Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay
Imagine you could stop feeling anxious in dangerous situations by simply pressing a button. You could start focusing on the situation, thinking rationally about your next step to find the best solution. Or imagine you could neutralize your sad and depressed mood with one simple click or even switch to happiness and euphory. Doesn’t that sound good? Do you think having such a button would be the solution you were looking for for so long to deal with all the unpleasant feelings? Probably everyone experiences bad feelings and moods once awhile and wishes to enhance the mood immediately and in the best case keeping this happiness and pleasure permanently. Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay.Based on latest findings, this may not be impossible. Three years ago, a collaboration of researcher created a tiny brain implant that alters neurochemicals via a wireless remote control (Jackson, 2015). Since then, several experiments have been conducted, especially with animals but also with humans. So far, the interest focuses on people with illnesses, such as epilepsy, chronic pain, brain cancer, depression, and other mood disorders. The main aim today is to treat those illnesses which could not be treated effectively through psychological psychotherapy, biological treatments, medical substances, or other mental exercises.
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Therefore, the interest is great in creating a brain implant that can turn on and off specific cells, and activate neurotransmitter-receptors, whereby, specific feelings are changed, and one gains control over undesirable symptoms.
Although the desire to control emotions has been around for a long time, there is a difference between the meaning of the word ‘controlling’. Usually, it relates to the aim of recognizing emotions consciously, learning to admit to them and handling (controlling) them efficiently. On the contrast, ‘control’ in the context of brain implants rather means recognizing, especially unpleasant, emotions and turning them into pleasant ones that leads to happiness. Whereby, the original emotion is rather ignored and stopped instead of admitted and accepted. However, that this goal can be beneficial for people with serious illnesses is out of question. But what if even healthy people possess such an emotion-controlling brain implant?
Many scientists enthusiastically talk about the idea of providing healthy people with the opportunity to improve their memory, intelligence, and also ensure permanent happiness (Krämer, 2007). On the contrary, other scientists consider such technologies critically from an anthropological view and ask what consequences would follow for humans and for humanity. Therefore, it is always of great interest to question new innovative technologies that are coupled with healthy humans, which we nowadays call ‘cyborgs’. Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay.
In this essay, I will focus on the fictive idea that all people possess such an emotion-controlling brain implant and can use it freely without restrictions. Based on that idea, I will investigate the question whether a human with an emotion-controlling brain implant can be understood as a hybrid, or whether it challenges our modern human self-understanding. Therefore, I will briefly explain what a hybrid is to lay the foundation for understanding the following discussion and it will be clarified what makes us human. The discussion then focusses on two aspects of the human being, namely rationality and identity. Rationality will be discussed by contrast Kant’s’ view of reason and rationality and Damasio’s view of reason and the importance of emotions. The discussion implements further concepts like trans- and posthumanism which are explained in the corresponding paragraphs.
Before clarifying how the current self-understanding of humans look like it should be clear what a hybrid is. A hybrid is a human-machine coupling whereby the technological component does not change human nature. This also means that a hybrid is one kind of a cyborg. Which in turn is either an invasive (e. g. implants, artificial organs) or non-invasive (e. g. VR Glasses, prosthetics) integration of technological components with the (healthy) human body that aims at enhancing humans’ functioning and overcome human limitations.
Now, it should be clarified how the self-understanding of human beings look like. Since many decades scientist of different disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, biology and many more, try to investigate what it actually means to be human. Definitions appear to be very different which leads to the conclusion that humans are complex, multifaceted beings. Nevertheless, scientists tried to differentiate humans from machines and animals, thus, some aspects became common ground of the human self-understanding. For instance, people have the potential for rationality (Crouch, 2015). Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay. They create a coherence between their thinking, feelings, and actions. Moreover, humans are autonomists who does not act in any way, rather develop hypotheses and are guided by their own individual values. Rationality, autonomy as well as other cognitive abilities depend on experiences (Crouch, 2015). But experience in itself is just an observation of an event (both external and internal). What we make of these observations, by means of our cognitive abilities (including emotions), defines us as human beings and it defines an individuals’ identity and personality.
To find out whether an emotion-controlling brain implant challenge our current self-understanding lets focus on two main aspects of the human: rationality and identity. Plato, Aristoteles, and Kant already pointed out the human ability of rational thinking by using reason. Kant claims that people should act out of duty; means, people do something because they recognize by reason that it is morally the right thing to do and regard themselves as having the moral obligation (duty) to do that action (Guyer, 2004). Such an action is not guided by any personal passion, it is simply guided by logical reasoning, thus, it is your task to do so (Guyer, 2004). Rationalists assume to obtain the best result for any situation it is best to keep out all emotions and passions. If this is true and our actions rely on logical reason only, then, it might be a helpful tool to control emotions. Once a person can change or even stop a feeling or mood it would be much easier to think rationally and therefore, reason logically which action is required in a certain situation. Hence, an emotion-controlling brain implant would strengthen the human aspect of rationality. On the one hand, this gives the impression nothing would change about our current self-understanding and thus, would be an argument for the hybrid, but on the other hand, enhancing the ability of rationality could be understood as a transition away from current human skills, which fits into a transhumanistic approach. Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay.
