AAAS to Co-Sponsor Boston Forum on Neuroethics, Responsibility and the Self
Rapid advances in neuroscience have raised difficult questions about possible use of scanners to "fingerprint" the brain for hints of knowledge of past events or to predict future neurological or mental disease. Researchers also have been talking of a future in which drugs, machines or genetic engineering might enhance memory or intelligence and modify behavior.
Such possibilities, while still speculative, could profoundly affect the sense of self, our understanding of free will and notions of moral and legal responsibility. Neuroscience tools might also be applied to political and economic processes, such as attitude tracking, opinion shaping and market research.
Scientists, ethicists, philosophers and members of diverse religious communities will explore issues arising from recent neuroscience research in a conference co-sponsored by AAAS on 17-19 April at the Kresge Auditorium of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
The conference, "Our Brains and Us: Neuroethics, Responsibility and the Self," has been organized by AAAS; MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT; and the Boston Theological Institute.
The conference will be unusual for the range of topics it covers and the explicit effort to include representatives of religious traditions in the discussions, according to Jim Miller, a conference organizer and senior program associate for AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.
Recent research on brain-machine interfaces, brain implants and the use of drugs to enhance brain function have helped spur interest in the developing field of neuroethics. "These are no longer just things that a science fiction writer might have written about some time ago, but are demonstrably possible," Miller said.
Speakers at the meeting will include neuroscientists such as former AAAS President Floyd Bloom of the Scripps Research Institute and Steven Rose of the Open University in Britain; specialists on the concept of self, including Kenneth Gergen of Swarthmore College and Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania; philosopher Helen Longino of the University of Minnesota; ethicists such as Karen Lebacqz of the Pacific School of Religion and Rebecca Dresser of the Washington University School of Law; religious scholars and clerics, including David Hogue of the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism and Tenzin Legphel Priyadarshi, the Buddhist chaplain at MIT; psychologists such as Steven Pinker of Harvard University, Paul Gold of the University of Illinois and Michelle Leichtman of the University of New Hampshire; and legal specialists such as Karl Manheim of Loyola Marymount University and Michael Shapiro of the University of Southern California.
1 April 2005