Introduction: The Brain’s Special Status
In his introduction to this special issue of Cerebrum, Harvard provost Steven Hyman writes that the brain raises weighty issues deserving the focus created by the concept of neuroethics: The time for broad ethical discussions related to brain science is upon us.
Neuroimaged views of our brains, aside from their medical value, could, in principle, pose challenges to our senses of freedom and moral responsibility, and render us easily manipulable. But we are not so frail, either personally or socially. Self-control, whether exercised in our individual choices or our informed responses to others’ agendas, is likely to continue to prevail.
Memory: Pandora’s Hippocampus?
Our ability to intervene—not only to treat the ill but also to build up the healthy—is becoming increasingly likely as neuroscience progresses. Memory in particular could be a prime target for biological intervention. But unless we proceed wisely, altering memory could become a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences and abuse.
New Neuroscience, Old ProblemsLegal Implications of Brain Science
Neuroscience discoveries that increase our understanding and control of human behavior are being closely watched by professionals in the justice system. So far, the established notions of personhood and responsibility that underlie our morals, politics, and law have absorbed the new findings. But future neuroscience discoveries could change discrete evidentiary practices and doctrines and might well raise profound challenges to civil liberties.
DARPA on Your Mind
Current research at the intersection of neuroscience and national security might one day produce weapons that literally boggle (or, if desired, enhance) the mind. This would give us unprecedented war-fighting superiority as well as a set of ethical dilemmas that could make genetically-modified-organism issues pale in comparison.
A Fish Story? Brain Maps, Lie Detection, and Personhood
Despite progress in technologies such as “brain fingerprinting” and functional magnetic resonance imaging, neuroscientific lie detection is still a long way from commercial reality. For such a capability to be more than a sophisticated form of polygraphy, we must carefully work out our scientific concepts about deception and develop a better understanding of how minds work.