Tag: crime

The end of free will?

Megan Erickson

The field of neuroscience evolved so rapidly in the past twenty years that it will pose unprecedented challenges to the legal system in the decades to come, changing the way we understand crime and punishment, says neuro-pioneer Joy Hirsch, director of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center at Columbia.

Functional imaging, for instance, has given scientists the ability to identify which specific areas of the brain are active during specific tasks. It’s a development that Hirsch compares to manna from heaven.

“I was at Kettering in 1991, when the blood oxygen level dependent signal – the primary signal of functional imaging – was discovered,” she says. “I had a feeling that this was going to change the course of neuroscience, because if that signal was real then it meant that we would actually be able to observe, physiologically, the function of the brain that we had made inferences about from more or less the black box system of study.”

By 2005, a technique utilizing this knowledge had been adopted by the AMA, resulting in widespread use in research and community hospitals across the country. Over the course of about five years, the way surgeons plan and execute operations was entirely revised.

Now, imaging technology creates a map of the patient’s brain, allowing his or her surgeon to pinpoint the areas most vital to the performance of tasks memory storage and sight in that individual patient. Before operating, a surgeon knows exactly where to cut and what to avoid.