THURSDAY, April 1, 2004
Session 4: Neuroscience, Brain, and Behavior III:
CHAIRMAN KASS: Could we get started, Dean? This
last session, it will be abbreviated, and it will have to
be followed up by some staff work with your advice to take
us to the next stage. This last session, abbreviated because
we've been behind for most of the day, is supposed to
be devoted to council discussion in which we are to take stock
of what we might have learned today, about what new kinds
of knowledge and inquiry we would like ourselves to pursue
and how to formulate any implicit ethical or social issues
that are here, and also to raise for ourselves other kinds
of topics in this large area, not only deserving of our attention,
but in a way ripe for our attention.
I mean, there was some discussion at the very end of Dr.
Jessell's presentation about how soon one might be able
to move between these neuroscientific findings and our interests
in behavior, and we got a rather, an answer which says not
for awhile, and that means that somehow we're trying to
move rapidly from that to some kind of issue worthy of our
attention. Important though those studies were, if one's
looking for somehow the secret of preventing abnormal behavior
or mental illness, we've got a little time to go.
This is a large and inchoate area. We are attempting to
find out whether this is a topic for us or not, even as we
are learning some very interesting things. I've asked
Mike Gazzaniga if he wouldn't mind too, and if you want
to wait, I'll sing a song, to offer something in this
It was partly, indeed, on the basis of suggestions that
you made last time, and Janet and Dan Foster, where the question
was well, we really ought to learn something about what people
know about normal brain development and early childhood development
before we wander off into some more esoteric topics. The
suggestion was well, if you want to—there was a discussion
whether we should read these things and treat them as background,
or whether we ought to hear them in the flesh from people
who are working in the field.
Speaking specifically for myself, it was very, very good
to have the live presentations of people who are in the forefront
of these neuroscientific and psychological studies.
Mike, would you be prepared to say something about what
have we learned today that's relevant to our own ongoing
work, and can we begin to formulate certain kinds of questions
for further investigation? By the way, I'll set a limit
on this discussion for today of 5:15, 5:20, so we're not
going to go over. This will be a start, and we will continue
with staff prepared papers and the like. We're not going
to cheat on your free time.
DR. GAZZANIGA: Well, don't worry about
my taking the time. As I reconstruct this in my mind, we
were having a conversation last time about possible issues
in neuroscience that might bubble up to the level of an ethical
concern. A conversation was starting on those various issues,
and some of them are fascinating issues in neuroscience, and
they moved all the way from looking at issues of consciousness
to issues of determinism and all the like, down to issues
of, perhaps, intervention in early education, and what was
the nature of what we know about neurodevelopment that might
make that rise to the level of ethical concern.
Now, oddly, even though I love all those topics, I'm
not really pushing this because I don't know that, given
the mandate of this council, that those issues are appropriate
for the council in the sense that if we are supposed to be
looking at biotech advancements that impact society at large,
I think these issues of neuroscience are very active, very
fascinating, very interesting, but I don't see any huge
issue around the corner that is being provoked by our knowledge
of neuroscience. I may get a lot of pushback on that from
my fellow neuroscientists, but that is sort of my take on
I think there are things to be discussed, but I don't
think there's urgency to it in a sense like there has
been with the cloning issue and all that is associated with
On this particular issue that we examined today, the point
was to sort of bring everybody up to speed on how one thinks
about how much comes with the baby, with the child, how much
conceptual work is already done by the process that finds
us all being humans. Then in that context, if you understand
that, what you might mean about a deeper learning experience,
deeper educational experience.
So, here we had today a wonderful discussion on the richness
of the concepts that the young child comes with, basically,
and the limits on those and then how those are developed and
how they're sometimes not met in this critical period
and so forth and so on. So, those are general interests,
and unless we want to get into the social policy questions
that were raised indirectly or directly by Dr. Spelke, I'm
not sure where the ethical question is. So, I really yield
to how you want to think about this.
I don't know—I'm not pushing an agenda here.
I'm just trying to think out loud about where ethics meets
the advancements in neuroscience in the context of this council.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Let me make a small comment on that,
and I'm sure others would like to get in on this as well.
I read from the mission as stated in the Executive Order.
"To undertake fundamental inquiry to the human and moral
significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral
science and technology, to explore specific ethical and policy
questions related to these developments."
Ethical questions need not be conundra. They need not be
things that are highly changed, and policy questions need
not only be those things about which we are divided. There
seems to be at least a certain human significance to the kinds
of work that's being done here insofar as it bears upon
early childhood education and the prospects for rearing well
the next generation in a world in which we don't do that
all that well.
