Friday, March 30, 2012

Neuroscience, Prediction, and Free Will: Or, Ripping off The Adjustment Bureau

Imagine a world that is exactly like ours, except for one difference: There exist supernatural beings that have the ability to compute the outcomes of human decision making well in advance of any given decision being made. As matter of fact, they are able to predict with 100 percent accuracy what any given individual will do at any given moment for up to six months into the future. They are not super-psychics, per se. Rather these beings have complete access to information about an individual’s history and complete access to the physical state of the world (including the physical states of the individual’s nervous system). These beings can use this information to conduct computations that allow them to predict human decision making. Not only can these beings predict human decision making with pin-point accuracy, but they know exactly how to rearrange things so that you will end up making some decision x at some time t. In other words, if these beings felt so inclined, they could intervene on you or your world, and by intervening could get you to do what they wanted you to do. But they don’t feel so inclined. They are perfectly content with being able to simply watch and to know. They never actually intervene in the world; they never actually do anything to change the course of a single human decision. Question: In a world in which these supernatural beings exist (but never intervene), do people have free will?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sex/Gender, Sexuality, and Neuroscience

In preparation for this week’s Neuroethics Journal club meeting, where we are discussing Deboleena Roy’s article “Neuroethics, Gender and the Response to Difference,” I wanted to give a short primer on some of the issues that are discussed in that article, most notably, sex, gender and feminist science studies and their relationship to neuroscience. I close with a short discussion of the complications these introduce to the study of sexuality. 

One of the fundamental things we teach in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies is the difference between biological sex and the cultural construction of gender. “Sex” refers to a measurable, biological, or innate difference – such as the presence or absence of a Y chromosome or a functioning uterus.[1] “Gender” refers to all of the cultural and social meanings that are layered on top of sex and which may or may not be innately attached to one sex or another. The majority of people alive today have clearly delineated sex and gender, and although what constitutes the proper performance of gender varies both culturally and historically, the majority of people also find that their gender matches their sex.  For others, these categories are more complex – and often in our field we use the categories of intersex and transgender to demonstrate this complexity.[2] Although sometimes when studying gender and women's lives it is proper to focus on either sex or gender, most people move between the two categories. In 1975 Gayle Rubin introduced a concept she called the sex/gender system to help describe how these concepts work together. This continues to be widely proliferated.[3] The parameters of the sex/gender system are debated even to this day, but generally it is meant to be inclusive of both biological sex and the cultural meanings of gender.[4]

Raging Hormones, Promiscuous Men, and Choosy Women: What Does the Research Say?

A number of potentially problematic themes run throughout public discussions about sexuality in this country. One such potentially problematic theme revolves around innate sex/gender differences in sexuality. I see stories in the media almost every week about how men and women are almost diametric opposites when it comes to sexuality as a result of evolutionary pressures. In these articles, which are often reporting on scientific studies, the men are invariably sex-hungry and desperate to procreate with any available woman, while the women are invariably choosy and determined to find a “good provider” (for examples, see here, here, and here). I suspect these articles (and the studies they draw from) suffer from confirmation bias, developing elaborate evolutionary rationales to justify what seem like outdated stereotypes.

Another such theme revolves around the determinative role of hormones in sexual desire and activity. In a fascinating (although now somewhat out-of-date) study, sociologist Amy Schalet interviewed parents in the U.S. and the Netherlands about adolescent sexuality. She found that American parents were much more likely than Dutch parents to view adolescent sexuality as driven by hormones. In addition (perhaps as a result) American parents, unlike Dutch parents, viewed adolescent desire as potentially dangerous, and they were more likely to adopt an attitude of willful ignorance about the sexual activity engaged in by their children.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Daubert and Frye: Neuroscience in the Courtroom?

