Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about how our criminal justice system could eventually be reformed by research in neuroscience involving detailed scans of the human brain. I had originally predicted that we had a few more years to consider the research and decide on the best possible laws and policies to apply, but it seems like that time has come much sooner than I expected. In fact, it is here; our judicial system is already being tested by the introduction of such “evidence,” which is based entirely on scientific examination of the human brain. I remain both nervous and excited about what the future brings.
The science is sound, but we still need to determine the fairest, most rational way to apply these new scientific findings to the practical workings of our court systems. In an article from Reuters, featured on MSNBC, Michael Gazzaniga, head of the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind and the director of a new project to study neuroscience’s implications for the U.S. judicial system, said, “It is a young field, but one that could ultimately have as dramatic an impact on the legal system as DNA testing.” And indeed, the popularity of presenting brain scans in court cases is already on the rise.
We should all be thinking about this now, because inevitably, it will change the way we view criminal behavior. At first, I did not pay close enough attention to research into neuroscience, and believed that people were either guilty or not guilty — that gray areas were hard to come by. But the more I learn about the subject, the more skeptical I become of absolute guilt and innocence. Only one thing is really clear to me: the wondrous complexities of the human brain deserve more serious attention and consideration.
To those who still consider neuroscience a waste of time, please consider the following story. As described in the article on MSNBC, in 1966 a man killed his wife and mother and proceeded to climb atop a tower on the University of Texas campus. Using a high-powered rifle he shot and killed 14 more people before the police killed him. Strangely, he left a note at the scene of his crimes that simply read, “I cannot rationally pinpoint any specific reason for doing this.” An autopsy revealed that the man had a brain tumor.
Keep this story in mind because you’re sure to hear more about neuroscience and its implications on our criminal justice system soon.