14 September 2012
As scientists gather more and more information about the very large and the very small, where will they stop? Put another way, if ethics and religion can’t deliver, do we look to science for an answer?
The novelist Ian McEwan has no hesitation in incorporating the latest discoveries in physics and neuroscience in the messy psychological drama that constitutes a novel; in his latest bestseller he investigates the possibility of embedding a mathematical problem within an ethical one which drives along the story within the story. And last week the Guardian hosted a debate between physicist Lawrence Krauss and Julian Baggini on whether science can provide better answers to the big questions of morality than any of the canons of philosophy; now we have a report from the USA in which a Georgia Tech professor has hypothesized lethal weapons systems that are ethically superior to human soldiers on the battlefield (by substituting for the unreliable human hairbreadth trigger robots that are programmed to comply with international rules of war).
Military technology aside, the essential question asks for a bit of out of the box thinking. If we can identify specific biological answers to why we make certain decisions and judgments, then we can look to science as a basis for moral decisions, which are after all only sensible if they are based on reason, which is itself based on empirical evidence. In Lawrence Krauss’ view, ultimately
our understanding of neurobiology and evolutionary biology and psychology will reduce our understanding of morality to some well-defined biological constructs.Continue reading →
13 December 2011
You don’t need to be a brain scientist to see that lawyers would benefit from a more sophisticated understanding of the human brain. Neuroscientists seek to determine how brain function affects human behaviour, and the system of law regulates how those humans interact with each other. According to a new Royal Society report, lawyers and neuroscientists should work together more.
The report, Neuroscience and the law, argues that neuroscience has a lot to offer the law, for example:
might neuroscience fundamentally change concepts of legal responsibility? Or could aspects of a convicted person’s brain help to determine whether they are at an increased risk of reoffending? Will it ever be possible to use brain scans to ‘read minds’, for instance with the aim of determining whether they are telling the truth, or whether their memories are false?
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