Great strides are occurring in neuroscience and neurotechnologies, and the public must begin its global debate to pro-actively prepare and plan how we will deal with the potentially-horrifying scientific advances.
This is a bit of an exaggerated summary of the warning proposed by neurobiologist, James Olds, who is the director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, in his recent op-ed article in The Washington Times.
There is certainly a decent pace on the advancement of neurotechnology, particular in areas that are focused on healing the body due to neurological disorders and neuro-trauma. There is also a large, continuing effort from neurbiologists, physicists, and philosophers for deepening our understanding of brain function and figuring out just how the mind “thinks.” If neuroscience ever experiences a great leap forward in fundamental knowledge of the brain, much like physics experienced critical leaps with Galileo, Newton, and Einstein and Companyand more Company, our society will likely be heavily affected… and it would not be clear what sort of positive or negative effects might occur just from this new, basic understanding.
And, with a complete fundamental physics, so to speak, of brain function will also come a major bound in advancements of directly integrated digital components with the brain and other neurotechnological devices. It is these sorts of potential developments that the public and policy makers would want to have some sort of firm grasp on–both in the scientific understanding as well as the ethical implications–before any unforeseen neurotechnology providing a broad negative impact on society becomes out of hand or out of control.
This new, basic understanding, however, has not yet arrived, and it is not sitting on the horizon.
Without doubt, it is certainly important that more people are aware of the ongoing developments in neuroscience and neurotechnology, so that that we may keep our ethical beliefs in check with the technological applications. However, it is also important that the neuroscience is not limited at this time, in a similar way stem cell research has been recently stifled. (Although, there is certainly an argument for this comparison that the current administration’s distaste for stem cell programs drove the wonderful successes of non-embryonic stem cell discoveries.) Because, the fact of the matter is that this deep neurological understand is still far off… the brain system is a complex system, and this nascent field must produce new, general fundamentals before it will be capable of modeling and predicting complete brain behavior.
Unless, of course, we are blessed with a “Neuro-Einstein,” we still have a lot of work to do.
“OLDS: Preparing for a neuroscience revolution” :: The Washington Times :: August 24, 2008 :: [ READ ]
James Olds Kransnow Blog [ VIEW ]
The President’s Council on Bioethics: Neuroethics [ VISIT]
“Decade of the Mind” :: Philosophy, Ethics and Humanity in Medicine vol 3 no. 7, February 20, 2008 by Manfred Spitzer :: [ READ ]