The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values - Sam Harris (2010)

Chapter 5. THE FUTURE OF HAPPINESS

No one has ever mistaken me for an optimist. And yet when I consider one of the more pristine sources of pessimism—the moral development of our species—I find reasons for hope. Despite our perennial bad behavior, our moral progress seems to me unmistakable. Our powers of empathy are clearly growing. Today, we are surely more likely to act for the benefit of humanity as a whole than at any point in the past.

Of course, the twentieth century delivered some unprecedented horrors. But those of us who live in the developed world are becoming increasingly disturbed by our capacity to do one another harm. We are less tolerant of “collateral damage” in times of war—undoubtedly because we now see images of it—and we are less comfortable with ideologies that demonize whole populations, justifying their abuse or outright destruction.

Consider the degree to which racism in the United States has diminished in the last hundred years. Racism is still a problem, of course. But the evidence of change is undeniable. Most readers will have seen photos of lynchings from the first half of the twentieth century, in which whole towns turned out, as though for a carnival, simply to enjoy the sight of some young man or woman being tortured to death and strung up on a tree or lamppost for all to see. These pictures often reveal bankers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, church elders, newspaper editors, policemen, even the occasional senator and congressman, smiling in their Sunday best, having consciously posed for a postcard photo under a dangling, lacerated, and often partially cremated person. Such images are shocking enough. But realize that these genteel people often took souvenirs of the body—teeth, ears, fingers, kneecaps, genitalia, and internal organs—home to show their friends and family. Sometimes, they even displayed these ghoulish trophies in their places of business.1

Consider the following response to boxer Jack Johnson’s successful title defense against Jim Jeffries, the so-called “Great White Hope”:

A Word to the Black Man:

Do not point your nose too high

Do not swell your chest too much

Do not boast too loudly

Do not be puffed up

Let not your ambition be inordinate

Or take a wrong direction

Remember you have done nothing at all

You are just the same member of society you were last week

You are on no higher plane

Deserve no new consideration

And will get none

No man will think a bit higher of you

Because your complexion is the same

Of that of the victor at Reno2

A modern reader can only assume that this dollop of racist hatred appeared on a leaflet printed by the Ku Klux Klan. On the contrary, this was the measured opinion of the editors at the Los Angeles Times exactly a century ago. Is it conceivable that our mainstream media will ever again give voice to such racism? I think it far more likely that we will proceed along our current path: racism will continue to lose its subscribers; the history of slavery in the United States will become even more flabbergasting to contemplate; and future generations will marvel at the the ways that we, too, failed in our commitment to the common good. We will embarrass our descendants, just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral progress.

I am bolstered in this expectation by my view of the moral landscape: the belief that morality is a genuine sphere of human inquiry, and not a mere product of culture, suggests that progress is possible. If moral truths transcend the contingencies of culture, human beings should eventually converge in their moral judgments. I am painfully aware, however, that we are living at a time when Muslims riot by the hundreds of thousands over cartoons, Catholics oppose condom use in villages decimated by AIDS, and one of the few “moral” judgments guaranteed to unite the better part of humanity is that homosexuality is an abomination. And yet I can detect moral progress even while believing that most people are profoundly confused about good and evil. I may be a greater optimist than I thought.

Science and Philosophy

Throughout this book, I have argued that the split between facts and values—and, therefore, between science and morality—is an illusion. However, the discussion has taken place on at least two levels: I have reviewed scientific data that, I believe, supports my argument; but I have made a more basic, philosophical case, the validity of which does not narrowly depend on current data. Readers may wonder how these levels are related.

