For several decades now, neuroscientists have used technology to produce images of the brain in action.  But what do such pictures tell us?  Should they change the way we think about personal identity and free will?  Can they reveal whether a person is capable of making moral decisions, or whether a person is telling the truth?  If so, brain imaging technology seems to hold great promise for the criminal justice system.  However, allowing brain scans to be used as evidence in trials for conviction or sentencing raises many questions about the nature of responsibility, the nature of fairness, and the public perception of science and technology.

The 2011 LSSP symposium, Ethics & the Brain, will bring to campus seven leading researchers from the fields of neuroscience, law, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and theology to discuss these issues. 

The symposium will take place on the flagship campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.  It is free and open to the university community and the public and is designed to encourage dialogue across methodologies and backgrounds.


Symposium Information


Affiliated Events

1050H Honors seminar: Ethics and the Brain
University of Missouri

Film Series
MU Museum of Art & Archaeology

  • A Clockwork Orange, February 17

Trolley problem reenactment
University of Missouri

Film series with discussion
Ragtag Cinema

  • Cold Souls, March 9
  • In Search of Memory, March 16

“Controlling Heredity: The American Eugenics Crusade 1870-1940”: University of Missouri Libraries Exhibit
Ellis Library, University of Missouri

“Visions of Transparency: The Human Body and Social Order,"Ellis Library, University of Missouri

  • by Stefani Engelstein
  • opening lecture for Eugenics exhibit

Brain-research poster session
Life Sciences Center
More on poster submission...

American Society for Neurochemistry
42nd Annual Meeting

St. Louis, MO

Journalism ethics mini-conference
School of Journalism


For more information,
contact Stefani Engelstein at EngelsteinS@missouri.edu
or Karla Carter at Carterka@missouri.edu

Symposium SpeakersMarch 18-20, 2011


7th Annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium
Series: Beyond Disciplinarity
Ethics & the Brain

Saturday, March 19

10:00-10:25 am
Registration, Coffee, Book Exhibit Browsing
Monsanto Auditorium Foyer; Bond Life Sciences Center

10:30-11:30 am
Adrian Raine, Neurocriminology: Neuroethical and Neurolegal Implications
(joint LSSP/Saturday Morning Science Presentation)
Monsanto Auditorium, Bond Life Sciences Center

The very rapid developments taking place in brain imaging science are  creating an uncomfortable tension between our concepts of responsibility and retribution on the one hand, and our concepts of understanding and mercy on the other. Scientific evidence now documents structural and functional brain impairments not just in antisocial, violent, and psychopathic individuals, but also in white collar criminals and spouse abusers. In addition, the brain circuits found to be impaired in offenders - including psychopaths - parallel the brain circuits found to underlie moral decision-making. This talk will focus on concepts of moral responsibility, free will, and punishment. If a young baby suffers trauma, abuse, and insults to brain structure / function early on in life for reasons beyond their control, are they truly responsible for their antisocial actions? Do they have full freedom of will? What do we do with children who have all the boxes checked for future violence? And if the neural circuitry underling morality is compromised in offenders, is it morally right of us to punish prisoners as much as we do?

11:35 am-12:35 pm
Adam Kolber, The Experiential Future of the Law
Monsanto Auditorium; Bond Life Sciences Center

Pain, suffering, anxiety, and other experiences are fundamentally important to the law. Despite their importance, we have limited ability to measure experiences, even though legal proceedings turn on such measurements every day. Fortunately, technological advances in neuroscience are improving our ability to measure experiences and will do so more dramatically in what I call "the experiential future."

I will describe how new technologies will improve our assessments of physical pain, emotional distress, and a variety of psychiatric disorders.  I will also describe more particular techniques to assess whether, for example, a patient is in a persistent vegetative state, an alleged victim has been abused as a child, an inmate being executed is in pain, and a person being interrogated has been tortured. I argue that as new technologies emerge to better reveal people's experiences, virtually every area of the law should do more to take these experiences into account.

12:35-2:00 pm
Buffet lunch
McQuinn Atrium; Bond Life Sciences Center

2:00-3:00 pm
Nancey Murphy, Why We Can’t Blame Our Neurons
Monsanto Auditorium; Bond Life Sciences Center

The increasing ability of neuroscientists to describe brain processes associated with human decision-making and action rightly raises the worry about “neurobiological reductionism”: Will it turn out to be the case that all human thought and behavior are simply determined by the laws of neurobiology? I address these questions by investigating the topic of “causal reductionism.” It is often assumed that the behavior of an entity or system must be determined by the behavior of its parts. I argue that in many cases the system as a whole has reciprocal effects on its own components.
Over the past generation a variety of research projects (cybernetics, information theory, far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics, etc.) have been merged into what is called complex adaptive systems theory. Some scholars describe these developments as a paradigm change across all of the sciences. I argue that this is just what we need to explain why it is usually not true that “our neurons made us do it.”

