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Altruism and Compassion in Economic Systems Parte 1

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Good morning. My name is Adam Engle, Chair and co-founder of the Mind and Life Institute. Your Holiness, President Fischer, distinguished scientists, scholars, contemplatives, and friends. On behalf of the Dalai Lama and the Board of Directors of the Mind and Life Institute it is my pleasure to welcome you to Mind and Life XX: Altruism and Compassion in Economic Systems. The Mind and Life Dialogues among His Holiness and contemplatives and philosophers began in 1987 as a joint quest for a more integrated mode of understanding the nature of reality, investigating the mind, and promoting well being on the planet. In the past 23 years our dialogues, together with the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute and our research initiatives, have increasingly catalyzed rigorous research collaborations between the modern cognitive neuro- and clinical sciences and the living contemplative traditions and have helped to create the emerging fields of contemplative neuroscience and contemplative clinical science. The research findings from these emerging fields will benefit humanity for generations. In many ways, this dialogue is our most ambitious. Today we are bringing together world-renowned scholars and practitioners from the disciplines of neuroscience, economics, psychology, philosophy, contemplative practice, anthropology, business, and philanthropy to explore how an integrated mode of knowing can illuminate the manner in which emotions and cognition influence decisions with particular attention to the development of altruism and compassion in economic systems. In the short time that we have together over these two and a half days, we will only begin this exploration. It is our deepest desire that the dialogue participants and you in the audience become inspired to expand this frontier in your own lives and in your own work. We are very grateful to the University of Zurich for joining us in cosponsoring this dialogue and for its leadership in the emerging field of neuroeconomics. We thank the Dalai Lama and the other speakers and panelists for their wisdom, kindness, and generosity and the many days of preparation they've devoted to making this symposium as beneficial as possible. We thank our sustaining patrons and our gold and silver sponsors who've provided the financial support to make this meeting possible. And most importantly, we thank each and every one of you for your interest and openness in this exploration. Finally, we want to pay tribute to the memory of Francisco Varela our co-founder at the Mind and Life Institute and express our deepest gratitude for his legacy. Without his wisdom, dedication, and commitment we would not be here today. I now have the privilege and honor of introducing Professor Andreas Fischer, President of the University of Zurich. Professor Fischer studied English and German literature and the history of art at the University of Basel and the University of Durham in England. He was awarded his doctorate in 1975 and was appointed professor of English philology at the University of Basel in 1981. He joined the University of Zurich as a full professor in 1985, was elected vice president in 2006, and has been president since 2008. Please join me in welcoming President Fischer. Applause Your Holiness, ladies and gentlemen, more than 400 years ago William Shakespeare, in one of his plays, confronted two men whose economic attitude and behavior could not be more different. On the one hand, we have Antonio, a wealthy and generous merchant. He wants to give money to one of his friends to enable him to win his lady's love. On the other hand, there is Shylock, a moneylender. His services are needed because Antonio's assets happen to be tied up at sea. The deal between Antonio and Shylock is as simple as it is fatal. Shylock lends the money for Antonio's friend on the condition that Antonio acts as a guarantor. In case Antonio cannot repay the loan, they agree that Shylock can cut a pound of flesh out of Antonio, out of Antonio's body. Things happen as they do in such cases. One of Antonio's merchant ships has not returned as expected, and therefore he cannot repay the loan on time. The moneylender Shylock mercilessly demands his grisly pledge. But now events take a different turn. A court of law finds that Shylock does have a right to a pound of flesh but not the blood that comes with it. Shylock is accused of having threatened Antonio's life and loses all his fortune. For the others there is a happy ending. Antonio's ship comes back after all, and the friend wins the hand of the lady he loves. Altruism and Compassion in Economic Systems, the topic of the Mind and Life XX conference, which is beginning today and which I have the honor of opening here, is old and highly innovative at the same time. For a long time it was accepted that the healthy self-interest of an individual was also good for the general welfare, and within certain limits this is still probably true. In the recent