All entries for Tuesday 27 November 2007

November 27, 2007

The neurometer

Neuroemeter - for measuring electrophysiology of cells

Looking at possible PhDs to undertake after I graduate, I have been confronted with an ethical hurdle as my interests sway towards the neurosciences. I have, as such, been compelled to write a new entry, with a new question (please note that this isn’t necessarily the same question that confronts me, although it may be one – indeed it is one for any academic to consider).

A scientist, Dr. Science, manages to construct the first reliable neurochip – that is an electronic device that includes neurons (the cells in you brain that, via many electrical impulses, receive, compute and send information to your muscles upon various external stimuli) as electronic components, among the standard known components (e.g. resistors, diodes etc.). This neurochip enables the processing of specific neuronal activity that correlates to thought, such that the electrical signals can be reprocessed and displayed by a computer.

To me, there appear three significant implications to this:

1) That the mechanisation of thought (and thus the mind) can be interwoven directly with the laws of physics such that, upon realising that we must all “be one” due to the nature of our origins and having no soul (i.e. that we are all a result of physical laws e.g. thermodynamic equilibria, the quantum mechanics of atomic bonding, the photoelectric effect of vision etc.), we live in harmony and peace.
2) We realise that there are no consequences for what appears to be our “self” and society becomes “all-for-all”, resulting in the demise and probably extinction of the human race.
3) We don’t care what the philosophical implications are but we exploit the new technology as a means to socio-economic superiority.

Now, Dr. Science developed this device not to earn money for himself by selling them to those rich enough to afford them, not even for it to be applied to therapeutic treatments of ill patients, but to aid the realisation of implication 1) – i.e. harmony and peace.
However, despite his hopes, reasonable or delusional, implications 2) and 3) follow from the release of this product into the public domain.

The question is: were Dr. Science’s actions ethical or unethical?

I suppose the bulk of this question lies in a simpler, more general question: are ethics grounded in intention or consequence?

November 2007

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