Why did you decide what to eat – or not eat – for breakfast this morning? Or, to make the stakes a wee bit higher, why does someone decide to kill another person?
Yes, it’s been a year since I’ve written or posted on fb. That’s for another day. Can we just say, “My brain made me do it?”
Because that’s the answer, and a very hot topic these days: How culpable are we for our deeds and misdeeds, if our brains made us do it? Implying that our brains are somehow separate from our selves, but in control of our selves. Are we are just puppets, because our unconscious brain is in charge? How accountable do we hold someone accused of a crime, if neglect and abuse shaped the earliest years of their brain?
If we’re born with a genetic pre-disposition to alcoholism, and we grew up in a home with alcoholic parents – Is it fair? No. Is it right? No. Does it explain how hard it is to resist certain patterns of thought and behavior? Yes. Does it then excuse our own addictive behavior and let us off the hook? No. The brains of every one of us arrived pre-wired, then grew, with certain tendencies and characteristics. There are folk whose brains don’t function well enough to hold them accountable. But if you can read this, that isn’t you.
From one perspective it seems brain science proves Calvin right: All is pre-determined. But science also supports free will. With your prefrontal cortex, how will you live with the brain you’ve got? The self, the soul, the heart of who we are can rise above the influence of our reptilian impulses. We have self-agency, and a responsibility to care for our brain just like we’re to care for our body, our children, our world. No excuses for neglecting your center of compassion.
But what do you think? How much of who you are and how you live is determined by your brain’s unconscious patterns and drives, and how much can you be held responsible? I’m curious how you answer the question …