Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More on neurolaw: The brain as a cement cast?

Stephanie West Allen here summarizes a recent New York Times Magazine article about neurolaw, touching all the "you are just a meat puppet" bases. That's not true and it's not helpful either. She notes,
Curious omissions from the article were the phenomena of neuroplasticity and self-directed neuroplasticity. Rosen described the brain as if it is static and unchanging, as if we are stuck with the brain we have.
Well, not only is that not so, but the fact that it is not so is key to health care in an aging society (people must cope with strokes, Parkinson's, etc.), as well as rehabilitation for people addicted to substances (who have a high crime rate).

The article offers some strange stuff, for example
Rosen quotes Dr. Joshua D. Greene.

“To a neuroscientist, you are your brain; nothing causes your behavior other than the operations of your brain,” Greene says.
But that's not true. I am not my brain. If I were, my brain could be sitting in a vat somewhere, and that would be me.

No chance. The picture you see at the top right is me. Even if I were a total materialist (I'm anything but), I would still need to recognize that lots of things influence my behaviour - including the weather, the economy, and the stupid hornet buzzing around my desk. My brain records these influences, to be sure, and helps me react to them - but it may not be the primary factor about me that they affect. If, due to weather conditions, I get the flu, for example, my brain is one of the few key organs that probably won't be much affected; it will only be monitoring and recording the distressing events, whether I like that or not.

No one is going to get far understanding human behaviour if they treat people as "brains in a vat."