I recently found myself thinking about how we would allow evidence dealing with neuroscience into the courtroom. The question interested me because I wanted to know how our judicial system would differentiate between real and useful evidence versus what may seem no better than allowing a Shaman enter to argue a point based on "evidentiary mysticism".  What I found was that there are two different legal rules for allowing use of neuroscience evidence. The first is the Frye rule and the second is the Daubert rule. Daubert applies in Federal Courts and in States that have adopted it, while the Frye rule applies in all other courts.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Neuroimaging in the Courtroom: Video by Neuroethics Creative Team

The undergraduate Neuroethics Program Creative Team embarked on making one of their first videos featuring Dr. Paul Root Wolpe.  This short 3 minute video discusses the ethical implications of using neuroimaging as evidence in the courtroom. This video is a teaser for our upcoming event on May 25th at Emory (see below for more information). 

Thanks to our Neuroethics Creative Team!
  • Giacomo Waller
  • Sabrina Bernstein
  • Lauren Ladov

The Truth About Lies: the Neuroscience, Law, and Ethics of Lie Detection Technologies

You Can’t Handle the Truth! The Neuroscience Program, Center for Ethics Neuroethics Program, and the Scholars Program in Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Research (SPINR) are combining forces to hold a symposium on the intersection of neuroscience and law pertaining to the use of fMRI and other lie detection technologies in the courtroom. Drs. Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and Biosciences at Stanford Law School, Daniel Langleben, a professor of Psychiatry at University of Pennsylvania and pioneer of using fMRI to detect lies, and Steven Laken, founder, president, and CEO of Cephos; a company that markets the use of fMRI for courtroom lie detection will be providing their expertise through a series of talks. Following the talks, Emory’s Carolyn Meltzer, Chair of the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, will join the speakers answering questions from the audience during a panel discussion moderated by Julie Seaman from Emory Law School. Mark your calendars for 1pm-5pm, May 25th, 2012 for this thought-provoking event. More information to come.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Save the date! Neuroscience and Ethics Award on April 9th goes to Dr. Steven Hyman

You won’t want to miss the Second Annual Neuroscience and Ethics Award!  We are proud to announce this year’s award will go to Dr. Steven Hyman.

Second Annual Neuroscience
and Ethics Award
Steven Hyman, M.D.
Former Provost of Harvard and Director of NIMH
Addiction as a Window on Volitional Control

Date: April, 9, 2012
Time: 4pm (followed by a reception)
Location: Woodruff Health Sciences Administration Building Auditorium

Dr. Steven Hyman is a renowned leader in neuroscience and  psychiatry, and has championed ethical inquiry in those fields. Dr.  Hyman is former director of the National Institute of Mental  Health and former Harvard University provost, where he is currently the Distinguished Service Professor of Stem Cell and  Regenerative Biology and Professor of Neurobiology. He is also  the Director of the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric  Research, and President of the International Neuroethics Society as well as a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the United States National Academies and serves on the IOM council.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter

Let me preface this by saying that Incomplete Nature is probably one of the most daring and original published scientific monographs I’ve ever read. Of course, it could also be one of the worst, it's actually impossible to tell. That said, I’ve had Terrence Deacon’s first book, The Symbolic Species, sitting on a shelf at my house for about five years now. I picked it up when I was a sophomore in college, at the second link of a five-year chain that went evolutionary biology evolutionary psychology cognitive neuroscience philosophy of mind consciousness causality and information theory oh-my-God-nothing-is-real. At the time I clearly wasn’t ready for the book, as I read about the first ten pages before putting it down.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Neuroethics journal club: jobbing on the sleep

Feeling tired? You’re not the only one. According to a 2009 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 20% of Americans sleep less than six hours a night. How can people even do their jobs with less than six hours of sleep?  

Before you get too impressed by my ability to cite statistics, I should tell you I’m quoting directly from the article we read for the most recent meeting of the Neuroethics program’s journal club: “Examining the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Workplace Deviance: a self-regulatory perspective” by Michael Christian and Aleksander Ellis.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Neuroethics Playlist

For our new readers and anyone who may have not seen it yet (originally posted on Nov 7th 2011):

We have put together a playlist of songs about neuroethics, the brain, and the mind. Below you will find a Prezi presentation that includes the music and brief descriptions of each of the songs.

Special thanks to the followers on our Facebook page for their helpful suggestions.