Blog Editor

Blog Traffic




Notices

  • Copyright 2005-20012 by Adam Kolber
    All rights reserved.

« PEBS Neuroethics Roundup from JHU Guest Blogger | Main | Semrau Magistrate Decision on fMRI Lie Detection (Kolber) »

Comments

Well I must say this is not my experience of interdisciplinary discussions. I have organized five conferences bringing together philosophers and neuroscientists and participated in many more. I have found them no more confrontational or mired in mutual misunderstandings then within-discipline meetings. The key is to have a well defined subject matter, on which everyone has relevant expertise. It is also necessary to come prepared, in the sense that the philosophers are expected to have a grip on experimental design and also on the technical vocabulary used by scientists (but philosophers of mind are required to have that anyway, so it is not an onerous expectation). There is no dumbing down; there is an exchange between equals.

Thank you for that Neil.

I completely agree - from my experience as well this is something that can work very well. In fact as we speak, a colleague of mine and myself (this colleague is a neuroscientist now at Cal-tech, working with Cristof Koch) are putting together papers from a one-year interdisciplinary series of seminars- and hope to crystalize these contributions into an edited book.

We all came with a sense of respect to each other's body of knowledge, methodologies and epistemological bases. This was a wonderful experience: we all read stuff from both social science, philosophy and neuroscience (we also had one lawyer), and although we could not always understand the subtleties in each other's works - we had a good learning curve.

So yes, meetings where both sides come prepared, and willing to engage in a discussion between equals are wonderful platforms for the development of truly interdisciplinay exchange.

The "dumbing down" problem usually arises at the earlier stages, when neuroscientists are INITIALLY APPROACHED with the idea of neuroethics and social studies of neuroscience. Some (not all, and not all to the same extent and on the same grounds) show high levels of resistance, which is often translated into intellectual snobism. "We are elitistic, and we want to stay this way - I'm not ashame to say this" tells me the director of the PhD program in one such institute. This was after I offered to give students an opportunity to participate in a series of seminars on neuroethics, where philosophical and social issues would be discussed. I offered to do that pro-bono mind you, and my academic record can hardly be said to be mediocre.
Now the problem with the initial presentation of our field (and that was what I was dealing with) is that you do have to make sense to people (again, some more than others) that have absolutely no sense of the ways soft-core scientists may think or define academic contributions. There, i found myself in a bind: it was either presenting the complexities of the field (and then- you might blurp "medicalisation" or a title by Kant), or dumbing things down to convince them of the "bottom line" of the whole enterprise called "neuroethics".

In Israel we have great neuroscience - but neuroscientists have often never had serious exposure to the humanities. When I say it's a high-Q-no-clue situation, I mean just that, and more. This may be a structural problem with higher-education here, a cultural thing, I am not sure, but not all are ready to open up to remedy this.
Would love to hear your, and any of the readers' take on that - did you experience such resistance?

You missed an opportunity, in response to the we are elitist comment. I would have responded: "But neuroethics is relevant for you! We want to know what mechanisms allow scientists in powerful positions to think they can behave like assholes". Once again, though, I have never encountered this attitude. Perhaps natural scientists are more hostile to social scientists than to philosophers?

Believe me, I did... And I did more than that: I composed (based on papers by neuroethicists much more experienced and knowledgeable than myself) a 35 pages (appendices excluded!!) document that surveyed the different questions in neuroethics and neuroscience-and-society, that specified -both at the academic, intellectual and practical level - how this will contribute to their work, and suggested a syllabus for neuroscience students. I also wrote a shorter version of course (4 pages long).

Just to give you a taste of it, here is the outline:
(NES- is the acronym I gave to neuroethics and neuroscience-and-society), (NOT is a pseudonym for the initials of the center we are discussing-to ensure privacy and anonimity).

*Introduction ELSC-NES: the Concept ... 4
-General Intro ................................ 4
-Neuroscience is here ...................... 4
-Concern or Paranoia? ..................... 5
*What is NES ..................................... 5
-Neuroethics- Overview ................... 5
-Neuroscience and society ............... 6
The Emergence of Neurocultures ........ 6
The Cerebral Subject ................... 6
-NES- integrating Neuroethics with Neuroscience and Society ......... 7
*The Project – Concrete Steps ............. 7
*Issues of interest-exploration ............ 8
-Neuropsychopharmacology and Enhancement .......... 8
-Understanding Culture in 'Clinical Neuroscience' ....... 10
-Respecting Biosocial Diversity ....... 11
-Neuroscience and the Economy .... 12
-BMI – Brain Machine Interface ..... 13
-Neuroscience and the Law ........... 13
Functional Imaging and Diagnosis of Criminal Intent..... 13
CNS Interventions in the context of law and Order ...... 14
Lie Detection ............................ 15
Responsibility, brain and blame ...... 16
-Brain Reading and Privacy ............ 17
-The definition of death ................ 18
-Psychosurgery ............................ 18
-Public Understanding of fMRI Studies ...... 18
*NES Methodologies ........................ 19
- Technical and conceptual analysis of research processes ....... 19
-Ethnographic analysis .................. 20
-Studying ‘public engagement’ in science ........ 21
-Social and cultural analysis of the socio-political contexts ...... 21
-The Brain Fact ........ 22
-Not dismissing hypes ....................... 23
-Draw from Existing bioethical spheres of research ........ 24
*NES and NOT ................................. 24
-Why Involve Neuroscientists? ....... 24
-Interdisciplinarity ........................ 27
-Leading in the Development of Ethics guidelines ....... 28
Privacy, confidentiality and cognitive privacy ......... 28
Predictive and diagnostic uses .... 29
Commercialisation and conflicts of interest .... 29
Access, fairness and allocation of resources .... 29
Balanced presentation and hasty use of results ........ 29
Scientific Integrity ..................... 30
Responsiveness .............. 30
Prospective responsibility ....... 30
*Teaching .......... 31
-Learning Outcomes ......... 31
-Examples of issues that can be addressed .... 32
- Contents and Literature ..................... 32
*Out-Reaching .......... 32
*Research development ............. 33
*The Field of NES in the World ..... 34
-Research and Publications ........ 34
-Research Centres and Activities .... 34
*References Used in the Text .... 34
*Appendices
A. European Neuroscience and Society Network (I recently had a meeting on NES with Nikolas Rose, head of the project)
B. Other centres of interest
C. Selected literature
D. Teaching contents and sources
E. Curriculum Vitae for Sky Gross, PhD
F. Van Leer Conference (in which I participated)
G. Feature Haaretz (newspaper paper that features myself and the work on neuroscience and society)
H. Feature Weizmann Institute (also featuring the interdisciplinary group we had going)
I. Feature Neuroethics (a feature of my work in the "neuroethics journal)
J. Kolber's 'Neuroethics and Law' website
K. The Brainhood Project (in which i am involved with Fernando Vidal)

Can't say I wasn't serious about that! Didn't help getting through the "I'm a one-dendrite guy", who eventually swayed the opinion of others.
And yes, I am still amazed things couldn't work out.
Maybe they will in a few years?
Maybe I should keep with having interlocutors in Europe and the UK?

PS: I, m not sure about the social science-philosophy thing. In fact social sciences may have at least one advantage- the things we do may sound more "down-to-earth" and applicable perhaps.

The comments to this entry are closed.