Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One Track Moral Enhancement

By Nada Gligorov

Nada Gligorov is an associate professor in the Bioethics Program of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is also faculty for the Clarkson University-Icahn School of Medicine Bioethics Masters Program. The primary focus of Nada’s scholarly work is the examination of the interaction between commonsense and scientific theories. Most recently, she authored of a monograph titled Neuroethics and the Scientific Revision of Common Sense (Studies in Brain and Mind, Springer). In 2014, Nada founded the Working Papers in Ethics and Moral Psychology speaker series–a working group where speakers are invited to present well-developed, as yet unpublished work.

Within the debate on neuroenhancement, cognitive and moral enhancements have been discussed as two different kinds of improvements achievable by different biomedical means. Pharmacological means that improve memory, attention, decision-making, or wakefulness have been accorded the status of “cognitive enhancers,” while attempts to improve empathy or diminish aggression have been categorized as “moral enhancements.” According to Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu (2008; 2012), cognitive enhancement could outstrip our natural abilities to improve commonsense morality. The view of commonsense morality as static motivates Persson and Savulescu (2008) to establish two distinct tracts of enhancement and to argue that cognitive enhancement needs to be coupled with moral enhancement to prevent the negative impact of rapid scientific progress that might be precipitated by the use of cognitive enhancers. To argue that cognitive enhancement might lead to improvements both in science and in commonsense morality, I will propose that commonsense morality is a folk theory with features similar to a scientific theory.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting Summary: Ethics of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology

By Ian Stevens

Ian is a 4th year undergraduate student at Northern Arizona University. He is majoring in Biomedical Sciences with minors in Psychological Sciences and Philosophy to pursue interdisciplinary research on how medicine, neuroscience, and philosophy connect. 

At the 2017 International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting, an array of neuroscientists, physicians, philosophers, and lawyers gathered to discuss the ethical implications of neuroscientific research in addiction, neurotechnology, and the judicial system. A panel consisting of Dr. Frederic Gilbert with the University of Washington, Dr. Merlin Bittlinger, with the Universitätsmedizin Berlin – Charité, and Dr. Anna Wexler with the University of Pennsylvania presented their research on the ethics of neurotechnologies.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Anniversary of the First Neuroethics Conference (No, Not That One)

By Jonathan D. Moreno

Jonathan D. Moreno is the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he is a Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) professor. At Penn he is also Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, of History and Sociology of Science, and of Philosophy.  His latest book is Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network (2014), which Amazon called a “#1 hot new release.”  Among his previous books are The Body Politic, which was named a Best Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, Mind Wars (2012), and Undue Risk (2000).

The 15th anniversary of what is widely viewed as the first neuroethics conference, “Neuroethics: Mapping the Field” was celebrated in 2017. The meeting was held in San Francisco, organized by the University of California and Stanford, and sponsored by the Dana Foundation. Cerebrum, the journal that is published by the foundation, celebrated the anniversary by publishing short memoirs by some of the speakers, including my own. The feature was dubbed “The First Neuroethics Meeting.”

Except that it wasn’t. The first conference that was recognizably about neuroethics was held in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of a conservative think tank, and its 20th anniversary is in 2018. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The International Roots of Future Neuroethics

By Denis Larrivee 

Denis Larrivee is a Visiting Scholar at the Neiswanger Bioethics Institute
Loyola University Chicago and a member of the International Neuroethics Society 
communication committee. He also serves on the editorial board for the journal Neurology and Neurological Sciences, where he is the section head for neuroscience. He is currently the editor of a text on Brain Computer Interfacing and Brain Dynamics. 

The reappearance in 2017 of the Ambassador Session at the International Neuroethics Soci-ety’s annual meeting underlines both the rapid upswing of global investment in neuroscience and the internationally perceived need for ethical deliberation about its interpretive significance, distinctive cultural manifestations, and evolution of complementary policy and juridical structures best serving global versus regional interests. The 2017 session juxtaposed the more mature organizational approaches of the American and European neuroethical programs against recent undertakings in Asia, a juxtaposition that helped to clarify how neuroethics progress is conditioned by local neuroscience research priorities and how more established programs assist in cross-cultural transmission to shape budding, national efforts. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Neuroethics Women to Watch

By Judy Illes, CM, PHD,
Immediate Past President, International Neuroethics Society (INS)

Dr. Illes is Professor of Neurology and Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. Her research, teaching and service focus on ethical, legal, social and policy challenges specifically at the intersection of the brain sciences and biomedical ethics. Her latest book, Neuroethics: Anticipating the Future (Oxford University Press) was released in July 2017. Dr. Illes hold many prestigious awards for her work both in neuroethics and on behalf of women in science. She was appointed to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award, in December 2017. 

