Neuroethics: The Dilemmas of Brain Research

Henry T. Greely in a recent article Neuroethics: The Neuroscience Revolution, Ethics, and the Law paints a gloomy picture of our posthuman future. In this paper he breaks down the revolution in neuroethics into four domains: prediction, litigation, confidentiality and privacy, and patents. He tells us it is the responsibility of any ethicist to understand the ethical, legal, and social consequences of new technologies to look disproportionately for troublesome consequences. Neuroethics is specific to the new branches of neurosciences.

Ethical problems revolving around neuroscientific research have induced the emergence of a new discipline termed neuroethics, which discusses issues such as prediction of disease, psychopharmacological enhancement of attention, memory or mood, and technologies such as psychosurgery, deep-brain stimulation or brain implants. Such techniques are capable of affecting the individual’s sense of privacy, autonomy and identity. Moreover, reductionist interpretations of neuroscientific results challenge notions of free will, responsibility, personhood and the self which are essential for western culture and society. They may also gradually change psychiatric concepts of mental health and illness. These tendencies call for thorough, philosophically informed analyses of research findings and critical evaluation of their underlying conceptions of humans. The stakes are high, for it entails nothing less and nothing more that the core values that have guided since the Enlightenment.

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Neuromilitary: The Dark Side of Government Spending

Michael N. Tennison and Jonathan D. Moreno report that National security organizations in the United States, including the armed services and the intelligence community, have developed a close relationship with the neuroscientific community. The latest technology often fuels warfighting and counter-intelligence capacities, providing the tactical advantages thought necessary to maintain geopolitical dominance and national security. Neuroscience has emerged as a prominent focus within this milieu, annually receiving hundreds of millions of Department of Defense dollars. Its role in national security operations raises ethical issues that need to be addressed to ensure the pragmatic synthesis of ethical accountability and national security. (abstract)

They make the obvious observance that the military establishment’s interest in understanding, developing, and exploiting neuroscience generates a tension in its relationship with science: the goals of national security and the goals of science may conflict. An understatement, or is this the wave of the future? The sciences have not been neutral for a long while now. As John Brockman once said “Where the money flows the science flows.” This should be no surprise.

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