Friday, March 26, 2010

Neuroscientists Sell Their Souls to the Devil

"Favorinus says, when Plato read his treatise on the Soul, Aristotle was the only person who sat it out, and that all the rest rose up and went away." -- Diogenes Laertius, historian, 3rd century

"Two thousand years ago these extraterrestrials created a being to be placed on this planet to teach homo-sapiens about love and peace." -- Linda M. Howe, journalist, 1989

Scientific American: Neuroscientists don't believe in souls--But that doesn't mean they can't sell theirs. (Hat tip: Toby)

Of all scientific fields, neuroscience has the greatest potential for revolutionary advances, philosophical and practical. Someday, brain researchers may figure out how precisely the brain encodes thoughts like the ones I’m thinking now. Cracking the neural code could help solve the mind-body problem, ending millennia of pointless metaphysical chitchat. We may finally understand how brains work and why sometimes they don’t. We might even discover truly effective treatments for depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and dementia and chuck our current quasi-therapies.

It is because I have such high hopes for neuroscience that I’m so upset by two trends in financing of the field. One involves neuroscience’s growing dependence on the Pentagon, which is seeking new ways to help our soldiers and harm our enemies. For a still-timely overview of neuroweapons research, check out the 2006 book Mind Wars by bioethicist Jonathan Moreno of the University of Pennsylvania. (PR disclosure: I brought Moreno to my school to give a talk on March 10.) Potential neuroweapons include drugs, transcranial magnetic stimulators and implanted brain chips that soup up the sensory capacities and memories of soldiers, as well as brain-scanners and electromagnetic beams that read, control or scramble the thoughts of bad guys.

When Moreno was writing his book, neuroscientists were reluctant to talk about their affair with the Pentagon and seemed embarrassed by it. No longer. Last year the National Academy of Sciences published a 136-page report, Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications, that makes an unabashed pitch for militarizing brain research. The authors include the neuroluminaries Floyd Bloom of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and editor-in-chief of Science; and Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Both are members of the U.S. Council on Bioethics.


Quantum_Flux said...

same with IBM, why can't there be more libertarian approaches to things!?

OilIsMastery said...

Amen brother...=)