HPA (Junior Research Group)



Neuroethical research is a core part of the BrainLinks-BrainTools endeavour. Philosophical foundations and ethical evaluations were previously addressed in two complementary interdisciplinary projects, #16 Mechanized Brains and Müller’s Junior Research Group NPAC. Now, to optimally prepare for the next phase of BrainLinks-BrainTools, we merge these two projects into a single coherent effort entitled “Hybridity, Personhood, Agency. Ethical Foundations of Neurotechnological Closed-Loop Interactions (HPA)”. The new project addresses three key concepts that concern the three pillars of the current BrainLinks-BrainTools II master plan: (1) Hybridity as an important term that reflects the ‘amalgamation’ of natural and technological substrates. Merging living material with neurotechnology blurs the boundaries of life, nature, and biotechnology. We know from other fields in biotechnology that such ontological concerns affect the acceptability of new technologies. (2) Personhood as a key concept in medical ethics is pertinent when information is bidirectionally exchanged between technological devices and the human brain, including consequences of “write-in” of information. We particularly stress that current theories address the interlacing of psychological, biological, narrative, and social dimensions of personhood, which will be important to identify the specific normative aspects of innovative DBS systems. And (3) agency as a key concept for neurobotic applications, especially shared-autonomy scenarios, where the control over a task is shared between the user/patient and an intelligent neurotechnological robotic system. Here, we will build on a novel framework of intentional processes that we have developed as a major accomplishment of the funding period so far. Among other innovations, this model pays attention to fundamental neuroscientific concepts (e.g., bottom-up mechanisms), which allow, compared to previous models, a far more precise, empirical categorization of intentional processes. We believe that this model will be a powerful resource not only for the neuroscientific research community in general, but also for our partners in BrainLinks-BrainTools (e.g., NeuroBots, Brain-Tune-Linc), to whom our clarification of intentional mechanisms and processes will be a great asset in the development of high-level intention-decoding implementations. In summary, the efforts in this project will provide a truly interdisciplinary, neuroethical foundation for the future of BrainLinks-BrainTools.

Research Status

Development of a philosophical scaffolding with our neuro-philosophical compendium that will provide a manual for interdisciplinary research and various entries to core concepts in the field of action science (e.g. intention, action, agency, guidance, control). First analyses of the qualitative/narrative interviews conducted with PD patients undergoing DBS. These interviews will serve as a basis for the philosophical exploration of ‚personhood' as a pivotal concept in the ethics of neurotechnology, esp. regarding the extension of medical indications for DBS (e.g., depression).

Müller O (2014) Orientierung an der menschlichen Natur. Anthropologische Grundlagen für eine Ethik der Neurotechnologien und des Enhancement. Freiburger Universitätsblätter, issue: 205, pp. 33-47.