MOMFinalPaper-3 - Necula 1 Consciousness Volition and the...

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Necula 1 Consciousness, Volition, and the Criminal Justice System In 2009, Stefania Albertani force-fed her sister psychopathic drugs and set the corpse on fire. The atrocity’s brutality garnered widespread media attention, and without the aegis of self- defense, provocation, or mental illness, Albertani was sentenced to life in prison. However, what seemed a straightforward “open-and-shut” case became vastly more complicated after appealing litigators produced evidence of Albertani’s apparent neurological abnormalities, citing them as the source of her criminal behavior and calling for immediate exoneration. Albertani’s defense team proposed a sentence reversal following neurological proof that Albertani’s brain presented abnormalities in the anterior cingulate gyrus and the insula, regions associated with impulse control and aggression. Geneticists reported below-average MAOA gene activity-- the so-called “warrior gene”--- a trait linked to increased aggression and social disruption. Both served to convince adjudicators that Albertani’s actions had not been voluntary in the sense of malicious intent; rather, they had been the product of neurological flaws that altered Albertani’s state of free will and governed her behavior. In late 2009, a judge reduced Albertani’s sentence from life to 20 years on the basis of the neurological and genetic evidence-- a first for Italian courts and a landmark decision for “neurolaw” litigation (Sample, 2013). The relationship between consciousness and voluntary action is a long-standing intellectual investigation whose historical relevance has been linked to religion, the advent of mechanical philosophy, and more recently, criminal law. As society’s definition of what constitutes consciousness shifts, so has our definition of “free will”. Nowadays, scientists idealize the role of sensory transduction and neural integration in generating what we perceive
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Necula 2 as consciousness. However, volition’s role in producing an active rather than passive conscious experience may be the inalienable element without which consciousness cannot exist, while the senses and their neural integration may only “build on” an existing experience. Even so, the difficulties in defining the source of volition and its relationship to consciousness may prevent the free-will-based definition of awareness from becoming usable in everyday scenarios, such as criminal justice. Despite its modern relevance, the origin of free will has been in question since before the advent of the contemporary scientific method. The Greek philosophers, including Heraclitus, Democritus, and Leuccipus, were among the first to explore the definition of volition. The Greeks believed the universe to be governed by deterministic properties that declared the cosmos, and the agencies within it, to be regulated by incontrovertible laws of nature. The actions of all natural phenomena could be explained by universal laws, and therefore any free will was illusory and subverted by “ultimate law”. Leucippus stated in reference to the question
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