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What is neuroethics?

The neurosciences are interdisciplinary studies that set, including biology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and statistics. It takes care of the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of pathologies of the central and peripheral nervous system, its effects on behavior and of mental experiences.

During the conference "Neuroethics, a map of the territory," held in San Francisco in May 2002, the term neuroethics was used for the first time to indicate the relationship between neuroscience and ethics. Neuroethics, therefore, presents itself as a complex and interdisciplinary discipline. Its boundaries are constantly changing, both due to the constant acquisition of neurobiological data, and because individual and collective ethics, in different social contexts, are also in continuous development.

What seems necessary for Neuroethics - precisely because it is a specification of the many dimensions of cognitive neuroscience that sees ethics become a permanent vision in the multiverse of its investigations? It is equipped with the tools and skills associated with a sort of guerrilla warfare ethics, which is like putting on glasses to see. 

We can certainly say that the relationship between neuroscience and ethics is mutual. Neurosciences offer neurobiological data to understand certain mechanisms about certain behaviors, or about our ability to express moral judgments. We commonly speak of "ethical neuroscience" in the first case and "ethics of neuroscience" in the second case.

What is Neuroethics

This area of ​​investigation deals with issues related to the nature of our individual freedom and its relationship with our neurophysiological mechanisms. The main heuristic areas review "classic" questions - such as cognitive and emotional processes, consciousness, and personal identity from a neurobiological perspective.

For example, how could we rethink "responsibility" if neuroimaging techniques demonstrated a direct causal relationship between brain functioning and behavioral reactions? It is clear that these studies have (or may have) significant and direct repercussions on different branches of knowledge, such as law.

On the other hand, the ethics of neuroscience deals with issues related to the use of neuroscientific knowledge. What moral issues emerge from neuroscience, and what is their impact on personal and social experience, also in terms of equity in the socio-cultural context, in the short - medium - long term?

Moral and neuroethical theology: what relationship?

Many questions still remain unanswered on the relationship between the two areas. Theology, in general, and in particular moral theology, is called to listen and discern between neuroscientific acquisitions and neuroethics theories. In conclusion to Paolo Benanti report, How neurosciences challenge ethics during the annual week of studies promoted by the Secretariat for Ecumenical Activities (SAE), states:

Questioning the relationship between the various disciplines and moral theology as a theological discipline that reflects on the phenomenon of morality by exercising the ratio illuminated by faith represents a question about the foundations of moral theology. Also, it shows how it can take care of its epistemological and content specificity. The reflection to be made must remember that the dependence of one discipline on the other is not one-sided. Neuroethics inserted in a context of theological-moral reflection must always bear in mind that dependence is reciprocal, in the exercise of theological reflection, in the various connected areas.

It is necessary that starting from the discipline in which the theological reflection is being exercised; one must check the correctness and consistency of what you are saying in the other disciplines. The autonomy of the disciplines does not equate to autarky. Each discipline has its own specific basis of experience, approach, and functionality; the results of each discipline will be verified or falsified on the basis of those specific experiences that are the research field of the discipline itself. By virtue of the autonomy of the various disciplines, no neuroethical conclusion is directly transposable into a moral conclusion. The problem becomes the interrelationship, the moralist reflects on data of human experience as free, aware and responsible, but they offered data and interpreted by other disciplines, including Neuroethics, and moral theology needs these disciplines.

Ethical issues of neuroscientific knowledge

When analyzing the bibliography on Neuroethics, it is possible to verify the absence of a specific pedagogical proposal or theory for teaching. However, the scientific literature can contribute significantly to expanding and disseminating research and discoveries among the various areas of knowledge. Thus establishing a dialogue on learning problems and solutions is based on pedagogical strategies that respect the cognitive processes of the brain.

The challenge for the field of education is not in the condition of evaluating or judging knowledge, but in the ability to know how to teach or evaluate what has been taught, recognizing that each subject learns differently - after all, the Brains are absolutely individual, each brain is unique. 

Neuroethics integrates with other sciences, expanding and building new knowledge. As it is understood how much the biological aspects are related to the learning, ability, and difficulty of each individual, it is perceived that the task of teaching is not only of the school but also of the family and the social context in which it is taught. To develop educational actions that are based on ethical knowledge of neuroscience is to have instruments capable of considering the learning journey in order to achieve the potential of each individual.

It was not always understood that learning takes place in the brain. The structure of the organ, its functions, and properties were only recognized at the end of the 20th century. At the same time, these discoveries were not restricted to large research centers, moving to foster interests and discussions among professionals in the areas of social, human, and exact sciences. Thus, they expanded the debate on how learning takes place. Subsequently, the field of education began to have an interest and to analyze brain function. Observing language, memory, performance, motivation, and difficulties in student activities involve analyzing empirical evidence. 

Final thoughts

Ethics must guide human behavior since we envision it as a possibility of being. In the field of Neuroethics, it will be necessary to use it more and more to distinguish what is acceptable and desirable from what must be repudiated for being harmful and for compromising the physical and moral integrity of the human being. The reason seems obvious; there are a great scientific production and a vertiginous advance from the technical point of view with studies and publications not always well-projected or sometimes posed with little underlying ethical reflection.

The human being (brain and mind) is not an object to manipulate since there are conditions and rights that must be respected and that represent the value of the individual. The use of neuroscientific knowledge must remain under an attentive and critical gaze to separate its benefits from situations that only promote illicit business or practicesneuroethics, which aim to transform man into an object of profit and consumption.

Author: Vicki Lezama


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