This week, our topic is neuroscience and the law. Neuroscience is revolutionizing our understanding of how the brain works. In the process it is challenging ago-old ways of thinking about crime and punishment. Some neuroscientists even say that it’s time to completely rethink our judicial system in light of their discoveries. That’s because our current legal system presupposes a certain picture of how the mind works that many neuroscientist now believe is almost entirely wrong. Common sense counts a person morally responsible for a wrongful action only if the action results from their free, conscious, deliberate choice. Pretty much the same idea is expressed in the law via the concept of a guilty mind or mens rea. Under the law, an act can’t make you guilty unless your mind is guilty too.
What is it
Recent advances in neuroscience have revealed that certain neurological disorders, like a brain tumor, can cause an otherwise normal person to behave in criminally deviant ways. Would knowing that an underlying neurological condition had caused criminal behavior change the way we assign moral responsibility and mete out justice? Should it? Is committing a crime with a "normal" biology fundamentally different from doing so with an identifiable brain disorder? John and Ken ask how the law should respond to the findings of neuroscience with David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.