Saturday, April 24, 2010

Toward a Science of Consciousness - Galen Strawson: A Metaphysics for Panpsychism

On Friday of the 2010 Toward a Science of Consciousness conference, there was a plenary session on Theories of Consciousness. The third speaker in the session was the philosopher Galen Strawson (his personal website), whose lecture was on A Metaphysics for Panpsychism.

First, here is the most basic definition of panpsychism from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Panpsychism is the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe. Unsurprisingly, each of the key terms, “mind”, “fundamental” and “throughout the universe” is subject to a variety of interpretations by panpsychists, leading to a range of possible philosophical positions. For example, an important distinction is that between conscious and unconscious mental states, and appeal to it allows a panpsychism which asserts the ubiquity of the mental while denying that consciousness is similarly widespread. Interpretations of “fundamental” range from the inexplicability of mentality in other, and non-mentalistic, terms to the idealist view that in some sense everything that exists is, and is only, a mental entity. And, although the omnipresence of the mental would seem to be the hallmark feature of panpsychism, there have been versions of the doctrine that make mind a relatively rare and exceptional feature of the universe.

Against the backdrop of our immense scientific knowledge of the physical world, and the corresponding widespread desire to explain everything ultimately in physical terms, panpsychism has come to seem an implausible view. Nonetheless, the doctrine retains some attractive and interesting features. The recalcitrance of the mind, and especially consciousness, to fit smoothly into the scientific picture recommends our consideration of them.

Here is the abstract for Strawson's presentation:
A Metaphysics for Panpsychism: Galen Strawson (Philosophy, University of Reading; MIT, Reading, Berkshire United Kingdom)

[1a] We know that experiential phenomena (consciousness) exist in the universe [1b] There is provably zero evidence for the existence of non-experiential phenomena in the universe [1c] Physics (including cosmology) is a part of metaphysics [1d] Sense in which physics already provides a metaphysics for panpsychism [1e] But physics indeterminate in many respects: provides only structural information about reality; theories proliferate concerning the fundamental constitution of space-time-matter [2a] Stuff monism is true (only one kind of stuff in the universe) [2b] Thing monism is true (sense in which only one thing in the universe = itself = space-time-matter) [3a] being is becoming (Wesen ist Werden, thing/process distinction is superficial) [3b] matter is force and conversely (Stoff ist Kraft, categorical property/power property distinction is superficial) [3c] existence is qualitativity (Sein ist Sosein, ‘object’/’property’ distinction is superficial) [3d] the ‘in-itself’ is the for-itself (‘Ansichsein’ ist F├╝rsichsein, panpsychism is true)
Makes perfect sense, yes? Wait, no, not so much.

This was the toughest lecture for me in the entire conference (or at least what I attended of it). I struggled to follow his logic, and I kept finding myself thinking, "Bullshit!" So let's break the abstract down into the specific argument he presents there:
[1a] We know that experiential phenomena (consciousness) exist in the universe
[1b] There is provably zero evidence for the existence of non-experiential phenomena in the universe
[1c] Physics (including cosmology) is a part of metaphysics
[1d] Sense in which physics already provides a metaphysics for panpsychism
[1e] But physics is indeterminate in many respects: provides only structural information about reality; theories proliferate concerning the fundamental constitution of space-time-matter

[2a] Stuff monism is true (only one kind of stuff in the universe)
[2b] Thing monism is true (sense in which only one thing in the universe = itself = space-time-matter)

[3a] being is becoming (Wesen ist Werden, thing/process distinction is superficial)
[3b] matter is force and conversely (Stoff ist Kraft, categorical property/power property distinction is superficial)
[3c] existence is qualitativity (Sein ist Sosein, ‘object’/’property’ distinction is superficial)
[3d] the ‘in-itself’ is the for-itself (‘Ansichsein’ ist F├╝rsichsein, panpsychism is true)
So that is the argument, broken down into it's basic logical assumptions.

I had some serious issues with all of this, not least of which is the inherent anthropic principle at play here, which I categorically reject. But rather than just writing him off, I did a little research.

Strawson is a very highly regarded philosopher who has not always been a panpsychist. For that matter, panpsychism is a pretty fringe theory in the world of philosophy, although it seems to be making a little bit of a comeback, partly due to Strawson and partly due to David Skrbina's Panpsychism in the West (2007).

Let's start with some of Strawson's basic definitions - these come from a prior conference paper, Conceivability, Identity, and the Explanatory Gap, but they are essentially what he presented this year as well:
Materialists hold that every thing and event in the universe is physical in every respect. They hold that "physical phenomenon" is coextensive with "real phenomenon," or at least with "real, concrete phenomenon," and for the purposes of this chapter I am going to assume that they are right. 1

Monists hold that there is, fundamentally, only one kind of stuff in reality-in a sense that I will discuss further in §6.

Realistic monists - realistic anybodys - grant that experiential phenomena are real, where by "experiential phenomena" and "experience" I mean the phenomena of consciousness considered just and only in respect of the qualitative character that they have for those who have them as they have them.

Realistic materialist monists, then, grant that experiential phenomena are real, and are wholly physical, strictly on a par with the phenomena of extension and mass as characterized by physics. For if they do not, they are not realistic materialists. This is the part of the reason why genuine, reflective endorsement of materialism is a very considerable achievement. I think, in fact, that it requires concerted meditative effort. If one hasn't felt a kind of vertigo of astonishment, when facing the thought that consciousness is a wholly physical phenomenon in every respect, then one hasn't begun to be a thoughtful materialist. One hasn't got to the starting line.

So then, from these he defines himself as a real naturalist - in his words, the opposite of what most philosophers mean by a naturalist (or a real materialist):

Realistic materialism, then, first divides the world into experiential and non-experiential phenomena (it cannot deny the existence of experiential phenomena, and it assumes that physical reality does not consist entirely of experiential phenomena). It then requires one to drain one's conception of the non-experiential of any element that, in a puzzling world, makes it seem especially puzzling that the experiential is physical.

Some philosophers think this is the wrong way round. They think we have to drain our conception of the experiential of any element that produces special puzzlement, leaving our existing conception of the non-experiential in place. But no substantial draining can be done on the experiential side, for in having experience in the way we do, we are directly acquainted with certain features of the fundamental or ultimate nature of reality, as Russell and many others have remarked-whether or not we can put what we know into words in any theoretically tractable way.

Some deny this. "Look," they say, "in having experience we only have access to an appearance of how things are, and are not acquainted, in the mere having of the experience, with how anything is in itself."

The reply is immediate. Here, how things appear or seem is how they really are: the reality that is in question just is the appearing or seeming. In the case of any experience E there may be something X of which it is true to say that in having E we only have access to an appearance of X, and not to how X is in itself. But serious materialists must hold that E itself, the event of being-appeared-to, with all the qualitative character that it has, is itself part of physical reality. They cannot say that it too is just an appearance, and not part of how things are, on pain of infinite regress. They must grant that it is itself a reality, and a reality with which we must be allowed to have some sort of direct acquaintance.

With that foundation, here are some bullet points from his presentation (he talked faster than I could write and did not have much of a power-point, but these are mostly quotes from his lecture, as closely as I could record them).

