What's the take-away message? I'll let you do the hard work of thinking through the implications for our belief in free will and how it might or might not apply. But another intriguing question emerges, too: If a "good" person's brain can be rendered morally disabled by an invasive tumor or an epileptic fuse-shortage, subsequently causing them to do very bad deeds, then isn't it rather hypocritical to assume that a "bad" person without brain injury—whose brain is anatomically organized by epigenetics (the complex interplay between genes and experiences)—has any more free will than the neuroclinical case? After all, perhaps it's just a matter of timing: The "good" are born with brains that can "go bad," whereas the "bad" are hogtied by a morally disabled neural architecture from the very start. And although it may be less common, if a "bad" person behaves in an upstanding manner, could that be the result of fortuitous brain damage or epilepsy, too?And where would we stop with this assumption? Are poor people suffering because of inadequate neurobiology? Do people vote for Republicans because of malfunctioning wiring? Bering's essay is brilliant and evocative. But his conclusion isn't so much leading towards the slippery slope as it is plunging over (note afterall that the fillip for these observations comes from a journal entitled Behavioral Science and the Law). One can critique "free will" without resorting to neurobiology. Pierre Bourdieu's sociology comes to mind as just one alternative among many.
03 March 2011
Speaking of eponyms...
Slate's Jesse Bering's Naughty by Nature describes one and concludes: