Thursday, 16 February 2012

Neorscientist can watch us making decisions

Recently it was reported that neuroscience researchers have begun to be able to watch the decision making process at work in our brain.

Led by Professor Irene Tracey, an Oxford University team believe that within 10 years they will be able to do brain scans that test individual pain experience and this could be used to spot benefit cheats or fraudulent person’s injury claims.

This raised many questions in my mind, (or even in my neurons!). Is this right to use a tool which was built for the medical purpose of detecting something abnormal within the brain for a completely different purpose?  Can we really reduce our decisions to chemical reactions? Where does free will, or even choice fit into all this. Just because my brain pattern says that I am inclined to do a certain thing does not necessarily mean that I will chose to act upon it. I was glad to read that the Royal Society said that any question of using brain test results as evidence in court should be approached with "great caution”.

There are extraordinary consequences to a conclusion based on science that humans are merely made up of chemicals and our life decisions are determined by how those chemicals react in certain circumstances. This gives no room for the upbringing and morals instilled in us from our family, from our teachings and from our surroundings. Where too does the idea of sacrificial love or the challenge of forgiveness fit into this world view.

Professor Tracey is trying to help others heal. She should be applauded for that work in the service of others. But I do not thing her work should be used at the same time to undermine our very understanding of what it is to be fully human, with no room for our freedom of choice or the inner journey that is the bedrock of a contented life with or without faith.

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