  • Concrete reality: the universe, everything that exists in space-time, and space-time is conceived of as a substance.
  • The only certain, natural fact is consciousness and experience - it's where we start and where we must start.
  • There is ZERO EVIDENCE for non-experiential reality (although some naturalists deny even experience).
  • Space-time is real.
  • Everything is in space-time.
  • No reason to believe that anything non-experiential exists --> Good reason to believe that nothing non-experiential exists.
  • If there is nothing non-experiential then there is no hard problem to solve (referring to the difficult problem of explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences).
  • Matter as distinct from experience is the true mystery (this is what he wants to solve through panpsychism = everything has experience).
  • If we start from the experiential, which is all we can know, everything is then experiential = panpsychism, or pan-experientialism.
  • All the fundamental elements of reality are experiential, but do not in themselves experience, while some combinations do experience.
  • Self consciousness is immanent reflexivity (Harry Frankfurt, Identification and Wholeheartedness, 1987).
  • AOI Thesis (awareness of itself) - All awareness comports awareness of itself (endorsed by Indian philosophy) - most phenomenologists (Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, etc) also tend to agree.
  • Irrelational relationality - self identity again, everything is identical with itself.
  • Self-luminosity (experientiality) is the essence of concrete being (Hameroff countered that concrete reality is an oxymoron).
  • The only thing we know for sure is that some elements get together and form a body-mind that experiences --> so only experience is the thing we can know for sure --> It's not thetic, it does not require attention [ Husserl stresses (cf. Ideas, sec. 90, 109), the existence-belief is an indispensable part of the perceptual phenomenon: such experiences are essentially thetic, i.e., there can be no such thing as a perceptual experience without “belief-character.”]

So are you convinced? Did that all make sense, or are you, like me, thinking wtf?

My sense of Stawson's argument is that it is the Intrinsic Nature Argument for panpsychism, as defined at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Strawson's earlier arguments are mentioned in this passage:

Intrinsic Nature Arguments

Another possible argument for panpsychism is neither genetic nor analogical but instead depends on the idea that every actual thing, or kind of thing, must have an intrinsic nature. The objects studied by physics, it is claimed, are described in purely dispositional terms. That is, while an electron, for example, is said to possess “spin”, all this amounts to is that the electron has certain dispositions to behave in certain ways under certain circumstances. It is arguable that dispositions must be grounded in some intrinsic, non-dispositional attributes, but we have no conception whatsoever of what the intrinsic nature of matter might be. In fact, the only intrinsic nature with which we are familiar is consciousness itself. The qualities of conscious experience (to take simply sensory experience: the smell of a rose, the taste of a strawberry, etc.) seem not to be reducible to relations amongst non-experiential states nor entirely specifiable without remainder in terms of their causal powers to produce behavior (and other mental states). They seem instead to possess (or be) intrinsic and irreducible characteristics. If this is the only idea of intrinsic nature we possess, and matter must be assigned some intrinsic nature, it seems that matter must be granted a mentalistic intrinsic nature. The core idea of this argument can be traced back to Leibniz who felt forced to ascribe mentalistic attributes to his monads as the only possible feature which could make intelligible the active forces that seemed to be required in an adequate physics, and which finally laid to rest the dream of a purely mechanical world view. In his discussion of this difficulty, Whitehead describes all “modern cosmologies” as having to admit a “mysterious reality in the background, intrinsically unknowable” (1933/1967, p. 133) and notes that Leibniz “explained what it must be like to be an atom” (1933/1967, p. 132). See Sprigge (1983) for a defense of this argument within an extended discussion of the virtues of panpsychism (for another brief summary of the argument see Sprigge 1999). Another, less idealist, version of the argument is developed in Lockwood (1991), based upon ideas taken from Russell's later philosophy, married to an interpretation of quantum physics. Although far from demonstrative this is, in the words of Timothy Sprigge (1999), “a hypothesis worth exploring as the only alternative to saying that matter is unknowable in its inner essence, and as likely also to cast light on the mind-body or mind-brain relationship.” The currently most extensive discussion of this form of argument in favor of panpsychism, based upon a critique of the conception of causation, can be found in Rosenberg (2005).

Still, one obvious reply to this argument is to bite the bullet of unknowability and accept that the intrinsic nature of matter is either unknown or even essentially unknowable. Belief in such irremediable ignorance would seem neither to entail panpsychism nor to be incoherent, and many might prefer it to panpsychism.

However, recently several philosophers have made remarks somewhat reminiscent of this argument. For example, Galen Strawson has argued for a revised conception of materialism and remarks that “the experiential considered specifically as such—the portion of reality we have to do with when we consider experiences specifically and solely in respect of the experiential character they have for those who have them as they have them—that ‘just is’ physical” (1997/1999, p. 7). Strawson hints that only a “revolutionary development” in physics would allow consciousness to be “discerned and described” by that science. The idea that a revolutionary change in physics may be necessitated by the problem of consciousness is endorsed, suggested or at least hinted at by several distinguished thinkers, including Roger Penrose (1989), John Searle (1991, pp. 123-4), Thomas Nagel (1979, 1986, 1999) and Noam Chomsky (1999; see the remarks about unification and revision on p. 82 for example). Suggestive as these thoughts may be, it only leaves a gap into which the wedge of panpsychism might be inserted. What reason have we to suppose that the hoped for revolution in our understanding of matter at the most fundamental level will involve ascribing essentially mentalistic properties to it? The panpsychist's hope lies in the thought that any modification of our conception of the physical that does not incorporate mind will leave us in an essentially unchanged position, with no explanation of how consciousness emerges from the radically non-mental physical elements of the world. We have seen that this argument has been bruited since at least the time of the Presocratics and it has often led emergentists to reconsider their position when the problem of consciousness is directly considered (it is this worry that probably explains why Morgan, a radical emergentist, retreated into a Spinozistic parallelism of mind and matter; see Morgan 1923, p. 32).

This leads to the final consideration in favor of panpsychism to be considered here, which is a sort of methodological argument. Panpsychism enjoys a metaphysical advantage in that it avoids the difficulties of emergentism, which are greater than is generally thought. Not only is there a problem simply in accounting for the emergence of something so distinctive as consciousness from mere matter, it is surprisingly difficult to articulate a form of emergentism that does not threaten to make the emergent features causally impotent or epiphenomenal. This is not the place to discuss the difficulties of all the varieties of emergentism, but they seem serious.

So, doing more digging around, I came upon a review of Strawson's recent book, Real Materialism and Other Essays, in which the reviewer (also a philosopher: Andrew Melnyk, University of Missouri) rejects Strawson's version of real materialism:

I was much less impressed with the work in the philosophy of mind, partly because it operates within the framework of Strawson's realistic materialism, which I find to be an unsatisfactory basis for a philosophical research program -- for reasons that I will now explain. Realistic materialism is presented in the first two papers of the book, the title essay "Real Materialism" and "Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism", and is a view of the place of the qualitative character of experiences in the wider world.[1] As I understand it, it comprises five claims:

1) Experiential phenomena are perfectly real.

2) Experiential phenomena are such that:

(i) they're "part of fundamental reality" (35);

(ii) we know them to exist with certainty (23);

(iii) in having experience, "we are directly acquainted with certain features of the ultimate nature of reality" (25, 41);

(iv) "the having [of them] is the knowing" (25);

(v) "we can't be radically in error about [their] nature" (55, note 7).

3) Not "all aspects" of experiential phenomena "can be described by current physics, or some non-revolutionary extension of it" (22).

4) Still, experiential phenomena are "physical in every respect" (23, 35, 37).

How can claim 4 and claim 3 be consistent? According to Strawson, we need (a) to distinguish between structural physical features and intrinsic physical features and (b) to adopt the epistemologically structuralist view that physics only gives us knowledge of the world's structural features. Given (a) and (b), claim 3 is true if the qualitative character of an experience is not a structural physical feature of the world. Claim 4 can be true too, however, if, as Strawson holds:

5) The qualitative character of an experience is an intrinsic physical feature of the event of neurons firing (22, 37).

Real materialism, I should note, is not a novel position; as Strawson acknowledges, it is essentially the position proposed by Grover Maxwell in 1978 (51, note 126). Both are inspired by Russell, of course.

