Photo: David Eagleman from The Initiative of Neuroscience and the Law at the Baylor College of Medicine – who spoke with federal judges at the D.C. Circuit Court bi-annual conference in 2012 about the importance of a scientifically-guided legal system. He has done dozens of public lectures across the US and has been featured on CNN.
All around the world institutions and organisations are being created to harness learning from neuroscience in the world of law. The point of a legal system is to resolve conflict and help people live alongside each other on Planet Earth. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the legal system is falling way short of its goal. So how do we start shifting the legal profession? We do it by going back to understanding how people function and what lies at the heart of conflict.
Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law addresses how new discoveries in neuroscience should navigate the way we make laws, punish criminals, and develop rehabilitation. The project brings together a unique collaboration of neurobiologists, legal scholars, ethicists, medical humanists, and policy makers, with the goal of running experiments that will result in modern, evidence-based policy.
Emerging questions at the interface of law and neuroscience challenge fundamental notions at the heart of our criminal justice system. Because brains develop as a complex interaction of genes and environment, can we really assume that people are ‘practical reasoners’, and deciding in exactly the same way? Is mass incarceration the most fruitful method to deal with juveniles, the mentally ill, and the drug-addicted? Can novel technologies such as real-time brain imaging be leveraged for new methods of rehabilitation? Can large scale data analysis give us insight into patterns of crime, recidivism, and the effect of legislation?
Because most behavior is driven by brain networks we do not consciously control, the legal system will eventually be forced to shift its emphasis from retribution to a forward-looking analysis of future behavior. In the light of modern neuroscience, it no longer makes sense to ask “was it his fault, or his biology’s fault, or the fault of hisbackground?”, because these issues can never be disentangled. Instead, the only sensible question can be “what do we do from here?” — in terms of customized sentencing, tailored rehabilition, and refined incentive structuring.
Lawyers all over the world are starting to see how learning from other disciplines, such as Neuroscience can have a profound effect on how we practise law. The Centre for Integrative Law’s mission is: To create a network of self-aware legal professionals, trained in global legal innovation, to articulate a new vision of law for South Africa.
If you’re interested in being a self-aware legal professional, trained in global legal innovation, come to hear the brilliant legal thought leader Pauline Tesler, from San Francisco, talking about Neuro-Literacy for Lawyers.
Cape Town: 10 April 2013
Johannesburg: 23 April 2013