Yesterday’s Google alert on Criminal Justice was more like an alarm!
Here are 2 of the clips from the Google alert:
|Guilty, but not responsible?
The US neuroscientist Sam Harris claims in a new book that free will is such a misleading illusion that we need to rethink our criminal justice system on the basis of discoveries coming from the neurological wards and MRI scans of the human brain in …
In his new book, Free Will, he says science proves there’s no such thing and that the premise has major policy implications for our criminal justice system and for our understanding of war in society. Sam Harris used the example on air of Saddam …
Yes, Sam Harris says straight up that free will is an illusion. He is saying that our choices are not really our choices. Our choices are determined by all that makes up the universe. In fact he says that if he were to switch places with a socio-pathic murderer, he would do the very same thing, and could do no other thing, unless he were in a different universe. Harris also claims that this determinism is not fatalism ~ although a good reason why not is missing. In his lecture Harris tries to assure us on the one hand that our choices matter, while telling us on the other that we have no say over that matter. These are direct statements by Harris:
The choices we make in life are as important as most people think, but the next choice you make will come out of a wilderness of prior causes that you can’t see and did not bring into being.
You are by no means condemned to who you were yesterday.
The unfolding of our lives is a fundamentally mysterious process.
We don’t know what we are going to think and feel next….Recognizing this can be quite liberating.
Our choices matter.
We don’t choose to choose what we choose.
What I’m going to do next remains a mystery that is fully determined by a prior state of the universe and the laws of nature…
Happily I think we can maintain a very strong sense of morality and an effective criminal justice system without lying to ourselves about the causes of human behavior. What do we most condemn in people? … The intention to do harm.
If you decide to kill your neighbor after weeks of library research…then killing your neighbor really says a lot about you. The point is not that you are the sole independent cause of your actions. I mean after all you didn’t make yourself. The point is that for whatever reason, you have the mind of a murderer. Now you are not ultimately responsible for having this mind, in fact when we look at the details we see that you’re not even partially responsible for it in the same way that a grizzly bear isn’t responsible that he is a grizzly bear. But a bear really is a bear, and it really will eat you. And if you see one in the parking lot, it’s worth worrying about. But you can worry about it without ever attributing free will to it.
Harris’ Grizzly Bear Ethics let us off the hook for the true responsibility of our actions.
You can read Harris’ 96-page book, or you can listen to his oral presentation of the book here. The advantage of listening to the lecture is that you will hear the unbelievable, frightening comments of his fellow believers at the end of his talk. Harris is witty and easy to listen to, as usual, but do not let that keep you from hearing what he is saying.
Neuroscientist Ramachandran agrees with Harris:
“In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates — with great intellectual ferocity and panache — that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings.”
You have heard it said: Ideas have consequences. The consequence of treating man as simply his physiological make-up is that we no longer hold him accountable for his actions. In the You Tube lecture Sam says that we understand if someone has a brain tumor that “makes” them commit a crime. Then he goes on to say that a brain tumor is not really a special case. Whatever the genetics and childhood of a person are, these are like the brain tumor, “making” them commit whatever crime they commit. On page 54 of his book Harris says:
Our system of justice should reflect an understanding that any of us could have been dealt a different hand in life. In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved with morality itself.
Harris seems to be saying that although a person is not responsible for his/her choices, society still has to respond to the results of their choices for the sake of all, but the response is not because of what the person deserves, but for the safety and best interest of all. We are back to the goal of his utilitarian ethic put forth in The Moral Landscape ~ man’s happiness.
Sam Harris ends his lecture on free will by trying to cheer us up ~ saying that unveiling the illusion of free will should end arrogance, since we can no longer look down on someone for what they could not help. At the same time, he sees the need to deal with the criminals, like Saddam Hussein’s son, but in the way you would deal with a grizzly bear about to eat you.
Next week I hope to show you that you are not like a grizzly bear. You are much, much more.
~ Betsy McPeak