Claim 3 is a very strong claim, entailing the falsehood of every kind of conventional (non-eliminative) physicalism about experiential phenomena. Why should we accept claim 3, according to Strawson? Why, for example, should we disbelieve the type-identity view that phenomenal properties form a proper subset of neurophysiological properties? One might have expected Strawson to endorse familiar arguments for property dualism, e.g., Jackson's knowledge argument or Kripke's appeal to the necessity of identity, since, though they don't establish that the qualitative characters of experience fail to be intrinsic physical features, they do (if successful) establish that they fail to be structural physical features. In fact, however, he doesn't endorse these arguments, at least explicitly.[2] His official argument for claim 3 is that its negation amounts to eliminativism about experiential phenomena, which "is mad" (22).[3] That the negation of claim 3 amounts to eliminativism is said to follow "from the fact that current physics contains no predicates for experiential phenomena at all, and that no non-revolutionary extension of it could do so" (22, note 17; 56, note 9). Unfortunately, Strawson doesn't here say how he knows this putative fact. In particular, he doesn't say why he feels entitled to rule out the possibility that, exactly as type-identity physicalists suppose, certain immensely complex predicates from current physics in fact pick out the qualitative characters of experiential phenomena, even though this can't be discovered a priori.[4] I conjecture, however, that one way he thinks he can rule out this possibility is by attending introspectively to his own experience (54-55, note 6). For, in his Introduction, he characterizes phenomenal properties as "properties whose whole and essential nature can be and is fully revealed in sensory experience" (12; my emphases). If this characterization of phenomenal properties is correct, then no phenomenal property can be such that some scientific term or concept picks out that very property in a way that represents more of the property's essential nature, e.g., its internal structure, than is represented when we are directly acquainted with that property in experience.[5] But a complex predicate from current physics that picked out a phenomenal property would represent a great deal of the property's internal structure that goes unrepresented when we are acquainted with that property in experience. So no complex predicate from current physics can pick out a phenomenal property.

Presumably, Strawson means the first premise of this argument -- that phenomenal properties are "properties whose whole and essential nature can be and is fully revealed in sensory experience" -- to follow somehow from claim 2. However, he gives no reason, at least that I could find, for believing claim 2. Nevertheless we do need a reason; claim 2 is not forced upon us as claim 1 is. For even if, as Strawson holds, introspection assures us that experiential phenomena exist and hence that claim 1 is true, claim 2 goes much further: it purports to describe experiential phenomena in philosophically sophisticated metaphysical and epistemological terms. Since introspection has evolved by natural selection, as Strawson would allow, it's unlikely to be capable of informing us directly of claim 2 -- or indeed of any claim of comparable philosophical theoreticity. Perhaps claim 2 can be inferred from weaker claims about experience more plausibly regarded as direct deliverances of introspection; if so, however, this will need to be shown. The same points apply, of course, if claim 2 is expanded to include the claim that phenomenal properties are "properties whose whole and essential nature can be and is fully revealed in sensory experience".

Philosophers who accept claims 1, 2, and 3 usually go on to endorse some sort of dualism, of course, treating the qualitative character of an experience as something entirely non-physical, as something not even supervening on or realized by the physical, but not Strawson. Instead, in claim 5, he treats the qualitative character of an experience as an intrinsic physical feature of a neural event. On what grounds? One rationale for claim 5 is that, given claim 1, it follows, more or less, from claims 3 and 4 (see 71). I have already discussed support for claim 3. What about claim 4? Much empirical evidence exists for claim 4, in my view, but it's evidence that experiential phenomena are structural physical phenomena, something that claim 3 actually contradicts. I know of no evidence that experiential phenomena are intrinsic physical phenomena (given Strawson's assumption of epistemological structuralism about physics). So supporting claim 4 is problematic for a realistic materialist. Strawson's endorsement of claim 4 seems in fact to rest on his attraction to a unified view of the world, the idea presumably being that, given claim 4, all features of the world are unified in being physical, whether structural-physical or intrinsic-physical (51). Nevertheless Strawson insists that we have no grasp of "the essential nature of the physical", so he can't substantiate the idea that the intrinsic features of the world that are the qualitative characters of experiences share a genuine physicality with the structural features of the world that physics reveals (46). This first rationale for claim 5 therefore fails.

A second rationale for claim 5 appeals to ontological economy (50, 59, 66). I think it can be reconstructed as follows:

Structural physical features exist, but structural physical features can't exist unless intrinsic physical features do too, so intrinsic physical features exist. The qualitative characters of experiences exist also, but, according to claim 3, they aren't structural physical features. So either they're identical with intrinsic physical features, as claim 5 says, or they're entirely non-physical features. The former option -- claim 5 -- is more economical, and hence, other things being equal, to be preferred.

Strawson doesn't argue that other things are in fact equal. Are they? I don't know, though the answer would turn in part on the relative abilities of realistic materialism and its best dualist rival to explain puzzling features of the mind. I also note that this rationale for claim 5 uses the recently-contested premise that structural physical features require intrinsic physical features, i.e., that the physical world couldn't be purely structural.[6]

The points made in the preceding paragraphs only partly explain why I'm not at all drawn to realistic materialism. There's also the point that realistic materialism raises at least two inter-related questions to which, in its present form, it offers no answers. (i) According to Strawson, realistic materialism entails micropsychism, the view that "at least some ultimates are intrinsically experience-involving", which he takes to imply that each ultimate involves a distinct subject of experience (71). Since human subjects of experience are not ultimates, and hence not the subjects of experience involved in ultimates, there must be some way in which the latter combine to form human subjects of experience. But how? Strawson raises this question himself, but he doesn't try to answer it (72). This omission is serious, for so long as the question goes unanswered, realistic materialism hasn't actually told us what my, or your, or any human subject's experiencing of red is. Also, an answer to this question seems necessary for an answer to the second question. (ii) Realistic materialism, when joined with epistemological structuralism about physics, entails that we, i.e., human subjects of experience, can only know about the world's structural features -- except when we attend introspectively to the qualitative characters of our own experiences and thereby acquire knowledge of the intrinsic features of certain neural events in our own brains. But how is this supposed to work? Why does the epistemic handicap we labor under when we enquire scientifically disappear when instead we attend introspectively to our own experiences? What is it about introspection that gives it access to the intrinsic features of certain of our brain events? And why are the intrinsic features of only some, but not all, of our brain events accessible to introspection? These questions are not touched by realistic materialism in its present form.

A recurring theme in Strawson's discussion of realistic materialism is that (i) we have no conception of what it is to be physical on the basis of which we might form any rational expectation at all that the mental couldn't be physical and (ii) this point, though clearly appreciated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has been missed by contemporary students of the mind-body problem (e.g., 20, 38-40, 54). I entirely agree that we have no conception of physicality, if physicality is construed in Strawsonian fashion as a genuine property, a genuine meta-property, in fact, that is possessed by all physical properties (20). Nevertheless I strongly doubt that any student of the mind-body problem in the second half of the twentieth century has ever thought that we do have such a conception -- a break with the past perhaps reflected in the terminological shift, to which Strawson attaches no importance, from "materialism" (and "matter") to "physicalism". Recent students formulate the mind-body problem in a way that doesn't require a conception of physicality as a meta-property. They can do so because, unlike philosophers of earlier generations, they are able to draw upon the concrete achievements of the various branches of science over the past hundred years. Thus, pace Strawson, the mind-body problem today -- our mind-body problem -- is to understand how our everyday descriptions of ourselves as thinkers, feelers, and reasoners fits together with the extraordinarily rich scientific descriptions of ourselves provided by cognitive neuroscience, molecular biology, biochemistry, and, yes, even fundamental physics (54). Of course, these scientific descriptions probably don't represent the last word, but so what? They don't need to in order for the mind-body problem to be worth addressing. It's interesting, at least to many of us, to contemplate our best scientific guesses as to the nature of the world and then speculate on how they hang together. Any detailed solution to the mind-body problem that we produce will naturally inherit the provisional and tentative character of the scientific descriptions with which the problem was formulated, but if scientists can tolerate fallibility, why not philosophers too?

