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Keeping the human: neuroethics and the conciliation of dissonant values in the 21st century

Authors Gini A, Larrivee D, Farisco M, Sironi V

Received 3 August 2014

Accepted for publication 4 October 2014

Published 13 April 2015 Volume 2015:4 Pages 1—10


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Annabel Chen

Adriana Gini,1,2,* Denis Larrivee,2,3,* Michele Farisco,4,5 Vittorio Alessandro Sironi6

1Neuroradiology Division, Neuroscience Department, San Camillo-Forlanini Medical Center, Rome, Italy; 2International Neuroethics Society, Bethesda, MD, USA; 3Educational Outreach Office, Catholic Dioceses of Charleston, SC, USA; 4Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden; 5Biogem Genetic Research Center, Ariano Irpino, Italy; 6Research Center on the History of Biomedical Thought, School of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Abstract: Studied since antiquity, the human brain has recently been the inspiration for an international neuroscientific entrepreneurship, the Human Brain Project in Europe and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative in the USA. Different in their approach, both regard the human brain as one of the greatest challenges of 21st century science and the organ that makes us “human”. However, it is mainly the necessity of developing new therapies that affect up to a billion people worldwide, which has propelled the search for extensive expertise and investment in neuroscience research. The debate on ethical and social policy issues as well as the research and medical strategies of such gigantic efforts has involved participants as diverse as neuroscientists, philosophers, scholars in ethics and law, politicians, and the general public, rendering modern neuroscience an interdisciplinary and conflictual endeavor. In fact, the brain is described as the biological underpinning of our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, free willed actions, and memories, features unique to our humanity. In this review, three neuroscientists and a philosopher from the neuroethics community provide their perspectives for an up-to-date survey of salient neuroethical issues, ie, modulation of free will and neuropharmaceuticals and neurotechnologies that enhance cognitive capacities, as well as an introduction of the reader to the controversial new discipline of neuroethics. Written for nonexperts in the field, it is intended to reflect on and to impart information helpful in understanding the challenges and the perils of modern neuroscience, whose tools are so powerful as to jeopardize what is uniquely “human” through willful mind manipulation. We conclude that, for any future effort to “recreate” the mind and, at the same time, keep what is uniquely ours, it will be necessary to reflect ethically and review carefully man's past best efforts at self-understanding.

Keywords: neuroethics, free will, neuromodulation, human nature, neuroscience, neurophilosophy

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