Currently Happening Presently Now: NEUROSCIENCE

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"The most alarming aspect of ESB (Electrical Stimulation of the Brain) is that psychological reactivity can be influenced by applying a few volts to a determined area of the brain. This fact has been interpreted by many people as a disturbing threat to human integrity. In the past, the individual could face risks and pressures with preservation of his own identity. His body could be tortured, his thoughts and desires could be challenged by bribes, by emotions, and by public opinion, and his behavior could be influenced by environmental circumstances, but he always had the privilege of deciding his own fate, of dying for an ideal without changing his mind...New neurological technology, however, has a refined efficiency. The individual is defenseless against direct manipulation of the brain because he is deprived of his most intimate mechanisms of biological reactivity. In experiments, electrical stimulation of appropriate intensity always prevailed over free will; and, for example, flexion of the hand evoked by stimulation of the motor cortex cannot be voluntarily avoided."
-Jose M. R. Delgado, Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized  Society, 1969, page 213-214.

Wolpe, P. R. (2002). The neuroscience revolution. Center for Bioethics Papers, 17.

Neuroimaging advances, psychopharmaceuticals with enormous potential for clinical use, neural-technological interfaces, brain stimulation technologies, and organic implants such as fetal cell therapy are transforming our ability to understand and intervene in the brain. Along the way, they are also challenging accepted standards for the proper limits of technology, possibly giving criminal justice some revolutionary and troubling new tools, redefining our sense of selfhood and brain-body relations, and raising a host of other ethical and social questions...

Neuroimaging studies are beginning to demonstrate an ability to correlate mental states and traits to detectable brain patterns or structures. Research has shown, for example, that a history of depression, or addiction, leaves identifiable brain sequelae even if the disease is in remission. In some cases, neuroimaging may be able to detect racist ideation, to differentiate false and true memories, and to discover mood states (even when they are preconscious in the subject), intentional prevarication, and even the content of thought (to discover whether someone is thinking of a face or a chair, for example). While these studies are preliminary and their powers of prediction so far modest, they portend a time when the criminal justice system, employers, schools, and other institutions may want to use imaging to detect or refute other kinds of evidence about people's aptitudes, honesty, or history.

Butler, D. (1998). Advances in neuroscience ‘may threaten human rights’. Nature, 391(6665), 316-316.

Although the equipment needed is still highly specialized, it will become commonplace and capable of being used at a distance, he predicted...

Sample, I., & Adam, D. (2003). The brain can’t lie: brain scans reveal how you think and feel and even how you might behave. The Guardian, 4.

Brain scans can reveal how you think and feel, and even how you might behave. No wonder the CIA and big business are interested...

As scientists unravel the links between how the brain looks and how it functions, some believe we will also be able to use images of the brain to see how people will behave. "There's no scientific distinction between prediction and understanding how the brain works," says Stephen Smith, associate director of the Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain at Oxford University.

The suggestion that brain scans could reveal not just our future health, but the intricacies of our personalities and how we might behave in a given situation, is unsettling enough to some scientists that they want legislation to stop brain-scan records falling into the wrong hands. "We're starting to get detailed information from these brain-scan experiments and soon people are going to be able to use it to predict an individual's behaviour," says Paul Glimcher at the Centre for Neuroscience at New York University. "That information has got to be proprietary to the individual."

Spinney, L. (2002). The mind readers. New scientist, (2361), 38-41.

Images from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) pinpoint one's most intimate thoughts and emotions, reveal the basis of brain diseases and personality, and identify the neural pathways that allow people to move, see, hear and learn. However, researchers have found that the fMRI signal is a less reliable representation of neuron activity than was assumed.

Farah, M. J., & Wolpe, P. R. (2004). Monitoring and manipulating brain function: New neuroscience technologies and their ethical implications. Hastings Center Report, 34(3), 35-45.

Many of the new social and ethical issues in neuroscience result from one of two developments. The first is the ability to monitor brain function in living humans with a spatial and temporal resolution sufficient to capture psychologically meaningful fluctuations of activity. The second is the ability to alter the brain with chemical or anatomical selectivity that is sufficient to induce specific functional changes....Optical methods, such as near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), provide another noninvasive measure of regional brain activity based on the absorption of different wavelengths of light as it passes through the head...In principle, and increasingly in practice, imaging can be used to infer people’s psychological traits and states, in many cases without the person’s co-operation or consent. It can be used, in effect, as a crude form of mind reading...

