Wednesday, April 6, 2011

More amoral drivel from neuroscientists

I have on occasion twitted ultra-Darwinists and early-universe cosmologists  for being seduced by the flashbulbs and footlights  into amorphous public vaporings upon matters of which they know not.  But their shticks are mostly harmless.  More concerning are ongoing attempts by neuroscientists to degrade what is left of human morality, accountability, and free-will.   One such husband-wife buffoon-team is frowned at here.  Their antics are at least largely confined to academia.  But some of the sepsis is leaching into the popular press:

The legal system needs an infusion of neuroscience. It needs to turn away from an ancient notion of how people should behave to understand better how they do behave.

I won’t pause to polemicize, but merely note:

=>  The question of how people should behave  falls within the province of the Law, and of theology.
=> The question of how people actually do behave, and misbehave, falls within the province of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and market research.   (Oh, and soap operas.)
Or, in the words of a respected philosopher-scientist:

Something has gone terribly wrong.  It is a confusion of explanation with exculpation.
-- Steven Pinker,  The Blank Slate (2002), p. 179

(The connection is, however, foreshadowed in our very language: “You have some explaining to do !”)

Neuroscience is welcome to attempt to annex the behavioral sciences, which are already in a fairly sorry state.   But keep your mitts off law and morality, you lab-coated apes.


  1. The most promising of your alternatives ("the latter") is psychology, which is properly a sub-branch of spearfishing.

    If you deny that the brain contains neurons, or that the activity of neurons can explain some physiological activity, you should provide evidence for that.

    It is true that neuroscience has nothing to contribute to law, at this point. Another straw man? If I didn't know better I'd say that too much pleasure is being taken in the repeated gratuitous violation of straw men. Once Justice blindfolded while the other has his way with defenseless misconceptions. Not a pretty picture.


  2. Hm, the field of evolutionary psychology does not seek to justify amoral behavior by simply explaining "well monkeys do it." In fact, in his book "The Moral Animal" Robert Wright points to the dangerous generalizations that can be hastily drawn based on incomplete observation. Some scholars sought to explain the selfish gene fairly early on at the inception of this field of science, highlighting the violent nature if chimpanzees. However, Wright points out the compassionate and gentle nature if the bonobo chimpanzee, a specie humans share exactly the sane percentage if DNA with as other violent species of chimpanzee. Summarily, being moral, kind and having empathy for others is arguabely as much a natural part of human nature which is akready manifested in our system if law. To say we are naturally otherwise is a weak argument indeed.