What Will Be the Limits of Neuroscience-based Mindreading in the Law?

Emily R. Murphy and Henry T. Greely

in Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199570706
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

What Will Be the Limits of Neuroscience-based Mindreading in the Law?

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology



Much of the legal and social interest in new neuroimaging techniques stems from the belief that they can deliver on the materialist understanding of the relationship between the brain and the mind. This article looks at predictions about the future both of scientific advances and of social reactions to those predictions. It looks at the likely technical limits on neuroscience-based mindreading, then at the likely limits in how the law might use such technologies. It describes three kinds of technical barriers to detailed and useful mindreading: the likely impossibility of making a complete and accurate model of a human brain in light of its incredible complexity, the problems of interpersonal and intrapersonal plasticity, and the problem of trying to read, now, someone's past mental state. The potential changes to the operation of the law, through the use of mindreading as evidence of pain, deception, or bias, among other things, could be extremely important.

Keywords: neuroimaging techniques; neuroscience-based mindreading; law; scientific advances; human brain

Article.  10703 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Clinical Psychology

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