Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice/The Ethical Brain/Hard Science, Hard Choices: Facts, Ethics, and Policies Guiding Brain Science Today/Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice/The Ethical Brain/Hard Science, Hard Choices: Facts, Ethics, and Policies Guiding Brain Science Today/Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense

Article excerpt

Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice Brent Garland, ed. New York: Dana Press, 2004. 229 pp. $8.95.

The Ethical Brain Michael S. Gazzaniga. New York: Dana Press, 2005. 201 pp. $25.

Hard Science, Hard Choices: Facts, Ethics, and Policies Guiding Brain Science Today Sandra J. Ackerman. New York: Dana Press, 2006. 152 pp. $12.95.

Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense Jonathan D. Moreno. New York: Dana Press, 2006. 210 pp. $23.95.

Dana Press specializes in studies that deal with the brain, mind, and society. They are geared to both laypersons and specialists and their prices are extremely reasonable so that almost anyone can afford to buy them.

The practical applications of neuroscience are evolving at such a stunning pace that many concerned people have begun to consider the legal and ethical ramifications of such bizarre practicable developments as neural probing and pharmaceutical brain enhancement. Neuroscience and the Law is unusual for two reasons: First, it is published by the Charles A. Dana Foundation in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and second, it contains an extensive overview by the editor followed by four commissioned papers. It is actually a report on an invitational meeting convened by the two publishers.

Brent Garland, the editor, lays out the issues in a long and detailed overview. As is so often the case with new and innovative technologies, the tools are used and effect major social alterations but their ethical and legal implications are not solidified until some damage is done. The automobile, imaging technologies, and the Internet are good examples of how early usage outpaced correct action. Here the issue is, Will neuroscience affect the law and if so, how? If a "descriptive biology of behavior" becomes possible, some people may conclude that free will is a myth, thus obviating individual responsibility; and monitoring and imaging brain activity may yield evidentiary data that, like DNA linking, may alter a jury's or court's determinations. "Behavior predictive technologies" could have devastating effects in education, employment, insurance, and other areas. For example, a test predicting potential violent behavior could obviate possibilities for a completely innocent and harmless person. There are many possible imaging methods for producing accurate lie detection; what if an individual does not wish to be probed or tested (because of a health risk, for example) but must accede to the demands of the state? Here is how Garland frames the broader picture: "To what extent do we, as a society, wish to judge people based on what we perceive they are thinking rather than what they say or do?" Finally, pharmaceutical and neurological brain treatment and enhancement call forth a host of potential problems and dangers including mandated applications, health hazards, and economic discrimination. Informative sidebars elaborate on specific points.

The four commissioned papers deal with the law and the following: free will; neuroscience; litigation and property; and old problems. Michael S. Gazzaniga and Megan S. Steven discuss the legal implications of determinative action: If human beings are preprogrammed neurologically (behaviorally), then they cannot help doing what they do, free will is a myth, and we are not responsible for our actions. This is highly improbable philosophically, theologically, psychologically, and neurologically, but even if we ultimately discover that the brain (and mind) react in some predetermined manner (and some experiments have shown "that the brain acts on its own before we become consciously aware of its actions..."), the law can still hold someone responsible for acting asocially. Minimally, the person can be incarcerated to protect others. Sometimes these subtle philosophical and legal distinctions (pilpul) that theoreticians discuss are really a waste of time. As civilization has progressed and we have become more sensitive to the rights of others and have attempted to act more ethically, we have, concomitantly, allowed traditional values to erode, so that individual responsibility is abjured in favor of various socially exculpating explanations and excuses for negative activity: teenage pregnancy, drug addiction, gang warfare, theft, violence, internecine religious destruction, international bickering all occur not because some individual decides to act barbarically but rather because social pressure or kharma force him or her to do so. …

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