaves to an unhealthy diet for modern African Americans. African American foods contain a lot of fat and are mainly cooked by means of frying, resulting in numerous diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, etc. Nonetheless, some products are widely used for the treatment of numerous diseases. African Americans have many dishes associated with religion, superstitions, and traditional celebrations. Thus, soul food is a cultural heritage of the people who have saved its traditions until today despite a strong influence of the U.S. community.

About the Author
Hailie dreams to be a famous writer. She almost finished her book. Hailie also writes for https://bestwritingservice.co.uk/movie-review-essay.html . She is a communicative and positive person.
Posted by      Hailie H. at 4:32 AM MDT
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December 5, 2011

Optimism: Is too much a bad thing?


We've all been told at one point or another in our lives to look on the brighter side of a given situation. Most of the time we do because the brighter side brings some sort of happiness and therefore when look on the brighter side of a situation, it helps us by easing the negative feeling we have towards that situation. And so by looking on the brighter side, we keep ourselves positive and our stress levels down a bit. But how can you still be optimistic even though there is information that goes against what you believe? As I go through the article, How unrealistic optimism is maintained in the face of reality, I will hopefully answer this question.
In this article, Sharot et. al. tries to explain why it is that some of us are so optimistic and could it be a bad thing? The article focuses on the events in which people do not take the necessary precaution they need to in order to protect themselves, that being the underestimation of future negative events, and why they were adamant about not changing (Sharot et. al.). So the way the experiment was conducted was Sharot et. al. took participants and told them to estimate the probability that an event would happen to them and then measured their brain activity. There was a total of eighty events that were "tested" all of which were adverse life events such as house hold accident, adultery, owing a large amount of debt, etc. They then combined a learning task with fMRI. This allowed Sharot et. al. to identify how blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals track estimation error in response to whether the information given lead to optimism or pessimism (Sharot et. al). To determine estimation error, they used the equation: estimation error = estimation - probability presented. They also used questionnaires to see if people changed their beliefs of an event based off of some kind of emotional arousal, how bad an event is, if they were familiar with the event, or if they have encountered such an event before.
Their results were that there was this region of the brain, right inferior frontal gyrus, in which showed a reduction for neural coding of undesirable error regarding the future for people who were optimistic. They also found that the reason there was this asymmetry in people changing their beliefs was due to a reduced expression of an error signal in the region implicated in processing undesirable error regarding the future (Sharot et. al.). The questionnaire that was administered showed that people didn't change their beliefs due to the severity of the event, if it is familiar or not, or if they have encountered it or not. The BOLD signal tracking showed that people with the largest optimistic update bias failed to show any undesirable error meaning the relationship between undesirable error and BOLD signaling was close to zero, where as people who did not show a selective updating in belief showed a strong relationship between undesirable error and BOLD signaling.
So it didn't matter whether how bad the future event was going to be, whether it was familiar or not, or if it has been encountered before but due a lack of not being able to code and process this undesirable error regarding the future. So really being optimistic or being optimistic even after information has disproved your belief isn't in your absolute control because if your brain fails to code and process it you can't really do much about it. Though you possibly could in theory but that raises questions for another time.

Sharot, Tali, Christoph W. Korn, and Raymond J. Dolan. "How Unrealistic Optimism Is Maintained in the Face of Reality." Nature Neuroscience. Nature America, Inc., 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. .
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Why Keep A Promise?


It is interesting to see the importance humans place on a promise. A promise is not visible or tangible yet it still seems to have a strong, compulsory quality to it. Why is that? The truth of the matter is humans have the exceptional capacity to establish social norms and create understood cooperation among each other that is not seen elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Before society's infrastructure of rules and laws existed, promises were still made as a way to ensure trust, teamwork and partnership. Furthermore and perhaps the most intriguing aspect of a promise is that it is a verbal, nonbinding agreement. Yet despite the lack of concrete liability we still make promises every day.