I'm not proposing that that be our focus, but I don't
think it would be outside the mandate of this body to think
about, and this was the force really of Ben Carson's question
and the way of Janet's questions. How does this somehow
translate into education. Is it too early to offer certain
kinds of suggestions there, or is there some kind of social
significance of the things that these people are showing us,
and should we find out more?
Again, I'm not pushing that either, but I wouldn't
say that this is off the table and irrelevant to our mission,
at least insofar as the mission is described.
DR. GAZZANIGA: Just to finish my little—there certainly are large social issues and implications to
this. I think it's a shift in what the council has been
considering if we go there. I just leave it for the council
to advise and consent on that.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Yes, I'm not proposing it as
a shift. I'm not proposing that shift, but I'm saying
that it would fall under the larger umbrella that we have.
Let's see, I had Rebecca and Jim Wilson, and Robbie
and Alfonso, and Ben.
PROFESSOR DRESSER: Well, I wanted to push my—first,
one hopes that policy decisions rest on some ethical views
or judgments. So, if you're talking about policy implications,
it seems to me underneath there would be policies putting
into play some sort of views that about right and wrong or
what's good and what's bad.
You said that some of your colleagues would disagree with
you that, you know, it's premature to start talking about
applications, but I wondered, what would your colleagues who
disagreed with you say are issues that are social issues with
DR. GAZZANIGA: Well, I say that in the context
that we have put out this book called "Beyond Therapy,"
which addressed a lot of the issues that are currently being
discussed within the neuroscience community of enhancements,
the memory issues, and all the rest that were reviewed in
that book. So, we're trying to get beyond those. We've
done those, and move forward.
So, if the "Beyond Therapy" effort had not been
completed, then we could go through that whole list of things
that we discussed for six months.
PROFESSOR DRESSER: What about free will and criminal
responsibility and education? You can't think of anything?
DR. GAZZANIGA: I mean, those are all issues.
I'm not sure that the neuroscience twist on it, though,
is that tight at this point. Those are issues that can come
out more out of the sort of work that Liz Spelke talked about
and then any deep understanding of the neurocircuits involved
CHAIRMAN KASS: Jim?
PROFESSOR WILSON: In order to sharpen the discussion,
let me make two different kinds of proposals for what we might
do next. I'm sorry I was not here at our last meeting.
I was traveling on a trip that I much preferred to being with
all of you people, much as I admire you.
I think that there are two issues which have policy significance
which have deeply involved medical and biological implications.
One we will talk about tomorrow, and that's the problem
of aging. We will hear from Rebecca and Gil and others about
how you manage an increasingly aging population when people
are trying to assert for themselves some degree of authority
over how they shall end their lives or what kind of treatment
will be provided. I think this is a terribly important subject.
Allied to it is a second subject that is also related to
aging, and that is organ transplants. Medical science has
become extraordinarily skilled at transplanting organs. We're
getting older. The demand for transplanted organs will get
I do not believe personally, without having made a deep
examination of this, that we necessarily have a very good
system whereby we either collect or distribute organs. The
ethical questions that arise about how you collect them and
how you distribute them and indeed what you do with them,
it seems to me are very important.
Now, this is a lot different from talking about criminality
and free will. If you're going to talk about criminality
and free will, about which I've written a great deal,
tell me when you're going to do it because I don't
plan to attend that session because I can assure you that
there is nothing to say on this topic, having gone through
countless seminars about it.
If you want to talk about something where there is a clear
bioethical problem, these two aspects of aging strike me as
being quite deserving.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Robbie?
DR. GEORGE: Well, if everybody's in the mood
for another rumble, I can think of a good topic that we could
generate a lot of divisiveness about, which is the topic that
was suggested in the one area in which our guests made some
suggestions towards social policy, and that is education.
Of course, we begin with a shared conviction. I'm sure
everybody believes that it's better for children to be
placed in circumstances and given opportunities and resources
to fulfill their abilities. We all want that for our children
and for everyone's children.
But it would be interesting to know what the best science
had to say about the desirability of putting children between
ages two and five in schools or daycare centers or having
them in homes, having in mind what Janet said about the inability
to completely generalize here and imagine that the answer
is going to be the same for everybody. There are special
Even trying to decide that question, I'm sure, would
be very controversial, and we would probably divide over it,
but gee, I'd like to know the answer to it, and I'd
like to know what's out there by way of research that
would lead us to be able to at least form some tentative conclusions.
