In Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky explores, well ahead of his time as it turns out, the ramifications of bad deeds performed for a good purpose. In doing so he explores themes that trouble us all, some of which I have covered here before: Justice, aggression, behavior and what is involved in being truly human.
What is truly fascinating and the reason all this is worth revisiting however is that neuroscience is uncovering the way the brain, an organ designed to help us survive by allowing us to predict what happens next decides just how to allocate resources on something like the judgement required to deliver a verdict of condemnation and its attendant punishment.
It would appear, that every time such a judgement is made three distinct areas of the brain are activated. They are areas responsible for “focusing one’s attention, processing information, and responding effectively to social interaction.” So, the brain, in effect allocates sufficient resources to capture all the available information (the attention bit), processes it all and then sifts it through its social filter to better evaluate what is the current norm and how far this perceived transgression against it deviates from it.
What is remarkable is that this process always takes place irrespective of who is involved. This suggests an underlying universal process exists for generating specific behavioral outcomes that must have its foundation in the way the brain is constructed and the role it plays. In other words the function and form of who we are determines, exactly, how we operate even when the outcome of that operation depends upon other factors such as where we are, who we are, and what we did.
This leads us back to identity. The way it is formed through the narrative we tell ourselves, the way it is then curated and applied. When everything, almost, comes down to a seemingly simple case of “what do you really want?” – getting to the part where we take active measures to get it requires a clear understanding of values, motivation and the boundaries we create for ourselves.
Without a direction, it would seem, we all become rudderless. The general direction we accept becomes the guiding light that shapes general behavior which then goes on to determine higher concepts such as what is acceptable and what isn’t, what is right and what is wrong and how to judge.
All of this is understandably complicated and governed by complex relationships that link one dynamic aspect of one area of human behavior and cognition with another. Is there a moral we take away? Something we can apply with ease to help us improve? Apparently there is. Being social, making the effort to be socially active, to have and maintain friendships helps balance the complexity that is inside our head.
Starting with the connection with friends, the interaction with people we care about and their support we can work progressively outwards. That way at least we can get to the point where the punishments apply fit the crimes because existence, purpose and values are aligned and our judgement is better as a result.
So. Coffee. Lots of it. Donuts? (Maybe). Cookies, and croissants. Chocolate cake and ice cream for those Down Under. These are the things that fuel Sunday thoughts. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.