Some research looking into the systems of the brain involved in nonbinding agreements has been done but there are still more questions than answers regarding of this topic. Using promises as a premise for research opens a unique door because promises can either be kept or broken. They can be made for many reasons but there are two justifications for keeping a promise. The first is to ensure future trust and cooperation and is referred to as an instrumental reason. The second rational is because it is the right thing to do and is called the intrinsic reason. The study in this paper focuses on the latter of these two explanations.

Each trial of the experiment had two subjects, a trustee and an investor. The trustee's brain activity was measured. First the trustee promises the investor to always, mostly, sometimes, or never keep their promise. In this study to be trustworthy means sharing the money made equally. The investor could choose to invest or not and then the trustee could choose to keep or break their promise to share the money. The trustee could choose both the strength of their promise and whether or not to keep their promise. These freedoms of choice led to two main groups of trustee subjects: both groups almost unanimously promised to "always" keep their promise but when it came to keeping the promise the subjects split into either the group who honored their promise or who was dishonest.

This study was the first to create a design looking at three different processes that play a role in promises. The first stage is the promise stage where the promise is made, then there is what is called the anticipation stage while they wait for the commitment of the investor, and finally the decision stage where the promise is either kept or broken. Researchers could differentiate subjects who will keep their promise and who will break it by brain activity during the promise stage, when the deceitful act is already planned.

This study found that all stages of the paradigm revealed different, highly specific activation patterns in the brain. The promise stage is where the dishonest act may be already planned but not yet implemented and researchers hypothesize if the subject already plans to break a promise, this misleading gesture will induce an emotional conflict. This emotional clash shows activity in parts of brain involved in conflict and negative emotional process such as the anterior cingulated cortex or amygdala. The anticipation stage showed parallels in brain activity to personality traits such as depression and neuroticism, both of which are associated with negative expectations of the future. When the subject had to decide to keep or break the promise, breaking the promise showed similar brain activity to the emotional process of telling a lie and the guilt that that involves. This study showed plausible evidence tying nonbinding agreements to emotional and logical processes of the brain. This evidence is critical in explaining why humans value and venerate the simple idea of a promise.



Baumgartner, Thomas, Urs Fischbacher, Anja Feierabend, Kai Lutz, and Ernsty Fehr. "Broken Promises." Neuron 64.5 (2009): 756+. Science Direct. Elsevier Inc, 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. .
Posted by      Bethany B. at 10:48 AM MST
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October 20, 2011

Can we trust Neuroscientists?


October 19, 2011

Typically, neuroscientists, or among all scientists, fail to provide full disclosure of the project to a participant in order to obtain valid knowledge on the phenomena being investigated. Although this methodology is widely used by many scientists, it however proves to be an ethically controversial topic. The idea of deception in human experimentation becomes unethical as the informed consent required by the individual is not completely transparent of the research, thus lacks a degree of respect for the persons utilized in the experiment. Hence, how can the vast majority of psychology and neuroscience projects be approved by ethic committees if deception is a common methodological theme? Are participants rights triumphed by the knowledge gained by the experimentation? To what extent are unethical methods permitted by ethic committees and what makes one idea allowed and another not? These are questions that we should be asking ourselves, knowing that science should not be independent of ethical and moral values.

It comes to my attention that a capacious amount of published articles using deception as a method to obtain valid knowledge by the participant is not specifically stated so in the journal article. Without blatantly stating that this form of research utilized deception, a person that is unaware of ethical issues within research may not realize that some participants were not given proper information.

Understandably, deception in research is a methodology that is not going to leave science any time soon. Therefore, it is necessary to make it prevalent to the public that this occurs and for readers of the research articles to be fully aware of the use of deception. I believe that it is pertinent that if a researcher decides to integrate deception into the procedure, it should be clearly stated within the Materials and Methods section of the journal article. Overall, I believe that the nature of the research should be explained to the participates after the experimentation, such that it will soften the overarching ethical dilemma. This may ultimately limit the participant pool, but it does give a degree of respect from the researcher to the participants that is truly deserved.

