The mind and the machine. On the conceptual and moral implications of brain-machine interaction

NanoEthics 3 (3):217-230 (2009)

Abstract

Brain-machine interfaces are a growing field of research and application. The increasing possibilities to connect the human brain to electronic devices and computer software can be put to use in medicine, the military, and entertainment. Concrete technologies include cochlear implants, Deep Brain Stimulation, neurofeedback and neuroprosthesis. The expectations for the near and further future are high, though it is difficult to separate hope from hype. The focus in this paper is on the effects that these new technologies may have on our ‘symbolic order’—on the ways in which popular categories and concepts may change or be reinterpreted. First, the blurring distinction between man and machine and the idea of the cyborg are discussed. It is argued that the morally relevant difference is that between persons and non-persons, which does not necessarily coincide with the distinction between man and machine. The concept of the person remains useful. It may, however, become more difficult to assess the limits of the human body. Next, the distinction between body and mind is discussed. The mind is increasingly seen as a function of the brain, and thus understood in bodily and mechanical terms. This raises questions concerning concepts of free will and moral responsibility that may have far reaching consequences in the field of law, where some have argued for a revision of our criminal justice system, from retributivist to consequentialist. Even without such a (unlikely and unwarranted) revision occurring, brain-machine interactions raise many interesting questions regarding distribution and attribution of responsibility.

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References found in this work

Freedom and Resentment.Peter Strawson - 1962 - Proceedings of the British Academy 48:187-211.
Freedom and Resentment.Peter Strawson - 2003 - In Gary Watson (ed.), Free Will. Oxford University Press.
Neuroethics: Challenges for the 21st Century.Neil Levy - 2007 - Cambridge University Press.
The Illusion of Conscious Will.R. Holton - 2004 - Mind 113 (449):218-221.

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