First, we should observe that a boundary between science and philosophy does not always exist. Einstein famously doubted Bohr’s view of quantum mechanics, and yet both physicists were armed with the same experimental findings and mathematical techniques. Was their disagreement a matter of “philosophy” or “physics”? We cannot always draw a line between scientific thinking and “mere” philosophy because all data must be interpreted against a background theory, and different theories come bundled with a fair amount of contextual reasoning. A dualist who believes in the existence of immaterial souls might say that the entire field of neuroscience is beholden to the philosophy of physicalism (the view that mental events should be understood as physical events), and he would be right. The assumption that the mind is the product of the brain is integral to almost everything neuroscientists do. Is physicalism a matter of “philosophy” or “neuroscience”? The answer may depend upon where one happens to be standing on a university campus. Even if we grant that only philosophers tend to think about “physicalism” per se, it remains a fact that any argument or experiment that put this philosophical assumption in doubt would be a landmark finding for neuroscience—likely the most important in its history. So while there are surely some philosophical views that make no contact with science, science is often a matter of philosophy in practice. It is probably worth recalling that the original name for the physical sciences was, in fact, “natural philosophy.”

Throughout the sections of this book that could be aptly described as “philosophical,” I make many points that have scientific implications. Most scientists treat facts and values as though they were distinct and irreconcilable in principle. I have argued that they cannot be, as anything of value must be valuable to someone (whether actually or potentially)—and, therefore, its value should be attributable to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures. One could call this a “philosophical” position, but it is one that directly relates to the boundaries of science. If I am correct, science has a far wider purview than many of its practitioners suppose, and its findings may one day impinge upon culture in ways that they do not expect. If I am wrong, the boundaries of science are as narrow as most people assume. This difference of view might be ascribed to “philosophy,” but it is a difference that will determine the practice of science in the years to come.

Recall the work of Jonathan Haidt, discussed at some length in chapter 2: Haidt has convinced many people, both inside and outside the scientific community, that there are two types of morality: liberal morality focuses on two primary concerns (harm and fairness), while conservative morality emphasizes five (harm, fairness, authority, purity, and group loyalty). As a result, many people believe that liberals and conservatives are bound to view human behavior in incompatible ways and that science will never be able to say that one approach to morality is “better” or “truer” or more “moral” than the other.

I think that Haidt is wrong, for at least two reasons. First, I suspect that the extra factors he attributes to conservatives can be understood as further concerns about harm. That is, I believe that conservatives have the same morality as liberals do, they just have different ideas about how harm accrues in this universe.3 There is also some research to suggest that conservatives are more prone to feelings of disgust, and this seems to especially influence their moral judgments on the subject of sex.4 More important, whatever the differences between liberals and conservatives may or may not be, if my argument about the moral landscape is correct, one approach to morality is likely more conducive to human flourishing than the other. While my disagreement with Haidt may be more a matter of argument than of experiment at present, whichever argument prevails will affect the progress of science, as well as science’s impact on the rest of culture.

The Psychology of Happiness

I have said very little in this book about the current state of psychological science as it relates to human well-being. This research—which occasionally goes by the name of “positive psychology”—is in its infancy, especially when it comes to understanding the relevant details at the level of the brain. And given the difficulty of defining human well-being, coupled with the general reluctance of scientists to challenge anyone’s beliefs about it, it is sometimes hard to know what is being studied in this research. What does it mean, for instance, to compare self-reported ratings of “happiness” or “life satisfaction” between individuals or across cultures? I’m not at all sure. Clearly, a person’s conception of what is possible in human life will affect her judgment of whether she has made the best use of her opportunities, met her goals, developed deep friendships, etc. Some people will go to bed tonight proud to have merely reduced their daily consumption of methamphetamine; others will be frustrated that their rank on the Forbes 400 list has slipped into the triple digits. Where one is satisfied to be in life often has a lot to do with where one has been.

I once knew a very smart and talented man who sent an email to dozens of friends and acquaintances declaring his intention to kill himself. As you might expect, this communication prompted a flurry of responses. While I did not know him well, I sent several emails urging him to seek professional counseling, to try antidepressants, to address his sleep issues, and to do a variety of other obvious things to combat depression. In each of his replies, however, he insisted that he was not depressed. He believed himself to be acting on a philosophical insight: everyone dies eventually; life, therefore, is ultimately pointless; thus, there is no reason to keep on living if one doesn’t want to.

