The Medium or the Message: Neuroethics and the Perceptual Influence of Information Use

By Dr. Denis C. Larrivee

Conference Abstract

The Medium or the Message: Neuroethics and the Perceptual Influence of Information Use Denis Larrivee. International Association Catholic Bioethicists. Toronto, CANADA Angeline Larrivee. Catholic U America, Washington, DC USA. Luis Echarte. Institute for Culture and Society, School of Medicine U Navarra, SPAIN. Feature films like the Matrix popularize images of individuals trapped in digital data sets and electronically preserved in logic circuits. The notion of information capture therein is an attractive one in a world flooded with electronic devices designed to transmit, capture, transduce and otherwise manage a sea of ongoing communication exchange. Information use is crucial, in fact, not only for the operation of todays information tilted technologies, including neuro and neuro related technologies, but also in how its perception can influence neuromodulation proposals and their ethical consequences. How information is conceived has generally adopted one of two approaches. Either as 1) a source for expanding neuroenhancement options or 2) a medium for establishing causal relations with a host of devices/objects that structure the individual’s association with the external world. In the first conception, information is viewed as metaphysically equivalent to being, i.e., in a Heideggerian sense (Onishi, 2011); thus, it serves as a source for expanding the anthropological range of human nature, a nature that is seen as intrinsically malleable. In this approach information amplifies and builds upon evolutionary development by rationally directing what had hitherto been a biologically based trajectory. Here information constitutes a virtually inexhaustible reservoir enabling prospective neural change. In the second, information is used to establish causal relations with external devices that expand the functional repertoire of the neural system. The understanding of information in the first case raises ethical issues concerned primarily with ontology, i.e., how we understand being human, and how this view impacts personal qualities, such as agency and our social nature. The latter conception raises questions regarding the effect of relations we establish through extended communication with the exterior world, both in their impact on ourselves and in our impact on the world through such devices (Schwartz, 2015). Functionalist approaches that encapsulate equivalency notions of value, moreover, such as the Ethical Parity Principle, extend human ontology to networks of peripheral entities, a notion that has been used to broadly legitimate neuroenhancement of the human brain (Levy, 2007). How information is perceived is thus more than a merely quantitative assessment, but a conceptual approach that itself determines the sorts of specific challenges raised by neuroethics. Disclosures: none. Levy, N (2007). Rethinking neuroethics in the light of the extended mind thesis. American J Bioethics 7(9):3-11. Onish B (2011). Information, bodies, and Heidegger: Tracing visions of the posthuman. Sophia 50:101-112. Schwartz A (2015) The promise of neurotechnology. Science 350(6256):11.

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