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September 16, 2004

Neurolaw: The Scales of JusticeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

A new report sponsored by the Dana Foundation titled Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice examines the legal issues raised by advances in the study of the human brain, including free will, cognitive enhancement, lie detection, and behavior prediction.

Predicting the future is always a challenge, since one must speculate on both the direction that advances in science and technology will take and on what the impacts of such innovations will be. Among the questions raised by the participants are:

- How will advances in neuroscientific methods for predicting behavior impact the legal system, and how will our society use these advances?
- What would neuroscience-based lie detection mean for witnesses testifying in court?
- How might neuroscientific knowledge put people at risk for discrimination in schools, the workplace, and elsewhere?
- Are there either benefits or risks to justice and society from enhancing or modifying one's brain through pharmacological or other technologies?
- What roles will the legal system play in the societal debate over human enhancement?

Click here for a complimentary 30 page summary of the report. If this topic interests you I recommend visiting these three excellent sources of information on neuropolicy and neuroethics: Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavior, and Stanford's Center for Neuroethics.

August 25, 2004

Interpreting the Political BrainEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Steven Johnson wrote a nice piece in the NYTimes Magazine this past weekend on the Political Brain. While I've covered this research a few month's back in neuromarketing our next President, Steven adds one very important point to the value of this type of research:

"Whatever conclusions we end up extracting for this line of research won't come exclusively from the neuroscientists. You'd need sociologists and political scientists and philosophers -- not to mention those political strategists -- to make sense of the results, to put them in context, and to propose new avenues of research. The neuroscientists would be mostly there to explain the results in terms of brain anatomy and function, leaving it to the social scientists to interpret the results on the level of human experience. In other words, the scans don't give you answers. They give you new kinds of questions."

For more of Steven's thoughts check out his excellent book Mind Wide Open or his previous guest entries here on Brain Waves.


December 08, 2003

The Emerging Neurowarfare ThreatEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Neurowarfare, the use of weapons that target the human central nervous system, is an escalating concern. This month's Acumen Journal uncovers some areas of Russian neurowarfare research:

- Project Flute: a neurotoxic agent that becomes activated during times of stress or great emotion, and can damage the nervous system, alter moods, trigger psychological changes and even kill.

- Project Bonfire: similiar to Flute, Bonfire manipulate peptides and hormones that regulate our nervous systems.

- Unnamed: extensive research into creating agents that would cause fatal overloads of bliss

Dr. John Aquila, A RAND analyst, offers an interesting thought: "We (USA) could own every Russian bioweapons expert for the rest of their lives for about the price of 1 F-18 attach aircraft." Although this might slow down the development of neuroweapons in Russia, it is far from a panacea to this newly emerging threat.

October 24, 2003

NeuroWarEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The advent of sophisticated neuroweapons that can be used for mind control, coercive truth detection or to erase memories are on the horizon. Whether they are used for national defense or for offensive purposes, national governments are spending billions of dollars each year to improve soldier performance.

In the October Global Futures Report, The Institute for Global Futures described neurowarfare as follows:

Shape shifting realities, contextual synthetic intelligence, mind morphing...if none of this sounds familiar, that's okay as NeuroWar has not been invented ---maybe. NeuroWar, the use of advanced neuroscience technology for defense is in it's embryonic stages.

What do you think about the prospect of neurowarfare?

October 20, 2003

The Pursuit of BioHappinessEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Last week the President's Council on Bioethics released "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, a 300 page report containing the following chapters:

1. Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness
2. Better Children
3. Superior Performance
4. Ageless Bodies
5. Happy Souls
6. "Beyond Therapy": General Reflections

Here are a few excerpts from chairman Leon R. Kass' editorial in the Washington Post introducing the report:

"By all accounts, we are entering the golden age of biotechnology. Advances in genetics, drug discovery and regenerative medicine promise cures for dreaded diseases and relief for terrible suffering. Advances in neuroscience and psychopharmacology promise better treatments for the mentally ill."

"For the past 16 months, the President's Council on Bioethics has explored the ethical and social meanings of using biotechnologies for purposes "beyond therapy." Our report, released today, tries to show what is increasingly at stake when biotechnology meets the pursuit of happiness. Lacking prophetic powers, no one can say for certain what life in the age of biotechnology holds in store. Most likely it will be the usual mix of unforeseen burdens and unexpected blessings. But we must begin thinking about these issues now, lest we build a future for ourselves that cheapens, rather than enriches, America's most cherished ideals."

"But there are reasons to wonder whether life will really be better if we turn to biotechnology to fulfill our deepest human desires. There is an old expression: To a man armed with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a society armed with biotechnology, the activities of human life may seem more amenable to improvement than they really are. Or we may imagine ourselves wiser than we really are. Or we may get more easily what we asked for only to realize it is much less than what we really wanted.