We went back and forth on these topics, as I sought to persuade him that his “insight” was itself a symptom of depression or some other mood disorder. I argued that if he simply felt better, he wouldn’t believe that his life was no longer worth living. No doubt many other people had similar exchanges with him. These communications seemed to nudge him away from the precipice for a while. Four years later, however, he committed suicide.

Experiences of this kind reveal how difficult it can be to discuss the subject of human well-being. Communication on any subject can be misleading, of course, because people often use the same words quite differently. Talking about states of mind poses special difficulties, however. Was my friend really “depressed” in my sense of the term? Did he even know what I meant by “depression”? Did I know what I should have meant by it? For instance, are there forms of depression that have yet to be differentiated which admit of distinct remedies? And is it possible that my friend suffered from none of these? Is it, in other words, possible for a person to see no point in living another day, and to be motivated to kill himself, without experiencing any disorder of mood? Two things seem quite clear to me at this point: such questions have answers, and yet we often do not know enough about human experience to even properly discuss the questions themselves.

We can mean many things when using words like “happiness” and “well-being.” This makes it difficult to study the most positive aspects of human experience scientifically. In fact, it makes it difficult for many of us to even know what goals in life are worth seeking. Just how happy and fulfilled should we expect to be in our careers or intimate relationships? Much of the skepticism I encounter when speaking about these issues comes from people who think “happiness” is a superficial state of mind and that there are far more important things in life than “being happy.” Some readers may think that concepts like “well-being” and “flourishing” are similarly effete. However, I don’t know of any better terms with which to signify the most positive states of being to which we can aspire. One of the virtues of thinking about a moral landscape, the heights of which remain to be discovered, is that it frees us from these semantic difficulties. Generally speaking, we need only worry about what it will mean to move “up” as opposed to “down.”

Some of what psychologists have learned about human well-being confirms what everyone already knows: people tend to be happier if they have good friends, basic control over their lives, and enough money to meet their needs. Loneliness, helplessness, and poverty are not recommended. We did not need science to tell us this.

But the best of this research also reveals that our intuitions about happiness are often quite wrong. For instance, most of us feel that having more choices available to us—when seeking a mate, choosing a career, shopping for a new stove, etc.—is always desirable. But while having some choice is generally good, it seems that having too many options tends to undermine our feelings of satisfaction, no matter which option we choose.5 Knowing this, it could be rational to strategically limit one’s choices. Anyone who has ever remodeled a home will know the glassy-eyed anguish of having gone to one too many stores in search of the perfect faucet.

One of the most interesting things to come out of the research on human happiness is the discovery that we are very bad judges of how we will feel in the future—an ability that the psychologist Daniel Gilbert has called “affective forecasting.” Gilbert and others have shown that we systematically overestimate the degree to which good and bad experiences will affect us.6 Changes in wealth, health, age, marital status, etc., tend not to matter as much as we think they will—and yet we make our most important decisions in life based on these inaccurate assumptions. It is useful to know that what we think will matter often matters much less than we think. Conversely, things we consider trivial can actually impact our lives greatly. If you have ever been impressed by how people often rise to the occasion while experiencing great hardship but can fall to pieces over minor inconveniences, you have seen this principle at work. The general finding of this research is now uncontroversial: we are poorly placed to accurately recall the past, to perceive the present, or to anticipate the future with respect to our own happiness. It seems little wonder, therefore, that we are so often unfulfilled.

Which Self Should We Satisfy?

