Speaking of the usefulness of neuroscience in the courtroom, I would consider neuroscience to have limited function on helping to assign fair, appropriate penalty on criminals. There are two reasons to justify my statement.
Firstly, it is difficult to get neuroscience involved in legal cases because the basic assumptions of law and neuroscience are essentially different. While law generally assumes that people are capable of making rational and moral decisions, neuroscience and psychology have continually proven that a large portion of human behaviours are involuntary. For example, in the renowned behavioural science book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman emphasized how System 1 dominates our instant decision making, perception, and emotional response. If law was to recognize that a huge portion of human’s actions are involuntary, then it would be impossible for it to set punishment for crime since law does not punish innocent mistake. Therefore, if either law or science does not adjust its premise or compromise to one another, neuroscience would have limited use in terms of assigning punishment in the courtroom.
Next, neuroscience would also have little help on determining proper adjudication because the definition of normality for a human brain is unclear. In law we assume that if a person’s brain is impaired, then the judge should lessen the penalty because the criminal did not commit the crime with a normal mind. However, whether or not there is an arbitrary, clear criteria of what defines “normal” in medical science and psychology is controversial. Normality does not necessarily mean “being average” or “being indifferent from others”. Also, it is hard to say to what extent should a deviation of one’s brain from others to be considered “abnormal”. As a result, if we could not objectively define normality and abnormality, then any act to adjust punishments based on the abnormality of criminal’s brain would be unfair.
I believe my opinion is in some way similar to others in the class as well as Dr. Stephen Hart in the guest lecture. When in discussion, people mentioned how abnormal behaviour in the brain do not necessarily serve as the evidence of either a person has mental illness or we should give her a different treatment in the courtroom. In the guest lecture, Dr. Stephen Hart stated that law and science conflict each other given each of their distinct perspectives of viewing human behaviours. In conclusion, I hold a doubtful attitude towards the usefulness of neuroscience in the courtroom, and some of my peers and professionals have similar skepticism. In order to make neuroscience and law go hand in hand, the premises that consist of both of them must be adjusted in a way that they tolerate one another, and either the definition of normality should be carefully chosen or the law itself should be amended.