Responsible Brains: Neuroscience, Law, and Human Culpability

This book was published on Dec. 4, 2018.

Excerpt from

MIT Press page

Amazon page

Review of Responsible Brains

This is a review of Responsible Brains: Neuroscience, Law, and Human Culpability, by Dennis Patterson. It appeared on the Jurisprudence section of on April 17, 2019.

My Strange Brain (Capgras’ Syndrome)

This documentary covers several neurological syndromes that involve confabulation (basically, confidently saying things that are likely to be false). It features a snippet of me describing the older Capgras’ theory that V. S. Ramachandran and I affirmed in “Capgras Syndrome: A Novel Probe…” Recently I have devised a more specific version of this theory that I call the mindreading theory of misidentification (See “The Misidentification Syndromes as Mindreading Disorders”).

Documentary on autism

This television documentary on autism. called “The Invisible Wall,” features the research described in “Autonomic Reactions of Autistic Children….”  It aired originally on the Discovery Channel, April, 2001.

New Scientist article on Capgras’ syndrome

This article covers my paper with V. S. Ramachandran, “Capgras Syndrome: A Novel Probe….” “This is Not My Beautiful Wife…,” by Rory Johnston, New Scientist magazine, March 22, 1997.

Scientific American Mind article

This article describe my research on Capgras’ syndrome. “Alien Friends,” by Thomas Grüter and Ulrich Kraft, Scientific American Mind, 2005, 16(1): 58-63.



What is a Psychopath?

This post details several of the criteria that one must meet to be deemed a psychopath, and describes some of the most important recent neuroscientific findings on what is different about their brains.


Memories of Art (2013) The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, forthcoming.

Conscious Brain States: Where are They, and What are Their Necessary Ingredients? (2013) Mens Sana Monographs, forthcoming.

On the Criminal Culpability of Successful and Unsuccessful Psychopaths (2013) Katrina Sifferd and William Hirstein, Neuroethics, forthcoming.

Confabulation (2013) in The Encyclopedia of the Mind, eds. Hal Pashler, Tim Crane, Marcel Kinsbourne, Fernando Ferreira, and Rich Zemel, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

The Contribution of Prefrontal Executive Processes to Producing a Sense of Self (2011) Mens Sana Monographs, 9(1): 150-158. pdf

The Paradoxical Self (2011) V. S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein. In The Paradoxical Brain, ed. Narinder Kapur, 94-110.

The Legal Self: Executive Processes and Legal Theory (2011) William Hirstein and Katrina Sifferd, Consciousness and Cognition, 20: 156-171. pdf

Loved Ones Near and Far: Feinberg’s Personal Significance Theory (2010) Neuropsychoanalysis, 12: 163-166. pdf

The Misidentification Syndromes as Mindreading Disorders (2010) Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 15 (1-3): 233-260. pdf

Confabulated Autobiographies, Normal and Abnormal (2010) in The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives, edited by Suzanne Nalbantian, Paul M. Matthews, and James L. McClelland, Cambridge, Mass.: The M. I. T. Press.

Perceiving Others and Their Minds: Response to McGeer (2009) The Modern Schoolman, 86 (3-4): 319-326. pdf

The Aesthetic Response (2009) William Hirstein and Melinda Campbell, in The Elsevier Encyclopedia of Consciousness, ed. William Banks, Amsterdam: Elsevier Publications, 1-7. pdf

 False Memories and Confabulation (2009) The Elsevier Encyclopedia of Consciousness, ed. William Banks, Amsterdam: Elsevier Publications, 234-239.

Introduction: What is Confabulation? (2009) In Confabulation: Views from Neuroscience, Psychiatry, Psychology, and Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-14. pdf

 He is Not My Father, and That is Not My Arm: Accounting for Misidentifications of People and Limbs (2009) William Hirstein and V. S. Ramachandran, In Confabulation: Views from Neuroscience, Psychiatry, Psychology, and Philosophy, ed. William Hirstein, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 111-140.

Confabulation (2009) In The Oxford Companion to Consciousness, eds. Patrick Wilken, Axel Cleermans and Timothy Bayne, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 174-177.

The Name and Nature of Confabulation (2009) In The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Psychology, eds. Paco Calvo and John Symons, New York: Routledge 647-658.

 Confabulations about People and Their Limbs, Present or Absent (2009) In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Neuroscience, ed. John Bickle, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 474-512.

 Mindmelding: Connected Brains and the Problem of Consciousness (2008) Mens Sana Monographs, 6 (1): 110-130. pdf

Situational Therapy for Wernicke’s Aphasia (2006) Eric Altschuler, Adamarie Multari, William Hirstein, and V. S. Ramachandran, Medical Hypotheses, 67(4), 713-716. pdf

Autonomic Responses of Autistic Children to Objects and People (2001) William Hirstein, Portia Iversen, and V.S. Ramachandran, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 268: 1883-1888. pdf

Self-Deception and Confabulation (2000) Philosophy of Science, 67 (Proceedings): 418-429.

The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience (1999) V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6: 15-41. pdf

The Perception of Phantom Limbs: The D. O. Hebb Lecture (1998) V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, Brain, 121 (9): 1603-1630. pdf

Phantom Limbs, Body Image, and Neural Plasticity (1998) V.S. Ramachandran, William Hirstein, and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran, International Brain Research Organization News, 26: 10-21.

Three Laws of Qualia: Clues From Neurology About the Biological Functions of Consciousness and Qualia (1997) V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein The Journal of Consciousness Studies,  4: 429-457. pdf

Capgras Syndrome: A Novel Probe for Understanding the Neural Representation of the Identity and Familiarity of Persons (1997) William Hirstein and V.S. Ramachandran Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 264: 437-444. pdf

Note on a Curious Type of Laughter

Sociopathic Laughter?

Lately I’ve been noticing an interesting type of laugh that can be overheard in public. It literally sounds like, “Hahahahaha,” as if the person is mimicking actual laughter. What these people are laughing at and the way they are interacting with the people they are with sets off my sociopath detectors. For instance, recently a man was seated at a restaurant table near me with a woman who seemed to be greatly charmed by him. He seemed very confident. I got the feeling I was overhearing a sociopath who was literally about to charm the woman’s pants off.

Scientists who study laughter separate the actual behavior of laughing from an emotion they call “mirth,” that positive, giddy, feeling of amusement that normally accompanies laughter. But it need not always do so. There are neurological syndromes, for instance, a type of epilepsy which produces what is called a gelastic seizure, in which the patient cannot stop laughing, but reports that he feels no mirth (see here for example). From observing this curious type of laugh it seems to me that the people emitting it are also not experiencing mirth. Not that they are faking–they seem to be feeling positive, and the laughter seems spontaneous. In his characterization of psychopaths, Hervey Cleckley, whose book The Mask of Sanity initiated the modern study of psychopathy and sociopathy, said:

Psychopaths are often witty and sometimes give a superficial impression of that far different and very serious thing, humor. Humor, however, in what may be its full, true sense, they never have.

It would certainly be nice if there were reliable behavioral markers for detecting sociopaths. The current method for diagnosis is a 20-question test, the Psychopathy Checklist, Revised version, but a clever sociopath or psychopath might be able to defeat this.

So my questions to readers are:

Have you ever heard a laugh like this?

What did you notice about what the person was saying and the way he was acting?

New Scientist article on confabulation

This is an article that appeared in New Scientist magazine covering my work on confabulation.