BRAIN: Addressing the benefits, burdens, risks and responsibilities. A call for neuroethics. Prof. James Giordano PhD
BRAIN: Addressing the
benefits, burdens, risks and
A call for neuroethics.
Prof. James Giordano PhD
• The brain and its functions have long been both enigmatic and a focus of
human inquiry, invention and intervention. Since the early 19th
century, this inquiry has involved the iterative use of ever more
sophisticated tools of science that have been harnessed to investigate
perdurable philosophical questions about the nature of mind, self, free will
and human identity. The past forty years has borne witness to this tide of
theoretical and technical momentum within the titular field of
neuroscience, which as a consequence of conjoining the natural, physical
and social sciences – and humanities – has become a discipline of
broad, deep and far-reaching social influence. The newly proposed Brain
Activity Map (BAM) and Brain Research through Advancing Innovative
Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiatives represent the most contemporary
instantiation of this pursuit, seeking to achieve heretofore unparalleled
knowledge through technics to assess, access and target neural substrates
of cognition, emotion and behavior in ways that offer potential translation
in medicine, public life, international relations, and national security and
• The technical capability and theoretical revision
afforded by contemporary neuroscientific
advances – inclusive of those leveraged in the
BRAIN agenda – have potential to incur profound
change in various realms of human knowledge
and prompt questions about the boundaries of
scientific intervention and effect, and the
ethical, legal and socio-cultural (inclusive of
economic and political) implications and
ramifications of each and any discovery.
• While history may provide salient object lessons against frank
misuse of neuroscience and its technologies, the historical record
also upholds the reality that “change happens” and is reflective of
human progress. Simply put, the more that is known, the more that
can – and is – done with such knowledge. This then incurs the
potential for not only great benefit, but also considerable
burdens, risks and harms, and in so doing, mandates responsibility
for oversight, guidance and governance of the ways that
neuroscientific research is conducted and employed. Thus, it is
argued that agendas such BRAIN must entail an equally strong
dedication to 1) elucidating what neuroscience will be focused upon
and most likely enable in the short and intermediate term; 2)
depicting the realities of the situations that will be produced at
these waypoints; and 3) elucidating the true
benefits, burden, risks, harms – and controls that can and should be
implemented upon arrival.
• To wit, the field and practices of neuroethics
could be invaluable to these tasks. But, in
order to be authentic and meaningful, any and
all neuroethical focus should not be esoteric
or agnostic, but rather should direct a
pragmatic appraisal of the positive, neutral
and negative trajectories that might
realistically result from specific undertakings
• Toward this end we call for a paradigmatic approach to
neuroethics, HISTORY, that grounds neuroethical address to:
• Historicity of science and technology as exemplar of potential trajectories
and valences of use;
• Implications of current and near future developments of neuroscience;
• Science, as a non-neutral, intentional human endeavor;
• Technology, as the tools for and of scientific development as a social force;
• Ombudsmanship executed through pragmatic assessment of actual
problems and issues at hand;
• Responsibility to sustain both realistic appraisal of the science, as well as
• Yeomanry, to execute any ethico-legal analyses and actions as globally
sensitive and responsive.
• In this way, we assert neuroethics as
fundamental to an innovative
neurotechnology – not in an abstract
sense, but literally – as innovative
engagement of neuro-techne logos: a rational
accounting of neuroscientific tools’
development, articulation, and uses; as well as
an accounting of the human enterprises that
drive and divert any such applications in the
social spheres of the twenty-first century.
• Working in our group at the Neuroethics Studies Program
at the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics of
Georgetown University, affiliated scholar Dr. Roland
Benedikter, and researchers Timothy Brindley, Liana
Buniak, Taisa Coleman, Christine Fitzpatrick, Anne
Garcia, and Rachel Wurzman remain dedicated to these
• Additionally, we are collaborating with colleagues at the
Human Science Center of the Ludwig-Maximilians
University in Munich, Germany to study the ways that
neuroscience, neurotechnology and neuroethics will affect
- and be affected by - socio-cultural forces across
generations upon the world stage
For additional information, please see:
• Georgetown’s Pellegrino Center for Clinical
Bioethics Neuroethics Program website:
To read more about this and related
work, please see:
• Giordano J. (Ed.) Neurotechnology: Premises, Potential and Problems.
Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2012.
• Giordano, J. and Gordijn, B. (Eds.) Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives
in Neuroethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
• Nuffield Council on Bioethics Report. Novel Neurotechnologies:
Intervening in the Brain. London: Nuffield Council, 2013.
Prof. James Giordano PhD
• Prof. James Giordano PhD is Chief of the Neuroethics Studies
Program in the Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical
Bioethics, and is on the faculty of the Division of Integrative
Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry, Inter-disciplinary
Program in Neurosciences, and the Inter-disciplinary Graduate
Studies Program of Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.
• He is Clark Faculty Fellow in Neurosciences and Ethics, and Director
of the Neurotechnology and Neuroethics Program at the Human
Sciences Center of Ludwig Maximilians University in
Munich, Germany, where he previously was JW Fulbright
Foundation Visiting Professor of Neuroscience, Neurotechnology
and Neuroethics, is William H. and Ruth Crane Schaefer
Distinguished Visiting Professor of Neuroscience and Neuroethics at
Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA, and is a Senior Fellow
and Regent of the Potomac Institute for Policy
Studies, Arlington, VA, USA.
• His ongoing and moral decision-making, and the neuroethical issues that
arise in and from the use of advanced neuroscientific techniques and
technologies in research, medicine, public life, international relations, and
national security, intelligence and defense.
• The author of over 200 peer-reviewed publications, his recent books
include Neurotechnology: Premises, Potential and Problems (CRC Press);
Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives in Neuroethics (with Bert Gordijn;
Cambridge University Press); Maldynia: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives on
the Illness of Chronic Pain (Routledge/Informa), and Pain Medicine:
Philosophy, Ethics and Policy (with Mark Boswell, Linton Atlantic Books).
He is Editor-in-Chief of the international journals Philosophy, Ethics and
Humanities in Medicine; and Synesis: A Journal of
Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy; Associate Editor of the journals
Neuroethics; and Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine, and
Executive-Editor-in-Chief of the book series Advances in Neurotechnology:
Ethical, Legal and Social Issues (published by CRC Press).
• In recognition of his work, Prof Giordano was awarded Germany’s
2012 Klaus Reichert Prize in Medicine and Philosophy (with
collaborator Dr Roland Benedikter), was named 2012-2014
Distinguished National Lecturer for both Sigma Xi (the national
research honor society) and IEEE, and was elected to the European
Academy of Sciences and Arts in 2008.
• He and his wife Sherry, an artist, editor, and naturalist divide their
time between Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, USA, and the Bavarian
town of Bad Tölz, a suburb of Munich, Germany.
• Contact: Prof. James Giordano at email@example.com
A particular slide catching your eye?
Clipping is a handy way to collect important slides you want to go back to later.