Neuroethics in the Courtroom

Neuroscientist David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine has proposed new ways of applying our knowledge of the brain to the judicial system.  He correctly acknowledges that our legal system is based on assumptions of a person’s free will but proposes a new way forward based on the idea that free will is essentially non-existent.  He cites a number of cases that suggest that information regarding a person’s neural circuitry can predict future behavior and indicate what treatment (instead of punishment) if a crime is committed.  Eagleman’s ideas bring up a number of questions:

  • Is there any evidence for “free will” (agency might be a better term) running on top of the circuitry of the brain?
  • If a medical test indicates the likelihood of a person committing a crime, is this grounds for taking legal action?
  • Might one consider the mind to be the interface between the body (brain) and the spirit?
  • We often speak of a person’s “presence” (in a room, on stage, etc.).  Can this be explained by biological processes or does it indicate the existence of something non-material?


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