The observable examined

Neuroscience and the law

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Michael Gazzaniga, a Professor of Neuroscience at UC Santa Barbara, is considered the father of Cognitive Neuroscience. This was a nascent discipline when I entered graduate school, in the early 90s. Since then it has blossomed into a vibrant area of scientific inquiry and has revealed much about the functional/systems neuroscience of the brain. Specifically, functional MRI as a research tool, has been instrumental in helping neuroscientists peer into the inner workings of the brain. This has spawned many sub disciplines including neurotheology, but the most insidious offshoot is neuromarketing: the pursuit of research specifically targeted at influencing buying behavior. Out of curiosity, I participated in one such study in Berkeley, and got paid $100 for it!!

Nevertheless, all of this exciting new information about the brain has also caught the attention of the judicial system. Gazzaniga has been involved in helping people in the legal profession understand the ramifications, of the state of the art brain research, for defendants: juvenile delinquents to psychopaths. The crux of the problem is this: neuroscience tells us that there is really no such thing as free will, so if the “hardware” drives certain people to commit heinous crimes, who is responsible for these actions? In fact, his new book on the topic is entitled – Who’s in charge? . You can also watch his very interesting lecture on the same topic at the Edge.org:Neuroscience and Justice .  In a sense, the upshot is, as Hobbes noted,  as a society, without some commonly agreed upon rules, left to our own devices, we would be at each other’s throats. Given the new insights into the nature of free will, how should the existing social contracts be upgraded? This is a topic of discussion for society at large.


Written by asterix98

November 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Posted in neuroscience

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. […] have important implications in a broader societal context. In a previous post, I wrote about neuroscience and the law.  There I warned about Neuromarketing. Now there is an established discipline called […]

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