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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Kathinka Evers on Neuroethics



Kathinka Evers is a philosopher working at the cutting edge of neuroethics. She thinks about brain science and about the distinction between fundamental and applied neuroethics, and about the ethical issues arising from disorders in consciousness. Kathinka is also interested in the relation of brain simulation to philosophy. Here is a portion of a recent Q&A. When asked what can be gained from brain simulation, Evers responded:

Although the road to simulation of human brain, or even only part of its cognitive functions, is long and uncertain, on this road much will be learned about the mammalian brain in general and about the feasibility of transformation of some efforts in the brain sciences into big science. New methodologies and techniques are expected as well that will benefit neuroscience at large and probably other scientific disciplines as well.

But given the expected remoteness of the ultimate goal, why should we engage in discussing some of its conceptual and philosophical underpinnings now? Big science brain projects provide an opportunity to assess and preempt problems that may one day become acute. In other words, we can use the current attempt to simulate the mammalian brain as an opportunity to simulate what will happen if the human brain is ever simulated.

It is rather straightforward to imagine the types of problems a simulated human brain will incite, should it ever become reality in future generations. They will range from the personal (e.g. implications concerning alterations of the sense of personhood, human identity, or anxiety and fear in response to the too-similar other); social (e.g. how shall the new things be treated in terms of social status and involvement, the law, or medical care); and ethical (e.g. if we terminate the simulated brain, do we ‘kill’ it, in a potentially morally relevant manner?). These problems also require foresight of safety measures to ensure that in due time, the outcome of ambitious brain projects do not harm individuals and societies. But most of all, by discussing the potential implications of such projects now, we contribute to the sense that scientists as individuals and science as a culture should take responsibility for the potential long-term implications of their daring projects.

Read the full interview here.

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