"We want better children -- but not by turning procreation into manufacture or by altering their brains to give them an edge over their peers. We want to perform better in the activities of life -- but not by becoming mere creatures of our chemists or by turning ourselves into tools designed to win and achieve in inhuman ways. We want longer lives -- but not at the cost of living carelessly or shallowly with diminished aspiration for living well, and not by becoming people so obsessed with our own longevity that we care little about the next generations. We want to be happy -- but not because of a drug that gives us happy feelings without the real loves, attachments and achievements that are essential for true human flourishing."

This report will have important implications for American society in the years to come. Please take a look at the report and share your thoughts.

Update: Check out William Safire's NYTimes Op-Ed piece on the same topic today, Of Mice and Men.

Update 2: Check out Gregory Stock's comments at brother Kling's site.

August 20, 2003

Cognition, Complexity, and the ConstitutionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

By Wrye Sententia


When I consider our species’ agile curiosity and its increasing ability to directly tinker with thinking, a cascade of philosophical, scientific, and societal subtleties leave me swimming in the ever-broader stream of potential benefits and harms.


Thomas Jefferson said, “No people can be both ignorant and free.”  Education can compensate for a lack of knowledge.  But freedom of thought today involves a lot more than access to books and reliable information.  Recent experiments show the promise of developing neurotechnologies to stimulate creative thought, or maybe even to help grow neurons.


In the process of finding out more about how the brain functions, or how specifically our own brains cope with lived complexity, the question of what we will do individually, and collectively with our growing understanding requires serious focus.


No other human organ is as complex, or as fraught with conceptual difficulties as the brain.  It is hard to imagine that we will ever agree on how neurotechnologies should be adopted or regulated in terms of religious, epistemological, or scientific absolutes.  The polarized squabbles pitting conservative creationists against radical transhumanists are just one indicator. 


At the very least, we must begin to establish how a democratic society can approach these advances based on common guiding principles enshrined in the Constitution.

August 18, 2003

Neuropolicy and Cognitive Liberty By Wrye SententiaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

By Wrye Sententia


Greetings, I’m glad to ride Brain Waves with such stimulating guestbloggers.


We live at a time when technologies that interact closely with brain function almost daily surface in the news, intimating the emergence of some exciting possibilities, but also potentially alarming applications for individuals and for society.


Neuroethics, the topic I will be focusing on this week, calls for a consideration of the percolating social and ethical implications arising from these technological and scientific advances. My particular focus is that of “cognitive liberty.” Cognitive liberty is a term that updates notions of "freedom of thought" for the 21st century by taking into account the power we now have, and increasingly will have, to monitor and manipulate cognitive function.


As Richard Glen Boire and I guest-blog from the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics over the coming two weeks, we will examine the ways in which social mechanisms designed to protect individual and collective freedom will be challenged by burgeoning developments in neurotechnologies.

July 15, 2003

Precision NeuroweaponsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Last time I wrote on neurowarfare it created quite a response from across the planet. To remind you, I write on neurowarfare to accelerate the conversation about their use and to highlight that like all technological advances, neurotechnology will also be twisted for the purposes of national defense and warfare.


Although this week's Science magazine does not come out and say it, a team of researchers have made a fundamental advance in neurowarfare technology by figuring out how to make non-lethal opiates.



Opiates are powerful painkillers, but they come with some baggage: a troubling tendency to depress breathing. By giving an experimental drug along with a narcotic, a team of researchers eliminated the opiate's potentially lethal side effect while preserving its ability to blunt pain. The result could have far-reaching clinical implications for anesthesia and the treatment of acute and chronic pain. (oh, and warfare)


Like morphine and other narcotics, a painkiller called fentanyl disrupts nerve cells deep in the brain that register pain as well as another subset that governs breathing rhythm. Well-controlled doses of the drug can work wonders, but overexposure can be disastrous: In October 2002, 129 people died in a Moscow theater when authorities subdued hostage-takers there by pumping what many believe was fentanyl into the building.


I wonder if the defense departments across the planet have assimilated what has happened here: the development of non-lethal sleeping agents.  Clearly, the Russians haven't been researching this area too deeply.  Who else hasn't?

June 11, 2003

Sensory Systems and Judgment in LawEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Along with previously mentioned Gruter talks, the following presentations are scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday:


Economics, Law and Neurology



  • The Neurobiology of Trust: Paul J. Zak, Robert O. Kurzban, and William T. Matzner
  • Working for Self vs. Others: Dan Houser, Kevin McCabe, Vernon Smith
  • Cognitive and Neuroscientific Studies of Reasoning, Estimation, and Judgment: Lawrence M. Parsons 

Sex and Law



  • Viewing Sexual/Reproductive Behavior through an Evolutionary Lens: Market Zuk
  • Sexual Coercion and Trafficking: A Legal Perspective: Mohamed Matter

Childhood and Development



  • What doesn't kill you makes you stronger: Empirical evidence for stress resistance: Karen J. Parker
  • Fair Play: Caroline Walser Kessel

Dispute Resolution



  • Reconciliation and Criminal Sentencing: Erin O’Hara
  • Litigation is a kind of non-zero-sum game: Morris Hoffman
  • The ADR Landscape: Susan Scott

Scanning and Neural Activity



  • Neuronal Correlates of Visual Attention and Perception: David Heeger

Property



  • Why are there so few property forms?  Michael Heller
  • Evolutionary analysis of property law: Jeffrey Stake
  • Property, Market, Organization, Judgment: Wolfgang Fikentscher
  • What Can We Know About How the Human Capacity for Property Works?: Oliver R. Goodenough
  • Evolution of property law: Dorothy J. Glancy

More to come on Monday with a full report all next week.