past however, scholars have discovered what writers like Shakespeare have known or knew centuries ago, namely that it may be economically beneficial to do good and it may be ruinous to take aim only at one's possibly short-lived advantage. If one focuses too narrowly on one thing, one may lose sight of the whole. Shylock, the miserly moneylender in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice," only sees his own advantage, his fortune, and the pound of flesh, his claim. He loses all sense of the proportion of his actions. He has no compassion. And at the end he loses everything. Antonio, on the other hand, acts in a genuinely altruistic manner, he does something good, not out of self-interest, but out of friendship, and at the end he gains more than he could ever hope for. In the year 2005, the University of Zurich founded a University of Research Priority Program entitled Altruism and Egoism Foundations of Human Social Behavior. In this interdisciplinary program, in which Professors Fehr and Singer play a leading role, researchers with backgrounds ranging from psychology and philosophy to neurology and empirical economics, but not, alas, English studies and Shakespeare studies, are attempting to understand and explain human social behavior and especially the role of altruism in economic systems. Your Holiness, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor for me to welcome you all here in Zurich for a conference that will enable us to continue this dialogue and in particular to gain insights which result from a dialogue of different cultures. I'm keen to find out what this dialogue will yield. I'm very happy indeed that this conference is co-sponsored by the University of Zurich, and in the name of the whole executive board I wish you and us a series of lively and fruitful sessions. Your Holiness, once again it is a great honor for me to welcome you here in Zurich. There is no need for me to introduce you the way I was introduced, but I would now like you to take the stage here and address the audience. Thank you very much. Applause I cannot see your faces. I believe there are a few hundred people here. Respected university scholars and also those in the audience. Basically, we are human brothers and sisters, and on fundamental level we are the same. And also not only human beings but all sentient beings who have experienced pain and pleasure, because of that we all have desire to gain happier days, a happier future. That is our fundamental right. Because of that desire, because of that right, we come together here. Nobody comes here to seek philosophy, misery, all problems. That is the nature of that. Now we meet with scientists and have some sort of discussion or exchange. Of course we are of the ancient people who study and practice ancient Indian thought, mainly about mind and emotion. What modern science mainly deals with matters, both mattering towards and benefiting humanity. The main purpose and my main sort of desire, firstly, for this dialogue and discussion is more depth. It's very helpful to expand our knowledge and our understanding as a part of economics. That is necessary. And through constant investigation and discussion our knowledge will gradually further expand. If we are content in our knowledge then there will be no further progress. That is one purpose of our meeting. The second, as I mentioned earlier, is also very important for our happy life on an individual level, a family level, community level, and global level. In the meantime, what brings satisfaction from money is ultimately our feeling, our mind, our emotion, so there is no point to neglect that side. Also there is the global economic crisis. Of course my knowledge about the economy is zero. Of course I appreciate money. It's important, very useful. But I do not know how to make money. Cheating and bullying are absolutely the wrong methods. Through honesty and getting some money, it's very good. So out of curiosity I ask some of my friends, businessmen, what are the causes of this crisis? Then they say it's greed. Greed is okay. But unlimited greed and without seeing consequences, that kind of greed is destructive. And then also, speculation. Speculation means without knowing reality you just create something, some speculation. I think, again, out of greed. Also there could be some desire, on an emotional level, to cheat or show hypocrisy, doing something but showing something different. Also some of my friends say one of the causes of this crisis is ignorance. It is true. Without total investigation or implication and without a holistic way of thinking. Just thinking about profit. That is, I feel, an ignorant way of thinking. These are some of the causes of this recent crisis of the economy. So this shows in this economic crisis. I think the economy itself, without a doubt, operates with reality and emotion. It is also a part of human activity to have concern for humanity. So there's no way to escape from motivation or these human emotions. Therefore, every human activity is directly related with emotion, motivation, and clear understanding about reality. Therefore, this