Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Neuroscience of Judgment in War

The New York Times (July 27) has a good article on how research in neuroscience is being used by the U.S. military to study the judgment of soldiers in warfare.

In Iraq and Afganistan, one of the primary weapons of the insurgents is "improvised explosive devices" (I.E.D.'s). It's a matter of life of death for American soldiers to detect roadside bombs that have been carefully hidden by the insurgents. Some soldiers are better at this than others. Relying on hunches or gut feelings, some soldiers have an intuitive sense that there's a bomb nearby.

This is an example of the mystery of practical judgment--of how some people can see what needs to be done in a practical situation where it's not just a matter of abstract rules or logic. This is what Aristotle called "prudence" (phronesis).

Apparently, prudence depends on some complex activity of the human brain as adapted for making practical judgments to avoid dangers and seek out opportunities in one's circumstances. Neuroscience can help to explain how this works.

This kind of research confirms the argument of Leslie Paul Thiele--in his book The Heart of Judgment: Practical Wisdom, Neuroscience, and Narrative (2006)--that the neuroscience of judgment largely supports Aristotle's account of prudence.

I have written about this in some previous posts that can be found here and here.

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