*This post was initially published on The Neuroethics Blog.
By Emily Bell, PhD
Dr. Emily Bell is Researcher at the Neuroethics Research Unit, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM). Dr. Bell’s MSc and PhD research in Psychiatry at the University of Alberta focused on investigating brain activity in mood and anxiety disorders using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Her postdoctoral work shifted her into the field of neuroethics, where she examined ethical and social challenges associated with deep brain stimulation in psychiatric disorders. As an investigator of the Neuroethics Core of NeuroDevNet, a Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence, Dr. Bell has been involved in a wide range of network activities and research in the area of pediatric ethics. This includes recent work on the implications of stigma for public health policies and practices in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and ethical concerns associated with the transition of youth with neurodevelopmental disorders to adult health services. Dr. Bell has been awarded support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Killam Trust. She is currently lead co-investigator on two CIHR grants, including one in the area of vulnerability and mental health research ethics. Read the rest of this entry »
*This post by Livia Merrill was originally featured on The Neuroethics Blog.
Livia Merrill is a recent graduate from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, where she has received both her B.S. and M.S. in Neuroscience. Her research of 4 years under Dr. Fiona Inglis, PhD, consisted of dendritic morphological changes in the prefrontal cortex of non-human primates after the administration of PCP. Having psychomimetic effects, this model was utilized to contribute to the study of schizophrenia and to provide for more effective anti-psychotics. Her current pursuit is under Dr. Stacy Drury, PhD to examine cortisol levels of pregnant mothers in some of the underprivileged neighborhoods of New Orleans and the epigenetic effects on their offspring. Livia’s future plans consist of research behind deviant behavior and rehabilitating subjects. Ideally, she hopes to contribute to change in the criminal justice system, where punishment can transition to rehabilitation, by demonstrating the negative effects of adverse
experiences, including punishment-based systems.
The United States has the largest population of incarcerated individuals in the world; the latest available data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate there are approximately 1.6 million inmates. Such numbers not only reveal the number of imprisoned individuals but also provide an idea of the massive impact on family members, victims, and other members of society. Furthermore, recidivism rates have revealed that one-quarter to two-thirds of released persons from state prisons are rearrested within 3 years.i Personal accounts, governmental reviews, and actions by prison activists and social workers have unveiled the grave conditions of these institutions. Such examples include a 2012 case where Los Angeles deputies were accused of violently beating inmates of the L.A. County Jail Complexii and a case in 2013 where a Mississippi prison for the mentally ill was accused of being understaffed and having deplorable living conditions, such as rat infestations, rampant diseases, sexual assaults, and malnourishment of food and medicinal treatment.iii
|An example of a typical cell in Orleans Parish Prison, New Orleans, LA. (Via therightperspective.org)|
Health and concerns for these men and women are virtually non-existent, such as one prison in Californiaiv that had an appalling amount of suicides last year. A counterargument for lack of concern for incarcerated individuals might include the lack of finances to support such a cause; however, with shorter sentences and reduced willingness to commit nonviolent offenders, there would be funds available to focus on making prison a less negative and oppressing environment, where proper staff, medical care, and basic human rights are concerns. It is important to note that all prison facilities have varying security levels depending on the crime and how violent the offender is considered, with maximum-security prisons undoubtedly having the most questionable conditions concerning the rights of inmates. Under such conditions, we are arguably creating more antisocial individuals than the ones who were originally sentenced. Such transformation can be explicitly seen through past reviews and experiments, like the Stanford Prison Experiment.v This was designed to mimic prison conditions, where research volunteers played the role as guards or prisoners. The experiment lasted only 6 days, despite its original 14-day plan, due to the anxiety, depression, and overall dehumanizing effects on the “prisoners” and the power and aggressive traits that accompanied the “guards.” This experiment in itself portrays the effects of such drastic hierarchies on human emotion, psychology, and action.
I am a lecturer in biomedical ethics and law, primarily interested in the ethical and philosophical issues of psychiatry. I have a background in bioethics, social science, psychology and biology. I also host and co-edit a website psychiatricethics.com which features articles and multimedia on a wide range of issues in psychiatry, neuroethics and bioethics.
For several years I have been researching the ethical and philosophical issues raised by self harm and its treatment. In particular, I have been concerned with the ethical questions which arise when doctors or nurses allow patients to self harm in psychiatric hospitals. I first encountered this issue when it was reported in the British press that patients were being allowed to self cut in some NHS hospitals. For example, one inpatient was allowed to keep a piece of glass in a locked draw in her room and use it to cut her knees.
