criminals and the brain


Raine’s key notion that, good or bad, we are the playthings of our brains – “free will is sadly an illusion” (the return of the lumbering robots) – raises the question of why we should stop at the brain in our search for causes. Given that it is a material object wired into the material world, “my brain made me do it” (kill my spouse, write a book on neurocriminology) should translate into “the Big Bang” (ultimately) made me do it. In fact, the brain is but one player in the complex game of life, not the beginning and end of our destiny. And Raine seems gradually to accept this. For all his headline-grabbing talk of “murderous minds”, “broken brains” and “natural born killers” he ends with “the biosocial jigsaw puzzle”, where “the social environment beats up the brain and reshapes gene expression”. There is the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back. He rows back from his initial “biology + genes + brain” thesis towards the kind of “environment (including junk food, toxic metals, maternal rejection, poverty, childhood abuse) + heredity + personal factors” truisms that the rest of us accept. Even so, he is determined to hold on to his brain-centred criminology: “Deprivation makes a big dent on the brain.”

more from Raymond Tallis at The Guardian here.