Law and the Brain

Law and the Brain - Semir Zeki A collection of essays that explore how our values expressed in law fail to accommodate human nature. There’s a lot of what you would expect from such a book. Discussions on the insanity defense and the developing neurobiology of adolescents, but there were a few surprises.

Game theory demonstrates how irrational, self-destructive behavior can be chosen over rational decision-making. Not out of ignorance nor short-sightedness, but in response to underlying societal norms. During trust games, individuals would rather receive no money than receive a lesser amount than their co-actor if they believed the co-actor was cheating them.

Also, a fascinating article questions the fundamental notion of justice in our society: free will.
We have argued that common-sense retributivism really does depend on a notion of free will that is scientifically suspect. Intuitively, we want to punish those people who truly deserve it, but whenever the cause of someone’s bad behaviour are made sufficiently vivid, we no longer see the person as truly deserving of punishment. This insight is expressed by the old French proverb: “to know all is to forgive all.” It is also expressed in the teachings of religious figures, such as Jesus and Buddha, who preach a message of universal compassion. Neuroscience can make this message more compelling by vividly illustrating the mechanical nature of human action. pg.222
The real question is whether we are willing to accept what we are or will we continue to insist otherwise? Such self-imposed blindness is good for our self-esteem but has dire consequences for those that are brought into the criminal justice system.