MICHAEL GAZZANIGA is a Neuroscientist; Professor of Psychology & Director, SAGE Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara. His books include Human; The Ethical Brain; and Who’s In Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain (forthcoming, November 11th).
MICHAEL GAZZANIGA: What I’m going to do is talk about neuroscience and how it may impact justice. I had to give a talk recently to judges and lawyers, but it really is the same talk you would give anybody. It is a summary of four years of effort that I’ve put into this MacArthur Law and Neuroscience project. How that came about is there was a meeting in New York of lawyers, philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists. They met four or five years ago to talk about whether one should study the topic of law and neuroscience. I left the room to go to the bathroom or something, I came back and they said, okay, you’re directing it. So don’t leave the room when these things are going on because you get saddled with surprises! Since “basic neuroscience for judges and lawyers” was exactly the wrong talk for you at 3:00 o’clock this afternoon, let’s say “perspectives on basic neuroscience” because the former one reminds you of your high school biology class which most of you probably didn’t like. I’m going to give you the fastest three-minute review of neuroscience. As I said I just gave to the judges of the Second Circuit Court of New York. Many of you maybe have cases in front of the Second Circuit, and they have a retreat every year up at Lake Sagamore , New York. The idea is: You can’t, obviously, for someone who’s not in neuroscience, you can’t communicate the wealth of neuroscience in a hundred lectures, let alone one, let alone a few minutes. But you can kind of get a feel for it. I want to take you through that feel and then take that into the question of how is this field of neuroscience going to impact how we think about the law and, more importantly, how we think about justice.
So here’s the fastest three minutes of neuroscience ever. It basically shows you there’s a bunch of tracks in the brain. And these tracks weave around and have specific connections. And they wind up connecting to areas that are processing centers. Put all this together, as you can see here, and we discover little areas that are brighter than others. And this is all now easily done, as everyone knows, in brain imaging labs. The specificity of actually combining the centers (where information gets processed) with the actual wiring to those centers has been a very recent development, such that it can be done in humans in vivo, which is to say, in your normal college sophomore. We can actually locate their brain networks, their paths: whether they have a certain kind of connectivity, whether they don’t, and whether there may be an abnormality in them, which leads to some kind of behavioral clinical syndrome. In terms of the Neuroscience and Justice Program, all this leads to the fact that that’s the defendant. And how is neuroscience supposed to pull this stuff together and speak to whether someone is less culpable because of a brain state?