My work on self harm has had an empirical component. Read the rest of this entry »
A review of The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand Enhance, and Empower the Mind
*This post by Katie Strong was initially featured on The Neuroethics Blog.
Katie Strong is a 4th year chemistry graduate student working in Dr. Dennis Liotta’s laboratory at Emory University. Prior to graduate school, Katie received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Mary Washington, where she worked towards the development of polyethylene glycol guanidinylation reagents for protecting alkylguanidines. Katie’s graduate school research has focused on the development and synthesis of N-methyl-ᴅ-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunit selective potentiators to be used as therapeutic probes for the study of schizophrenia and cognitive enhancement. Katie is also an Editorial Intern at the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience (AJOB Neuroscience), along with a supporting editor and regular contributor to The Neuroethics Blog, the official blog of AJOB Neuroscience.
The Future of the Mind, authored by physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, explores how neuroscience might inform questions that philosophers have been debating for centuries: Do we have a soul? What happens after we die? Do we even have to die? And what would it take to produce a robot with human consciousness or emotions? To explore these questions, Dr. Kaku interviewed hundreds of scientists who are actively conducting ground breaking work in labs around the world, and from these conversations he made predictions on how these scientific findings would shape our future. The work that Dr. Kaku discusses, such as the latest advances in brain-computer-interfaces (BCI) for the disabled,1 recording dream images with MRI machines,2 or implanting memories in mice,3,4 makes for a fascinating and engrossing read from start to finish. The Future of the Mind is at its best when taking readers through these areas of research and explaining the long-term significance, however many of the neurophilosophical questions posed are largely left to the readers’ imaginations for resolution.
The Future of the Mind is divided into three parts or books, and each book delves more and more into the technology of the future and the type of society that will exist decades and centuries from now. Book I sets the stage for how important physics is for neuroscience; the revolutionary technologies such as MRI, PET, and DBS have used basic physics knowledge, as Dr. Kaku notes, to promote the explosion of advances in the field of neuroscience. The state of these technologies in current research is introduced, along with how to conceptualize consciousness, and in Book II, he discusses how these technologies will enable us to conduct acts similar to telepathy and telekinesis, manipulate thoughts and memories, and enhance intelligence. Book III revisits the idea of consciousness and explores the possibilities related to mind-altering technologies, and suggests we reframe our understanding of consciousness beyond a single type of consciousness (i.e., dreaming, drug-induced states, and mental illnesses). He also suggests that the future understandings of consciousness may move beyond humans to include robots and aliens. Book III also explores ideas straight out of science fiction such as that one day our physical bodies will be too cumbersome for travel to other galaxies through deep space, so we’ll simply leave them behind.
By Jalayne J. Arias, JD, MA
Jalayne J. Arias is the Associate Director of the NeuroEthics Program and Assistant Professional Staff in the Department of Bioethics at the Cleveland Clinic. Ms. Arias’ work incorporates empirical and conceptual projects addressing critical legal and ethical issues inherent in diagnosing, treating, and researching Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Most recently, she served as the principal investigator for the study Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Preclinical Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: Patients, Families and Care Givers. Her recent publication, Confidentiality in preclinical Alzheimer disease studies (Neurology), addresses confidentiality concerns relevant to biomarker testing in Alzheimer’s.
In 2007, Dr. Dubois and co-authors introduced the concept of prodromal Alzheimer’s disease in their Lancet article revising diagnostic criteria. In 2011, the National Institutes of Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association supported a series of papers introducing a new paradigm for diagnostic criteria, including Mild Cognitive Impairment and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Both papers and new definitions of Alzheimer’s disease incorporate the discovery of Amyloid beta, a biomarker that purports to indicate disease pathology. The concept of using biomarkers, which are detectible years before a patient begins experiencing symptoms, offers the potential for offering preclinical testing in the clinical context. Yet, as researchers continue to validate biomarkers, little is known about how preclinical test results may affect patients and their families.
