03 April 2013

NeuroLaw and the Incoherence of Naturalism

David Opderbeck, on faculty at Seton Hall University Law School and whom I got to know at a conference some years ago, has written a detailed and insightful piece titled The Problem with NeuroLaw (abstract here). NeuroLaw is all the rage among the sorts of folks who think transhumanism is a worthwhile objective (check here for some musings about that hideous distopian hope).

In short, NeuroLaw is an application of neuroscience, which teaches "that 'the brain is a physical entity governed by the principles and rules of the physical world' and that 'brain determines mind.' Contemporary neuroscience thereby claims to elide the soul and the mind – what many neuroscientists call 'the ghost in the machine.'" "The brain secrets thought like the liver secrets bile," as Pierre Jean George Cabanis wrote over 200 years ago. Except now scientists believe they can prove this assertion through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Opderbeck's piece provides an exceptionally detailed account of what neuroLaw teaches, how the "science" of neuroLaw works (and doesn't work), and the fanatic (or fascistic) world its use would create. It seems clear to me that neuroLaw proponents need to read The Techno-Human Condition by Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz recently reviewed by Christina Bieber Lake in Books & Culture. (Best line quoted from book: "If we don't embrace and understand our incompetence we will never manage our technological prowess.")

My only contribution is to observe the irony of claims of neuroscientists that they can change the world, and change it for the better. If all thought is the result of purely physical processes composed of genetics and environment, what does it mean to say the world can be changed? And, even more incongruously, what does "better" mean? All naturalisms, of which fanatical neuroscience is an example, are self-refuting. Even the thoughts of the most conscientious neuroscientist are, if she is to be believed, equally the secretions of the brain. In other words, if neuroLaw is right--our subjective perception of free will is a peculiar evolutionary by-product--then so is neuroLaw. In a word, that's the naturalistic fallacy

Apparently, though,  the folks running around promoting neuroLaw don't realize they are simply spouting bile.

No comments:

Post a Comment