Project THESEUS – Crimes Against the Mind


Prof.ª Doutora Maria Fernanda Palma

Research projects

The Research Project ‘Crimes Against the Mind’ will operate in three distinct stages. Its immediate goal is to link cutting-edge research in neurosciences and mind-brain-body debates to the conceptual and methodological toolsnused in Legal Science. Dependent upon that goal, another arises: a legislative (non-formal) proposal. The first stage corresponds to the scientific and philosophical reflection of the empirical and conceptual relations between body, brain and mind, namely, the discussion of the autonomy of the neurological relative to the corporal and of the mental relative to the neurological. It is divided into two parts: i) the scientific inquiry (of the empirical relations between body, brain and mind); ii) the philosophical inquiry (of the conceptual relations between body, brain and mind). From the point of view of scientific knowledge contribution to the problems this research team intends to tackle, there are three broad groups of questions to address:

1) Function and status of the brain in organisms: is the brain a mere organ? Or a vital organ? Or is it even more than na organ? The answer to these questions is valuable evidence to inquire to what extent is the brain an autonomous entity relative to the body and, consequently, worthy of special legal protection. New questions arise, then: is it possible for a brain to exist without a body? Is it possible for a natural brain to be attach to an entirely artificial body? Evidence gathered by the research team’s neurologists (Prof. Miguel Viana Baptista and Drª Luísa Alves) is essential. On the other hand, the interaction between brain and machine (use of brain-machine interface techniques), which may shed some light on this problem, is the field of expertise of part of the ‘Crimes Against the Mind’ Research Project’s team (Dr. Amílcar Silva dos Santos, with advice from Prof. Mikhail Lebedev, international adviser – CV available at

2) Personal identity: is the self in the brain? If that is the case, how and to what extent neurological interventions change the self? What, then, is the essence of the self? Is the self in memory or in our internal history? Or is it simply a spatio-temporal nexus between the subject?s experiences? These questions are very present in some of the research team member?s work (Profª. Adriana Silva Graça, Dr. Ricardo Tavares da Silva and Dr. Thiago Paiva). And does dementia erase the self? What can Neuropsychology tell us about this? This will be the contribution of the research team’s neuropsychologists (Prof. Filipa Ribeiro).

3) Brain manipulation: mental manipulation? To what extent drug administration alter mental states? Can the representational content be altered? Can the content of emotions be altered? This is Neuroscience?s quintessential field of research, closely followed by Neuroethics and Neurolaw given its normative and normative implications. There are essentially four kinds of possible brain intervention: pharmacological (for example, the use of psychic stimulants for the treatment of neuro epilepsy to increase the level of dopamine in the brain, with the consequent improvement of certain cognitive and operational capacities); by brain stimulation (e.g, transcranial magnetic stimulation, performed before the onset of an activity that causes suffering or discomfort, such as intensive training of high-level athletes or prolonged study of college students, since such stimulation creates a sense of well-being); memory manipulation (e.g, through the use of certain medications, it is possible to manipulate memory engrams and make the subject forget or remember more easily from an event); through neural cells manipulation. Some of the research team member’s work is valuable concerning the relationship between the possibilities of Neuroscience and its normative constrains by Neurolaw (Profª Fernanda Palma, Prof. Demétrio Crespo and Dr. João Viana, with advice from Prof. Neil and Levy Prof. Dennis Patterson, also international advisers for the project – CV available at and -, and from Portuguese advisers Prof. Eduardo Ducla Soares and Profª Ana Maria Sebastião, head of the Mind-Brain College of ULisboa – laboratorios/sebastiao-ana-lab/). From the point of view of philosophical knowledge contribution, it is necessary to relate the questions posed above with the so-called ‘mind-body problem’. Traditionally, the debate takes place between physicalism and dualism.

