Brain Trust

With science increasingly able to shape how we think, a symposium looks at the ethics involved.


DALLAS (SMU) — Changing the way people think — using pharmaceuticals and technology — poses some of the more serious ethical issues of our time, says SMU Dedman School of Law associate professor Tom Mayo.

brainTo address this, SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, in collaboration with the North Texas Neurophilosophy Network, will host a symposium, “Brain, Mind & Society: The Future of Neuroethics,” on Thursday, Feb. 10, on the SMU campus.

"This is the ideal time to support the research of ethicists and other philosophers in a field that is at the cutting edge of multiple disciplines—and has the potential to affect future public policy and law," says Mayo, who also serves as an adjunct associate professor of internal medicine at UT-Southwestern Medical School.
The daylong symposium in Storey Hall’s Karcher Auditorium is free and open to the public (and will include a complimentary lunch), but pre-registration is required by visiting or by calling 214-768-4255.

New technology and cutting-edge research — and the speed-to-market pressure accompanying it — often preclude reflection of ethical issues, notes Rita Kirk, public affairs professor and director of the Maguire Center.

"This conference brings together neuroscientists and ethicists in an effort to hit the pause button," Kirk says. "Parents who want their children treated, doctors who want to offer healing and hope to their patients, and researchers who devote their lives to improving quality of life will find this conference particularly engaging."

The guest lecturers will be:

  • Paul Churchland, Ph.D. (philosophy professor, University of California, San Diego): “What Can Theoretical and Experimental Neuroscience Tell Us About Morality?” (8:45 a.m.)
  • Thomas Metzinger, Ph.D. (philosophy professor and director, Theoretical Philosophy Group, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, Germany): “Cognitive Enhancement” (9:45 a.m.)
  • Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, Ph.D. (Chauncy Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Duke University): “Brain Scans at the End of Life” (11:10 a.m.)
  • Hank Greely, J.D. (Deana F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law, Stanford University Center for Law and the Biosciences): “Neuroscience and Law - The View From 400,000 Feet” (1:30 p.m.)
  • James Giordano, Ph.D. (director, neurotechnology studies, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies): “Neuroethics: A Natural Meta-Ethics?” (3:05 p.m.)
  • Panel discussion: “What is the Impact of Neuroethics on Public Policy?” (4 p.m.)  

Mayo says the idea for the gathering began with a group sponsored by the Maguire Center— the North Texas Bioethics Network.

“We have talked for years about collaborations that might make sense among the various institutions represented by the members of the Network. When it occurred to us that a subset of the Network was doing serious philosophical and specifically ethical work in the emerging field of brain science, we decided to put on a unique symposium that would involve all all five of our region’s educational institutions—SMU, UT-Southwestern, UT-Arlington, UT-Dallas, and University of North Texas—with the Maguire Center providing financial and administrative support,” he explains.

"Our hope was that this initial collaboration, styled as the North Texas Neurophilosophy Network, would not only bring significant intellectual content, but also would be the beginning of a longer-term working relationship among the schools," Mayo says.

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