The Advancements of Neuroscience Part 1


Sternberg, Eliezer J. My Brain Made me do It. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010. 9-43. Print.

I can’t believe what I am reading.  I have read a forward, introduction, and three chapters, and I have to start writing about this book.  This book is going to be one of the greats that I have read, simply because the implications of what this book is saying is so profound.

The first thing I remember reading, was about a criminal that was executed back in 2005.  He basically robs a pizza joint at gunpoint, and demands all the cash from the register.  The employee follows the direction, while the manager was trying to be as quiet as possible in the back crying.  The criminal demanded to see the manager, whereby he eventually kills the manager execution style.  When asked about the crime, the criminal showed no remorse.  I will say this before proceeding, that he was eventually sentenced to death.  Now with the interesting argument that the defense put forth.

First understand that the defense did a complete physical and psychological look up.  The works.  And everything seemed normal, except that he had a deficiency of monoamine oxidase A.  I will let the lawyers themselves tell you their defense:

Stagnant MOMA activity among affected males resulted in the excretion of abnormally high amounts of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and epinephrine.  When these neurotransmitters accumulate in abnormal amounts due to a defect in the MOMA gene, affected individuals will have trouble handling stressful situations, causing them to respond excessively, and at times violently.   (page 22)

In other words, the biology of his brain explains the outburst of violence that day.  This statement, is the epiphany of determinism.  Essentially determinism can be broken down into one sentence:

The brain controls the mind.

Let me share with you an experiment that I heard about on a television program.  Subjects were put into a brain imaging machine, and where given a very simple task.  This task, invoked a decision on the subject.  The brain was essentially monitored at every step of the way.

What the neuroscientists were learning was that the regions of the brain responsible for the subconscious, would light up first followed by regions of the brain responsible for conscious thought.  Finally, the motor cortex was excited because of the actual pressing of the button.  The implications of this, is that your subconscious s active before your conscious for every decision that you make.  And, because these are brain circuits, there is no doubt that your subconscious has an effect on your decision.  So, was the decision really free?  Or was it determined?  Was the decision determined by the biological make up of your brain, which is affected by genes, environment, and previous experiences?

Think of it as another way.  Your brain is a factory.  The input is sensory stimulation, and the output is resulting behaviors.  Theoretically, because neurotransmitters not only work on the biological, but the physical level as well, neuroscientists think they will one day be able to create a system of algorithms to describe mathematically an individual brain, and would therefore be able to predict what your actions would become given the environment and experiences.  Your brain is in such control, and grand biochemical system, that can be completely understood because it is deterministic.

There are two huge implications to this:

  1. There is no free will.
  2. There is no moral responsibility.

And let me tell ya, I have been reading this book slowly.  It is very well written, and everything makes sense, but it is hard for me to swallow.  It is changing the fabric of reality in front of me, like good books do.  And it is essentially saying we are not in control, our brains are.  Our brains are the determining factor on why people behave; not their free will.

If there is no free will, then the interpretation of Genesis is completely wrong.  But I already went there.

If there is no moral responsibility, then we should look at methods to recondition the minds of the violent criminals.  Their brains made them do it, due to their environment,  genes, and experiences (poverty is the subject of my next book I think) so instead of using the resources to protect ourselves for prolonged periods of time, (I agree we have to protect ourselves nonetheless) we should work for a streamline of processes to recondition the mind that hopefully would one day cost less than sustaining the criminal.  We have to rework their brains with a descent circuitry so they can function safely in society.  I’m not quite sure how we would do that, and I know part of that would be gene therapy, which is still being worked on.

But determinism is the huge landslide that is hitting neuroscience.  Some philosophers have come up with a view of free will called compaitblism.  I am not going to explain it fully, but simply this effort of making free will and determinism compatible is just a way to escape the painful implications of determinism, free will, and moral responsibility.

This is sort of like the kind of idea that will be resisted amongst the populace.  Because it is hard to accept the fact that your brain is in complete control, and the evolution of your brain dictated the behaviors of yourself, and influenced the informational input of others.

In a sense, we are like robots I think, assuming determinism is true.  We aren’t experiencing, our brain is controlling.  And so it is with that that I leave you.  Notice at the title it says Part 1.  That is because this is probably going to be a book I write about multiple times.  It is that good.

I hope you enjoyed yourselves!


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