Which would be acceptable: the athlete who may one day get “neuro-enhancement” to boost his or her performance, or the SAT-taking student who does the same thing before the tests? How will increasingly powerful brain imaging technologies affect the ideas of privacy and of self-incrimination? Such thought-provoking questions are rapidly emerging as new discoveries in neuroscience raise difficult personal and societal ethical dilemmas. Michael Gazzaniga, widely considered to be the father of cognitive neuroscience, investigates with an expert eye some of these most controversial and complex issues in The Ethical Brain.
He first examines “lifespan neuroethics” and considers how brain development defines human life, from when an embryo develops a brain and could be considered “one of us” to the issues raised as the brain ages, such as whether we should have complete freedom to extend our lives and enhance our brains with the use of genetics, pharmaceuticals, and training.
Dr. Gazzaniga also considers the challenges faced by the justice system from new discoveries in neuroscience. Recent findings suggest that our brain has already made a decision before we become fully aware of doing so, raising the question of whether the concept of personal responsibility can remain a tenet of the law. Dr. Gazzaniga argues that as neuroscience learns more about the unreliability of human memory, the very foundation of trial law will be challenged.
Dr. Gazzaniga then discusses a radical re-evaluation of the nature of moral belief, as he not only looks at possibly manipulating the strength of a belief but also explored how scientific research is building a brain-based account of moral reasoning.
The Ethical Brain is a groundbreaking volume that presents neuroscience’s loaded findings—and their ethical implications—in an engaging and readable manner. It is an incisive and thoughtful analysis of the ethics questions posed by neuroscience that confront modern society at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
Table of Contents
Part I Life-Span Neuroethics
- Conferring Moral Status on an Embryo
- The Aging Brain
Part II Brain Enhancement
- Better Brains Through Genes
- Training the Brain
- Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs
Part III Free Will, Personal Responsibility, and the Law
- My Brain Made Me Do It
- Antisocial Thoughts and the Right to Privacy
- The Brain Produces a Poor Autobiography
Part IV The Nature of Moral Beliefs and the Concept of Universal Ethics
- The Believing Brain
- Toward a Universal Ethics
"The study of the brain is the 21st century's hottest subject not only in science but also in philosophy. If, as science now tells us, we are nothing more than robots controlled by a chemical analog computer called the brain, where does that leave such quaint notions as ethical behavior? Who better to say than one of the two most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world, Michael Gazzaniga? This is a provocative and highly readable book."
—Tom Wolfe, author of I Am Charlotte Simmons and Bonfire of the Vanities
"If it were possible for this book to have been written a couple of thousand years ago, we might have avoided a lot of misery. What an important question it raises: what is known about the brain that can guide us in forming a set of rational ethical principles? The great frontier before us is the question of how we will deal with one another, and this fascinating book gets us on our way."
—Alan Alda, Emmy-winning actor, writer, and director, and host of Scientific American Frontiers
"...This is a witty, well written, highly informed account of how our brain forms our beliefs and how we can determine what beliefs serve us best."
|—Robert Bazell, chief health and science correspondent, NBC News|
On a Universal Moral Ethics
“I believe, therefore, that we should look not for a universal ethics comprising hard-and-fast truths, but for the universal ethics that arises from being human, which is clearly contextual, emotion-influenced, and designed to increase our survival. This is why it is hard to arrive at absolute rules to live by that we can all agree on. . . . I am convinced that must commit ourselves to the view that a universal ethics is possible, and that we ought to seek to understand it and define it.”
On the Moral Status of an Embryo
“During a discussion of stem cell research that took place while I was serving on President Bush’s bioethics council, I made an analogy comparing embryos created for stem cell research to a Home Depot. You don’t walk into a Home Depot and see thirty houses. You see materials that need architects, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to create a house. An egg and a sperm are not a human. . . . To give an embryo created for biomedical research the same status even as one created for in-vitro fertilization, let alone one created naturally, is patently absurd. When a Home Depot burns down, the headline in the paper is not ‘30 Houses Burn Down.’ It is ‘Home Depot Burns Down.’”