The Paradox of Neurotechnology
Friday, May 8, 2009
Read the Conference Report
As published in Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine
Though neurotechnologies have allowed unparalleled capability to bring groups of individuals together through rapid communication and informational delivery while at the same time providing invaluable insight into the workings of the brain, the paradox remains that these technologies may also incur more dystopian possibilities by isolating individuals as disjointed selves that are only artificially—and therefore superficially—connected to others, thus remaining aloof from the meaning or moral realities of inter-subjective, interpersonal relationships. As it is through the pace of our discovery that we are poised at the boundaries of knowledge and possibility, it behooves us to acknowledge that these boundaries exist, take measure of their margins, recognize the limits of our current knowledge, and advance our investigations with prudent precaution. Such circumspection need not impede the pace or progress of scientific and technologic development; rather, what is called for is careful reflection on what we know, how we know it, and the values and beliefs that drive the quest for knowledge and its applications.
In this first of a three-part series of conferences, the participants will discuss new neurotechnologies, their effects in treatment and enhancement, and the questions they raise concerning the nature and identity of the human person. Unlike the hand or the face, for example, the brain is not an expression of the person, nor is it something other than the person. Yet individuals do not remain unaltered by treatments that affect their brains, in the way that they remain unaltered, for instance, by treatments that affect their hands. Our understanding of other people, of what can and cannot be done to them, and of what is needed to repair damage and bring them back to normality all presuppose a constancy of personality and a continuity of memory. But what happens when such treatment disrupts or destroys those things? Do we have the means to resolve the moral and psychological questions that will then arise? And if not, how should we proceed with the use of neurotechnology?