Personally, I believe that it is our right and our duty, as readers and future neuroscientists, to take this matter seriously. We should not allow researchers to infringe upon participants rights to be tested when there is a lacking of transparency of the nature of the research. We should encourage our colleagues and higher authorities to demand that experimental deception included in the research should be explicitly stated within published articles and individuals be debriefed of the entirety of the project. Adding these boundaries to published articles will not only provide a more ethically sound publication, but will promote respect for science among readers that are not familiar with the field when full disclosure of the experimentation is available to the public eye.

Original article: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/28/19/4841.full.pdf
Posted by      Sarah H. at 12:16 AM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Sarah,

Objectively speaking, would you or wouldn't you trust a neuroscientist?
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 2:23 PM MDT by Christina U.
  Sarah Ha  says:
Personally, I wouldn't want to be a participant in an experiment if I'm not given full disclosure of the purpose of the experiment. Plus, it makes me more skeptical when I read journal articles of overall results if the published article is fully disclosing their methodology. How can I repeat their experiment if I don't know exactly what they did?
Posted on Tue, 29 Nov 2011 3:56 PM MST by Sarah H.

October 19, 2011

Well that's Surprising...ly Negative


Have you ever been surprised to be let down? Or in other words, have you ever expected a certain outcome only to be surprisingly disappointed? Well if you have, ladies and gentlemen, then do not fear; for your dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is functioning properly! And what's that? There's unified model for the long disputed function of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex? That's right! Both of these birds were hit by the same stone recently when Alexander and Brown produced a computational model "tour de force" to illustrate how negative surprise signals drive dACC (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) and mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex) responses.
Many theories have been concocted as to what the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex may be responsible for, such as error detection, error likelihood prediction, and conflict monitoring primarily, and even more such as reinforcement-guided decision making, negative reinforcement learning signals, and action value prediction error. Could the dACC be responsible for all of this in the brain? Well, Alexander and Brown's model seems to narrow our spectrum a bit and put an end to this controversy.
While their model agrees with previous theories that the dACC and mPFC predict action-outcome situations, it is uniformly different in the sense that these regions are responsible for multiple predictions for action-outcome situations in parallel, and then these predictions are scaled to their probability of their occurrence. When the predicted outcome doesn't happen, learning rates are modified in order to update action-outcome predictions to the degree necessary to learn from mistakes and find a better solution.
Another important point of this model's representation of multiple predictions of action-outcomes is that different ongoing predictions could account for heterogeneity of neural responses usually observed in single-unit studies. So basically, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex can encode different outcomes simultaneously for the same situation that are being encoded in different groups of neurons! Pretty impressive eh?
So let's just recap. The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex analyzes a particular action, predicts an outcome for this action, and if the action-outcome prediction is negated, then the dACC modifies learning rates so that the brain can learn from its mistakes. And the dACC and mPFC can do this multiple times at once!
So while Alexander and Brown's model is reasonable and presents much more concise data, it is obviously provoking new questions and controversy. Seeing as how consequences of positive and negative surprises are the same according to this new model, what makes a negative surprise more significant or important than a positive surprise? If the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for negative surprise predictions and reactions, what is responsible for positive surprise monitoring? As for these questions, we shall see what new models of these mysterious brain regions are presented and what will be discovered for the tasks we perform in daily life. Regardless of what is discovered in the future, we'll all be surprised!

main article:http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n10/full/nn.2932.html
Posted by      Mark A. at 4:19 PM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Mr. Alsberg,

Could you kindly explain the mechanism by which the "tour de force" operates?
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 2:20 PM MDT by Christina U.

July 28, 2011

A Neurobiological View of Universal Moral Dilemmas


Imagine a small boat stranded in the middle of the ocean. There is no one around for miles and no one can even signal for help. There is a limited amount of food and water, but there is a more pressing matter. The boat is sinking. Slowly, but surely, the boat will fill completely with water unless one person jumps out. The boat is only made for 5 passengers, and there are six people on board: a priest, a young woman, her baby, a famous celebrity, an old man, and a person convicted of numerous crimes. Who should be sacrificed to save the rest?

