Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Brain Made Me Do It

I just came across this interesting discussion on the implications of neuroscience on policy and law held at the Institute of Ideas in London, which I recommend checking out (in particular chapters two, six, and seven).

Raymond Tallis opens the floor with what I think was a pretty fair rebuke of those 'who wish to blame their brains for their misdemeaners' using the recent research in neuroscience as proof. Tallis argues that this research does not answer philosophical questions pertaining to free will or legal questions about the allocation of blame. Moreover, Tallis continues on a more philosophical tact, 'if you wish to blame your brain for bad behavior, why stop there'? Since the brain is a physical entity it is therefore wired into nature and thus one could go so far as to say "the big bang made me do it".

I think Tallis makes good points. Previously I had been under the sway of 'well, we might as well hold criminals accountable for their actions, regardless of the free-will question and the obvious failures of our justice system, because it just might have a minor effect on their decision to commit or not commit a socially unaccepted offense or crime. An effect, however small, nevertheless beneficial'. But Tallis and Magistretti have helped clarify the personal responsibility stance for me. Holding people accountable for their brain's decisions is thus potentially beneficial (behavior modifying) and intellectually justifiable (at least until I'm swayed otherwise).

Anyways check out the vid. In chapter 6 there's some brief commentary on Benjamin Libet's interesting work, as well as some of the philosophical thought dilemma's such as the 'trolley problem'.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.

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