Neuroscience, Neurolaw?

One of the panelists made a great distinction between factual knowledge and collective beliefs. He pointed out that people used to believe in phlogiston and thought it was a factual description of reality, but scientific discovery presented a better theory about chemical structure and interaction. Similarly, people once believed in souls, but psychology presented a better theory with the idea of the will. We modern people look back at the naivette and ignornace of those from centuries ago. However, isn’t the will just a modernized version of the soul? The will in some sense may be no more real than phlogiston.

Why not base our justice system on science, on real world knowledge of how people actually behave?

Of course, retribution may feel good and maybe there is something in human nature that wants retribution. But what is effective in preventing criminal behavior? Is it possible to rehabilitate people? Just imagine a society that was based on actual knowledge and understanding rather than mere ideology. Retribution has proven to be a failure and yet we continue to do it. I think it would be nice if we as a society matured to the point where we actually wanted to bring the greatest good to the greatest number.

So, are our cultural biases and our collective beliefs more important than making the world a better place?

2 thoughts on “Neuroscience, Neurolaw?

    • That is an informative post, the type of post I would write if I were feeling motivated enough.

      The topic of freewill intrigues me. I was raised in optimistic New Thought Christianity which idealizes freewill to a divine level. However, as an adult, depression and other factors have led me to a position closer to philosophical pessimism (specifically that of Zappfe and Ligotti).

      I noticed in your blog that you mention Sam Harris. I was looking at his blog recently. I noticed he has written about freewill.

      To my mind, freewill seems like a modern theological/metaphysical belief. It can’t be proven real or not. It’s just a belief, a way of viewing the world and interpreting our experience. What interests me is that our society puts so much value on it as if our civilization would collapse if we stopped believing in it. It somehow seems dangerous to not believe. What else would we replace it with? It’s like telling a Christian that they have no soul. They will hardly feel comforted by the thought.

      I really don’t care if the will exists or not… nor do I care, if it does exist, to what degree it is free. It’s interesting, but irrelevant. I don’t know, I can’t know, and that is just the way it is.

      Ultimately, what interests me more is justice and morality. I care about making the world a better place. Simply using freewill to create a story about blame and righteousness seems pointless. I like stories as much as the next person, but this kind of story is a self-justification that those with power use to scapegoat those without power (by power, I mean opportunity and fortunate circumstances) and that people, with and without power, use to give their lives meaning. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. The problem is that it doesn’t make the world a better place and might actually make it worse.

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