Creation: Scientists locate conscience in human brain

“God in the beginning created human beings
and made them subject to their own free choice.”
-Sirach 15:14


John Walsh reports for The Independent, Jan. 29, 2014, that H. L. Mencken once defined the conscience as “the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.”

For centuries we thought that the conscience was just some faculty of moral insight in the human mind, an innate sense that one was behaving well or badly. Some religions say the conscience was given to us by God, to give humans a choice between sin and Paradise.

Now, thanks to neuroscience, we’ve found the actual, physical thing itself. 

Scientists at Oxford University recently made a startling discovery: they found a region of the brain that makes you wonder if you’ve done something wrong, and whether you’d have been well advised to do something better.

That region is called the lateral frontal pole. It’s the size of a large Brussels sprout and it’s unique to humans: monkeys and other primates don’t have it.

Scientists already knew that the brain can monitor decisions it has made. It tells itself: “I have chosen to follow this track in the  forest and it’s turning out to be a sunlit pathway/sodden jungle”, but it registers no more nuanced reaction than that.

What this newly discovered region does, however, is to identify other paths that it might have been better to take. “This region monitors how good the choices are that we don’t take,” said Professor Matthew Rushworth, who led the research, “How green the grass is on the other side.”

The lateral frontal pole, in short, informs us that we’ve made the wrong choice.

This is about good and bad, right and wrong. This is about the brain’s connection to morality. This means that the Oxford scientists, without apparently realizing what they’ve done, have located the conscience.

lateral frontal poleThe lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex is found at the very front of the brain (shaded in dark pink) with one just above each eyebrow

But wait!

Humans have two lateral frontal poles! One above and behind each eyebrow!

But why would we need two consciences? Maybe they’re our good and bad selves — the angel and devil traditionally thought to reside on human shoulders.

Science has suddenly become exciting. By next week they’ll probably have discovered the exact whereabouts of the soul. Can you imagine the look on famous atheist Richard Dawkins’s face if they did?

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6 years ago

News Flash: After scanning the pos in d.c.’s brain there were no conscience lobes found only empty space. Doctors recommend just drilling a hole and using an average grade of chaulk from the local dollar store to fill the void to prevent pea-brain rattling.

John Molloy
John Molloy
6 years ago

Anthropologically speaking, the behavior of other primates such as the great apes and monkeys would indicate that they lack a lateral frontal pole.
However, I would also argue that those could have been children of Obama who engage in violent acts toward other races, like the knock out games also lack a lateral frontal pole and perhaps like the apes and monkeys belong in a different ecosystem or environment like a zoo.
Sorry if I am too politically incorrect.

6 years ago
Reply to  John Molloy

In the totality of history your race doesn’t look quite so good. Slavery so you can get free labor. Had a nice British scientist turn natives into tobacco pouches. Nice upstanding white chap huh? Or if you want to keep it stateside, how about new York city. Have you read gangs of new york? Those Irish and other white immigrants were so violent they made gangs of today look like choir boys.

6 years ago

Thank you Dr. Eowyn for this fascinating post. This discovery is indeed noteworthy.