Having said that, let's just say for the sake of argument,
and I'm not trying to prejudice the case. Let's say
for the sake of argument that all things considered in most
cases, it's rational to conclude based on the science
that we would look at that it's better for kids to be
between ages two and five, to be at home with a parent, or
someone who is functioning very much like a parent rather
than being in a school or a daycare center or something like
Well, then of course there would be a profound division
about how you create social circumstances or what social policies
would facilitate that. I've heard this argued at completely
polar extremes. Some people say that well, what that puts
into place is the predicate for the establishment of a true
form of socialism where through a heavy taxation system, we
would put the government in a position to be able to provide
resources that would enable people to keep kids at home who
would otherwise have to be in the work force.
Then there are other people who say at the opposite extreme
that what created the need for the two earner family was the
Constitutional amendment that authorized the income tax and
what we should do is abolish the income tax and solve the
problem that way.
I can imagine us usefully discussing, although it would
be extremely controversial, usefully discussing and having
our staff look into and having us read studies about what's
best for kids between ages two and five. I can't imagine
us usefully debating then the policy question, should we abolish
the income tax, should we establish some form of socialism
or something like that.
So, if when we went down this road, I think we could only
go down so far, not toward any concrete policy conclusions
about how to make it possible for people to have a parent
at home, but only looking at the question whether all things
considered, our society is heading in the right direction
by having an awful lot of kids, perhaps most kids today between
two and five, in some sort of daycare situation.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Yes, thank you. Let me make a procedural
suggestion. Jim Wilson has added non-neuroscience questions
to our agenda. One of them we will take up tomorrow, and
he has put forth the business of organ transplantation. Let's
keep the rest of this discussion still on where we might be
on this topic. We are free to abandon it if it turns out
that we cannot make it tractable or focused. This does not
preclude adding other topics, at least for provisional consideration
as we go along. Jim?
PROFESSOR WILSON: Early childhood education, as
you may know, currently involves a major study effort by the
National Institutes of Health that involves several dozen
scholars around the country. They regularly produce reports.
The reports are filled with conflicting interpretations about
what the data mean, and conflicting ethical arguments about
what they ought to mean.
If we're going to look at this, I suggest it will take
some deep staff work into what the National Institute has
done in this area to see if there's anything left over.
I say this, urging us to bear in mind that in our second reincarnation,
we have roughly seven meetings left.
CHAIRMAN KASS: I have Alfonso, Ben, Peter, and Michael.
DR. GÓMEZ-LOBO: I'm going to contribute
to the rambling I guess in a way, but I'm going to go
back to the question of neuroscience, just to give you my
First of all, I've enjoyed these two meetings, the meeting
today and the last meeting tremendously. I mean, it's
really fascinating to hear people who really know a lot about
these things, and always initially divided in my mind in the
On the one hand, it seems to me that any ethical concerns
would have to do with actions, with what people do. There
I really don't see that there's much going on. In
other words, no one seems to be proposing sort of radical
interventions into the brain so as to make people, you know,
different or something like that. I mean, Mike has shown
that rather clearly.
So, that concern on my part has faded away. I just don't
see that there are ethical issues along those lines.
My second concern had to do more with questions in ethical
theory. Now, one of them was to what an extent progress in
neurology was driving us away from ethics and from the replies
we heard today from Professor Kagan, et cetera. I'm reassured
that there's a big gap there and that in no way are we
giving up issues of freedom of the will or that.
Now, the last thing about which I was concerned, and it's
connected to this, were issues connected with the presentation
by Professor Jonathan Cohen last time. I thought they were
quite fascinating, and I tried to think about them, not necessarily
because they were new. I think that the emotional reaction
to certain kinds of actions is known for a long time.
It became clear to me later on that his field is really
a field very different from ethics, in fact, because even
if a PET scan tells you what the reaction of certain agents
are to certain kinds of actions, that, unfortunately, does
not tell us anything about whether it's true that those
actions are morally right or morally wrong. That, in a way,
put me to rest because it means that we are really in a world
of multiple dimensions in which we have to think about certain
domains in certain ways and about other domains in other ways.
So, in a way, I'm at peace, if I should say so, with
everything that I've heard right now. Now, that said,
it seems to me that Jim is pointing in a very promising direction.
As far as I can see, aging and connected with that the questions
of justice related to organ transplantation are really going
to be pressing issues, and I think issues that will demand
public policy and therefore will demand some kind of ethical
CHAIRMAN KASS: Ben?