[1] And hence a view about intentional states, since Strawson holds that intentional states are experiential states.

[2] He does give an argument that differs only terminologically from Joe Levine's well known Explanatory Gap argument (63).

[3] In his Introduction, Strawson compares deniers of phenomenal consciousness to psychiatric patients (6; and see note 31)!

[4] On 54, note 3, he cites an argument from his own earlier work, but I won't discuss it here.

[5] Compare "element having atomic number 79" with "gold", "NaCl" with "salt", and so on.

[6] See chs. 2 and 3 of James Ladyman and Don Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

I am pretty much swayed by this argument as I understand it - there are some logical inconsistencies in Strawson's position that Melnyk exposes in a way that even I can follow.

So why does anyone argue for panpsychism? As I mentioned above, David Skrbina wrote a book on Panpsychism in the West (2007), and he has written other works on the topic as well.

Here is another take on panpsychism from David Skrbina's earlier 2001 online book (a series of PDFs), Participation, Organization, and Mind: Toward a Participatory Worldview:

Evolution unified natural phenomena, especially life, and this allowed people to see life emerging in a kind of continuous process from non-life. A natural conclusion then was that consciousness and mind inhered in all matter, and only became visible to us in the structures that we call life. James noted, in an earlier citation, that a panpsychic hylozoism must be "an indispensable part of a thorough-going philosophy of evolution" (op.cit.). Peirce argued from the perspectives of mathematics and physics that "all mind more or less partakes of the nature of matter" (op.cit.), and saw chaotic dynamics as key in this process. Others, like Bergson, argued (somewhat ambiguously) that mind was a creative phenomenon that emerged de novo in the course of universal evolution. This leaves the process of emergence as mysterious and perhaps inscrutable, and introduces troublesome instances of 'drawing a line' somewhere in the sequence of structural complexity. Rather, I think that we need to redefine the concept of emergence, to more adequately account for the appearance of the new within a connected process of universal evolution1.

To many scientists of the early 20th century, panpsychism was uncomfortably close to the recently discredited theory of vitalism. As a result they largely avoided discussion of it altogether. The first notable scientist to tentatively put forth panpsychist views was the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington. His Space, Time and Gravitation (1920) concludes with the observation that physics only addresses the surface structure of matter and energy, and does not have anything to say about the ‘inner content’ of reality. Arguing roughly in the manner of Schopenhauer, Eddington claims that the inner content of reality must be like the inner content of the human, i.e. conscious:
[Physics] is knowledge of structural form, and not knowledge of content. All through the physical world runs that unknown content, which must surely be the stuff of our consciousness. (p. 200)
It is difficult to determine precisely the meaning of this passage; it can be read either as a form of idealism or as panpsychism (though of course Schopenhauer’s argument was clearly panpsychic). Eddington again addresses this theme in 1939, leaning more toward idealism. He argues that physics “abolishes all dualism of consciousness and matter” (1939: 150). Dualism, he claims, contains a logical inconsistency: “Dualism depends on the belief that we find in the external world something of a nature incommensurable with what we find in consciousness” (ibid). Since physics shows that all reality is structurally the same, it must all be commensurate with consciousness, i.e. of the nature of a mental sensation. He elaborates:
Although the statement that the universe is of the nature of ‘a thought or sensation in a universal Mind’ is open to criticism, it does at least avoid this logical confusion. It is, I think, true in the sense that it is a logical consequence of...our knowledge as a description of the universe. (p. 151)
His reference to a universal Mind sounds very Berkelian -- matter as consciousness only with respect to an observing mind, not as a mind in itself. Eddington’s argumentation comes across as a bit confused, but his intention seems clear: that the unified view of physics supports a belief that the content of reality is comparable and even equivalent to the content of mind. (Chapter 7: p. 263-264)
That last line seems to me to be the crux of what panpsychism proposes - that the content of reality is comparable and even equivalent to the content of mind.

This strikes me as the same argument - though from a different angle - that B Alan Wallace makes in some of his books on Buddhism and physics. Rather than rejecting self, as Buddhism tends to suggest, he raises consciousness, which requires a self if you really want to get down to basic premises, to the level of a universal premise from which all things arise - which I objected to in my review of his book, Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness.

So, after all of that - I am not on board with Galen Strawson's argument.

Jerome Kagan - The Temperamental Thread: How Genes, Culture, Time and Luck Make Us Who We Are

A new book from developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan is now available, published by The Dana Foundation, and available at Amazon - The Temperamental Thread: How Genes, Culture, Time and Luck Make Us Who We Are (although there is no Kindle version).

Kagan has probably contributed more to our understanding of temperament than any other psychologist. Here is the section devoted to his basic ideas on temperament from his Wikipedia entry:


According to Kagan, (conventionally):

"temperament refers to stable behavioral and emotional reactions that appear early and are influenced in part by genetic constitution."[13]

Temperament is perhaps what Kagan is best known for. He began his remarkable work on temperament after his research in Guatemala. Kagan was primarily focused on children’s fear and apprehension [14]. It was during this time that Kagan discovered children as having one of two types of temperament: inhibited and uninhibited. Inhibited temperament, also known as highly reactive, can best be described as a child being more reserved, guarded, and introverted whereas uninhibited, or low reactive, children tend to be more outgoing, extroverted, and are very comfortable in social situations [15]. As a result of his ground breaking work on temperament, we know that these characteristics have the ability to influence later behavior depending on how they interact with the environment [16]

Kagan rejects "attachment theory", British psychiatrist John Bowlby's notion that the bond between caregiver and infant is crucially influential in later emotional and even intellectual growth. He has also criticized Judith Rich Harris's theory that peer groups matter more than parents in influencing the personality of children. He believes that both sides in the nature/nurture debates were too rigid, and that the development of personality is still not well understood.

I have a hard time with his rejection of attachment theory - the evidence is overwhelming that attachment is a crucial element of child development. Certainly, there is some mix between innate temperament and attachment experiences, which would explain why two children with exactly the same hellish upbringing will come through it in different ways.

For example: My sister and I grew up in the same family, and we were close in age. Yet when our father died, I self-destructed for a few years then got my shit together and got some help (therapy and Buddhism). On the other hand, she acted out a little as a teen but never to the extent that I did. She seemed to get her life together, married a good man, had a family, then in her late twenties became an addict and eventually died as an indirect result of her addictions. Attachment can't really explain that difference, but temperament can.

Still, attachment does explain why we both went through periods of self-destruction. We both had insecure avoidant attachments (we grow up to have dismissive-avoidant attachment in relationships) as a result of being raised by the same mother. This made it hard for us to allow others to get too close, since we feared the kind of smothering we received from our mother.

Anyway - he is brilliant, but we cannot disregard attachment theory, no matter how well temperament explains some parts of who we are.

In the following article, the Harvard Gazette looks at his work on temperament:

Often, we are what we were

Psychology pioneer probes childhood trends influencing temperament

Ask babies who they are, and they’ll babble something that seems nonsensical. Turns out, they’re onto something.

Jerome Kagan, a developmental psychologist and the Daniel and Amy Starch Professor of Psychology Emeritus, has spent the past 30 years of his lengthy career studying the temperaments of those little people, which originate in a child’s unique biology, along with the experiences that shape their personalities. These discoveries are summarized in his new book, “The Temperamental Thread.

