What does it all mean? We are rapidly gaining a much better understanding of the brain and how it operates. We are beginning to see how our thought processes and actions are shaped by activity in the brain. This new knowledge is exciting, but presents us with many challenges. And tools and therapies for use in medicine or research could equally well be applied socially for other uses. How are we going to manage these ethical quandaries?
Responsible adults? If a lot of our behaviour is outside our conscious control (or feels as if it is), can we always be held responsible for our actions? Legally, courts are more lenient if a defendant can prove ‘diminished responsibility’. Sentencing will also depend to some extent on an assessment of a defendant’s mental health. As we discover more about the links between brain and behaviour, it is likely that this will become a more common issue.
Better brains? How should we react to the potential to enhance our brain’s abilities? Some people fear we are heading towards becoming ‘super-humans’, with everyone pressured to enhance themselves. The gaps between the haves and have-nots could widen. And what does it all mean for our view of what it is to be human? On the other hand, the whole point of learning is to expand the mind, and we think nothing of providing extra school or educational activities, or pump children everyone feeling pressured to enhance themselves or their children for fear of full of vitamins to boost their IQ.
Hands off my brain Should the contents of the brain be ‘private property’? Supporters say that brain scanning could have great use – identifying potential paedophiles seeking to work in schools, or helping the police solve crimes. On the other hand, even if they were infallible (and they are not) the meaning of scanning results is open to interpretation. We have instinctive responses but that does not mean we always act on them.