IBMC.INEB's “Tinkering with the Brain” Think Tank: discussing Neuro-Enhancement in a focus group

A new Mobilization and Mutual Learning Activity was organized in Portugal, this time in Porto by the IBMC.INEB team. A think thank of experts took part to a focus group.

A group of experts from very different fields took on the challenge of collaboratively thinking about neuro-enhancement (NE) in a focus group. The event, that took place on April 5th at the Gallery of the EDP Foundation in Porto, was named “Tinkering with the Brain” (“Mexer no Cérebro” in Portuguese) and involved a think tank of experts. These “Tank Thinkers” were researchers with very diverse backgrounds, from philosophers to engineers, from economists to writers, from historians to designers, from lawyers to neuroscientists, psychologists, surgeons, etc. The goal of the meeting was to make the participant focus on a previously proposed set of key issues: Therapy and normality; Self, self-perception and personal identity; Autonomy, empowerment and agency; and Equity and access.

By the end of the discussion, a brief summary of its key points was provided to the participants by João Bettencourt Relvas, from the IBMC.INEB team. More than answers, the meeting raised additional questions, such as:

- Is the brain still a black box or do we really know all there is to know about it? Should the lawmakers be progressive or wait for scientific discoveries and society’s values to settle?

- Is NE meant to improve our performance or our quality of life? Will it help us find our true self, the one we are comfortable with, or will it alter it beyond remission?

- How much of our notion of memory – personal and collective –will be altered with NE? Will we need it for the survival of our species? What is the price we will pay for NE and what kind of fears do these technologies breed?

Two moderators, a scientist (IBMC’s Alexandre Quintanilha) and a philosopher (University of Porto Faculty of Arts’ Sofia Miguens), made sure the discussion covered the issues proposed and that the “Tank Thinkers” were the main protagonists and that they were not seen as mere providers or recipients of information, but as true partners in this mutual learning event. A film crew registered every moment of the meeting, and the resulting footage will surely provide the IBMC.INEB team and all NERRI partners interesting material for future research, for preparing other Mobilization and Mutual Learning Events and for NERRI’s overall dissemination purposes through several media platforms.