kind of conference may help to show us the right direction. Although as I mentioned earlier, my knowledge, even in ancient Indian thought where I study these things, is still very limited, and on the other moral subject, again, almost zero. I am happy to participate here, but don't expect much from the Lama, from the Lama's brain. Thank you. Applause Oh, of course, of course I would like express my thanks, my appreciation to this organization, especially Zurich University. I remember one instance a few years ago at this location, Zurich University, at my talk. My talk goes on for a while. My security personnel answers the telephone and says that a bomb is there. My security told me that it could be just a fake but nobody can take this risk. So that abruptly ended my talk. For me, it's a good thing. My speeches are shortened. I like that. I hope that this time that will not happen, that kind of thing. Applause So I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to moderate this morning's session, Your Holiness, and also to remind everyone that this is a different format than what we usually see in conferences, and His Holiness alluded to this fact that we are here to investigate and to engage in a dialogue. So the presentations will hopefully be concise leaving time for questions of His Holiness even though he professes to not have much experience in the field of economics. But he certainly has tremendous experience in the fields of altruism and compassion. And this is in essence what our focus is over the next days. Again, His Holiness pointed to the fact that the global financial crisis gave most people on this planet a feeling of how absolutely vulnerable systems are on a global level and how they affect single individuals, families, communities, and nations. Also we see that from the point of view of economics there is a kind of sense that people are basically self-serving, they're basically selfish, that they're self-interested, that they're not altruistic, that they're not compassionate. But what is very important about our gathering this morning is that thanks to our neuroscientists and our social psychologists we're getting a very different view of how human beings are in the world in terms of compassion, altruism, and empathy. So we are very honored to bring together individuals who are not only social psychologists like Dan Batson and neuroscientists like Tania Singer and Richard Davidson contemplatives like Matthieu Ricard but economists and philosophers so that we can really engage in an interdisciplinary discourse about what is it about the human psyche that can give rise to an economic vision that will foster a world of sustainability. And maybe the word sustainable is kind of strange for a Buddhist because sustainable implies in a certain way that impermanence is not present. But in fact we know from the point of view of Buddhism and we also know from the point of view of systems that sustainability refers to ups and downs, to bubbles and the bursting of bubbles. So I want to begin today by thanking Tania for organizing and magnetizing this gathering. It's just been a joy for us to work with you. Applause And it's also extraordinary to have this meeting in the city of Zurich, which is looked on as kind of one of the bastions of sane economics, but we want to deepen, as the University of Zurich is doing, this inquiry into what really we mean by sane economics. So we're going to begin today with a short presentation by Dan Batson. And Dan, Your Holiness, has done very early research that focuses on altruism, altruistic motivation, and its antecedents including empathic concern, perspective taking, and also including parental nurturance, which of course, you have been nurtured parentally in a wonderful way. You often refer to this in terms of your relationship with your mother. And Dan is going to explore the question, which has just begun to be explored in economics. This has to do with the presence of altruism. And he's going to look at it from the point of view of social psychology and explore the egoism/altruism debate, which is a debate that is very interesting, and is, I think, the prevailing view in the West that human beings are basically selfish. We want to ask Dan to also begin to unpack that debate for us and to talk some also about the empathy-altruism hypothesis as we begin this exploration of economics. Dan, thank you. Your Holiness, I know that you are deeply convinced that altruism and compassion play a crucial role in human life and that for many years you have cultivated these qualities through your spiritual practice. