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How to use cognitive science to have a better law and stop bad decrees

How to use cognitive science to have a better law and stop bad decrees

In February this year, Bolsonaro signed four decrees that significantly loosen existing restrictions on the purchase of weapons and ammunition. Senators tried to oust them before they became law, on 04/12/2021.

Studies show that easing restrictions is very bad for society as a whole, although it may benefit some. This is just another legal case that ignores what the evidence points to. Because? Why are so many laws being proposed against evidence?

The immediate reason is clear: personal and collective interests. However, my thesis is that the problem does not stop there, it also has a structural aspect: law has not yet incorporated the more advanced methodologies to model complex systems, which can generate much stronger evidence about the interest of society, to a slight extent. This practice is forbidden.

How to get there? Leaving cognitive isolation and approaching cognitive science, as did many other fields to model their complex systems. Today’s article discusses this, with the utmost simplicity the topic allows.


The trends that most affect human life are cyclical and progressive. Society evolves, as elements of progress enter and go out of fashion.

A trend that expresses this well is hyper-specialization. Between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, more specialized fields of knowledge were created than in the previous millennium. This tradition has continued and has become the precise definition of what is progress for many people.

However, in the middle of the last century, a movement in the opposite direction began to gain strength. Areas with excessive specialization began to crumble internally, as if the children had taken up the classroom. It wasn’t long before some of the more daring students realized how interesting it would be to incorporate entire fields. This was the origin of cognitive science, which to me is the greatest scientific endeavor of the twentieth century and at the present time.

Cognitive science is the meeting point of mathematics, biology and neuroscience. She is also in Psychology, Linguistics, Psychiatry, and Computer Science. Above all, it is an area characterized by acceptance and interest in complex systems based on information and intelligence. Cognitive science is a kind of European Knowledge Consortium.

The paths it offers are similar to time travel, now to the future, we now return to the Greek Agora, where the rule was to be suspicious of very planning things and to fearlessly invest in the so-called theory of everything, which today is known as “interdisciplinarity”.

In Europe for Cognitive Sciences, the rule states that being a full-fledged citizen does not make anyone less than a party citizen. For example, from a more practical point of view, I am a neuroscientist, since I have a PhD, postdoctoral and free teaching in the area. But, on a daily basis, I cross this Europe to take what I know to other parts, just as it was visited in WeMind, the innovation office that I partner in, by people who need to solve these technological or conceptual challenges that are not trivial.

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A few years ago, somewhat by chance, I ended up opening up a new field of science experiment production, with neuroscience and computational modeling, to help solve trade disputes, unfair competition and the like.

The creation of these methods brought me closer to the law, as part of the interest lies in the discussion. This, in turn, led me to the question: Is there a place for law in the knowledge revolution or not?

Note that I’m not talking about a place for neuroscience in law. This, to me, is clear. Just like design thinking and other specific disciplines. Doubt occurs when we look the other way.

Photo: Reproduction

If the epistemological science is Europe, then the law is the United Kingdom, separated by traditions and regulatory policies that cater to the sea. The Eurotunnel passes on the right under the English Channel and reaches the economy 50 kilometers. There, across the continent, you can cross borders into biology, where the latter and the former both deal with the allocation of scarce resources and have ample repertoire to deal with supply and demand.

Many people assume that markets are human constructions. This is a mistake. The market is a way to talk about coordination in light of scarcity. Humanized and culturally compatible markets are a continuation of natural markets. For example, bonobos, which are the most similar primates to us, are very fond of cuddling. And there’s also the thing of finding cute babies, especially females.

When a baby is born, the mother puts him on the wheel. But one condition: To play with your puppy, you have to pat it. Because what is being noticed is that when the availability of children in a group increases, the time spent with mothers decreases. This occurs in an almost linear fashion, like many of the demand curves we see there. It’s the coffee shop market that works just like it does in the microeconomics book. And this is where the law comes in as a new land, outside of the continent. right?

See, on Planet of the Apes there is only pay-as-you-go. Nobody agrees to pay up front, and nobody agrees to sell on debt. Here, you loan me your little monkey, which I’ll cuddle with later. No! No way! It won’t make me a mess. Make me hug you, then lend you a little monkey. No, and no, you will not lend me this child.

The lack of contracts hinders the development of normal markets. Monkeys already have Protoeconomics. Not a compensatory rules, let alone an ecosystem that ensures their implementation.

This is why the law does not mix. Your world is too defined by definition.

right? In this case, yes. However, we cannot forget the part on behavioral prediction and modeling included in the laws and their interpretations.