Transhumanism advocates that humans should enhance and thereby overcome current human limitations, both physical and mental by new technologies (Woll, 2013); physical in the sense of strength, immune to diseases and aging, etc. , mental in the sense of enhanced cognition, memory, imagination, mood, and self-esteem. The aim is to “improve the state of an organism beyond its normal healthy state” (Aydin, 2017). At the same time, transhumanists place value on individual autonomy, freedom, tolerance, rational thinking, social concern, hence, human values are preserved. This last aspect is the main difference to posthumanists, who want to replace the human with a completely new species: the posthuman (Woll, 2013). As a result, everything that makes us what we are today would be lost. Transhumanists, on the contrary, want a fusion of human and technology whereby the human is simply enhanced but still humane. However, to me, it is not clearly defined where the boundary is between overcoming humans’ limitations, improving beyond the normal human health, and at the same time keeping what is crucial to human beings. To illustrate my confusion let’s consider a person with an emotion-controlling brain implant who can turn on and off certain feelings, change his/her mood. Thereby, this would allow the person to be more confident, happier, more balanced than anyone who does not possess an implant.
Therefore, the person would overcome his/her limitations and enhance mental abilities which result in a state beyond his/her normal health state. Hence, it fits one aspect of a transhuman. But what about the other aspect of keeping human nature? Does this person still remain the same person, with the same identity, personality even when (s)he has already improved abilities beyond the human nature? Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay.
To challenge the implant a bit more I want to integrate the ideas of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio who points to the importance of emotions. According to Damasio, Kant as well as Aristoteles and Plato, missed the real role emotions play within the reasoning process (Batista, 2011). Damasio states that feelings cooperate with reason and their support in the process is crucial to the decision-making process. He argues that the process of reasoning involves a detailed consideration of all alternatives, each’s possible outcomes and through logic, the alternative with the best outcome is determined. But this process takes too much time even for the simplest decisions. Moreover, Damasio adds that under stress our attention and working-memory capacity decreases which leads to even fewer resources for the time-consuming reasoning process. Therefore, he concludes that there must be something that helps us fasten the decision-making process (reasoning process), namely, emotions. Emotions help to exclude alternatives with negative consequences faster and to look at those who are likely to have positive consequences. This allows us to make better decisions more quickly. (Batista, 2011) Even though the argumentation about the time-consuming process seems a bit weak to me I agree with Damasio’s main statement that emotions are crucial to reasoning and rationality. This assumption is also supported by many other scientists. It is commonly assumed that emotions do not make us human, but the ability to process them and to consider their validity (Hurd, 2014).
Processing and considering validity of emotions require that we make certain experiences which cause emotions. Through those experiences, we learn to regulate and accept emotions. For instance, it is Friday night and your boss gives you a stack of tasks to do before the weekend, you probably become frustrated and annoyed. However, through the ability to regulate emotions, you can use reasoning to behave in a way that secures your long-term goal. Instead of yelling at your boss, you control your frustration because you want to keep your job. Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay. You sit down, work the stack down so you can start the weekend quickly. This regulation is conducted in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Now imagine a person relying on the emotion-controlling implant would not have to process all the experiences which in turn would stop the growth of a prefrontal cortex (Jackson, 2015). If this happens, human’s behaviour and thoughts would change drastically because there is no consequence of our actions (e. g. feeling bad/good about doing something wrong/right), and the person is dependent on the device since an efficient processing in the cortex is not possible anymore (Jackson, 2015)
A case from 1986 confirms this effect. In a study, a patient’s thalamus was stimulated by an electrode. Thereby, she experienced erotic excitement and she developed an addiction to the usage of this stimulator. Her compulsive behaviour resulted in neglecting personal and social commitments and people in her environment could not find access to her. They stated she was not the person anymore she used to be. This example perfectly illustrates how a device influencing emotions can impact who you are as a person. Your personality may change, and you neglect social relationships, which are crucial to a person’s identity. An important aspect of the human self-understanding would be lost.
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The aim of this essay was to investigate whether a person with an emotion-controlling brain implant can be understood as a hybrid or whether it challenges our modern human self-understanding. Throughout the discussion, it became clear that such a person can be described as a cyborg since technology is coupled with a healthy human being to enhance human functioning. Moreover, human plus emotion-controlling brain implant cannot be seen merely as hybrids because possessing an implant can result in improved abilities that go beyond the human natural limitations; human nature is changing.Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay. I would not go so far as claiming the transition range toward a posthuman, but at least, a transition beyond current natural human limitations. To find out whether a person would turn into a posthuman all consequences of altering and suppressing emotions must be investigated which would go beyond the scope of my essay. In conclusion, the implant and thus the stopping of feelings would not simply change (enhancing as well as impairing) humans’ natural abilities, it would mean a suppression of an important human feature on which, among other things, rationality and reason are based. More precise, a special human characteristic would be lost which makes the human humane. Therefore, possessing an emotion-controlling brain implant would definitely mean we are transitioning beyond our natural limitations and thus would challenge our current self-understanding. Emotion-Controlling Brain Implant Essay.