Twenty percent of Kagan’s 4-month-old infant subjects were labeled high reactive, “a behavioral profile marked by vigorous motor activity and crying to unfamiliar experiences.” And 40 percent were labeled low reactive because they showed the opposite behaviors. Both temperaments are modest predictors of future personalities, depending on how children responded to their environments. (Another 40 percent belonged to neither group.)

“The high-reactive infants are biased to become children who are timid, shy, and cautious in unfamiliar situations. This is a personality trait known as inhibited,” said Kagan. “The low reactives are biased to develop into outgoing, spontaneous, fearless children — uninhibited.”

Kagan also explores links between temperament and gender, ethnicity, mental illness, and more. The difference between males and females is always newsworthy fodder, and, according to Kagan, “over the past 50 years, many scientists have discovered intriguing biological differences between males and females that imply different patterns of temperaments in girls and boys.”

“The most obvious are related to the molecules oxytocin and vasopressin, and the sex hormones. It appears that these molecules, in conjunction with others and experience, bias girls to care more about the quality of their social relationships and bias boys to care more about their potency and relative status with other males.”

Kagan said he’d always been curious about the mind and “the persistence of beliefs that are not in accord with experience,” and recalled arguing at a young age with his mother, who believed in inborn traits of personality.

“During the 1940s and ’50s, many citizens and social scientists believed that the main, if not the only, cause of the problems that plague our species were childhood experiences,” said Kagan. “This belief was an heir of Freudian ideas and the confidence of behaviorists, who were demonstrating the power of experience to shape animal behavior. It followed that anyone who discovered the specific experiences that led to a mental illness, crime, or school failure would be a hero doing God’s work. Who would not entertain the idea of becoming a child psychologist, given this Zeitgeist?”

Although retired, Kagan still enjoys collaborations with colleagues Nancy Snidman of Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Carl Schwartz, and has begun to write “a set of essays on some contemporary but controversial issues that surround the meanings and measurements of the concepts of happiness, morality, brain bases for psychological states, and mental illnesses.”

But what about Kagan’s baby subjects? Where are they now? “Infant temperaments act to limit what children will become; they do not guarantee a particular personality,” he noted.

“A life itinerary is like the game of ‘Twenty Questions.’ Each new piece of information eliminates a large number of possibilities, but many still remain.”

Here is some more information from the Dana Foundation blurbs about the book, including the table of contents:

Temperament is the single most pervasive fact about us and our fellow travelers in life. We notice it; we gossip about it; we make judgments based on it; we unconsciously shape our lives with it.

In The Temperamental Thread, developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan draws on decades of research to describe the nature of temperament—the in-born traits that underlie our responses to experience. Along the way he answers such questions as, How does the temperament we are born with affect the rest of our lives? Are we set at birth on an irrevocable path of optimism or pessimism? Must a fussy baby always become an anxious adult?

Kagan paints a picture of temperament as a thread that, when woven with those of life experiences, forms the whole cloth of personality. He presents solid evidence to show how genes, gender, culture, and happenstance contribute to temperament as well as influence and shape a mature personality. He explains how temperament sets the stage for the myriad of personality variations, from the dazzling to the desperate, that we see all around us.

Temperament research, powered by the new tools of neuroscience and psychological science, will be an important source of tomorrow’s ideas, as well as enriching our understanding of others in every context, from our closest relationships to those in workplaces, schools, and even causal encounters. In a highly readable and enjoyable style, Jerome Kagan shows us how.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: What Are Human Temperaments?

Chapter 2: Reacting to the Unexpected

Chapter 3. Experience and Inference

Chapter 4. Temperament and Gender

Chapter 5. Temperament and Ethnicity

Chapter 6. Temperament and Mental Illness

Chapter 7. What Have We Learned?


“In this marvelous book, one of the world’s most distinguished psychologists synthesizes cutting-edge research to illuminate how biology and environment jointly shape human psychology. The book reveals deep erudition, yet is written in an engaging and accessible style. Anyone keen to learn what science has revealed about human nature will be captivated.”

— Richard J. McNally, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Author of Panic Disorder: A Critical Analysis and Remembering Trauma

“An excellent read—highly informative and accessible. Jerome Kagan provides a broad overview of the importance of individual differences early in life in the formation of adult personality. The book encompasses the worlds of psychology, genetics, and neuroscience…in a manner that is readily understood to readers of varied backgrounds. In addition, Professor Kagan provides in-depth discussion of the influence of temperament on achievement and psychopathology.”

— Professor Nathan A. Fox, University of Maryland-College Park

"Jerome Kagan, with his usual brilliance, separates the biology and psychology of temperament to unravel the complexity of why we act and react the way we do. If you want to understand why you or your child is anxious, easy-going, a worrier, compulsive, feels guilty or entitled and more, you must read Kagan’s discoveries about the brain’s role and the factors that influence it."

— Susan Newman, Ph.D., Social psychologist, and author of Parenting An Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only

Neuroscience in the Courtroom - The End of Free Will?

I knew this day was coming, and it seems to have arrived. There have been a series of recent posts around the Web dealing with the use of misuse of neuroscience data in the courtroom. The abilities of neuroscience and brain scans to reveal previously "hidden" elements of the mind in vivid images is about to change (maybe) the way we understand free will, personal responsibility, and criminal guilt.

Is someone "guilty" in the legal sense if they have a brain abnormality that can be shown to jurors as mitigating circumstances? Where does free will come in if many (maybe most) of our decisions are made at a pre-conscious level of the mind?

First up, an interview with the frighteningly young (22 years old and TWO books already?) Eliezer Sternberg, author of My Brain Made Me Do It, from Scientific American Mind.

'My Brain Made Me Do It'

A 22-year-old author discusses the threat that brain science poses to our concept of free will

Eliezer Sternberg
Courtesy of E. Sternberg

At age 22, Eliezer Sternberg has just published his second book on neuroscience and philosophy: “My Brain Made Me Do It,” now out from Prometheus Books. In it, he argues that our growing understanding of how the brain works does not mean the end of moral responsibility. Rather, he sees free will as a special property that emerges from more basic brain functions. A student at Tufts Medical School, he took time out from his first-year exams to talk with Mind Matters co-editor Carey Goldberg.

Q: Moral responsibility has been in the news most recently as people discussed the Tiger Woods scandal. How do you see his case?

A: Tiger Woods does take full responsibility and he should take full responsibility. Some have considered the possibility that his serial adultery was caused by the fact that he had no control over his libido—that he did not act of his own free will. But unless neurologists confirm substantial damage to his frontal lobe, his ability to freely make decisions was intact and he could have taken measures to control his tendencies. He has free will, and is morally responsible.

Q: In your book you say that recent developments in neuroscience seem to cast increasing doubt on our concept of free will. What findings seem to most threaten it?

A: The work of [the late University of California, San Francisco physiologist] Benjamin Libet -- which is itself not very recent but is still being pursued by other researchers. He found in lab experiments that the brain begins initiating an action before the person has actually decided to take that action. That very stark example really makes you think.

Q: What do you consider the most powerful counter-argument to Libet’s findings?

A: That argument is based on the idea of a “readiness potential” that appears 350 milliseconds before the conscious decision of an action is declared. But my argument would be that there’s really no way of knowing that this potential -- which is just a brainwave, actually -- is the brain beginning to take the action. It’s an assumption made, but for all we know, it could be associated with thousands of different processes.

Q: So how would you sum up your own conclusions about how we can reconcile the accumulating findings in neuroscience with the concept of free will?