In addition to privacy concerns, neuroimaging is liable to over-reliance on, or misapplication of, information from brain scans. The ability to assess personality, attitudes, and desires would be of interest in screening for employment, school tracking, or military service. The ability to distinguish between truth and false-hood, or veridical and false memory, would find wide use in the legal system. The demand for these abilities, coupled with the inevitable misunderstandings of brain imaging among the lay public, sets the stage for misuse. Physiological measures, especially brain-based measures, possess an illusory accuracy and objectivity as perceived by the general public...

Although brainwaves do not lie, neither do they tell the truth; they are simply measures of brain activity. Whether based on regional cerebral bloodflow or electrical activity, brain images must be interpreted like any other correlate of mental activity, behavioral or physiological. Brain images and waveforms give an impression of concreteness and directness compared to behavioral measures of psychological traits and states, and high-tech instrumentation lends an aura of accuracy and objectivity. Nevertheless, the psychological interpretations of these measures are far from direct or intrinsically objective. As the foregoing review suggests, progress has been made in the use of such measures, and some inferences to socially relevant traits and states can now be made with a degree of certainty under specific and highly controlled conditions. However, the current state of the art does not allow reliable screening, profiling, or lie detection.

Illes, J., & Bird, S. J. (2006). Neuroethics: a modern context for ethics in neuroscience. Trends in neurosciences, 29(9), 511-517.

Neuroethics, a recently modernized field at the intersection of bioethics and neuroscience, is founded on centuries of discussion of the ethical issues associated with mind and behavior. Broadly defined, neuroethics is concerned with ethical, legal and social policy implications of neuroscience, and with aspects of neuroscience research itself. Advances in neuroscience increasingly challenge long-held views of the self and the individual's relationship to society. Neuroscience also has led to innovations in clinical medicine that have not only therapeutic but also non-therapeutic dimensions that extend well beyond previously charted boundaries. The exponential increase in cross-disciplinary research, the commercialization of cognitive neuroscience, the impetus for training in ethics, and the increased attention being paid to public understanding of science all illuminate the important role of neuroethics in neuroscience.

Kennedy, D. (2003, November). Neuroethics: An uncertain future. In Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (New Orleans, LO, USA) (Vol. 10).

Estep, P., (2009). The Expanding Mind. SeedMagazine, February, 121-122.

This diversity of highly experimental research contributes to the overall advance toward cognitive BCI, but at least one better established area of biomedicine, functional brain imaging, has also begun to make important contributions. Functional brain imaging is a collection of technologies used to visualize changes in the behaving brain; it expands the repertoire of approaches for using machines to move information into and out of our heads. One very important approach in recent years has been functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which was used in several landmark studies last year to “read minds.” These studies demonstrate a growing ability to infer or predict what is in a person’s mind and strongly suggest that reconstructions of sensory experiences, memories, mental imageries, and dreams are within reach.

Rose, N. (2014). The Human Brain Project: Social and Ethical Challenges. Neuron, 82(6), 1212-1215.

DARPA is a major funder of the U.S. brain initiative...
What if we move from "reading" the brain to manipulating the brain? Some readers—especially those who roam the internet—may be familiar with the name of Jose Delgado, whose research began when he was so appalled by witnessing crude interventions into the brain with lobotomies that he started to explore the possibility of treating mental illness with electrical stimulation. Delgado implanted electrodes in the skulls of over 20 human subjects in a psychiatric hospital and showed that electrical stimulation of their brains could elicit both motor actions and emotional experiences—fear, rage, lust, and more—depending on the area stimulated (Delgado, 1970). He also carried out extensive research with implanted electrodes in animals, showing, for example, that aggressive animals could be calmed by stimulation to certain areas of the brain (Delgado et al., 1968). His "stimoceivers" could both remotely monitor the electrical activity of the brain and be remotely adjusted to stimulate specific areas of the brain, opening the possibility of linking information on patterns of neural activity to calculated interventions to modulate that activity. While this work became mired in controversy, and involved invasive implants, new developments—DBT, TMS, tCDS—are once more showing that brain activity can be modulated by noninvasive electrical and magnetic stimulation. No doubt we are a long way from the "psychocivilized society" envisaged in Delgado’s controversial book of 1969 (Delgado,1969), but we should not be surprised in these emerging technologies for what he termed "physical control of the mind,"...

