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.










*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。


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.