A: I believe that, over time, traditional neuronal and biochemical accounts of the mind will run their course—they will try to explain as much as they can, but will fall short of accounting for human consciousness. There will still be more to explain. At this point, researchers will have to search for new kinds of explanations that are unprecedented in other scientific fields.

Q: So you’re saying free will is qualitatively different from the rest of the workings of the brain, which are more mechanistic?

A: Yes. But I think it’s still based in the brain’s mechanical architecture. It’s not a separate entity but it’s an emergent property of the mechanism of the brain.

Q: You are 22. What do you reasonably expect to see in your lifetime in terms of unraveling this question of what the brain has to say about free will vs. determinism?

A: I think that the trend will move further and further into thinking that free will does not exist. Two factors will push that belief. First: There will be more complete accounts of how decisions or behaviors arise from cellular connections in the brain. And second, the incredible expansion of brain-related technologies, including intelligence drugs, and cortical implants, which would have electrodes plugged into various areas of the brain to stimulate or suppress feeling and ideas. I think this merging of mind and mechanism is going to get people thinking more and more along these lines. We’ll see machines and human behavior and see them interacting, so we’ll assume it’s the same kind of system, just one’s made out of flesh and the other’s made out of silicon. I wrote the book to say that all that doesn’t matter, because there’s a fundamental gap that none of that will breach.

Q: What future do you foresee for legal defenses based on “My Brain Made Me Do It?”

A: I think that neuroscience is expanding incredibly quickly and when the field really does reach its apex, I do think that major legal questions will become relevant as more and more scientists become convinced that the brain is controlling more than we assumed in the past.

Q: How might a deterministic neuroscience affect the way we view criminals?

A: If I’m wrong, and all our behaviors are completely controlled by neuronal processes beyond our control, that would mean that our concept of morality doesn’t make any sense and there seems to be no way to hold people responsible for anything.

Q: In fact, in our society, we do have highly deterministic neuroscience, which enjoys quite a bit of respect, and yet our courts do keep the concept of personal responsibility pretty intact. Something doesn’t quite jibe.

A: You are right when you say we already have pretty deterministic neuroscience but that is known by few people. Once science and technology make the perceived determinism of neuroscience more concrete, that is when people are going to start questioning whether our legal system and our concepts of crime and punishment are justified. Obviously, I think it is justified but there will be people who don’t think that.

Q: It does seem like a collision is coming, but for now they’re separate.

A: I’m not the kind of person who can compartmentalize ideas that way. I need to believe something consistent and go with it. So it was pretty hard for me when I was working in various neuroscience labs and would ask questions about free will and personal identity. Anyone I asked would simply brush it off, and say ‘Oh, we don’t deal with that kind of stuff here, this is a laboratory. We deal with serious things.’ It made for fewer people to talk with.

~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S): Tufts Medical School student Eliezer Sternberg is author of "My Brain Made Me Do It" and "Are You a Machine?"
Psychology Today briefly reviews the book and expands on the idea of free will in the law.

My brain made me do it: Do we have free will?

Will brain research change our concept of free will?

As scientists continue to explore how the brain works, it seems likely that new findings will radically alter the traditional understanding of human nature and that will have enormous implications for the legal system and the workplace. One aspect of human nature being questioned by brain science is the concept of free will. The essential question is: Is our feeling of self-control merely an illusion created by our brains? If the answer is yes, what happens to our understanding of free will and moral responsibility?

Eliezer Sternberg of Tufts University School of Medicine, and author of My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise Of Neuroscience And The Threat To Moral Responsibility, explains theories of determinism and free will in light of brain research.

Sternberg says that if we believe in the concept of free will--either by nature or nurture--and we feel we are responsible for our choices, then we are able to established accepted rules of conduct. However, if we have no choices and are, therefore, not responsible for our actions, then all law is superfluous. The only reason people could behave a certain way is that they can't help it--their brains made them do it.

Neuroscience research on people with Parkinson's, Tourette's and Schizophrenia reveals the brain's control over the behavior of those individuals afflicted by those conditions, affecting their free will and choices. What if the same is true for criminals? For "normal" people?

Already there are lawyers preparing defenses for clients accused of serious crime, citing brain evidence which potentially could turn the history of what constitutes guilt. The principles outlining criminal intent were first enunciated by the McNaughton rule, created in the 1800s in the U.S., which states that a person is not guilty of a crime because of a disease of the mind that prevented the person from knowing the nature and quality of the act or did not know it was wrong. The McNaughton rule have been modified only slightly in the Criminal Code of Canada.

If further neuroscience research determines that peoples' brains, particularly the unconscious and emotional parts of those brains, determine choices and behavior without either their knowledge or conscious control, the entire world of relationships between managers and employees, and the judicial system could be turned upside down. It will be, to say the least, an interesting development.

Ray B. Williams is Co-Founder of Success IQ University and President of Ray Williams Associates, companies located in Phoenix and Vancouver, providing leadership training, personal growth and executive coaching services.

Over at the Time Online (UK), Raymond Tallis takes a hard look at the dubious rise of neurolaw. This article actually comes from 2007, but it is very relevant to the current conversation.

Why blame me? It was all my brain’s fault

Imagine this futuristic courtroom scene. The defence barrister stands up, and pointing to his client in the dock, makes this plea: “The case against Mr X must be dismissed. He cannot be held responsible for smashing Mr Y’s face into a pulp. He is not guilty, it was his brain that did it. Blame not Mr X, but his overactive amygdala.”

The legal profession in America is taking an increasing interest in neuroscience. There is a flourishing academic discipline of “neurolaw” and neurolawyers are penetrating the legal system. Vanderbilt University recently opened a $27 million neuroimaging centre and hopes to enrol students in a programme in the law and neuroscience. In the courts, as in the trial of serial rapist and murderer Bobby Joe Long, brain-scan evidence is being invoked in support of pleas of diminished responsibility. The idea is abroad that developments in neuroscience – in particular the observation of activity in the living brain, using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging – have shown us that we are not as free, or as accountable for our actions, as we traditionally thought.

Defence lawyers are licking their lips at the possibility of (to use law professor Jeffrey Rosen’s succinct phrase) placing “the brain on the stand” to take the rap on behalf of the client. Though they failed to cut much ice in Long’s case, arguments that blame lies not with the defendant but with his overactive amygdala (supposedly responsible for aggressive emotions) or his underactive frontal lobes (supposedly responsible for inhibiting the expression of such emotions) are being deployed with increasing frequency. If our brains are in charge, and bad behaviour is due to them, our attitude to criminal responsibility, to punishment (the balance between rehabilitation and retribution) and to preventive detention of individuals thought to have criminal tendencies may all have to change.

Before we invest millions in “neurolaw” centres, however, we need to remind ourselves that observations of brain activity in the laboratory can explain very few things about us. We have no neural explanation for: sensations; the differences between sensations; the way our consciousness coheres at any particular time and over time; our relationship to an explicit past and an explicit future; our sense of being a self; and our awareness of other people as having minds like ourselves. All of these are involved in ordinary, waking behaviour. The confident assertion that “his brain made him do it”, except in well-attested cases – such as the automatisms associated with certain forms of epilepsy or the disinhibited behaviour that may follow severe brain injury – therefore goes beyond our current knowledge or understanding.

Those who blame the brain should be challenged as to why they stop at the brain when they seek the causes of bad behaviour. Since the brain is a physical object, it is wired into nature at large. “My brain made me do it” must mean (ultimately) that “The Big Bang” made me do it. Neuro-determinism quickly slides into determinism tout court.

And there is a contradiction built into the plea of neuromitigation. The claim “my brain made me do it” suggests that I am not my brain; even that my brain is some kind of alien force. One of the founding notions of neurolaw, however, is that the person is the brain. If I were my brain, then “My brain made me do it” would boil down to “I made me do it” and that would hardly get me off the hook. And yet, if I am not identical with my brain, why should a brain make me do anything? Why should this impersonal bit of matter single me out?