DR. CARSON: If, in fact, there is scientific
evidence, as was suggested this morning, that the intrauterine
environment can have a positive effect on the potential of
a child, and if in fact it is true that a caring and nurturing
environment can improve their subsequent intellectual performance,
I guess an ethical question becomes do we as a society have
a responsibility to at least disseminate this information
in a wide fashion and try to facilitate both the pre-natal
and post-natal environments for all of our citizens.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Thank you. Peter, Michael, and Gil,
and then we will halt, just arbitrarily.
DR. LAWLER: I would like to agree with Jim Wilson
that our main focus probably should be on questions concerning
an aging society, but I'm not a scientist, but I do think
science is a very high human good, and I do want to become
With this in mind, I was really fascinated by the presentations
today. I agree with Alfonso. I'm at peace with them.
I don't see any lurking danger to anything that we need
to deal with immediately or anything like that. It does seem
like in many respects, neuroscience is in the early stages
of development and so forth, but it does seem to me it's
One breakthrough I noticed in the materials we read and
what we heard is that basically behaviorism is dead. Basically
in a certain way, sociobiology is dead because we're now
getting solid scientific evidence that many of our distinctively
human qualities, like for example, language, have a natural
foundation, that they're innate in some sense.
So, it might be, from a theoretical point of view, good
to reflect on this, but I'm not quite sure what public
policy implications would derive from this, and it might be
as interesting and as futile as free will versus determinism
Nonetheless, in my project to become more rational, if someone
could conceive a way of studying this with public policy implications,
I'd be all for it.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Michael Sandel?
PROFESSOR SANDEL: Well, Leon, after the lunch
break, you addressed some rumbling doubts around the table
about the practical and ethical public policy implications
of the kinds of presentations we were hearing today, and I
for one was greatly heartened and relieved when you tried
to address those doubts by saying well, it would take us back
to Lucretius, these issues. We have an expansive executive
order that would encompass Lucretius, and that's good
enough for me.
CHAIRMAN KASS: I said we were going to bracket the
Lucretian question, and we were going to learn something about
the science, but never mind.
DR. GEORGE: But we also heard about studies described
as classical studies from the 1970's.
PROFESSOR SANDEL: So, Lucretius would please
me, but thinking about what really will sustain a project
for this council. I think that in the neuroscience area,
what worked, what was stimulating, what educated us, and Alfonso
says he's at peace now, which worries me because I like
Alfonso when he's agitated. That's what makes things
interesting. So, I would oppose any topic that would leave
Alfonso at peace.
I think that what agitated all of us and excited and intrigued
all of us about the neuroscience topic were the two provocative
presentations of Pinker and Cohen. That's what got this
group interested in neuroscience. The thing about brain imaging
and cognitive mapping and what were the implications for free
will versus mechanism and what were the implications for responsibility
and maybe ultimately for criminal responsibility. So, people
got all excited about that, and we were in a combat, some
of us, with Pinker and Cohen. That was interesting. That
was the part of neuroscience that seemed to be sort of rich
with implications for ethics.
But as we delve into sort of the main lines of work and
research in these sessions today, it turns out that that's
more, if we're framing a project, it's not easy to
frame a project around the topics that excited us and interested
us with the Pinker and the Cohen. The mundane state of the
discipline doesn't really lend itself, I don't think,
to a project that we can really usefully undertake.
So, my suggestion would be that we shouldn't take up
the neuroscience thing after all.
CHAIRMAN KASS: That we should not?
PROFESSOR SANDEL: Should not, and instead
maybe the aging and the elderly thing will have something
useful. I would go back to Jim's idea. Organ transplants
not necessarily by itself is a topic but is one way of getting
at the broader question that we've toyed with taking up
before, the issue of commodification of the body, organ transplants
being one practical question that's looming on the horizon
that would enable us to take up the commodification question.
Listening to the presentations today, I think we'd be
better off with that than we would with the neuroscience.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Mike, did you want a quick comment
DR. GAZZANIGA: Well, at the risk of being inconsistent.
So, let's take Jim's concern about aging, and let
me raise a question that neuroscience has a lot to speak about,
death of the person versus death of the brain. Now, that
will get you all going.
