Saturday, February 17, 2007

What about rocket science?

In a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, Cameron Stracher criticized legal education for being too intellectual. Law, he said, is not brain surgery, it is a skill to be acquired by practice and repetition."

I think Stracher's case is overstated, but that's not what interests me here. What I find fascinating is that this point was criticized by ... well not quite a brain surgeon, but a neuropsychologist and professor of medicine at Stanford. Dr. Matt Bowen writes:

Regarding brain surgery, even in this most modern medical era, rest assured that a surgeon’s skill — beginning with the first year of residency — is and always will be a matter of “practice and repetition” versus musings of the intellect. Moreover, I have known semi-literate auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and seamstresses who would make excellent brain surgeons. All they would require is due time apprenticing alongside a veteran surgeon. What’s needed in brain surgery is exceptional integration of visuomotor skills, sustained attention, and a capacity to anticipate and apprehend the visual problem. These are all functions of our cerebral right hemisphere.
Law, of course, requires diametrically opposed mental skills harbored in the verbal processing left hemisphere, where we live in our intellect versus our reactive instinct (the latter wired directly from the primitive sub-cortical circuits to the right hemisphere). Thus, from a historical, functional neurobehavioral, and commonsensical point of view, Professor Stracher’s comment could not have been more entirely incorrect.

One commentator suggested that we need a new catch phrase, such as "Well, this isn't topological quantum field theory, you know !"

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