According to Joshua Greene, Ph.D., an analytic philosopher, there are two different ways of viewing moral situations like the one of above. Some questions require people to logically assess the situation and come up with a reasonable solution. This might require sacrificing a few people to save many. This view supports a type of utilitarian morality, which would allow a few to die as long as some greater good is achieved. Other questions require a more emotional response. They, what we would call deontologists, would argue that killing, of course, is wrong, no matter what circumstances arise. They would protect every life, even the smallest, such as the baby, or the most undeserving, perhaps the criminal.

In an article entitled, "An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment," in the journal Science, Greene performed a study posing two very similar situations, each evoking a different response out of his subjects. He then took scans of their brains as the two questions were asked. He notes:
"A runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks toward five people who will be killed if it proceeds on its present course. The only way to save them is to hit a switch that will turn the trolley onto an alternate set of tracks where it will kill one person instead of five. Ought you to turn the trolley in order to save five people at the expense of one? Most people say yes. Now consider a similar problem, the footbridge dilemma. As before, a trolley threatens to kill five people. You are standing next to a large stranger on a footbridge that spans the tracks in between the oncoming trolley and the five people. In this scenario, the only way to save the five people is to push this stranger off the bridge, onto the tracks below. He will die if you do this, but his body will stop the trolley from reaching the others. Ought you to save the five others by pushing this stranger to his death? Most people say no."(Greene, 2105-8)

Using the fMRI, Greene found that in the footbridge scenario, the regions of the brain associated with emotional processing were activated and therefore lit up. With the trolley scenario, those same areas were not activated. Some moral questions require a more logical approach. These become impersonal to us, so we can perhaps justify killing a few to save many. Therefore, we would choose to allow the one person to die to save the five on the tracks from the train. Others can be answered with a more emotional and personal touch. If we apply universal morality to the situation, such as respect for fellow human beings, then how could we ever allow one person to be killed?

Greene observed high activity in brain regions associated with emotion when they were asked about killing babies, even if such an action would save a small town from invading soldiers, for example. Where utilitarian thinking dominates, he observed high activity in regions associated with cognitive function. In one such area, the right anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, activity increases for those who would consider more rational or utilitarian choices, in this case, chose to smother the baby. Greene stated that there are two opposing views in our brains. One, the ancient emotional brain, embodies the view of universal morality of the deontologists, who disapprove of killing. Two, the new brain, equipped with higher-power cognitive function, indicates the utilitarian's "for the greater good." He argues not for the dichotomy of reason and emotion, but an evolved view of "areas associated with cognitive control and working memory," vs. "areas associated with emotion," with obvious bias towards the prior.

There are some obvious flaws to using fMRI to study the neurology of thoughts and emotion. The fMRI signal correlates to a function in the brain. If a particular region lights up, it doesn't mean that the signal originated at that region. According to "Does Neuroscience refute ethics?" published by mises.org, "In fact, the fMRI signal does not even provide a direct measure of the spiking of neurons, so we do not know whether it reflects the inputs or outputs of the activated area." Even with hard data, like the fMRI scans, it is hard to decipher a moral meaning. We cannot find meaning where there isn't from data. For example, we cannot prove that candy is evil because dentists have proved that the sugar can cause cavities. On the flip side, human emotions, like love and hate, cannot be disregarded as less useful than hard facts, especially in matters such as relationships and family. Just because we have fancy scans to prove brain activity, we cannot prove that the outcome of cognitive functions in the brain leading to a more utilitarian decision is morally superior to emotionality, because reason always trumps emotion and feelings. Greene's thinking that a moral relativism is far more applicable than universal morality. We can each follow our own moral compass, so long as it leads to some sort of benefit in the end. We cannot be held accountable for things if every person's beliefs about murder and stealing vary. If you don't support this, then your brain must be more prone to emotional thought, or your "emotional brain is overdeveloped." The article sarcastically comments that though Greene uses fMRI scans to support his findings about opposing brain function with regards to thought and morality, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. He concludes that " 1) there are no moral facts, it's all a matter of opinion; and 2) we should all become utilitarians and donate to charity."
Posted by      Rachael J. at 9:40 PM MDT
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