There are many, many current brain imaging studies that
touch on what we know about the parts of the brain that are
involved in self and parts of the brain that have to be active
in various states of conscious experience and so forth and
so on. The model is that right now, Dr. Carson would know
about this more than I do, that in cardiology, the current
cardiologist is faced very commonly now with the ethical question,
a patient comes in who has a pacemaker in them and it's
working fine and it's sustained their life, and now other
diseases have caught up with them, and they want the pacemaker
turned off. It's a tough decision.
Some doctors won't turn it off, some will. They want
it reprogrammed. They want to check out. They've had
It's easy to imagine down the pike that they're
going to be—there's already deep brain stimulators that
have this wonderful effect on some Parkinson's cases.
There could be similar critical implants in the brain that
are life sustaining, and then the question is if other things
catch up with the patient, some form of cancer, heart disease,
and if it's the brain, does the medical community have
the right to turn this off after they've turned it on,
and how do you think through that moral issue.
So, one could get back into it real quickly.
PROFESSOR SANDEL: Then that would be one subset
under the general heading of end of life issues, which would
be fine. That wouldn't be neuroscience as a broad category
as we've been thinking of it here.
CHAIRMAN KASS: Gil, please?
PROFESSOR MEILAENDER: My first and last view on
this is also doubt whether I really see a way forward for
us. Having said that, I mean, I do think there is a project
here. I just don't know whether we're the people
to do it, or we're up for it.
I think that what Professor Spelke gave us this afternoon
was in some ways a bunch of empirical evidence in support
of what, if I'm remembering correctly, Kant called something
like the transcendental unity of apperception. So, there
are profound questions about the relation between behavior
and biology that were raised here, and questions, Alfonso,
that aren't so clear to me.
In other words, if there are structures that are really
given, what does that—does that have any implications for
morality or not? I mean, there are very deep questions that
could be raised there, and I think we could do something interesting,
or someone could do something interesting on that.
It would not be the kind of project that had immediate public
policy implications. It would be more like Beyond Therapy
in the sense that it would simply seek to educate the public
about some very deep issues which are never going to go away,
which are very old and are just raised in different contexts
now but are still always worth thinking about.
So, I would have no objection in doing that. I think it
could be very useful and provocative in various ways. Having
said all that, I'm not sure I see a way forward for us
to do it or whether we're the body that's up to it
in a way.
So, I do want to go on record as saying I think there's
a serious project actually here of deep philosophical import,
but I'm not confident that it's wise for us to really
CHAIRMAN KASS: Good. Let me make a procedural suggestion
here. Speaking simply for myself, I'm not ready to toss
in the towel on this, partly because, as I said at the beginning
of the day, the background here today, the purpose of the
day was to give us some fundamental background and to see
whether on the basis of this foundation we could then develop
the kind of project that would suit this body, focused with
some kind of practical implications, not without some theoretical
or deep human significance, but not to have a simply philosophical
project like "Beyond Therapy." I would agree with
Gil. That's not for this group.
There were topics tossed out before about neural imaging,
its promise, its perils. However primitive it is, people
are making use of it for all kinds of purposes, and we could
do a service simply to call attention to how much is known
and what the possible misuses or good uses of that would be.
That would be one thing.
There are other people who are talking about the re-emergence
of deep brain stimulation and various other kinds of interventions
in which the question is not whether you just turned the machine
off, but what actually does this mean for questions of autonomy
and control and the like. We could begin to at least explore
some of the sub-areas, both of a technical sort that does
raise ethical and social questions. It's not for today.
What this discussion shows me at least is that if this project
is to go forward, I and the staff have to do some hard work
with your advice, to put together a working paper to try to
focus this somewhat before we bring anything back to you for
the next meeting, and we'll take that as our assignment,
mindful of the fact that there's at least some skepticism
around the table as to whether there is a clear enough focus
in this neuroscience area.
The importance of this stuff is, I think, clear. There's
no sense that there's anything ominous here about which
we have to go ring the alarm bell, but this is science coming
home to work on certain fundamental things of our humanity,
and we would be foolish, I think, if we simply turned away
our eye, especially when no one else has bothered to take
it up, and neuroethics is a growing field, and the train shouldn't
leave the station without our at least paying some attention
as to whether there's something here ripe for our attention—weighty, ripe, and doable.
We have to go to an ethics class across the hall in the
break room. Someone is waiting for us there. The formal
session is adjourned until tomorrow morning, 8:30 we will
convene. I'm happy to say that our colleague, Bill May,
will be with us. He is the senior consultant on this aging
project, and will be joining us at the table.
(Whereupon, the above-referenced matter
was adjourned at 5:23 p.m., to reconvene the next day at 8:30