The brain is, of course, the final common pathway of all actions. You can’t do much without a brain. Decapitation is, in most instances, associated with a decline in IQ.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between events that owe their origin to the stand-alone brain – for example the twitching associated with an epileptic fit – and actions that do not. While we do not hold someone responsible for an epileptic fit, we do hold them responsible for driving against medical advice and causing a fatal crash. The global excuse “my brain made me do it” would reduce life to a condition of status epilepticus.

In practice, most brain-blamers are not prepared to deny everyone’s responsibility for anything and everything. While the brain is blamed for actions that attract moral disapprobation or legal sanction, people do not normally pass responsibility on to their brains for good actions or for neutral actions such as pouring a cup of tea or just getting up for a stretch after a long sit down. When asked why he is defending a particular client, a barrister is unlikely to say: “My brain made me do it, your honour.” This pick-and-mix neuro-determinism is grounds for treating a plea of “neuro-mitigation” with caution.

So we still retain the distinction between events such as epileptic fits that can be attributed to brain activity and those that we attribute to persons who are more than mere neural activity. Deciding on the boundaries of our responsibility for events in which we are implicated cannot be handed over to neuroscientists examining the activity of the isolated brain in the laboratory. As Stephen Morse, a professor of law, has reminded us, it is people, not brains, who commit crimes and “neuroscience . . . can never identify the mysterious point at which people should be excused responsibility for their actions”. That moral, legal question must be answered not in laboratories but in courtrooms and legislatures.

Meanwhile, the neuromitigation of blame has to be treated with suspicion except in those instances where there is unambiguous evidence of grossly abnormal brain function or abnormal mental function due to clearcut illness that may have its origin in brain disease. Our knowledge of the relationship between brain and consciousness, brain and self, and brain and agency is so weak and so conceptually confused that the appeal to neuroscience in the law courts, the police station or anywhere else is premature and usually inappropriate. And, I would suggest, it will remain both premature and inappropriate. Neurolaw is just another branch of neuromythology.

Meanwhile, over at All in the Mind, Natasha Mitchell talks about The Brain on Trial with:

Dr James Brewer
Assistant Professor, Radiology and Neurosciences
University of California San Diego

Henry (Hank) Greely
Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law
Director, Center for Law and the Biosciences
Professor (by courtesy) of Genetics, Stanford School of Medicine
Chair, California's Human Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee
Co-director of the Law and Neuroscience Project
Stanford University

Dr Michael Rafii
Memory Disorders Clinic
UCSD Perlman Ambulatory Care Center in La Jolla
Assistant Professor of Neurosciences
University of California, San Diego

Judge Luis Rodriguez
Judge, Superior Court of California, County of Orange
(The link above is to a PDF file)

Robert G. Knaier
Latham & Watkins
San Diego, USA

The Brain on Trial

The brain is on trial, and you be the judge. In a hypothetical murder case featuring a real judge, real neuroscientists and real lawyers - a brain scan image is presented as evidence. What unfolds could be coming to a courtroom near you. Stanford law professor Hank Greely is concerned neuroscience is being exploited by the law before it's fully baked.

Show Transcript

Further Information

The All in the Mind blog - and for comments and discussion (extra audio and info)
Includes the full text of the hypotheical case in this mock trial.
Join Natasha Mitchell in the All in the Mind blog. You can add comments there, or directly here on the webpage too (It's easy! Just look for Add Your Comment).

The Brain on Trial: Neuroscience Evidence in the Courtroom
Mock trial held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting, 2010.

The Law and Neuroscience Project, USA

You are not your brain scan! - Adelaide Festival of Ideas
Public lecture given by All in the Mind presenter Natasha Mitchell at the 2009 Adelaide Festival of Ideas

Addiction, free will and self control
Heard the one about the psychiatrist, the Supreme Court judge and the philosopher who walked in to a radio studio...? Join Natasha Mitchell and guests in a roundtable interrogation of how the brain sciences are changing our understanding of addiction, and the powerful consequences for notions of free will, responsibility and culpability. Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, 2009

Neuroscience and the Law
Brain scanning indicates that certain frontal lobe abnormalities might be linked to certain forms of antisocial or criminal behaviour. But what are the legal implications of this? A debate from the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National in 2002.

Mind Reading (Part 1 of 2): Neuroscience in the witness stand
'But officer, my brain made me do it!' Brain scans are becoming commonplace as evidence in US courts, in the bid to convict offenders or free them. But is the technology half-baked? Can we biologically categorise people as criminals -- mad, bad and dangerous to know? Free will, privacy and personal responsibility are all up for grabs in the collision between science and the law. Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, 2007.

Mind Reading (Part 2 of 2): The rise of mental surveillance
Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, 2007.

Neuroethics and the 21st Century Brain
Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, 2005

You are not your brain scan! Critical reporting on the mind sciences
The Brain. It's been called the final frontier of science. Colourful fMRI scans light up our TV screens and newspapers promising to reveal the secrets of the psyche. From the search for the brain's God Spot, to the rapid rise of neuroeconomics, neuromarketing and neuroethics - makes for sexy headlines - but have journalists become blinded by the lights and allure of the brain scan? Are we telling too simplistic a story about the human self? Join Natasha Mitchell at the World Conference of Science Journalists with award-winning science journalists Deborah Blum (USA) and Jonica Newby, and Professor Fred Mendelsohn, Director of the Howard Florey Institute. Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, 2007

Michael Gazzaniga: Split brains and other heady tales
One of the big names of the brain is Michael Gazzaniga, whose career was forged in the lab of Nobel laureate Roger Sperry. His striking experiments continue to uncover the differences between your left and right hemispheres. Today he's on the US President's Bioethics Council, heads up a major project on neuroscience and the law, and is a prolific writer of popular neuroscience. He joins Natasha Mitchell to reflect on the brain's left and right, and the mysterious nature of free will. Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, 2008.


Title: Neuroscience-Based Lie Detection: The Urgent Need for Regulation
Author: Henry T. Greely and Judy Illes
Publisher: 33 American Journal of Law & Medicine 377 (2007).

Title: The Social Consequences of Advances in Neuroscience: Legal Problems; Legal Perspectives
Author: Henry T. Greely (in Neuroethics: Defining the Issues In Theory, Practice and Policy, Judy Illes, ed.)
Publisher: Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Natasha Mitchell

This comes from the All in the Mind Blog:

The Brain on be the judge

Greely Law professor Henry (Hank) Greely features on All in the Mind this week. Catch the audio, transcript and plenty of related information and shows from the archive on the program website.

He contributed to a mock trial held at this year's American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego...which I include excerpts of in the show.

Here's an extra part of my discussion with Hank as it heads into philosophical territory, with themes like: What place do notions of free will have in the courts and in sentencing? Who drives your actions? What is the 'you' inside your head?


And, I thought you might be interested in reading, in full, the hypothetical scenario the players in the mock trial (a real judge, and 2 real neuroscientists and lawyers) were asked to consider on the day.

I thought the neuroscientists were especially generous standing up in front of an audience of their scientist peers to try their hand at being expert witnesses. Nerve-wracking.

It went like this:

"On January 21, 2009 between the hours of 6 and 7 pm, Jane Owens (age 37) was killed in her downtown 2-bedroom apartment. Neighbours investigated after Jane's 12 year old daughter, Careen, knocked on their door in search of a spare key. Jane was found unconscious on the kitchen floor with significant head trauma and was pronounced dead soon after reaching the hospital.

