September 28, 2022

My brain made me do it

The “neuro-mitigation of blame” should be regarded with deep suspicion, says a British doctor. Professor Raymond Tallis says that recent developments in neuroscience appear to show that we are not as free as we once thought. Hence, American lawyers are licking their lips at new ways for their clients to plead diminished responsibility. He imagines a typical address to a jury: “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.”

However, says Prof Tallis, this view is contradictory. “My brain made me do it” presumes that the person is not the brain, but the foundation of neuro-law is that the person is the brain. Neuro-law, he suggests, is just another branch of neuro-mythology. Quoting a law academic, he says, 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”.