3:05-4:05 pm
Panel discussion with Adrian Raine, Adam Kolber, and Nancey Murphy
Monsanto Auditorium; Bond Life Sciences Center

7:00-9:00 pm
Keynote Address: Steven Pinker, “A History of Violence”
Missouri Theater (203 S. Ninth St)

Contrary to the popular impression that we are living in extraordinarily violent times, rates of violence at all scales have been in decline over the course of history. I explore how this decline could have happened despite the existence of a constant human nature, and why people systematically misjudge the historical trend.

Sunday, March 20

9:00-10:00 am
Patricia Churchland, How the Mind Makes Morals
Monsanto Auditorium; Bond Life Sciences Center

Self-preservation is embodied in our brain’s circuitry: we seek food when hungry, warmth when cold, and sex when lusty. In the evolution of the mammalian brain, circuitry for regulating one’s own survival and well-being was modified. For sociality, the important result was that the ambit of me extends to include others — me-and-mine. In some species, including humans, seeing to the well-being of others may extend to include friends, business contacts, and even strangers, in an ever-widening circle. Oxytocin, an ancient body-and-brain molecule, is at the hub of the intricate neural adaptations sustaining mammalian sociality. Among its many roles, oxytocin decreases the stress response, making possible the friendly, trusting interactions typical of life in social mammals. Two additional interconnected evolutionary changes are crucial for mammalian sociality/morality: first, modifications to the reptilian pain system that yield the capacity to evaluate and predict what others will feel and do, and notably in humans, also what others want, see, and believe; second, an enhanced capacity to learn, underscored by social pain and social pleasure, which allowed acquisition of the clan’s social practices, however subtle and convoluted.

10:05-11:05 am
Joseph Dumit, How to Do Things with Brain Images
Monsanto Auditorium; Bond Life Sciences Center

Brain images in popular culture do and say a lot more than they were designed to do. In colorful and starkly different shapes, they often speak louder than the facts that underlie them, such as implying proof that there are different "types" of brains: women & men, smart & dumb, schizophrenic & sane, normal & abnormal. In this manner they shape how we think of human nature and the kinds of facts we draw upon in disputes. This talk explores how they are made to speak this way and why this should be thought of as an ethical problem for science, courts, and the public.

11:10-11:45 am
Coffee & Sandwich Break, Book Exhibit Browsing
Monsanto Auditorium Foyer; Bond Life Sciences Center

11:50 am-12:50 pm
Jesse Prinz, Getting Mad About the Bad: Emotion and the Moral Brain
Monsanto Auditorium; Bond Life Sciences Center

According to a long-standing tradition in philosophy, moral judgments are based on emotions; we decide whether something is wrong by seeing how it makes us feel. Recent research in psychology offers a wide range of evidence supporting this view, and extending our understanding of which emotions contribute. Neuroimaging studies add further support by confirming that moral judgments recruit brain structures associated with emotion. But some findings from neuroscience have been interpreted as providing evidence for a mixed view, which states that some moral judgments are emotionally based while others principally involve reason. An alternative interpretation of these findings in offered, according to which all moral judgments are rooted in emotions, but the emotions involved vary from case to case, and reason can play an important, though subsidiary, role.

12:55-1:55 pm
Panel with Patricia Churchland, Joseph Dumit, and Jesse Prinz
Monsanto Auditorium; Bond Life Sciences Center

Sponsors & Partners

Mizzou Advantage: Understanding and Managing Transformative and Disruptive Technologies MU Libraries
Mizzou Advantage: Media of the Future The Smith/Patterson Lecture Series, School of Journalism
Mizzou Advantage: One Health, One Medicine MU Center for Arts & Humanities
MU School of Medicine Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Group
MU School of Journalism Center for Health Ethics
MU College of Arts and Science MU Honors College
MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Ragtag Cinema
MU School of Law MU Libraries
Chancellor’s Distinguished Visitor Fund
Saturday Morning Science
Chancellor’s Fund for Excellence The Columbia Tribune
MU Office of Research MU Museum of Art & Archaeology
Bond Life Sciences Center MU Conference Office
MU Conference Office © 2010
The Sixth Annual Life Sciences & Society Symposia