From Sharon Begley, co-author of The Mind and the Brain,
It was found that neurological explanations are more likely than psychological ones to make volunteers say the perpetrator was not to blame. The exception is that people really, really resist excusing a loathsome act such as violence or pedophilia by invoking brain chemistry. That, scholars suspect, is because although we’ve all seen the authoritative-looking brain maps that label the frontal cortex as the site of the executive functions, and the limbic system as the seat of emotions, and so on, most of us hold tight to the idea that there is something else in there that doesn’t appear on the map: a “me.”
The “me” is what English philosopher Gilbert Ryle derisively called “the ghost in the machine,” an entity that somehow stands apart from the messy physicality of the brain and, being disembodied, is more powerful than whatever the brain puts out. That “me” is the ultimate decider, the observer, the entity that can look at the overactivity in the anterior cingulate gyrus that causes obsessive-compulsive disorder and say, Quiet down! Or see the dearth of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (site of impulse control) right before we do something rash and bark out, Step it up! Shaun Nichols, a philosopher at the University of Arizona, argues that as long as we believe in a “me” standing apart from the brain that scientists are mapping, we “reject the idea that decisions are produced by deterministic mechanisms and processes.” In answer to the question posed by the title of a 2007 book, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?, we say no.
She now thinks that won’t last though. As brain-based explanations dominate, few will continue to believe in the “me” that decides how much attention to focus on which processes are occurring in the brain or how to respond.
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose