Recently, Dr. David Eagleman from Baylor College of Medicine, spoke at an event that many of the Houston area skeptics attended, and I thought the subject of his talk would make for a good discussion here on Skepchick.
Eagleman studies questions at the interface of law and neuroscience, including ideas like:
- Is it a legitimate defense to claim that a brain tumor ‘made you do it’?
- Do the brains of minors have the same decision-making and impulse control as adult brains – and how does that change punishment?
- Can novel technologies such as brain imaging be leveraged for rehabilitation?
- How should juries assess responsibility, given that most behaviors are driven by systems of the brain that we cannot control?
As our understanding of the brain progresses — as we learn more about how strongly our behavior is controlled by mental processes that may be beyond our conscious control — it seems our ideas of legal culpability for certain offenses are less clear cut than we may have originally thought. To summarize it simply, the insanity plea appears to be even more nuanced than we imagined.
Eagleman contends that explaining behaviors (criminal behaviors in this case) does not necessarily lead to exculpation, but it would allow us to apply more rational sentencing. And it would allow us to better customize rehabilitation endeavors. You can see a high level summary of Eagleman’s approach in the following video:
Of course, this could impact greatly the manner in which we draft laws, and the manner in which we enforce those laws. But let’s open the floor, and start the conversation.
Do you have any personal experience with behavioral changes due to brain anomalies? What are your thoughts on what the advancements in neuroscience mean for criminal culpability? Based on the latest research, in what direction should the legal system go? What challenges would lawmakers face? Any other thoughts?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.