Investigators determined that Jane was struck with a heavy iron skillet, found beside her when ambulance personnel arrived. Police suspect a struggle since bruise and scratch marks were found on her arms. They have arrested Will Johnson (age 32) for her murder. The accused lived directly under Ms. Owens' apartment and police found his fingerprints throughout the crime scene as well as on the murder weapon. Upon further investigation, Careen's spare key was found in his apartment and Jane's DNA under his nails.

Neighbours report that the two dated briefly the previous year and were often seen entering and leaving the building together, but Jane broke it off and was planning to move across town in coming weeks. Since then, the two often argued in the lobby and outside her apartment door.

Raised voices, Jane and Will's, were heard coming from Jane's apartment the evening of the murder. When asked about her mother's relationship with Will, Careen told officers that Will often loitered outside their apartment and begged her mother to take him back. She blamed their break up on his aggression, clinginess and moody behaviours, even becoming angered when Jane chose to spend time with Careen instead of him. Careen also listed him as one of the main reasons for their move across town.

When questioned, the landlord admitted to telling Will about Jane's upcoming move when they passed in the hall that afternoon, and that he seemed "perturbed" at the news. Will's neighbours reported seeing him stomp upstairs around 6:00 and heard him return to his apartment not long before police arrived."

AAAS_brain_on_trial Thanks to the crew at AAAS for such an interesting session....the mock trial format was a clever vehicle for discussing how the evolving field of neuroscience is being utilised in the courts...and what a mind-field the increasingly prospects of that is.

Read MIT graduate student Jen Leslie's take on the proceedings here and John Timmer offers his thoughts for Ars Technica here ...on what was not you average trial, in not your average court room!

And if you're itching to sleuth further, have a look at this interesting feature by Virginia Hughes in Nature about the case of Brian Dugan and the research of neuroscientist Kent Kiehl.

"After reading about Kiehl's work in The New Yorker, Dugan's lawyers asked Kiehl to testify and offered him the chance to scan the brain of a notorious criminal. Kiehl agreed and Dugan's case became what is thought to be the first in the world to admit fMRI as evidence. Kiehl's decision has put him at odds with many in his profession, and stirred debate among neuroscientists and lawyers.

"It is a dangerous distortion of science that sets dangerous precedents for the field," says Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. Mayberg, who uses brain imaging to study depression, has testified against the use of several kinds of brain scan in dozens of cases since 1992".

Thoughts could be on a jury of a case just like this any time soon.

Finally, back in 2007, posted Battle of Ideas: My Brain Made Me Do It.
Battle of Ideas: My Brain Made Me Do It at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted by the Institute of Ideas.

With the politics of behaviour in the ascendancy, there is increasing interest in what science can tell us about why people behave the way they do. The British government is funding the creation of the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners, with the express aim of training a 'parenting workforce' to provide science-based child-rearing advice to parents. In the USA, the MRI scanner and the neuroscientific community are entering the court room to give evidence about whether defendants can be regarded as being responsible for their alleged crimes. UK policymakers cite scientific 'evidence' to explain new interventions on everything from early years' education to the alleged impact of school dinners on academic performance. The science of nutrition now informs earnest discussions about how children's diets improve their classroom behaviour, in order to justify policing lunchboxes and putting school meals at the top of the political agenda. Studies of teenage brain development now regularly inform social debates about the impact of new technologies on young people.

But how much can science tell us about behaviour? Do scientific findings justify the government's many interventions into the early years of children's lives? Should neuroscience enjoy an exalted place in the courtroom? Are policies being developed because of genuine advances in scientific knowledge - or is science being (mis)used,
perhaps in the place of political conviction, to justify policies?
* * * * *
Pierre J. Magistretti has made significant contributions in the field of brain energy metabolism over the course of sixteen years it the Department of Physiology at the University of Lausanne Medical School (the last three as co-chairman) and in his current role as Professor of Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Brain-Mind Institute at EPFL and Director of the Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience at the University of Lausanne Medical School and Hospital (CHUV). His group discovered some of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie the coupling between neuronal activity and energy consumption by the brain. This work has considerable ramifications for the understanding of the origin of the signals detected with the current functional brain imaging techniques used in neurologic and psychiatric research. The group directed by Pierre J. Magistretti consists of 20 scientists, over two thirds of which are supported by grants awarded on a peer-review basis (eg Swiss National Science Foundation, European Community). He is the author of over 140 articles published in peer reviewed journals. Over the last six years he has given over 50 invited lectures at international meetings or at universities in Europe and North America, including the 2000 Talairach Lecture at the Functional Mapping of the Human Brain Conference. He was the recipient of the 1997 Theodore-Ott Prize of the Swiss Academy for Medical Sciences and in 2001 was elected member of Academia Europeae (Physiology and Medicine). In 2003 he was elected ad personam member of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences.

David Perks has taught in state schools for over 20 years and is a passionate defender of academic science education. His critique of the new school science curriculum published in What is science education for? provoked the front page headline in The Times - Science elite rejects new GCSE as 'fit for the pub'. David writes more broadly on education and the relationship between science and society. His interests range from environmentalism to intelligent design. David originated the Institute of Ideas and Pfizer Debating Matters sixth form debating competition

Jeffrey Rosen is a professor of law at George Washington University and the legal affairs editor of The New Republic. A widely read legal commentator, his most recent book is The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America, a companion book to the PBS series on the Supreme Court.

He is also the author of The Most Democratic Branch, The Naked Crowd, and The Unwanted Gaze.

A graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School, he has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and his essays and commentaries have appeared in the New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic, as well as on National Public Radio.

Raymond Tallis was trained at the University of Oxford and St Thomas's Hospital, qualifying in 1970. He was a Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly in Salford (1987-2006).

He had responsibility for acute and rehabilitation patients and took part in the on call rota for acute medical emergencies. He also ran a unique specialist epilepsy service for older people. In 2000 he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences; in 2002 he was awarded the Dhole Eddlestone Prize for his contribution to the medical literature on elderly people; in 2006 received the Founders Medal of the British Geriatrics Society; and in 2007 the Lord Cohen Gold Medal for Research into Ageing. His national roles have included: Consultant Advisor in Health Care of the Elderly to the Chief Medical Officer; a key part in developing National Service Framework for Older People, in particular the standard on stroke; membership of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence Appraisal Committee; and Chairmanship of the Royal College of Physicians Committee on Ethics in Medicine. Outside his medical career, he has been awarded two honorary degrees: DLitt (Hon Causa) from the University of Hull in 1997; and LittD (Hon Causa) from the University of Manchester in 2002. In 2004 he was identified in Prospect magazine as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the United Kingdom. In the first half of 2008, he has books coming out on Parmenides (Continuum), the head (Atlantic) and hunger (Acumen). His numerous medical publications include two major textbooks, while most of his research publications are in the field of neurology of old age and neurological rehabilitation. He has also published fiction, three volumes of poetry, and over a dozen books and 150 articles on the philosophy of the mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art and cultural criticism.

Steve Yearley is Professor of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge at Edinburgh University. He is primarily interested in environmental sociology and the social and cultural aspects of science. In recent years he has concentrated on the social aspects of human genetics and in 2006 he was appointed Director of the Genomics Forum at Edinburgh University. His publications include Sociology, Environmentalism, Globalization (London: Sage 1996), Making Sense of Science: Understanding the Social Study of Science (London: Sage 2005), Cultures of Environmentalism: Empirical Studies in Environmental Sociology (Basingstoke: Palgrave/Macmillan 2005) and The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology (London: Sage 2006, co-authored with Steve Bruce)

What do you think? Does the new information coming from research in neuroscience obviate some elements of free will? Should the court hear evidence regarding brain scans, neurotransmitter deficits, and so on?