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to hear that in Western thought, particularly in psychology and in economics, there is much doubt and debate about whether altruism and compassion even exist. There is a conviction that all human action, no matter how noble and seemingly selfless, is motivated by self-interest or "egoism." That it's always, "What's in it for me?" As research psychologists, colleagues and I have been interested in trying to address this question and see whether this view is correct. So we've conducted a series of experiments, which I would like to tell you a little bit about today and give you some idea of conclusions we have drawn. Just as an overview of what I'll be covering, and Joan has actually already covered much of this, I will try to describe briefly the Egoism-Altruism Debate and then a possible, perhaps the most plausible, source of altruism in terms of empathic concern, then talk about the research puzzle that this creates because it is a difficult research problem, try to give you one example from experimental procedure of the way that colleagues and I have tried to address this problem, and then to conclude, to just give you a sort of summary, of what the experimental evidence as a whole seems to say about the existence of altruism and talk about my current view of empathy-induced altruism. Then what I hope to do is ask you about how that view relates to the Buddhist view of altruism and compassion. First for the egoism-altruism debate, let me define terms. In the debate egoism is a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing one's own welfare, and that's contrasted then with altruism, a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another's welfare. Now, what I mean by an ultimate goal here is not a first and final cause but what the person is after in the situation. It's contrasted with an instrumental goal, and an instrumental goal is something you pursue but as a means to some other end. And so the reason that this is an important distinction is that either egoism, that is, motivation to increase one's own welfare, or altruism can motivate helping behavior, cooperation, beneficial behavior, and even very costly helping. They still can be motivated by desire to increase one's own welfare. For example, one could be seeking to feel good about oneself, to feel a warm glow, or to avoid guilt, something like that. So the question then becomes, "Are humans actually capable of altruism?" And in Western thought the dominant Western view, as I've said, is universal egoism, and here's a nice statement of it from the Duke de La Rochefoucauld: "The most disinterested love is, after all, but a kind of bargain in which the dear love of our own selves always proposes to be the gainer in some way or other." Some of the gains some of the ways to gain can include avoiding material, social, and self-punishment, so it's not just material gains and punishments that we're talking about, but you may be acting to avoid censure or guilt. It can be getting material, social, and self-rewards, feeling good about yourself, as I mentioned, or getting praise from others. But another important possibility if we're thinking about helping behavior is to reduce one's own distress that's caused by witnessing another suffering. That would be an egoistic motive because the benefit is to self. Thinking of that third possibility, here's a more extreme statement. This comes from Bernard Mandeville: "There is no merit in saving an innocent babe ready to drop into the fire. The action is neither good nor bad, and what benefit so ever the infant received, we only obliged ourselves; for to have seen it have seen it fall and not strove to hinder it, would have caused a pain, which self-preservation compelled us to prevent." Then the question is... The question is then, "So are humans capable of altruism?" And that brings us to the empathy-altruism hypothesis, and this is a hypothesis that's not original with me by any stretch. Charles Darwin, for example, had a version of this as well. There are a number through history but it's always been sort of a minority view in Western thought. The hypothesis itself is that empathic concern produces altruistic motivation. So this is a source of altruism. So then we get interested in what empathic concern means, and what I mean by empathic concern is an other-oriented emotion evoked by seeing a person in need. By other-oriented I mean it involves feeling FOR the person in need. It's not feeling AS the person feels. Some people will use empathy in that sense, and Tania will a little later. She would probably use the term compassion or sympathy for what I'm talking about as empathic concern, so there are terminological differences, but it includes things like feeling sympathy, compassion, tenderness, and so forth. It's also distinct from the feeling I mentioned earlier, feeling personal distress, which is a more self-oriented feeling, that may be evoked by seeing someone else suffering, but this is, "I'm distressed BY their suffering," and that may lead to an egoistic motive to reduce that distress. There's a lot of evidence that empathic concern is associated with increased helpfulness, but that by itself simply says there is A motive, it doesn't say what the nature of the motive is.

Video Details

Duration: 36 minutes and 59 seconds
Country: Brazil
Language: English
Director: Mind and Life Institute
Views: 209
Posted by: mvsquadros on Oct 4, 2010

A Dialogue at the Interface of Economics, Neuroscience and Contemplative Sciences
April 9–11, 2010 • Zurich, Switzerland

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