Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Atlantic Article on Advances in Neuroscience and Criminal Law

The July/August 2011 issue of The Atlantic features an article entitled The Brain on Trial that explains how recent advances in neuroscience are calling into question the voluntary nature of many criminal acts:

"Does the discovery of Charles Whitman’s [a mass shooter at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966] brain tumor modify your feelings about the senseless murders he committed? Does it affect the sentence you would find appropriate for him, had he survived that day? Does the tumor change the degree to which you consider the killings 'his fault'? Couldn’t you just as easily be unlucky enough to develop a tumor and lose control of your behavior?"

"On the other hand, wouldn’t it be dangerous to conclude that people with a tumor are free of guilt, and that they should be let off the hook for their crimes"

"As our understanding of the human brain improves, juries are increasingly challenged with these sorts of questions. When a criminal stands in front of the judge’s bench today, the legal system wants to know whether he is blameworthy. Was it his fault, or his biology’s fault?"

"I submit that this is the wrong question to be asking. The choices we make are inseparably yoked to our neural circuitry, and therefore we have no meaningful way to tease the two apart. The more we learn, the more the seemingly simple concept of blameworthiness becomes complicated, and the more the foundations of our legal system are strained."

Earlier Library Boy posts on the topic include:

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:35 pm

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