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Neuroscience and political policy

Here is an interesting article about neuroscience and what it tells us about human freedom. Neuroscience has the potential to reshape how we understand ourselves and traditional notions like free will.
Please read the whole article, it's worth it. The following quote is about where new scientific insight and social policy intersect.

One such value might be commitment to social change. "It's easier to try to solve societal problems with a technocratic fix, an electric shock or a pill, than by changing social structures and the distribution of power," says Parens's colleague Bruce Jennings. Put differently, it's easier to change brains than minds. The commitment to changing minds, however, expresses the belief that minds are, in fact, changeable. That is a fundamentally political belief--the anti-Hobbesian conviction that people and nations can be reformed, that we can make citizens healthier and happier by making society more just.
That conviction is plainly liberal--and yet, so is support for science, and so is the belief that people should decide for themselves what constitutes a meaningful life. These conflicting ideals help explain why the left has thus far been unable to articulate a consistent position on biotechnology. The same is true for the right, which must struggle to balance faith in the free market, respect for "traditional values" and belief in a natural order. Small wonder, then, that resistance to enhancement has made bedfellows out of, for instance, progressive intellectual Bill McKibben, conservative political scientist Francis Fukuyama and the far-right former chair of the President's Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass.

What if neuroscience seriously calls into question our ideas about free will? What if we find out that certain individuals have biological factors that make their actions more determined than another person? We already account for some mental disorders, what if neuroscience suggests that many forms of criminal behavior are effects of the biological rather than perfectly free choice?

We face serious challenges to our common notions of self, free will, and culpability. How should we, as a society, meet these challenges?

Here is another good article to think about.

Conscious self-modulation of behavior is a spectrum. We have treated it as a single property — you are either capable of free will, or you fall into an exceptional category — because we could not identify, measure, or manipulate the various components that go into such self-modulation. Those days are now ending, and everyone from advertisers to political consultants increasingly understands, in voluminous biological detail, how to manipulate consciousness in ways that weaken our notion of free will.

In the coming decades, our concept of free will, based as it is on ignorance of its actual mechanisms, will be destroyed by what we learn about the actual workings of the brain. We can wait for that collision, and decide what to do then, or we can begin thinking through what sort of legal, political, and economic systems we need in a world where our old conception of free will is rendered inoperable.

Thank You

I appreicate you taking some time to find stimulating thoughts and presenting them. These are some ideas that I have been mulling over for some time now. While I agree with the idea that it is easer to "change brains than minds" I think that the second article takes that to an extreem with the distruction of free will. Even in basic Fruedian and Jungian theory you can trick the concious but the unconcious will always lash out when supressed- unless you are a strict behavioral theorist you can not deny these aspects of the psyche (and they are wrong, blatantly). Does anyone smell Fight Club. How do you feel about determinism?...

P.S. I love the refrence to Sir. Thomas Hobbs. The Laviathan is a fascinating/hard book to read. I didn't know people read that... and quoted it.

Mind The Brain

The ability for people to manipulate the thought process of others has become an increasingly greater problems over the past century. Previously, most people that were able to manipulate the opinions and ideas of others tended to be an exception, a person with either a natural or carefully learned technique for persuasion.

Over the past century, however, the greater flow of information, ideas, and reputable studies has enabled the ability for a much greater number of people to learn the same methods of persuasion, as well as much more refined and distilled methods to maximize their abilities.

It is possible that being aware of the methods will make you less susceptible to them, but this is not a guarantee. Take the influence of different drugs. Knowing that you are hallucinating on LSD does not make you any less likely to hallucinate than if you had been administered it secretly. Or being aware that you are drunk does not make one any less drunk. At best, you may realize that you shouldn't be driving or doing anything that requires coordination. IE, you are simply aware of situations you will need to avoid given your current vulnerable state.

It is my guess that being aware will only allow one to avoid situations where they can be influenced, and not significantly impact their ability withstand being influenced within the situation.

The problem is that the vast majority of the population has not received any significant training in methods of manipulation, and so will not even be aware of how to avoid them. This should lead to a population that is much more susceptible to manipulation than a population a hundred years before, due to refined techniques in persuasion. A greater understanding of the various biological sequences to occur within the brain during different decision making processes will only help to greater refine these methods.

I think that hardline

I think that hardline determinism is demonstrably false because of the phenomena of choice and the novelty of life exceeds the limits of a completely mechanized universe. But I do think that a completely free will ignores the boundaries imposed by the historical moment we find ourselves in, the biologic constraints of our genetic makeup, and the unconscious.

Hobbes is great, he's probably one of the most important political philosophers as a starting point. Although I think Hobbes' notion of sovereignty has become an obstacle for contemporary society.