If you ask people to report on their level of well-being moment-to-moment—by giving them a beeper that sounds at random intervals, prompting them to record their mental state—you get one measure of how happy they are. If, however, you simply ask them how satisfied they are with their lives generally, you often get a very different measure. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls the first source of information “the experiencing self” and the second “the remembering self.” And his justification for partitioning the human mind in this way is that these two “selves” often disagree. Indeed, they can be experimentally shown to disagree, even across a relatively brief span of time. We saw this earlier with respect to Kahneman’s data on colonoscopies: because “the remembering self” evaluates any experience by reference to its peak intensity and its final moments (the “peak/end rule”), it is possible to improve its lot, at the expense of “the experiencing self,” by simply prolonging an unpleasant procedure at its lowest level of intensity (and thereby reducing the negativity of future memories).

What applies to colonoscopies seems to apply elsewhere in life. Imagine, for instance, that you want to go on vacation: You are deciding between a trip to Hawaii and a trip to Rome. On Hawaii, you envision yourself swimming in the ocean, relaxing on the beach, playing tennis, and drinking mai tais. Rome will find you sitting in cafés, visiting museums and ancient ruins, and drinking an impressive amount of wine. Which vacation should you choose? It is quite possible that your “experiencing self” would be much happier on Hawaii, as indicated by an hourly tally of your emotional and sensory pleasure, while your remembering self would give a much more positive account of Rome one year hence. Which self would be right? Does the question even make sense? Kahneman observes that while most of us think our “experiencing self” must be more important, it has no voice in our decisions about what to do in life. After all, we can’t choose from among experiences; we must choose from among remembered (or imagined) experiences. And, according to Kahneman, we don’t tend to think about the future as a set of experiences; we think of it as a set of “anticipated memories.”7 The problem, with regard to both doing science and living one’s life, is that the “remembering self” is the only one who can think and speak about the past. It is, therefore, the only one who can consciously make decisions in light of past experience.

According to Kahneman, the correlation in well-being between these two “selves” is around 0.5.8 This is essentially the same correlation observed between identical twins, or between a person and himself a decade later.9 It would seem, therefore, that about half the information about a person’s happiness is still left on the table whichever “self” we consult. What are we to make of a “remembering self” who claims to have a wonderful life, while his “experiencing self” suffers continuous marital stress, health complaints, and career anxiety? And what of a person whose “remembering self” claims to be deeply dissatisfied—having failed to reach his most important goals—but whose moment-to-moment state of happiness is quite high? Kahneman seems to think that there is no way to reconcile disparities of this sort. If true, this would appear to present a problem for any science of morality.

It seems clear, however, that the “remembering self” is simply the “experiencing self” in one of its modes. Imagine, for instance, that you are going about your day quite happily, experiencing one moment of contentment after the next, when you run into an old rival from school. Looking like the very incarnation of success, he asks what you have made of yourself in the intervening decades. At this point your “remembering self” steps forward and, feeling great chagrin, admits “not so much.” Let us say that this encounter pitches you into a crisis of self-doubt that causes you to make some drastic decisions, affecting both your family and career. All of these moments are part of the fabric of your experience, however, whether recollected or not. Conscious memories and self-evaluations are themselves experiences that lay the foundation for future experiences. Making a conscious assessment of your life, career, or marriage feels a certain way in the present and leads to subsequent thoughts and behaviors. These changes will also feel a certain way and have further implications for your future. But none of these events occur outside the continuum of your experience in the present moment (i.e., the “experiencing self”).

If we could take the 2.5 billion seconds that make up the average human life and assess a person’s well-being at each point in time, the distinction between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self” would disappear. Yes, the experience of recalling the past often determines what we decide to do in the future—and this greatly affects the character of one’s future experience. But it would still be true to say that in each of the 2.5 billion seconds of an average life, certain moments were pleasant, and others were painful; some were later recalled with greater or lesser fidelity, and these memories had whatever effects they had later on. Consciousness and its ever-changing contents remain the only subjective reality.

