“God in the beginning created human beings
and made them subject to their own free choice.”
John Walsh reports for The Independent, Jan. 29, 2014, that H. L. Mencken once defined the conscience as “the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.”
For centuries we thought that the conscience was just some faculty of moral insight in the human mind, an innate sense that one was behaving well or badly. Some religions say the conscience was given to us by God, to give humans a choice between sin and Paradise.
Now, thanks to neuroscience, we’ve found the actual, physical thing itself.
Scientists at Oxford University recently made a startling discovery: they found a region of the brain that makes you wonder if you’ve done something wrong, and whether you’d have been well advised to do something better.
That region is called the lateral frontal pole. It’s the size of a large Brussels sprout and it’s unique to humans: monkeys and other primates don’t have it.
Scientists already knew that the brain can monitor decisions it has made. It tells itself: “I have chosen to follow this track in the forest and it’s turning out to be a sunlit pathway/sodden jungle”, but it registers no more nuanced reaction than that.
What this newly discovered region does, however, is to identify other paths that it might have been better to take. “This region monitors how good the choices are that we don’t take,” said Professor Matthew Rushworth, who led the research, “How green the grass is on the other side.”
The lateral frontal pole, in short, informs us that we’ve made the wrong choice.
This is about good and bad, right and wrong. This is about the brain’s connection to morality. This means that the Oxford scientists, without apparently realizing what they’ve done, have located the conscience.
Humans have two lateral frontal poles! One above and behind each eyebrow!
But why would we need two consciences? Maybe they’re our good and bad selves — the angel and devil traditionally thought to reside on human shoulders.
Science has suddenly become exciting. By next week they’ll probably have discovered the exact whereabouts of the soul. Can you imagine the look on famous atheist Richard Dawkins’s face if they did?
- “Proof of Soul’s Existence?,” Nov. 7, 2010.
- “Near-Death Experiences Prove We Have a Soul,” Jan. 8, 2012.