During the two years that I was President of the INS, and really since 2002 overall when we first set the modern neuroethics vision in motion, one of my greatest joys has been to work with outstanding people in our field. I have relentlessly sought to create opportunities for leadership especially among early career neuroethicists who seek to contribute, sometimes in the footsteps of more senior people and sometimes along a completely separate path that they set of their own. My focus has been on the women and men of our field alike and, during my term as President specifically, these opportunities unfolded in different forms. Working with remarkable staff led by Karen Graham (INS Executive Director) since the birth of the INS and Elaine Snell (Chief Operating Officer), and the INS Board, I created an Emerging Issues Task Force, for example, a Rising Star Lecture (Kreitmair, 2017), and many podium opportunities at our annual meetings. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Neurodevelopmental Disability on TV: Neuroethics and Season 1 of ABC’s Speechless

By John Aspler and Ariel Cascio

John Aspler, a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience at McGill University and the Neuroethics Research Unit, focuses on the experiences of key stakeholders affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the way they are represented and discussed in Canadian media, and the potential stigmatization they face given related disability stereotypes. 

Ariel Cascio, a postdoctoral researcher at the Neuroethics Research Unit of the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, focuses primarily on autism spectrum conditions, identity, subjectivity, and biopolitics. 


Television can be an important medium through which to explore cultural conceptions of complex topics like disability – a topic tackled by Speechless, a single-camera family sitcom. Speechless tells the story of JJ DiMeo, a young man with cerebral palsy (CP) portrayed by Micah Fowler, who himself has CP. The show focuses on JJ’s daily life as well as the experiences of his parents and siblings. JJ’s aide, an African-American man named Kenneth, voices for JJ, as the latter uses a head-mounted laser pointer to indicate words and letters on a communication board (explaining the show’s title).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dog Days: Has neuroscience revealed the inner lives of animals?

By Ryan Purcell

Image courtesy of Pexels.
On a sunny, late fall day with the semester winding down, Emory neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns gave a seminar in the Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News series on campus. Berns has become relatively famous for his ambitious and fascinating work on what he calls “the dog project”, an eminently relatable and intriguing study that has taken aim at uncovering how the canine mind works using functional imaging technology.

The seminar was based on some of the ideas in his latest book, What It’s Like to Be a Dog (and other adventures in Animal Neuroscience). In it, Berns responds to philosopher Thomas Nagel’s influential anti-reductionist essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” and recounts his journey to perform the world’s first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session on an awake, unrestrained dog. Like so many seemingly impossible tasks, when broken down into many small, discrete steps, getting a dog to step into an fMRI machine and remain still during scanning became achievable (see training video here). 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: White Christmas

By Yunmiao Wang

Miao is a second year graduate student in the Neuroscience Program at Emory University. She has watched Black Mirror since it first came out, and has always been interested in the topics of Neuroethics. 

Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences may be lurking behind our rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is the final installment of a series of posts that discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show, and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 

SPOILER ALERT: The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series, Black Mirror

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Neuroethics in the News Recap: Psychosis, Unshared Reality, or Clairaudiance?

By Nathan Ahlgrim

Even computer programs, like DeepDream, hallucinate.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Experiencing hallucinations is one of the most sure-fire ways to be labeled with one of the most derogatory of words: “crazy.” Hearing voices that no one else can hear is a popular laugh line (look no further than Phoebe in Friends), but it can be a serious and distressing symptom of schizophrenia and other incapacitating disorders. Anderson Cooper demonstrated the seriousness of the issue, finding the most mundane of tasks nearly impossible as he lived a day immersed in simulated hallucinations. Psychotic symptoms are less frequently the butt of jokes with increasing visibility and sensitivity, but people with schizophrenia and others who hear voices are still victims of stigma. Of course, people with schizophrenia deserve to be treated like patients in the mental healthcare system to ease their suffering and manage their symptoms, but there is a population who are at peace with the voices only they can hear. At last month’s Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News meeting, Stephanie Hare and Dr. Jessica Turner of Georgia State University painted the contrast between people with schizophrenia and people that scientists call “healthy voice hearers.” In doing so, they discussed how hearing voices should not necessarily be considered pathological, reframing what healthy and normal behavior should include.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Neuroethics, the Predictive Brain, and Hallucinating Neural Networks

By Andy Clark

Andy Clark is Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, at Edinburgh University in Scotland. He is the author of several books including Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind (Oxford University Press, 2016). Andy is currently PI on a 4-year ERC-funded project Expecting Ourselves: Prediction, Action, and the Construction of Conscious Experience.

In this post, I’d like to explore an emerging neurocomputational story that has implications for how we should think about ourselves and about the relations between normal and atypical forms of human experience.