For example, the main role of repressive measures is to reduce harmful behavior in society. This creates the market. However, it is not a typical market, like the bonobo market, but one that appears to live behind the mirror of traditional exchanges.

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In theory, an increase in punitive severity, that is, cost, leads to a decrease in demand, which means crimes and misdemeanors. However, this increase has a negative effect on the whole society. It has many consequences that must also be incorporated into the decision-making process about laws and their applications.

Ultimately, it is important to find the function that maximizes the relationship between the social cost of law and lowering the rate of target behavior. This is a kind of grail, which takes on the challenge of defining guidelines for inhibitory behavior and social pricing of externalities.

In September 2020, the The Sixth Syrians for Truth and Justice group decided that judges and judges at the São Paulo court should not take those convicted of drug trafficking to prison.That is, trade in small quantities by the main suspects, without any known link to organized crime.

The idea is that prisons are used as a basis for recruitment into criminal organizations and that incarcerating these persons produces an overall worse outcome for society than applying alternative punishments. This is because the threat of tougher penalties has proven unable to prevent drug smuggling in the first place, as the data shows and law enforcement officials repeat from the ground up.

In an ideal world, this conclusion would be presented in advance, through motivational and anti-motivational mapping, based on evidence, along with cost / benefit analyzes, capable of taking all relevant factors into account.

Does it sound reasonable? For everyone who thinks they do this, I ask: How should this kind of thing be activated? How are punitive offer baskets designed to weaken the crime and misdemeanor market without ending life as a whole worse than it was in the beginning?

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Photo: iStock

Cognitive science speaks in three ways: A / B tests, systematic reviews and simulations.

When applied to our problem, the A / B tests will work as follows: For one group, apply a penalty, while I apply another group. Then I measure the oud in both groups and add those costs all I mentioned before. In law, this is not possible. It is unethical.

Systematic reviews work as follows: I identify patterns in sentences, for example, historical patterns, of the type in the period when such a practice was; In this other period, that was it. I try to relate the results. You can also do this by comparing countries.

It’s definitely better than the previous one, but it’s also limited. Perhaps at a certain time the crime was lost not because of the specific law in force, but because of something else that we did not know. Moreover, what we care about is building a better future. To do this on the basis of the past is to give up the opportunity to overcome it.

So, finally, we get to the simulation. The idea of ​​simulation is to create systematic models whose outputs are the consequences of laws and their interpretations of behavior, in light of the cost / benefit to society as a whole.

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This is the bridge with cognitive science: the whole population, whether human or not, is a complex system to which some rules apply.

The big difference to the approach is that in cognitive science, it is assumed that mapping everything that can happen within complex organisms such as human society does not fit the mind of a person or group, however cool that may be.

It’s always a good idea to have decision support systems, like AI-based simulations running on supercomputers. This is the only way to make these problems treatable, given our neurocognitive limitations.

I’ll give you an example. Legalization of medicines. On the one hand we have:

  • A complete ban on everyone
  • Other consumption free
  • Trade release from other
  • Releasing other manufacturing or cultivation
  • Release each of these things for different medications
  • Release some of these things for everyone
  • Free all these things for everyone

On the other side we have:

  • Fines, imprisonment and various forms of alternative penalties,
  • In addition to various adjacent costs.

I did a math above and noticed that a model capable of injecting a little rationality into this debate must be based on about a million criteria. To begin. Then I ask: Isn’t it worth placing this experience at the center of the discussion? Besides, shouldn’t this kind of thing be part of the system toolbox?

It seems to me that it would be a good way to access a smaller set of alternatives, closely related to the public good, so that policymakers and legal professionals can sail this rough sea more safely.

The same applies to taxes, tax incentives, and speed limits.

Nothing separates the logic that governs how many points in a wallet each traffic violation should generate from the logic used in loyalty programs, in terms of modeling ideal scoring rules.

Does the fact that 100% of the big loyalty programs use simulations, which use artificial intelligence and run on supercomputers, suggest something interested in the evolution of laws, public policies and other complex things of information?

Why are these things not available properly? To respond to this kind of thing I think law has to deal with cognitive science, which has its daily routine of modeling complex systems.

It is not a question of replacing human decisions with mechanical ones. This is always a bad idea, as many have said and some have demonstrated.

It is really interesting to make decisions based on connection with what defines our humanity, but not without first consulting hypothetical scenarios, which were created from massive amounts of information, just as it has become, more and more, the norm in the rigorous handling of complex systems.

Above all, it is interesting to embrace the principle that unity is a force for the common good.