Navigating the Ethics of Neuroscience

Submitted by Britta M. Anson on
Sara Goering

Professor Sara Goering's work as neuroethics research leader for the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering was recently featured in the August edition of the College of Arts and Sciences' Perspectives newsletter. 

Neuroscience raises a wide range of ethical concerns. One is agency, or ownership of our actions. If a neural device is stimulating the brain while someone decides on an action, is that person still the author of that action? Is accountability complicated by the device? Privacy is also an issue. Could a wireless neural device be hacked, with confidential neurological data compromised? Could someone hijack a device and control the user’s brain signals?

After some initial conversations with Goering and Department of Philosophy graduate students regarding neuroethics, the scientists at the Center quickly embraced bringing philosophers on board to provide guidance regarding the ethical questions raised by their work. Over the course of the collaboration at CSNE, the disciplinary contributions of the philosophers have continued to alter the way the scientists approach their work from the very inception of a project.

Scientists at the Center now seek the ethics team’s expertise as a matter of course. Goering recalls a recent email from a neuroengineering graduate student who wanted to explore potential ethical considerations before submitting a research proposal for a new project. “That’s how the conversation begins,” says Goering. “We’ve been at the Center so long now and built this relationship where people are ready to ask these questions as they are designing their projects, which is great.”

In strengthening these collaborations between neuroscience and philosophy, Professor Goering provide spaces and mentorship for students to participate and broaden the application of their humanities studies. Currently, philosophy graduate students Tim Brown, Michelle Pham, Paul Tubig, and Raney Folland as well as undergraduate major Alex Franke are active parts of the philosophy neuroethics group under Goering's mentorship.

In a short video included in the article, Professor Goering and Professor of Biology Tom Daniel discuss their collaboration in addressing ethical questions in the research field of neural engineering, and profess their appreciation of the value provided to society of eager collaboration between researchers across areas of expertise. 

Read the full article, "Navigating the Ethics of Neuroscience."