Monday, April 27, 2009

Redefining humaness

During 2005 and 2006, I was national facilitator for Greece, in the European project «Meeting of Minds. European Citizens Deliberation on Brain Sciences», a pioneering project in science governance, first of its kind in Europe, where citizens from 9 countries discussed the impact of brain sciences in society. Their recommendations will be taken into consideration in the drawing of research policy of the European Union with respect to brain sciences. For more During the project I was the intermediary between the world of experts (neuroscientists, pharmaceutical company executives, patients organizations, EU and national policy-makers, etc.) and the world of lay people (the citizens). This I was both in Greece on a local-national level, as well as in Brussels, at a European-international level. The subject of the deliberations was "neuroethics", i.e. how should society manage the knowledge and technologies that are coming forward from the study of the brain. What struck me most from being part of the debating process, indeed facilitating and guiding the debate, were the apparent contradictions that always seemed to crop up. For example, even as most people agreed that there was something "wrong" with artificially modulating the human brain (by chemical or electrical means), very few had an issue with smart drugs that would increase human intelligence. I realized that the cardinal reason for these contradictions came from conflicting and very often confused perceptions as to what exactly constitutes a "human being". This very confused perception was similar to the one pervading other contemporary sciento-ethical debates, most notably the stem cells and human cloning debate.
A brief bibliographic research that I conducted convinced me that, although there has been much work during the past few years concerning the ethics of science, as well as the apparent "transformation" of humanness (e.g. transhumanism), no concise work exists that addresses the main issue: i.e. what does it mean to be human today, in view of the scientific corpus from biology, genetics and neuroscience.
Part of this blog will be essays focusing on the re-definition of humanness in the 21st century

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