Jack Barnett

Class of 2017

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.

What is your College Scholar project?
​My project, "Neurolaw: The potential applications, implications, and limitations of research in cognitive science on the law," focuses on the intersection of Cognitive Science, particularly the implications of our ever-growing knowledge of the mind on the legal field. Cognitive Science is a study that synthesizes a myriad of fields in order to uncover the intricate phenomena of the human mind. I am most fascinated by the areas of Cognitive Science that focus on philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. Through classes such as Law, Society, and Morality, I have realized that through analysis of our societal vision of ethics, legislators can fashion laws that promote the values that we see as positive, and prohibit unsavory actions through threat of sanctions. A thorough understanding of psychology is also integral in understanding criminal law, particularly witness testimony, jury decision-making and mental competency of the defendant. Neuroscience is expected to be the field of science that will see the greatest expansion in the coming years, and advanced brain scanning technology will change the field of law in same way that the incorporation of DNA evidence did towards the end of the last century. To venture even further for the purpose of mental exercise, consider the possibility that our lie-detection technologies become entirely infallible. What would our legal system look like then? Or what if cognitive scientists uncover evidence that goes against our intuitive beliefs about free will. That is to say, how would we justify our retributive system of punishment if people cannot be held responsible for their actions? While some of these extrapolations are somewhat fantastic, they do capture what drives my interests; I intend to use physical sciences to make the theoretical field of law more concrete, and social sciences to expand the possibilities of the legal frontier.

What are your most important extra-curricular activities?
On campus, I am involved with a pre-law fraternity, and work as a campus tour guide. Through the law fraternity, I have learned a great deal about the legal field through events and conversations with students who like me wish to attend law school. As a tour guide, I have enjoyed assisting prospective students during their time at Cornell. Additionally, I have significantly increased my communication abilities.

Talk about any summer internships or programs you’ve attended?
The summer after my freshman year, I worked with the Natural Resource Defense Council as an undergraduate legal intern. I had the opportunity to work on a number of large projects, including drafting a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and a successful attempt to list the Gray Wolf as an endangered species in California. Aside from learning valuable legal skills such as brief and memo writing, I began to see how psychological and moral aspects of the human psyche have historically led to a number of environmental conundrums. I cherished the opportunity to be involved with such meaningful and enjoyable projects.

What do you dream of doing after graduation?
I hope to attend law school after graduation, eventually applying principles of cognitive theory to my practice of law.