Thus, if your “remembering self” claims to have had a wonderful time in Rome, while your “experiencing self” felt only boredom, fatigue, and despair, then your “remembering self” (i.e., your recollection of the trip) is simply wrong about what it was like to be you in Rome. This becomes increasingly obvious the more we narrow our focus: Imagine a “remembering self” who thinks that you were especially happy while sitting for fifteen minutes on the Spanish Steps; while your “experiencing self” was, in fact, plunged deeper into misery for every one of those minutes than at any other point on the trip. Do we need two selves to account for this disparity? No. The vagaries of memory suffice.

As Kahneman admits, the vast majority of our experiences in life never get recalled, and the time we spend actually remembering the past is comparatively brief. Thus, the quality of most of our lives can be assessed only in terms of whatever fleeting character it has as it occurs. But this includes the time we spend recalling the past. Amid this flux, the moments in which we construct a larger story about our lives appear like glints of sunlight on a dark river: they may seem special, but they are part of the current all the same.

On Being Right or Wrong

It is clear that we face both practical and conceptual difficulties when seeking to maximize human well-being. Consider, for instance, the tensions between freedom of speech, the right to privacy, and the duty of every government to keep its citizens safe. Each of these principles seems fundamental to a healthy society. The problem, however, is that at their extremes, each is hostile to the other two. Certain forms of speech painfully violate people’s privacy and can even put society itself in danger. Should I be able to film my neighbor through his bedroom window and upload this footage onto YouTube as a work of “journalism”? Should I be free to publish a detailed recipe for synthesizing smallpox? Clearly, appropriate limits to free expression exist. Likewise, too much respect for privacy would make it impossible to gather the news or to prosecute criminals and terrorists. And too zealous a commitment to protecting innocent people can lead to unbearable violations of both privacy and freedom of expression. How should we balance our commitment to these various goods?

We may never be able to answer this question with absolute precision. It seems quite clear, however, that questions like this have answers. Even if there are a thousand different ways to optimally tune these three variables, given concomitant changes in the rest of culture, there must be many more ways that are less than optimal—and people will suffer as a result.

What would it mean for a couple to decide that they should have a child? It probably means they think that their own well-being will tend to increase for having brought another person into the world; it should also mean that they expect their child to have a life that is, on balance, worth living. If they didn’t expect these things, it’s hard to see why they would want to have a child in the first place.

However, most of the research done on happiness suggests that people actually become less happy when they have children and do not begin to approach their prior level of happiness until their children leave home.10 Let us say that you are aware of this research but imagine that you will be an exception. Of course, another body of research shows that most people think that they are exceptions to rules of this sort: there is almost nothing more common than the belief that one is above average in intelligence, wisdom, honesty, etc. But you are aware of this research as well, and it does not faze you. Perhaps, in your case, all relevant exceptions are true, and you will be precisely as happy a parent as you hope to be. However, a famous study of human achievement suggests that one of the most reliable ways to diminish a person’s contributions to society is for that person to start a family.11 How would you view your decision to have a child if you knew that all the time you spent changing diapers and playing with Legos would prevent you from developing the cure for Alzheimer’s disease that was actually within your reach?

These are not empty questions. But neither are they the sorts of questions that anyone is likely to answer. The decision to have a child may always be made in the context of reasonable (and not so reasonable) expectations about the future well-being of all concerned. It seems to me that thinking in this way is, nevertheless, to contemplate the moral landscape.

If we are not able to perfectly reconcile the tension between personal and collective well-being, there is still no reason to think that they are generally in conflict. Most boats will surely rise with the same tide. It is not at all difficult to envision the global changes that would improve life for everyone: We would all be better off in a world where we devoted fewer of our resources to preparing to kill one another. Finding clean sources of energy, cures for disease, improvements in agriculture, and new ways to facilitate human cooperation are general goals that are obviously worth striving for. What does such a claim mean? It means that we have every reason to believe that the pursuit of such goals will lead upward on the slopes of the moral landscape.