Among the main arguments pro dualism are Descartes’s modal argument, revisited by Chalmers’ zombie argument, and according to which it is possible or conceivable (or imaginable) to exist fully functional minds without bodies (Descartes) or totally functional bodies without minds (Chalmers); however, such arguments have been contested. A usual strategy used by dualists is to appeal to qualia, i.e., for example, the difference between the neurological state associated with pain and what is it to feel pain (Nagel famous question ‘How is it like to be a bat’?). Physicalism also has its arguments: it is argued that even if we try, we do not cease to think of them as a kind of body and that is a fallacy to convert the first person perspective intobthe third person perspective. The philosophical research to be carried out by the team will benefit from, on the one hand, specialized researchers  (Profª Adriana Silva Graça and Dr. Ricardo Tavares da Silva), and, on the other hand, the experience in organizing and participating in events on such topics, such as the International Conferences ‘Emotions and Crime’ and ‘Mind and Responsibility’, and from teaching and research work done in Philosophy and Philosophy of Law (Profª Fernanda Palma – also a member of the Mind-Brain College of ULisboa -, Prof. Demétrio Crespo and Dr. João Viana, with advice from Prof. Dennis Patterson). The second stage corresponds to the legal discussion, for which a large part of the team is particularly suitable, given its institutional and professional links (Profª Fernanda Palma, Prof. Demétrio Crespo, Dr. João Viana, Dr. Wagner Marteleto). Depending on the information collected during the first stage of the project, the corresponding criminal implications should be withdrawn: the shared scientific-philosophical knowledge in the previous stage will be applied, which will be a rare opportunity to verify the practical-legal relevance of research lines of predominantly theoreticalscientific nature. And of course Prof. Bublitz’s work is the main referece for this Project.

The main problem is this: should legal systems add to their list of legal goods the mind (or start to seriously protect such good)? More precisely, is the mind, by itself, worthy of criminal enforcement? Does it make sense to speak of crimes against the mind, in the sense of a criminal type not subsumed in any other criminal type? Are there any conceivable mental damages that do not already constitute brain damages? Autonomy of the type ‘crime against the mind’ will, therefore, be discussed relative to body or physical injuries. It is necessary to assess whether criminal enforcement of neurological/mental integrity should constitute an extension of criminal enforcement of physical integrity or a new type of criminal enforcement. If mental damages are nothing more that neurological damages, then there is no reason to criminally enforce mental integrity. If, for example, the part of the brain dedicated to memory is punctured, is the memory loss damage only the perforation damage? Is there one or two harms? What if, instead, the loss of memory is caused by the administration of a drug? Is there any physical (neurological) harm? There are circumstances, it seems, in which the mental injury is high and the physical injury is minimal (some cases of drug administration) or even nonexistent. Particularly, there are circumstances of purely psychic maltreatment in social or private contexts, like bullying, stalking, a considerable part of the of the widely reported ‘blue whale game’, etc.. Should the Law punish cognitive damages and emotional damages, regardless causation of any neurological damage?

The third stage corresponds to the implementation of the conclusions reached in the previous stages in the form of a legislative project (a non-formal legislative proposal). Therefore, the performance of this third stage is dependente on the relevance of the ‘mental injuries’ type autonomy and, as such, depends on the direction of the conclusions reached in the previous stages, namely regarding the ontological/conceptual autonomy of the mental, the availability of a reasonable theory of mind and the necessity of the criminal protection considering its ultima ratio character. The exact legal framework is something to be discussed at the time, notwithstanding the work done in the second stage. An interdisciplinary methodological approach will be favored: the convergence of Biology, Neuroscience, Psychology, Cognitive Science, Philosophy (namely, Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Law) and Law is sought, each of these disciplines contributing with its methods and concepts. This convergence is, first of all, necessary given the nature of the object and problems and, secondly, valuable as all interdisciplinary work is. Regular seminars will be held in each of the three project stages concerned, in order to coordinate the work to be carried out and the objectives to be achieved. As the results emerge, researches will be encouraged to publish in the specialty journals, which will also contribute to the stimulation of the academic debate. Each stage will be completed with a conference (the third conference will consist of the public presentation of the non-formal legislative proposal).

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