Prediction, Litigation, Privacy, and Property: Some Possible Legal and Social Implications of Advances in Neuroscience

Posted: 19 Feb 2004  

Henry T. Greely

Stanford Law School


Neuroscience is rapidly increasing our knowledge of the functioning, and malfunctioning, of that intricate three-pound organ, the human brain. When science expands our understanding of something so central to human existence, advances in science will necessarily cause changes in both our society and its laws. This paper seeks to forecast and explore the social and legal changes that neuroscience might bring in four areas: prediction, litigation, confidentiality and privacy, and patents. The implications in prediction are similar to those anticipated from human genetics. The consequences for litigation seem potentially substantial, particularly if neurosciences leads to better methods to detect lying or bias or allows us to improve memory retrieval or to check the authenticity of memories. Protecting mental privacy, both from governmental and private intrusions, may also prove to be an important challenge. The patent issues, by contrast, appear fairly minor.

The paper was prepared for a September 2003 workshop sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Dana Foundation on legal issues raised by advances in neuroscience. It was one of four papers commissioned for that conference, two of which were on legal issues. It complements the paper written by Professor Stephen Morse, which covers issues of personhood and responsibility, informed consent, the reform of existing legal doctrines, enhancement of normal brain functions, and the admissibility of neuroscience evidence.

Notes: This is a description of the book and not an actual excerpt.

Suggested Citation

Greely, Henry T., Prediction, Litigation, Privacy, and Property: Some Possible Legal and Social Implications of Advances in Neuroscience. IN NEUROSCIENCE AND THE LAW: BRAIN, MIND, AND THE SCALES OF JUSTICE, Brent Garland, ed., The Dana Press, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Henry (Hank) T. Greely (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
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