The claim that science could have something important to say about values (because values relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures) is an argument made on first principles. As such, it doesn’t rest on any specific empirical results. That does not mean that this claim couldn’t be falsified, however. Clearly, if there is a more important source of value that has nothing to do with the well-being of conscious creatures (in this life or a life to come), my thesis would be disproved. As I have said, however, I cannot conceive of what such a source of value could be: for if someone claimed to have found it somewhere, it could be of no possible interest to anyone, by definition.

There are other ways that my thesis could be falsified, however. There would be no future science of morality, for instance, if human well-being were completely haphazard and unrelated to states of the brain. If some people are made happiest by brain state X, while others are made miserable by it, there would be no neural correlate of human well-being. Alternately, a neural correlate of human well-being might exist, but it could be invoked to the same degree by antithetical states of the world. In this case, there would be no connection between a person’s inner life and his or her outer circumstances. If either of these scenarios were true, we could not make any general claims about human flourishing. However, if this is the way the world works, the brain would seem to be little more than insulation for the skull, and the entire field of neuroscience would constitute an elaborate and very costly method of misunderstanding the world. Again, this is an intelligible claim, but that does not mean that intelligent people should take it seriously.

It is also conceivable that a science of human flourishing could be possible, and yet people could be made equally happy by very different “moral” impulses. Perhaps there is no connection between being good and feeling good—and, therefore, no connection between moral behavior (as generally conceived) and subjective well-being. In this case, rapists, liars, and thieves would experience the same depth of happiness as the saints. This scenario stands the greatest chance of being true, while still seeming quite far-fetched. Neuroimaging work already suggests what has long been obvious through introspection: human cooperation is rewarding.12 However, if evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is, my argument about the moral landscape would still stand, as would the likely utility of neuroscience for investigating it. It would no longer be an especially “moral” landscape; rather it would be a continuum of well-being, upon which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks.

Worries of this kind seem to ignore some very obvious facts about human beings: we have all evolved from common ancestors and are, therefore, far more similar than we are different; brains and primary human emotions clearly transcend culture, and they are unquestionably influenced by states of the world (as anyone who has ever stubbed his toe can attest). No one, to my knowledge, believes that there is so much variance in the requisites of human well-being as to make the above concerns seem plausible.

Whether morality becomes a proper branch of science is not really the point. Is economics a true science yet? Judging from recent events, it wouldn’t appear so. Perhaps a deep understanding of economics will always elude us. But does anyone doubt that there are better and worse ways to structure an economy? Would any educated person consider it a form of bigotry to criticize another society’s response to a banking crisis? Imagine how terrifying it would be if great numbers of smart people became convinced that all efforts to prevent a global financial catastrophe must be either equally valid or equally nonsensical in principle. And yet this is precisely where we stand on the most important questions in human life.

Currently, most scientists believe that answers to questions of human value will fall perpetually beyond our reach—not because human subjectivity is too difficult to study, or the brain too complex, but because there is no intellectual justification for speaking about right and wrong, or good and evil, across cultures. Many people also believe that nothing much depends on whether we find a universal foundation for morality. It seems to me, however, that in order to fulfill our deepest interests in this life, both personally and collectively, we must first admit that some interests are more defensible than others. Indeed, some interests are so compelling that they need no defense at all.

This book was written in the hope that as science develops, we will recognize its application to the most pressing questions of human existence. For nearly a century, the moral relativism of science has given faith-based religion—that great engine of ignorance and bigotry—a nearly uncontested claim to being the only universal framework for moral wisdom. As a result, the most powerful societies on earth spend their time debating issues like gay marriage when they should be focused on problems like nuclear proliferation, genocide, energy security, climate change, poverty, and failing schools. Granted, the practical effects of thinking in terms of a moral landscape cannot be our only reason for doing so—we must form our beliefs about reality based on what we think is actually true. But few people seem to recognize the dangers posed by thinking that there are no true answers to moral questions.