Jessica Birkett is a doctoral candidate with the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine based with the Children’s Bioethics Centre at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Brought to the faculty through the Australian Research Council discovery grant in response to her initial research with the University of Sydney’s Department of Philosophy following her BA (Humanities & Philosophy) at California State, her work explores the use of phenomenological methods in conceptualising neurobehavioural disorders. The ARC project ‘Addiction Moral Agency and Moral Identity’ on which Jessica was a researcher, conducted a longitudinal, combined theoretical and empirical study into the phenomenology of addiction experience as an experimental project in the addiction subset of neuroethics. Her own dissertation concerns the integration of phenomenology into clinical practice, particularly in the diagnosing of neurological or mental health disorders and inferences around patient agency therein. Read the rest of this entry »
Dr. Veronica Johansson is an ethicist with a specialization in neuroethics and nanoethics. The foci of her research have been deep brain stimulation, brain-machine interfaces, major depressive disorder, human enhancement, nanomedicine and notions of authenticity and identity raised by neuromodulation techniques. Her current work foremost addresses ‘embedded ethics’, a method within bioethics that draws on both empirical ethics and casuistry, and ‘embedded patients’, i.e. patients integrated as collaborators in research, for instance in the formulation of research questions, to set research priorities and in validating research outcomes. A general theme throughout all her research is to detect and elaborate on biases and underrepresented perspectives, as well as separating facts from fiction and unfounded beliefs. Read the rest of this entry »
Stephanie Hare is a first year PhD student in neuroscience at Georgia State University (GSU) and the recipient of the first doctoral Neuroethics (NE) research fellowship. Since coming to GSU, she has been afforded the opportunities to collaborate with both philosophers and psychologists, and to attend fascinating talks by speakers from across the country.
Currently, Steph is leading work on a paper (co-authored with her Ph.D. advisor Dr. Nicole Vincent) about whether the cognitive and behavioral neurosciences (CBN) might have anything useful to tell us about how we might best live a happy life. Might behavioral and imaging data reveal to us things about ourselves that we would otherwise be ignorant of — for instance, that we would be happier if we pursued a different career, or if we chose different life partners? They relate this discussion to a larger, looming normative question: Could the CBN data, at least in principle, tell us something about the lives that we ought to live? An early version of this paper was presented at the International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting on November 8, 2013 in San Diego. Read the rest of this entry »
Mallory Bowers is a 5th year Neuroscience doctoral candidate working with Dr. Kerry Ressler at Emory University. Prior to graduate school, Mallory received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. Mallory is interested in behavioral neuroscience, with a particular focus on how neural plasticity contributes to learning. Furthermore, she is interested in how aberrant neural plasticity can instantiate psychiatric disease. With Dr. Ressler, Mallory is using a mouse model of exposure-based psychotherapy to better understand the neurobiology of learned fear. Specifically, her research focuses on a putative interaction between the cholecystokinin and endogenous cannabinoid systems that may underlie the extinction of cued fear. A list of her publications can be found here. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s Complicated: Molly Crocket and Patricia Churchland Discuss the Future of the Neuroscience of Morality
This blog post written by Julia Haas was originally featured on The Neuroethics Blog.
Last month, as a recipient of the Emory Neuroethics Program Neuroethics Travel Award, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting in San Diego, California. The conference brought together leading neuroethics scholars from around the world and focused on the themes of moral enhancement, disorders of consciousness, and the role of neuroscience in the courtroom. (The conference was structured around three star-studded panels. For a full program, please visit here. For full videos of the panels, please visit here.) There were also five oral presentations and a poster session. As part of the event, I exhibited a poster entitled “Revising Weakness of Will: A Reply to Neil Levy,” where I challenged Levy’s use of the theory of ego depletion as an explanation of weakness of will and provided an alternate, neurocomputational account.
|Presenting my poster at INS.
Photo credit: Karen Rommelfanger
As a philosopher interested in the intersection of the computational neurosciences and morality, “The Science and Ethics of Moral Enhancement” session was a particularly enlightening one for me. It brought together three leading women neuroethics scholars, Barbara Sahakian (as Moderator), Molly Crockett, and Patricia Churchland, as well as neuroethicist Julian Savulescu of the Oxford University Center for Neuroethics. It was a remarkable conversation. Throughout their discussions and even in the question period that followed, I was struck by how clearheaded the panelists were about the challenges facing the field. At the same time, and despite their very different perspectives, they evidently shared a real optimism about the future of this area of research. As the session moderator, neuroscientist and neuroethicist Barbara Sahakian of Cambridge University set the tone by explaining that the panelists would tackle, “the science of what’s possible now,” but also look at “what we may be able to do in the future.”