Here is a discussion of altruism, morality, empathy, and neuroscience. The event is at Harvard Humanists, but you can read about the research below. Some relationship to Alain Botton and others…
Paul J. Zak is founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University. He has a Ph.D. in economics from University of Pennsylvania, and post-doctoral training in neuroimaging from Harvard. Dr. Zak’s lab discovered in 2004 that an ancient chemical in our brains, oxytocin, allows us to determine who to trust. His new book is The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. Dr Zak will be speaking at the Humanist Community Center in Harvard Square on May 20, 2012. Here is his popular Ted talk and an interview he did with The New Humanism.
“…In experiments run over the last 10 years, in my lab and in the field, we’ve shown that the brain chemical oxytocin is released when someone is nice to us in objective ways (for example, when a stranger shares money with us). Oxytocin is the mammalian signal that tells mothers (and in some species fathers) to care for their offspring. It is the chemical basis for parental love. What we’ve shown is that oxytocin release is stimulated by acts of kindness or trust by complete strangers. The feeling people get when their brains release oxytocin is one of empathy or emotional connection.
TNH: You write that empathy is the product of a brain circuit you call HOME (for Human Oxytocin Mediated Empathy). How does this brain circuit work?
Zak: Oxytocin does not work alone. It activates a brain circulate that makes it feel good to do good for others. The HOME circuit does this by giving us a feeling of pleasure when we help others and by reducing our anxiety when we have a positive social interaction. Our brains are designed toengage with strangers and to care about them. This is what it means to be a social creature… (more discussion about empathy and meditation in the story…)
Also: Here is a companion article on Humanist Contemplative Meditation