Discuss the Usefulness of Neuroscience in the Courtroom

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.

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台北記:松江清

松江路是小時候第一條認得的路。所謂「認得」,並不只指記住路名、記住方位而已,而是知道路頭路尾會接上怎樣的路、每個交叉路口各是什麼樣的路、那些路又通往哪裡。長安東路、南京東路、長春路、民生東路、錦州街、民權東路、民族東路。我的宇宙觀從點、線、面,漸漸擴展成如今認識的世界。

國小每天上放學的時候,必然會經過松江路。學校距離家裡極近,因此自己總是那個剛好在打鐘前十秒進教室的學生。上學的路上,還沒有上班族的影子,但回家時一群群西裝筆挺的大人便會從(小小的)自己旁邊快步走過。在信義區大規模發展之前,部分人稱松江路為「台北的華爾街」,夏天放學經過銀行時,自動門打開吹出的涼氣、以及某種銀行獨有的味道,總讓人想頑皮地再次經過。

銀行之間的縫隙裡夾雜了越來越少、幾乎已經消失殆盡的小店。原本有幾家車商、一兩家萊爾富、以及各種規模較小的餐廳,在我走過又走過的歲月裡,或許是經營不善,更可能是因為頂不住一再上升的店租,紛紛關閉。路上總是有店面在拆卸、但只有砍掉,沒有重練,前業者無法負荷的店面,大部分變成不動產業者或通訊業者的分店。

午餐時間時,上班族擠在巷子裡尚能生存的小吃店,聊著各種公司裡的事,大多時候都是關於一個可惡的同事。有天突然好奇:那些被講的人都到哪裡去了呢?

然而那樣的經驗已經是好久以前了。感覺所有事都發生在一個安靜遙遠的下午,沒有什麼是剛剛經歷。小學放學打球、小學跟國中連在一起時必須走過的童軍教室、暑假游泳過後活動中心放出的熱氣、那些跟大人一起上英文日文的晚上,都是很久、很久以前的事了。也許對這個地方的記憶,已經在某個時刻永遠的定格。而定格之後所發生的事,都不在記憶所承認的範圍之內。陽光熾烈,這些年回去時,在那一帶所從做的所有事情都像是染上了調得太白的濾鏡,沒有聲音,人們的臉亦模糊不清,餘下的,只有樹的影子。一顆球落下、在操場上發出聲音的時間,如今對我來說,已經太長。

住在國小對面的老婆婆從前總是與我聊上幾句,現在看到我仍然是笑咪咪的,像看一個陌生人一樣。假日的松江路總是沒有人的,但現在就算是平日的松江,路人雖然個個張著口,卻已經聽不到聲音裡的細節。

是故清。

*後記:也許是親近了記憶中土地的關係,這次回來之後,突然看待這個區域的眼光變得相對溫柔了。雖然各種人事物總讓人有種在吊橋上跑,每跑 n 步身後就掉落 n-1 塊踏階的感覺,但最近慢慢地理解到,那個感受並不是永久的。首先你是一個天真無知的人,再來隨著年紀漸長,慢慢察覺出完美生活裡光怪陸離的現實;再來會因此覺得一切都在失去、並決絕地認為過去永遠好於現在;而最新的階段,則是認知到即便你去了再遠的地方,即便發生了任何事,過去與未來仍然有相通之處,而一切仍然有轉變的餘地。不管是何種轉變,時間所帶來的變化,其實不是一條直線。

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A Solo Trip to the Gentle Seattle

If you ask me to describe Seattle in just one word, I would say gentle. And if you ask me to further clarify that, I would probably first delve into my memory, and likely provide you some aesthetically intriguing descriptions to back up my point.

I can say the roads exist truly for both the cars and the pedestrians; the sidewalks are always filled with leafy, medium-sized, thin-branched trees; and the colourful but calming buses run around the not-so-crowded city.  Yes, these are important factors that define Seattle as a comfortable urban space, but I found myself dissatisfied with these answers. It is as if something bigger, more subtle behind the environmental settings, that gently accommodate a nineteen-year-old, novice(and sometimes careless) self-traveller.

Friendliness. Cliche answer. Yes I agree, and that’s also not the exact word to convey what makes Seattle gentle. In most part of the world, locals are friendly to travellers both in ways that will influence or not influence their GDP: There will always be welcoming locals that tell you which bus to take to get to the attractions, and there will also be locals that are nice to you so that they can introduce you to their family-owned restaurants. Friendliness, by itself, is not sufficient to make a city unique and memorable.

So what is it?

For me, it will reside upon a slightly longer portrayal: The understanding that you and other people are different from each other, but you can still be good friends without changing yourself to a certain type of person. In other words, people accept the “true you”. They understand that everyone has their own story and cultural burden, and they will not walk away from you because of that. Everyone, regardless of their class, ethnicity, “accent” of speaking English, years of living in North America, are folks that you can chat a bit about everything, almost unconditionally. The level of maturity and openness for intercultural interactions is fascinating.

My Airbnb host was a perfect example of being gentle(by the way, if you need a place to stay in Seattle, feel free to reach out to me!). We exchanged not only our views of Seattle, our impressions of the Americans and Canadians, but also all the stories that we have as a person – dreams, values, and the pain of living in a city with high housing price(sigh…)- all immediately after we met. We totally recognized the difference between each other, yet we treated each other with equal respect that neither of us have to comply to a cultural norm.

The gregarious UW students were also gentle: When their student council was reminding people to vote and kindly asked me about my opinion regarding the election, I said I was not a UW student. Surprisingly, the person who was busy taking care of the booth did not leave it there. Instead, she chatted with me in a patient, welcoming manner as if I was one of the voters. And needless to mention the two girls that I met when one of them helped take a picture of me – we went for bubble teas and snacks three minutes after we chatted. The speed of people getting connected to each other without a sense of urgency to get anything out of the connection is what makes Seattle seductive.

I would very much like to point out that I have only been in Seattle for two days and it would probably be a mistake to comment on the city’s culture. But if forty-eight hours are not enough, how long should it be? I don’t really have an answer – and if I don’t have an answer, any answer suffices. A sense of wonder has took me to a place(not necessarily physical) that I have never experienced, and if my mind was emptied out before arriving that place, it has refilled me with gentleness and the belief of a wider possibility of lifestyles and human interaction. Thank you, Seattle.

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