If our well-being depends upon the interaction between events in our brains and events in the world, and there are better and worse ways to secure it, then some cultures will tend to produce lives that are more worth living than others; some political persuasions will be more enlightened than others; and some world views will be mistaken in ways that cause needless human misery. Whether or not we ever understand meaning, morality, and values in practice, I have attempted to show that there must be something to know about them in principle. And I am convinced that merely admitting this will transform the way we think about human happiness and the public good.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The Moral Landscape is based, in part, on the dissertation I wrote for my PhD in neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. Consequently, the book has benefited greatly from the vetting that this first manuscript received from my thesis committee. I am extremely grateful to Mark Cohen, Marco Iacoboni, Eran Zaidel, and Jerome (“Pete”) Engel for their guidance and support—sustained, as it was, over many years during which the progress of my scientific research was difficult to discern. Each saved me from myself on several occasions—and, with unnerving frequency, from one another.

I am especially indebted to Mark Cohen, my dissertation advisor. Mark is an uncommonly gifted teacher and a model of caution in reporting scientific results. If our academic interests did not always coincide, I was surely the poorer for it. I would also like to thank Mark’s wife and colleague, Susan Bookheimer: I always profited from Susan’s advice—delivered, in my case, with the compassionate urgency of a mother rescuing a child from a busy intersection. I am also grateful to Suzie Vader, the smiling face of the Interdepartmental PhD Program for Neuroscience at UCLA, for providing generous encouragement and assistance over many years.

Sections of this book are based on two published papers: chapter 3 contains a discussion of Harris, S., Sheth, S. A., and Cohen, M. S. (2008), Functional neuroimaging of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty, Annals of Neurology, 63(2), 141–147; part of chapter 4 is drawn from Harris, S., Kaplan, J. T., Curiel, A., Bookheimer, S. Y., Iacoboni, M., Cohen, M. S. (2009), The neural correlates of religious and nonreligious belief, PLoS ONE 4 (10). I gratefully acknowledge my coauthors on these works as well as their original publishers. I would especially like to thank Jonas T. Kaplan, now at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, for partnering with me on the second paper. This study was a joint effort at every stage, and Jonas’s involvement was essential to its completion.

In addition to my dissertation committee at UCLA, several outside scholars and scientists reviewed early drafts of this book. Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett, Owen Flanagan, and Steven Pinker read the text, in whole or in part, and offered extremely helpful notes. A few sections contain cannibalized versions of essays that were first read by a larger circle of scientists and writers: including Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Owen Flanagan, Anthony Grayling, Christopher Hitchens, and Steven Pinker. I am pleased to notice that with friends like these, it has become increasingly difficult to say something stupid. (Still, one does what one can.) It is an honor to be so deeply in their debt.

My editor at the Free Press, Hilary Redmon, greatly improved The Moral Landscape at every level, through several stages of revision. It was simply a joy to work with her. My agents, John Brockman, Katinka Matson, and Max Brockman, were extremely helpful in refining my initial conception of the book and in placing it with the right publisher. Of course, JB, as his friends, colleagues, and clients well know, is much more than an agent: he has become the world’s preeminent wrangler of scientific opinion. We are all richer for his efforts to bring scientists and public intellectuals together through his Edge Foundation to discuss the most interesting questions of our time.

I have been greatly supported in all things by my family and friends—especially by my mother, who has always been a most extraordinary friend. She read the manuscript of The Moral Landscape more than once and offered extremely valuable notes and copyedits.

My wife, Annaka Harris, has continued to help me professionally on all fronts—editing my books, essays, and public talks, and helping to run our nonprofit foundation. If her abundant talent is not evident in every sentence I produce, it is because I remain a hard case. Annaka has also raised our daughter, Emma, while I’ve worked, and herein lies the largest debt of all: much of the time I spent researching and writing The Moral Landscape belonged to “my girls.”