Current Science Raises Questions About Moral Values In Society

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Brainotyping: Neuroscience monitors and manipulates brain function.

For the first time it may be possible to breach the privacy of the human mind, and judge people not only by their actions, but also by their thoughts and predilections

Just as the New Year a decade ago in 1997 brought up moral values in society with the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep, current science is sparking moral issues yet again with questions about 'Brainotyping' -- the monitoring and manipulating brain function to determine mental health vulnerabilities, predisposition to violent crime, racial attitudes, and more. As neuroscientists have expanded the frontier of biological explanations for human behavior, ethicists ponder the concept of neuromorality and neuroethics; hot topics as scientists prepare for the challenges ahead.

Brain imaging technology now correlates patterns of brain activity with psychological and personality traits. However, how brain research is conducted, what it discovers and how society will use these findings, is now in question, including the prospective applications of these scientific advances and the information they might generate. Practical and philosophical issues with brain privacy, religious implications and even the very nature of personhood are among the areas of concern.

"For the first time it may be possible to breach the privacy of the human mind, and judge people not only by their actions, but also by their thoughts and predilections," said author Martha J. Farah, Ph. D., who is also director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. "The alteration of brain function in normal humans, with the goal of enhancing psychological function, is increasingly feasible and indeed practiced. At the same time, progress in basic neuroscience is illuminating the relation between mind and brain, a topic of great philosophical importance. Our understanding of why people behave as they do is closely bound up with the content of our laws, social mores and religious beliefs,"

In his current science article, Thomas E. Fitzpatrick raises questions in his review of Farah's book -- ethical questions which typically trail behind technological advances, about the field of neuroethics, which he claims like its predecessors, medical ethics and bioethics -- finds itself in a race to catch up with leading neurotechnological trends.

Research indicates that most people still believe that they have a mind as well as a brain and that the two are not the same, but advances in neuroscience appear to collide with this almost universally held belief.

Fitzpatrick asks readers to fasten their seatbelts as they read "Neuroethics: The Practical and the Philosophical," Trends in Cognitive Sciences (January 2005). by Martha J. Farah, Ph.D. It's a journey to the innermost recesses of the mind to learn about, not whether, but rather when and how, neuroscience will shape our future and the moral values in society.

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Edwin Stepp
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