Discussing brain doping in an overloaded Science Café

The Radboud University of Nijmegen chose to discuss the issues related to Neuro-Enhancement during a Science Café entitled “Brain doping. From medical to societal need”. - From the Dutch NERRI partner Radboud University

“An interesting and informative night”

 “They did not only give information, but also showed the dilemmas concerning brain doping”

“There was room for a lot of opinions, which helped me to form my own opinion.”

These quotes are some opinions of the participants of the Science Café entitled: “Brain doping. From medical to societal need”, organized by the Radboud University of Nijmegen. At 19.30 p.m. the first people arrived and in half an hour 130 people found a seat in the atmospheric room of the centrally situated pub. The mood was relaxed and the public, with various backgrounds and ages, was ready to listen to two presentations and join the discussion afterwards.

Roshan Cools, professor of cognitive neuropsychiatry at the Donders Institute in Nijmegen, introduced the function of the dopaminergic system to the audience and discussed issues like: How are dopamine levels related to concentration? And how can we help people who lack concentration? But she also confronted the audience with more difficult questions like: Is focus and concentration always a good thing? According to her we do not forget with no reason. For example, we forget to make room for new memories.

Even more critical questions arose when Maartje Schermer, professor of philosophy of medicine at the Erasmus Medical Centre of Rotterdam, showed applications of neuroscience and presented some interesting case studies of neuro-enhancement dilemmas. Are we free to choose or will neuro-enhancement lead to social pressure? Should we enhance our children or should employers ask their employees to enhance themselves to perform better? Do we need to regulate the distribution of these drugs or should we sell them in the drugstore?

To illustrate how future applications of neuro-enhancement could influence individuals and society, a group of students designed and presented a short play. This play was developed in another NERRI MLE as part of a philosophy and ethics course for science students. The creative activity was used to give the students different tools to think about the implications neuro technology could have on society and how they could affect our moral and ethical values. The students included some of the ethical issues in their play and presented a situation where a doctor with much experience was rejected for a job. A doctor without any experience, but with a memory chip which made it possible to remember everything he had once read, was accepted instead. The students succeeded in clarifying the discussion and narrowing down the ethical issues to one triggering question: Why would you prefer one doctor instead of the other?

This variety of presentations resulted in a vivid discussion among the audience about the ethical and moral issues related to the cases as presented in the presentations and the theatre play. Topics related to fairness, coercion, personal freedom and the desired society were brought up. Many different opinions were presented and people actively participated in the discussion. People were clearly not finished with discussing the topics at the end of the evening. Some stayed longer to discuss the issues and the evaluations demonstrated that people were very interested in this topic and wanted to know more about brain doping, the working of the brain and the long term implications on society. This night needs a follow up! 

Picture credits: pic.twitter.com/1tUVj0xDzP The picture was tweeted with the text: “Roshan talks about brain doping in an overloaded Science Café”