My new hero is US District Judge Jed Rakoff who, in a criminal case in 1834, commented on the then-new ‘science’ of Phrenology being used as an explanation for the defendant’s anti-social behavior: “We cannot suffer a mere theory to go as evidence to a jury.” Three big cheers, Judge!
Phrenology [studying the formations of the human skull] was later followed by Eugenics [studying human gene pools], later by Psychoanalysis [studying the unconscious], and these days by Neurocriminology [the my-broken-mind-made-me-do-it defense]. I’m no lawyer, but while I stand dazzled by the work of neurobiology, I stand by Judge Jed. Until these ‘sciences’ have become more than theories, human behavior should be judged in the full light of our complex humanity. Not under the narrow light of our complex biology.
So far most judges appear to agree, for physical brain injuries have as yet not exonerated any defendant’s violent actions. No one has walked free simply because my-damaged-mind-made-me-do-it.
All this can change in the years to come as our justice system evolves. Perhaps even to the point, as in the UK, where the state can act pre-emptively against any sexual predators diagnosed with what they call “Dangerous and Serious Personality Disorder.” However, until that ‘scientistic’ day in which scientists are the primary jury, a lot of us continue to repeat the mantra: Humans constitute that ineffable whole greater than the sum of our biological parts. Just take a look at us say in the Sistine Chapel!
Filed under: Uncategorized