May 30, 2003

House Bans Forcing Meds on KidsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

From the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics:



Last Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Child Medication Safety Act (HR 1170), which would prohibit schools receiving federal education money from coercing children into taking drugs like Ritalin as a precondition to attending class.


I wonder how long before private schools begin promoting their use of meds.

May 13, 2003

Say Yes to "Saying Yes"Email This EntryPrint This Article

I was honored last night to sit next to Jacob Sullum at a release dinner for his new book: Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use. For almost a decade he has analyzed the social implications of America's drug laws and in this most recent salvo he uses real people to argue that drug use should be viewed the same way as drinking, with an emphasis on temperance rather than abstinence.


Dave Barry hilariously agrees, commenting, "Jacob Sullum has produced a thoughtful, sane, and logical analysis of our (American) drug laws.  Is that even legal?"


The most insightful comment of the evening was when Sullum equated the need for drug education in schools with current sex education classes. 


Paraphrasing---No one is promoting sex in these classes, but kids are free to discuss the consequences of sex allowing them to make more informed decisions for themselves.  Currently, there is no place for kids to have a thoughtful discussion of drugs (real or imagined impacts), making informed decisions difficult.


As I have blogged several times here, I believe that legalizing currently illicit drugs isn't the best solution for humanity's future. Instead we must repeal the three U.N. conventions that make it illegal to research and develop non-addictive, recreational substances.  Governments must make pleasure a viable market. Why should we promote 4000 year-old tools, when we can do so much better?

April 09, 2003

Stuck with 4000 Year Old ToolsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

As the Economist reports, "the framework for global drug policies is set by three UN conventions, dating from 1961, 1981, and 1988. Between them, these conventions set rules prohibiting, in almost any circumstances, the production, manufacture, trade, use or possession of potentially harmful plant-based and synthetic non-medical drugs, other than tobacco and alcohol." 


Recently, several countries like Australia and Canada have begun to question the logic of this global prohibition, and are considering legalizing certain illicit drugs while placing a heavy emphasis on "harm reduction" programs. 


It is good to see that governments are asking some of the right questions, but the legalization of harmful and addictive substances, although a step in the right direction for reasons of cognitive liberty, is the wrong answer.  Instead, we need to make it legal to research and develop new recreational substances that can induce similar pleasures but that cause less physical harm and are non-addictive.  


Government regulated pleasure enhancing neuroceuticals are the answer.  We want government involved to ensure that the safety and efficacy are proven through intelligent clinical trials.  Governments must make mental enhancement a viable market.


Alcohol and tobacco are 4000 year old tools, isn't it about time humanity upgraded?

April 04, 2003

A Call to Fund Recreational Drug DevelopmentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs are crippling our society.  Beyond the hard economic costs, addiction destroys people's lives.  Here are some statistics on the size of the problem in the US (more):



  • In 2000, Americans spent about $64 billion on illicit drugs
  • An estimated 61,000 (16%) of convicted jail inmates committed their offense to get money for drugs
  • The societal cost of drug abuse, including lower productivity, crime prevention and health care impacts was estimated to be $143 Billion in 1998

In 2002, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) received around $900m in federal funding to support addiction research, prevention programs and drug rehabilitation systems, a drop in the bucket compared to the size of the problem.  Something must change.


People will not stop using harmful drugs until there are alternatives.  With breakthroughs in biochips and brain imaging on the horizon, it might just be time to invest heavily in better, safer, non-addictive alternatives to today's recreational drugs. 


This obviously goes against current public policy, but the benefits of developing alternatives would be tremendous.  Unfortunately it is illegal to start a company to research and develop potential alternatives.  This is wrong and must change. 


Alcohol, the most widely used/abused substance, is a 4000 year old technology.  Isn't it about time that we apply cutting edge research and knowledge to update the set of recreational tools humanity uses? 

March 12, 2003

When will the Feds Mandate Brain Scans?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Bush administration officials announced today a plan to commit $1 billion to perform DNA testing on convicted felons, including those who claim to be innocent.  Results will be held in a national DNA database. 10 years ago it would have been technologically and fiscally impossible for a program like this to be imagined.


As brain imaging technologies have become more accurate in their spatial and temporal resolution they are already beginning to provide a new window into an individual's cognitive and emotional judgement.  Although hard to believe today, there will come a time when a national Brain Scan database gets announced.  The real question is when, and how this neuroethical issue will impact our cognitive liberty.