Sunday, 8 April 2007

is there anybody in there?


How much are we responsible for what goes on in our brains?

In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald entitled "Grey Matter" (April 6-8 2007), Jeffrey Rosen discusses how current neuroscience is impacting on our understanding of human behaviour. In particular, neuroscience is being used in criminal trials as defense teams use brain scans to argue that if the defendent's brain can be shown to not be functioning in a normal way, they cannot be held responsible for their actions.

This makes you wonder whether we control our brains or they control us, whether our minds are our brains or something more. Joshua Greene, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University: "To a neuroscientist, you are your brain; nothing causes your behaviour other than its operation. If that's right, it radically changes the way we think about the law." Greene says we should "abandon the idea of retribution, the idea that people should be punished because they have freely chosen to act immorally."

However, as Rosen points out, "since all behaviour is caused by our brains, wouldn't this mean all behaviour could potentially be excused?" Stephen Morse, professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania insists "brains don't commit crimes; people commit crimes". He argues, for example, that the differences in murder rates between youths in Scandinavia and the US indicates that it is more than just immature adolescent brains that determines behaviour.

The article raises some deep questions about how our minds and selves relate to our brains, questions which inner and outer space will return to again.

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