Nahmias, E. (2014). Is free will an illusion? Confronting challenges from the modern mind sciences.

Horgan, J. (2005). The forgotten era of brain chips. Scientific American, 293(4), 66-73.

Sarewitz, D., & Karas, T. H. (2012). 17 Policy Implications of Technologies for Cognitive Enhancement. Neurotechnology: Premises, Potential, and Problems, 267.

Hapgood, F. (2008). SCIENCE ON THE EDGE-Deus ex Machina-The next generation of robots will look and act like us. Get ready for Robo sapiens with soft skin, opposable thumbs, and the ability to express emotions. Discover, 30.

Until recently the concensus across many fields, from psychology to artifical intelligence, was that control of the body was centralized in the brain...This model, first defined decades ago when the very first computers were being built, got its authority from our concept of the brain as the center of thought. As time went on, however, it became apparent that central control required an almost endless amount of programming, essentially limiting what robots could do. The limits became clearer with deeper understanding of how living organisms work: not through commands from some kind of centralized mission control, but via a distributed interaction with their environment. "The traditional robotics model has the body following the brain, but in nature the brain follows the body," Fumiya Lida, of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, explains. Decisions flow from the properties of the materials our bodies are made of and their interactions with the environment...The theory that much of what we call intelligence is generated from the bottom up - that is, by the body - is now winning converts everywhere. (The unofficial motto of Lida's group is "From Locomotion to Cognition.")

Fox, D. (2007). Remote control brains: a neuroscience revolution. New Scientist, 195(2613), 30-34.

These new possibilities materialised when neuroscientists finally cracked a long-standing problem in their field: how to take control of individual neurons...A nerve cell is an electrical entity. Its membrane is normally charged like a battery, to about a tenth of a volt. Nerve cells communicate using electric pulses, which arise when the voltage across the membrane briefly leaps from -0.07 volts to around +0.04 volts. That spike of excitation races down the tendrils of the neuron until it reaches the ends, where it jumps across synapses to set up new waves of excitement in neighbouring cells...For years, neuroscientists and neurologists have wanted something better. If they could turn on nerve cells one at a time, leaving everything else alone, they'd be well on their way to targeted therapies, as well as decoding the function of the neural circuits that control complex behaviours. "The goal was to modify a subset of neurons and make them sensitive to light," says Gero Miesenböck, a neurobiologist at Yale University. "By shining light, you can then activate only one type of neuron at a time, while leaving the others alone....When Miesenböck's results appeared in April 2005 they caused an instant sensation (Cell, vol 121, p 141). Within an hour of the paper appearing online, Miesenböck's phone rang: it was the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wanting to know if his work had possible military applications (he now works with them).

Gilbert, F., Harris, A. R., & Kapsa, R. M. (2014). Controlling brain cells with light: Ethical considerations for optogenetic clinical trials. AJOB Neuroscience, 5(3), 3-11.

Optogenetics is being optimistically presented in contemporary media for its unprecedented capacity to control cell behaviour through the application of light to genetically modified target cells. As such, optogenetics holds obvious potential for application in a new generation of invasive medical devices by which to potentially provide treatment for neurological and psychiatric conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, addiction, schizophrenia, autism and depression. Design of a first-in-human optogenetics experimental trial has already begun for the treatment of blindness. Optogenetics trials involve a combination of highly invasive genetic and electronic interventions that results in irreversible and permanent modifications of an individual’s nervous system. Given its novelty, its uncertain benefit to patients, and its unique risk profile of irreversible physiological alteration, optogenetics requires a reassessment of the ethical challenges for protecting human participants in clinical trials, particularly at formative stages of clinical evaluation. This study explores the evolving ethical issues surrounding optogenetics’ potential harm to participants within trial design, especially focusing on whether Phase 1 trials should incorporate efficacy as well as safety endpoints in ways that are fair and respectful to research trial participants.


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