From Publishers Weekly
Society's assumptions about free will and individual responsibility must be drastically revised in the light of scientific discoveries about the brain, argues this fascinating study. Drawing on a wealth of recent developments in neurobiology, genetics and brain imaging, Tancredi, a professor of psychiatry and a lawyer, examines new findings about the neurological structures and processes that underlie reasoning, emotions and decision-making. He applies these discoveries to such traditional moral concerns as violence, sexual infidelity, lying, gluttony and sloth, and even financial fraud and gambling. The striking results of this research, he notes, indicate that hormones, drugs, genetic abnormalities, injuries and traumatic experiences all have profound effects on brain structure and functioning, and hence on moral choices; indeed, some experiments imply that our actions are initiated by the unconscious brain before we are consciously aware of them, raising the possibility that our sense of moral agency is a retrospective "illusion." Tancredi supplements his rather dry exposition of the science with case studies from his clinical practice, including lengthy profiles of a sex-addicted patient and of a "biologically driven" serial killer, and closes by pondering the possibility and perils of a hypothetical Brave New World-style program of neurological intervention-complete with brain implants-to improve morality. Some will consider Tancredi's talk of the "empathetic" female brain and "systemizing" male brain and his chalking up of pedophilia to "an imbalance of the monoamine neurotransmitters" and homosexuality to "differences in neurohumeral activity during the prenatal phase" to be glibly reductionist, but many will find his well-researched overview of the new science of the brain a stimulating addition to the debate about human nature.
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Behind the bad moral choices that sent Martha Stewart to prison, Tancredi discerns abnormal functioning of the brain. Indeed, much of what traditional morality has condemned as greed, lust, or sin looks like impaired neurobiology to this psychiatrist-lawyer, who locates the foundations of an ethical conscience in healthy genetic coding and properly balanced mental chemistry. Real case studies allow readers to see the implications of revolutionary neurological research, illuminating the ways that both the nurturing parent and the rampaging psychopath respond to deep neural impulses. Traditional concepts such as free will and moral accountability do shrink when viewed from this scientific perspective, as Tancredi candidly acknowledges, even conceding the dark possibility of a future in which ambitious social engineers might implant programmable chips into the pliant brains of puppet citizens. But a neuroscience that can enhance rather than diminish our humanity comes into focus as Tancredi highlights research showing how fully the brain can reshape itself by replacing destructive addictions to drugs, sex, or gambling with constructive aspirations and genuine social empathy. The oldest moral concerns and the latest scientific investigations are fused here. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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