Organizing a round table on Neuro-Enhancement inside a museum: a fruitful experience

The NERRI Italian teams chose the MAXXI Museum (National Museum of XXI Century Arts) in Rome as the perfect framework for their second mobilization and mutual learning activity. - From the Italian NERRI partner International School for Advanced Studies

On Thursday, 5 June 2014, the NERRI Italian teams organized a round table inside the MAXXI Museum in Rome. The meeting, as part of the MML activities organized by the NERRI consortium, had the aim of debating the issue of neuro-enhancement in terms of scientific, social and ethical aspects, stimulating dialogue with the public.

Before starting the round table it was possible to join a guided tour of the museum focusing on particular pieces of art that have a connection with some issues raised by the neuro-enhancement theme.

The tour was followed by the contributions of neuroscience experts held in the Hall Graziella Lonardi Bontempi. Agnes Allansdottir (Toscana Life Sciences Foundation, Siena) moderated the event. After a brief presentation of the NERRI project done by Vincent Torre (Trieste, International School for Advanced Studies), Fabrizio Vecchio (Brain Connectivity Laboratory San Raffaele Research Institute, Rome) talked about the possibility of predicting the performance of an executive attentional motor task by the measurment of a network functional coupling. Even if the talk was technical it helped to understand how the complexity of the human brain make it so difficult to understand if a specific stimulation can improve the cognition. The conclusion of the scientist was: “it’s not important only where we stimulate but also when!”.

Elisabetta Sirgiovanni, research fellow in neuroethics at the National Research Council of Italy - Institute of Biomedical Technology, focused on “Neuro-Enhancement and Neuroethics”. Sirgiovanni not only tried to explain what we mean with the word neuro-enhancement (potenziamento cognitivo in Italian) but also considered the issue of words’ ambiguity as enhancement-therapy, normal-pathologic, natural-artificial, conventional-unconventional, legal-illegal etc.

The last intervention was “Not invasive neuromodulation of cognition: methodological and ethical considerations” by Simone Rossi (Neurosciences Departement, UOC Neurology and Neurofisiology Clinic, Brain Investigation & Neuromodulation Lab, Le Scotte Polyclinic, Siena). Rossi’s intervention dealt with the neuro-enhancement stimulation  on “normal people”. He concluded that “the vast majority of specialists in the area of brain stimulation are reluctant to stimulate their own brains for the purpose of neural enhancement, the reasons being a mixture of insufficient benefit, safety concerns and time required for application”.

Following these first different approaches to the theme of neuro-enhancement, there was a round table with Andrea Paolini, general manager of Toscana Life Sciences Foundation, Antonello D’Elia, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and the artist Bruno Aller. Bruno Aller told his personal experience: the installation of valves that regulate the peritoneal liquor. Andrea Paolini focused on the need to explore philosophical and ethical issues. In his opinion these should be addressed even before those that could involve legal consequences, not to restrict or block the activity of research but to remember aspects arising from research and new technologies.

The intervention of Antonello D’Elia, with his different point of view, treated the issue of enhancement in relation to the hyperindividualism of the contemporary society, the inability of an internal and external dialogue.

At the end of the round table time was left to the audience to ask questions and exchange ideas, creating the perfect opportunity to foster the debate.