I understand his talk, but I don’t see it support the title well.
By far science can tell us (possible) relations between our biological characteristics and behaviors/decisions, and social science can interpret (possible) functional origins of some aspects of cultures. However, we don’t know whether this is the correct way to reach the ‘universal’ mortal. In science, experiments play the role of adjudicator. Therefore, science does not deny possibilities beyond the current experimental results, except the fundamental concept ‘realism’, and it can correct itself in such a way. Can we do experiments about mortal questions? In addition, this question contains itself. Can it be solved within itself (Gödel’s incompleteness theorems)? I haven’t thought throughly, but I don’t see clear logic of a ‘yes’.
Secondly, actually more fundamentally, how to quantify the concept of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is not clear. Sam merely touched this point, but bypassed it with extreme examples to modern Western people. The final question of Chris Anderson goes deeper. I think that Sam has no concise answer to it.
Complements. Some scientists believe that new phenomena arises from complexities (emergence). Ourselves are examples. Genes encode our brain which is more complicated. As a result, we can ‘cheat’ genes. Similarly, culture is another level. The moment we ask ourselves ‘is this mortal?’, the influence of culture sets in. Then measurements on molecular level are not sufficient to define universal ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Sam does not discuss this at all, which is disappointing, especially because science is the theme here.
Science has already influenced our view of mortal value, and it will. But after this talk, I still don’t see how it can be an authority of mortal issues.
And by the way, the analogy of chess is flaw. ‘Don’t lose your queen’ is a strategy rather than a principle in chess. Strategy does not exclude exceptions, principle does. This kind of analogy serves well to lead people’s thoughts to the desired direction, but not scientific 🙂