Center of Science, Policy and Society Programs: AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
News & Events: Conferences & Forums
Age-old questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” have motivated inquiry about ourselves and the universe around us. These same questions continue to inspire philosophical and religious quests for understanding.
- Conference Agenda
- Listen to the Proceedings
- Pre-Conference Readings (For copyright reasons only paid attendees can view readings)
Age-old questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” have motivated scientific inquiry about ourselves and the universe around us. These same questions continue to inspire philosophical and religious quests for understanding.
The rate of progress in modern brain science is unprecedented. From the scientific perspective, existential riddles that have perplexed people for thousands of years are being reconsidered in new ways. In the process, a host of philosophical and ethical issues continue to be raised: What is life? To what do words like “self” or “mind” refer? What is “human nature?” Can it be changed; enhanced; manipulated? If it can be done, should it; toward what ends; who decides? When we are ‘not ourselves’, who are we? Are we always responsible for our actions? What are the scientific and ethical implications of cyborgs and artificially intelligent systems? What about technologies that may provide real-time access to information about (and a capacity to influence) what we are thinking or how we are feeling? What about technologies that may indicate whether we are telling the truth or lying? How should these tools and techniques be used: by individuals for their own advantage; in educational contexts for identification of and intervention with students in need of special attention; in clinical contexts for diagnosis or treatment of patients; in commerce and industry, as an attitude tracker or market research tool; or in local or global adversarial situations for purposes of covert surveillance and/or control?
The aim of this conference is to bring together scientists, philosophers, members of diverse religious communities, and the public for a multifaceted, interdisciplinary and multi-traditional dialogue about the neurosciences and questions such as these. It will provide an opportunity to explore a range of emerging ethical, religious and philosophical issues associated with neuroscience research and its present or foreseeable applications in three thematic areas:
- Ethical issues raised by developments in basic and applied neuroscience;
- Religious and ethical implications of neuroscience for (a) understanding of the nature of the self and (b) notions of free will and moral and legal responsibility;
- Ethical tensions between conflicting values and priorities in the application of neuroscientific findings and techniques to therapy, personal enhancement, and social, economic, and political objectives.
This conference has been organized through a collaboration among: