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November 30, 2005

Harvard Announces Center for Bioethics and Technology

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Better late than never...

Harvard Law School said it will create a new center specializing in cutting edge issues at the forefront of genetics, medicine and technology. The center will examine thorny legal questions including the debates over cloning, end-of-life care and physician assisted suicide. Also likely to receive significant attention: controversies over the privacy of patient data and third-party access to electronic medical records. Funding for the project was provided by a $10 million grant from the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation and Joseph H. Flom.

Harvard joins the list of other leading bioethics programs at schools like such as Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, St. Louis University, the University of Houston and Seton Hall University. According to the NYTimes, "Drexel University in Philadelphia is focusing its new law school, slated to open next year, solely on technology and health issues."

It should be interesting to see how quickly and far they will go down the neuroethics road.

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September 26, 2005

The Ethical Mind Debate Continues

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Stanford's neuroethics newsgroup has posted another excellent monthly round up of brain related ethics news:

Is ‘the new neuromorality’ a threat to traditional views of right and wrong? August/Sept. Reason magazine
Stunning news of a tumor serendipitously discovered NYTimes, September 6
Doctor controls Harvard's brain trust., August 30th
Does neuroscience refute ethics? Mises Institute
The Island puts clones fear in the picture Scotsman, August 22
The male condition New York Times, August 8
Beyond Palmeiro: Where's the line? Newsday, August 8
UCLA/Weizmann neuroscientists first to correlate actual brain activity with fMRI signals Medical News Today, Aug. 5
Rampaging mice made more human Medical Reporter, July 6
A battle over brain donations Washington Post, June 30

Upcoming Events of Interest:

October 6: Bio-X Symposium: " Ethical Dimensions in Neuroscience."Assorted speakers present cross-disciplinary research involving neuroscience and ethics. 4:00–6:00 PM. P-080, Lucas Center.

October 20-23: American Society for Bioethics and Humanities(ASBH) Annual Meeting. "Suffering and Justice." Omni Shoreham Hotel. Washington, DC. For more information, please visit

October 21: 12 PM, Neuroethics Affinity Group Luncheon.

November 12-16: Society for Neuroscience (SFN) Annual Meeting

NOTE: For those of you interested I will be speaking on a neurology panel on Wednesday at the Dow Jones VentureWire Health Care conference in Redwood City. Click here for more info.

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August 23, 2005

The Neuroethics Revolution (this Thursday)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As part of the "Conversations with the Future" Speaker Series, Stanford Law Professor Hank Greely will discuss “The Neuroscience Revolution – Ethics and the Law” at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose this Thursday.

Topics to be discussed should be familiar to Brain Waves readers, such as where do we set the ethical and legal boundaries as we get an even greater understanding of the brain, and how to manipulate it. Join Stanford Professor Hank Greely to discuss the societal implications for emerging technologies related to brain function. For more information on neuroethics I highly recommend the neuroethics and law blog.


Thursday, August 25
6:30 p.m. cocktail reception
7 - 8:30 p.m. presentation
General Admission: $35.00
The Tech Museum of Innovation
201 S. Market St.
San Jose, CA 95113

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June 15, 2005

When is it Legal to Use Neuroimaging in Interrogation?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In a forthcoming paper, The Legality of the Use of Psychiatric Neuroimaging in Intelligence Interrogation, to be published this fall in the Cornell Law Review, Sean Thompson asks if using advanced brainscanning techniques, like fMRI, in the interrogation of foreigners the US has detained in the war on terrorism would be legal.

In an email, he wrote that he is specifically looking to "attract some criticism in hopes of strengthening the argument, particularly viz. the scientific aspects of the article, as my (his) expertise is in international law, rather than neuroscience." I've downloaded the 30 page well-written paper and plan to respond, but in the mean time, I challenge the radiologists, neuroethicists and neuropolicy experts among you give him what he asked.

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May 06, 2005

Neuroethics News

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Here is a neuroethics update from Stanford's Bi-Weekly Neuroethics Newsletter, courtesy of Dr. Judy Illes. Please send your neuroethics news and events for posting to

Media Articles
1. Brain-Injured Fireman's Recovery Takes Science Into a Murky Area: Ten years after a firefighter was left brain-damaged and mostly mute during a 1995 roof collapse, he suddenly experienced a partial, yet dramatic recovery. Neurologists discuss.
2. Scientists ‘read minds’ with brain scans: University College London researchers use recordings of brain activity to predict what people are seeing.
3. Brain scan ‘sees hidden thoughts’: Scientists say they can read a person's unconscious thoughts using a simple brain scan.
4. Curbing costs of medical scans: Laurence Baker, associate professor of health research and policy, is quoted in this San Francisco Chronicle article on the rising costs of medical imaging.

Events at Stanford University
1. Monday, May 9, 2005, Title: fMRI Colloquium, Speaker: Golijeh Golarai, Time: 4:15pm - refreshments at 4:00, Location: Clark Center Auditorium
2. Thursday, June 6, 2005, Neuroethics Theme Group Meeting (Spring 2005)
Title: Neuroscience and Moral Agency - A Compatibilist Account (or: "How I learned to love determinism and still respect myself in the morning"). Speaker: William Casebeer, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Philosophy, US Air Force Academy and National Security Affairs Department, Naval Postgraduate School, Time: 1:30-2:30pm, Location: Fairchild Building, D202, Open to all. Refreshments

Upcoming Conferences
1. Hard Science, Hard Choices: Ethical Questions & Public Policies For the Emergent Science of the Brain, May 10-11, 2005, Library of Congress and The Dana Foundation, Washington, DC
2. 7th Annual Updates on Dementia Conference: Translating Research in to Practice, May 16, 2005, Stanford University Medical Center, Fairchild Auditorium
3. VII Annual Symposium on Biomedicine, Ethics and Society: “Imagining the Work of the Brain – Neuroethics” Imagining the Work of the Brain - Neuroethics June 13-14, 2005, SANDHAMN HOTELL & KONFEREN,
4. 11th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction Symposium: Exploring Ethics in Augmented Cognition Research, July 22-27, 2005, Las Vegas

Journal Articles
Pickard JD and J Gillard. (5 May 2005) Guidelines reduce the risk of brain-scan shock. Nature 435:17.

Awards and Honors
Neuroethics Research Associate Scott Hartley was a finalist for the James Redford Award, an honor that is bestowed annually by the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness. His paper "Organ Donation - The Ethics of Policy Choice" addressed the law and ethics of organ donation policy in the United States. Congratulations Scott!

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February 14, 2005 - Beyond

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Looking for love? Then check out

"Advancements in neurotechnology have had a significant impact on the neurosciences in the past decade given unprecedented convenience, safety, and relevance to a broad range of neurobehavioral phenomena. There is a growing regard for the novelty and breadth of purposes for neuroimaging and, over time, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging ("fMRI") use has expanded from the research laboratory to the clinical realm and even social terrain.

With the advent of this powerful new neurotechnological capability, it is foreseeable that functional images of the brain could be used to facilitate courtships by assessing personal compatibility. As a research team devoted to ethics in advanced neuroimaging, we are considering what this future may bring: How might brain imaging for dating -- "neurodating" -- be provided? Will brain images really provide useful information in the pursuit of a prospective mate? And who will protect the privacy and rights of the consumers seeking love or, at the least, an ideal scan-mate?"

Is neurodating for real? Well, no, but some day it could be and that's the point Dr. Judy Illes, Director of Stanford's Center for Neuroethics is trying to make by publishing this website. I highly recommend checking out her research on cutting edge issues in neuroethics at her Stanford site.

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November 15, 2004

William Safire Leaving NYTimes for Dana Foundation

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Posted by Zack Lynch

William Safire, the insightful New York Times Op-Ed, will end his regular column in early 2005, a Times spokeswoman said Monday. Safire will turn 75 next month, and plans to devote more time to The Dana Foundation, a non-profit organization active in neuroscience research, the arts, and education. Among the many notable contributions Safire made over the five decades as a reporter was his recent coining of the term "neuroethics."

"That (Dana) is the main reason to leave the column," Safire told E&P by phone from his Washington, D.C., office Monday. "I want to have another run at something new." If there is anyone who sees where neurotechnology is headed it is Safire. Time to give him a call.

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November 09, 2004

Neuroenablement - Beyond Therapy and Enhancement

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"The limits of our language are the limits of our world”

-Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1921

Distinguishing the line between therapy and enhancement remains a contentious and difficult project. The debate revolves around a number of moral concerns, philosophical approaches, and practical safety issues as to the proper role of medicine, therapeutics, and values in society.

While most agree that a therapy can roughly defined as a treatment for a disorder or deficiency, which aims to bring an unhealthy person towards a healthier state of being, the term enhancement is so problematic that is has created grid-lock in ethical discussions of great practical importance.

No where was this more clear than in the keynote talks given by Leon Kass and Francis Fukayama at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities conference in Philadelphia last week. The problem with these two terms is that they are not mutually exclusive, what might be considered healthy and normal for one person may not be for another.

So, what is normal? Clearly, every person enters the world with different natural endowments that fall along a distribution of emotional, cognitive and sensory capabilities. Those individuals with debilitating mental disorders or that exhibit extreme deficiencies in a particular capability relative to the general population are easily characterized into the therapy category.

Within the context of today's terminology the use of neurotechnologies by "healthy" individuals for “non-medical” purposes is currently defined as enhancement. However, this does not capture the actual intention and belief of most. This is why I am proposing a new model ethical model based on the concept of neuroenablement.

Without neuroenablement we run the risk of medicalizing most of human behavior and increasing the stigmatization associated with improving one's capabilities within one's right to pursue their individual definition of life, liberty and happiness.

As I have mentioned previously, in the minds of many, “enhancement” evokes artificiality, denotes a lack of worthy achievement, is characterized as “a perversion of medicine”, or even maligned as an unnatural shortcut. On the other hand, enablement projects images of empowerment, lifting the bottom up, and even addresses issues of fairness and social equity. Neuroenablement empowers people: it provides a way for people to leverage better tools for mental health to achieve desired results

As I will explain in future posts, the neuroenablement model will clarify ethical discussions, allow regulators to develop effective policies with respect to advancing neurotechnologies, and in the end promote human dignity. If you have a keen interest in this subject please feel free to email me with your thoughts.

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November 03, 2004

Richard Glen Boire - Seed Magazine's Choice for Revolutionary Mind in 2004

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"We are in the midst of a cultural revolution sparked by science," declares SEED Magazine. In this month's issue SEED highlights 18 icons and iconoclasts whose radical ideas are inspiring a vivid dialogue that is deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world around us." Among the chosen leaders is CCLE's Richard Glen Boire (click here for Richards' insightful Brain Waves articles). The following is an excerpt from the SEED piece:

[DAVIS, Calif.] The phrase “intellectual property” evokes an alphabet soup of legal arcana and technobabble from most lawyers, but to Richard Glen Boire, the concept has a much more literal meaning. As director and chief legal counsel of the nonprofit Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE), Boire acts as a full-time legal watchdog on issues pertaining to “freedom of thought”—or as he puts it, “protect[ing] the individual’s right to privacy, auto-nomy, and choice with respect to his or her own brain chemistry.”

Richard backs up his thought leadership with immense energy and activism. For example, in 2002, U.S. government prosecutors sought to forcibly drug a defendant, Dr. Sell with antipsychotics so that he would be “fit to stand trial.” Sell refused the drugs, sparking a legal battle that spiraled all the way up to the Supreme Court—where, Boire filed the first-ever freedom-of-thought brief on his behalf. The Supreme Court ruled in Sell’s favor in June of last year.

Affirming Richard and Wrye's more recent work is Reason's Jacob Scullum who recently remarked, "The U.S. Supreme Court once declared that 'the most tyrannical government is powerless to control the inward workings of the mind.' That is no longer true, the CCLE concludes: "Pharmacotherapy drugs now give the government that power."

As an advisor to CCLE, I couldn't agree more with distinguishing Richard. I am always stunned by his deep knowledge of constitutional law, neurotechnology and the human spirit.

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October 23, 2004

Neuroscience and Neuroethics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neuroscience and neuroethics is not only the title of Donald Kennedy's editorial this week in Science magazine, but it is also the theme for this coming week for myself. I'm off this morning to San Diego for the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. On Wednesday, I'll be flying to Philidelphia to give a talk on neuroethics at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities.

As Kennedy wrote, "Neuroethics, it appears, is a subject that has "arrived." The Dana Foundation is, for the second time since 2002, sponsoring a special lecture on this topic at this year's annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. AAAS, publisher of Science, also joined with Dana to produce a conference on "Neuroscience and the Law" earlier this year. The U.S. President's Council on Bioethics is now devoting serious attention to the topic. Companies are deploying functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map brain activity as they assess the product preferences of prospective consumers (Coke or Pepsi?). There's even a new discipline called neuroeconomics. So something is going on here. What got it started, and where is it headed?"

The answer is we are beginning to see the emergence of a neurosociety, where advancing neurotechnology will impact all aspects of our daily lives.

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July 28, 2004

Is Perfection Impossible? A Case for Neuroliberty

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"Must we know drunkenness to know sobriety? Must you go through hate in order to know what it is to be compassionate? Must you go through wars, destroying yourself and others, to know what peace is? Surely, this is an utterly false way of thinking, is it not?

First you assume that there is evolution, growth, a moving from bad to good, and then you fit your thinking into that pattern. Obviously, there is physical growth, the little plant becoming the big tree; there is technological progress, the wheel evolving through centuries into the jet plane. But is there psychological progress, evolution? That is what we are discussing -whether there is a growth, an evolution of the "me," beginning with evil and ending up in good.

Through a process of evolution, through time, can the "me," which is the center of evil, ever become noble, good? Obviously not. That which is evil, the psychological "me," will always remain evil. But we do not want to face that. We think that through the process of time, through growth and change, the "I" will ultimately become reality. This is our hope, that is our longing -that the "I" will be made perfect through time.

What is this "I," this "me"? It is a name, a form, a bundle of memories, hopes, frustrations, longings, pains, sorrows, passing joys. We want this "me" to continue and become perfect, and so we say that beyond the "me" there is a "super-me," a higher self, a spiritual entity which is timeless, but since we have thought of it, that "spiritual" entity is still within the field of time, is it not? If we can think about it, it is obviously within the field of our reasoning."

-- Jiddu Krishnamurti.

This type of thinking has profound implications for neuroliberty...more on this in time.

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July 05, 2004

NeuroCops to Patrol Your Brain?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics has released a new 50-page policy report, Pharmacotherapy and the Future of the Drug War that warns that the war on drugs may be about to enter a new era “that expands the drug war battlefield from the Colombian coca farms and the Middle Eastern poppy fields, to a new terrain directly inside the bodies and brains of drug users.” From CCLE:

The report is the first comprehensive and critical analysis of ‘pharmacotherapy,’ the use of new medications designed to block the effects of illegal drugs. While acknowledging that such pharmacological aids may well benefit people who voluntarily chose to use them, the CCLE report raises concerns about potential coercive use.

Compassionate Coercion--'Good Drugs' Fighting 'Bad Drugs'

In addition to waging a “war on drugs,” the federal government is now working to eradicate the “disease” of drug use. These metaphors, notes the CCLE report, play an important role in driving federal drug control policy because they frame the remedies available to the government.

For example, the 2003 National Drug Control Strategy casts users of illegal drugs as “vectors of contagion” who are “in denial” about their “disease” and who need treatment before “transmitting the disease to others.” Such language, says the CCLE report, lends itself to coercive treatment wherein the government feels justified in “medicating” drug users through policies of ‘compassionate coercion.’ “Coercion, whether ‘compassionate’ or otherwise, is still coercion,” cautions the CCLE report.

Bodily Integrity & Freedom of Thought

The CCLE report examines the pharmacotherapy drugs currently under development, and also highlights the legal rights that would be violated if a government were to require certain persons (such as prisoners, probationers or public assistance recipients) to take the anti-drug medications. The implicated legal rights include the right to bodily integrity, the right to privacy, the right to make one’s own informed and voluntary medical decisions, and the right to freedom of thought.

The report concludes with policy recommendations, which underscore the importance of restricting pharmacotherapy medications to voluntary use. “In the absence of “extraordinary circumstances,” notes the report, “the government should be barred from coercing a peaceful person to take a pharmacotherapy drug.”

The report ends with the following paragraph:

Sixty years ago the United States Supreme Court opined, "Freedom to think is absolute of it own nature; the most tyrannical government is powerless to control the inward workings of the mind." Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 548, 618 (1942). No Longer. Pharmacotherapy drugs now give the government that power. The question for the future is whether the introduction of these drugs into society will be done in such a way that preserves freedom of thought by upholding informed consent and rejecting compulsory treatment programs, or whether certain people will be coerced into using pharmacotherapy, thereby promoting governmental tyranny of thought processes.

This report is a "must read" for anyone concerned or interested in the future of liberty in an age of ever advancing neurotechnology. While it maintains a reasonably well-balanced discussion of the topic there are two areas I would like to see addressed in a future version. First, an analysis of how introducing these drugs might impact the overall societal costs associated with drug addiction. Secondly, and this would require substantial funding, a survey of people serving time in prison for drug offenses that would cover their attitudes, opinions and concerns regarding these technologies. It would be interesting to know how many would rather have a neurocop floating in their brain and serve less jail time or instead maintain their "freedom of thought" and stay in jail longer? I bet many would take the former.

Disclaimer: I am on CCLE's board of advisors.

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June 03, 2004

Neuroguide and Neuroethics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neuroguide is one of the best sources on the web for the latest developments occurring across the neurosciences. It's updated regularly by Neil Busis, who runs the Division of Neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. I look forward to meeting with Neil in October when I'll be giving at talk at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities annual conference. The long title of the talk is "Ethical, Legal and Societal Implications of Advances in Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, and Neurotechnologies."

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May 18, 2004

Hypersonic Sound Targets Your Brain

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Posted by Zack Lynch

According to the developers, "HyperSonic Sound Technology is simply the most revolutionary sound reproduction system of this century. Not since the development of the "cone" loudspeaker more than 75 years ago has any technology provided such significant departure from conventional loudspeakers and such a remarkable new approach to the reproduction of sound."

HyperSonic Sound is already being used by Coca Cola throughout the streets of Tokyo, sending sounds of the ice cubes dropping into the glass and the soda making that "psst" can-opening noise directly to into the ear drums of those passing by. But this is just the beginning. Most recently, the US Army has begun to deploy this technology for use in the field. Indeed, some are suggesting that we are entering the age of "hypersonic messaging", in which advertisers will use this technology to bombard people's brains with signals to trigger purchases.

While some claim this more directed form of information communication will reduce the clutter we here in our daily lives, many others are concerned that this technology breaches the divide between "public" and "private" space. Accordingly, some are already offering advice on how to construct an Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie, a hat made from tinfoil described as "an effective low-cost solution to combating hypersonic sound. As technologies become more precise at directly targeting our sensory systems, the right to personal brain privacy and one's own cognitive liberty will grow. This particular technology is just a preview of what is going to come.

So, what are your rights?

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May 03, 2004

No Ritalin, No Education?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

CCLE Announces Campaign to Return Choice to Parents (directly from CCLE, please spread the word):

"In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of American school children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), and treated with medications like Ritalin or Adderall. In some cases, parents are reporting that school administrators are telling them that their child may not attend school unless the child is placed on psychostimulant drugs.

"Government benefits should not be conditioned on the use or nonuse of a psychotropic medicine," says Richard Glen Boire, legal counsel for the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE), a nonprofit policy center devoted to protecting freedom of thought.

The CCLE today launches "Making Choices for Children," a national campaign designed to call attention to this issue, and to educate parents on their legal right to make medication decisions for their children, free of coercion by school authorities.

While pro-Ritalin and anti-Ritalin groups have garnered most of the attention in this debate, the CCLE hopes to bring a new perspective to the problem, one that focuses on parental choice rather than on the drugs themselves.

"Parents need to know that they are the ones vested with the legal power to make medication decisions in the best interest of their children," says CCLE legal counsel Boire. "Some parents may decide to place their children on Ritalin, and others may decide not to. Our campaign aims to support a parent's free and informed decision either way."

To that end the CCLE plans to publish a free Parent's Rights Kit, which will contain plain-language information on informed consent rights and additional resources for parents facing coercive school medication practices in their communities.

The CCLE is also working to educate policymakers on the problem, and supports legislation such as the Child Medication Safety Act (HR 1170), a bill currently before Congress that would block federal education funds from going to schools that condition a child's attendance on the use of a medication like Ritalin.

To learn more, obtain helpful resources, or to get involved in returning medication decisions to parents, visit the campaign's website."

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April 29, 2004

Neurocognitive Enhancement Already A Fact of Life

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"The enhancement of normal neurocognitive enhancement by pharmacological means is already a fact of life for many people," states a recent report in this month's Nature Reviews Neuroscience titled, "Neurocognitive Enhancement: what can we do and what should we do?" (subscription required)

As Judy Illes, one of authors explained to ABC news, "the idea is to get the neuroscientific community to get out ahead of the potential ethical issues and establish guidelines that will facilitate ongoing research. Part of their goal is to avoid public relations blunders that could hamper progress — doing to them what fear over potential human cloning has done to geneticists."

The report highlights four primary issues that the neuroscience community must be thinking about which are quickly summarized here:

Safety: The use of neurocognitive enhancers that individuals are currently using "involves intervening in a far more complex system, and we are therefore at greater risk of unanticipated problems."

Coercion: "What if keeping one's job or remaining in one's school depends on practicing neurocognitive enhancement?...Of course coercion need not be explicit. Merely competing against enhanced co-workers or students exerts an incentive to use..." At the same time, "the straightforward legislative approach of outlawing or restricting the use of neurocognitive also coercive."

Distributed Justice: "It is likely that the distribution of neurocognitive enhancers will not be fairly distributed."

Personhood and intangible values: We run the risk of medicalizing regular human behavior. "When we improve our productivity by taking a pill, we might also be undermining the value and dignity of hard work, medicalizing human effort and pathologizing a normal attention span."

Clearly these issues are real. Today only 5-6% of the general population having been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorders, while one recent report suggests that almost 16% of high school and college students are currently using some form of "attention-focusing" pharmaceutical. And it is thoughtful reports like this one that are needed to sort out the complex issues that are emerging as new neurotechnologies emerge in the years to come.

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April 22, 2004

Who is Protecting Your Freedom of Thought?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Today's New Scientist has an excellent interview with Richard Glen Boire, Director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE). Last year Richard wrote several guest blogs on Brain Waves (here) discussing cutting edge issues in neuroethics. Here is a short excerpt from today's interview. (I highly recommend reading the whole piece.)

So who should have control? (of your brain)

It's clear that by manipulating the brain you can change thought, and because your thoughts are central to who you are, and because freedom of thought is necessary for all our other freedoms, it ought to be the case that the individual, as opposed to the government, has the ultimate control over matters of the mind. Without freedom of thought, what freedom remains?

How is the CCLE financed?

We get no government funding. Most of our funding comes from people who are involved primarily in developing the internet. They see the internet as an amazing technology for communication, yet at the same time they see its brightest promises being held back or co-opted by archaic legal concepts. They are interested in making sure that these new technologies, like neurotechnology, don't get misused, misapplied or regulated in a way that takes the heart out of them - or which removes the greatest possible benefit, or, even worse, directs them into some of the darkest applications. They want to see freedom of thought expanded rather than contracted.

Please join me in supporting CCLE. As a member of their board of advisors I can assure you that this is one of the best run non-profits around. Donations can be made on-line (what's $40 when your freedom to think and control your brain is on the line).

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April 04, 2004

Your Right to Erase Bad Memories

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Robin Henig writes about modern medicine's ability to erase bad memories in today's NYTimes Magazine:

"All of us have done things in our lives we'd rather not have done, things that flood us with remorse or pain or embarrassment whenever we call them to
mind. If we could erase them from our memories, would we? Should we?"

''Going through difficult experiences is what life is all about; it's not all honey and roses,'' said Eric Kandel, a professor of psychiatry and physiology at Columbia University. ''But some experiences are different. When society asks a soldier to go through battle to protect our country, for instance, then society has a responsibility to help that soldier get through the aftermath of having seen the horrors of war.''

Of course, post-battlefield remorse serves as a check on our militaristic tendencies. Vietnam veterans haunted by memories of combat were among the most forceful opponents of the war after their return home.... If we have the responsibility to treat veterans' physical wounds, don't we also have a responsibility to ease their psychic suffering?"

The article focuses on a study performed by Roger Pitman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, where 20 subjects took a placebo pill and half were took propranolol, which interferes with the action of stress hormones in the brain.

"When stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine are elevated, new memories are consolidated more firmly, which is what makes the recollection of emotionally charged events so vivid, so tenacious, so strong. If these memories are especially bad, they take hold most relentlessly, and a result can be the debilitating flashbacks of post-traumatic stress disorder. Interfering with stress hormone levels by giving propranolol soon after the trauma, according to Pitman's hypothesis, could keep the destructive memories from taking hold."

So should we provide propranolol to everyone who experiences a traumatic event? Perhaps not. Citing recent brain imaging research on twins it appears that "some individuals may be more prone to shown that a small hippocampus is a marker for susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder."

Clearly, the right to erase one's memory is closer than many would believe. If you are interested in being on the cutting edge of this debate, you shouldn't miss a tomorrow's talk by Richard Glen Boire, one of the leading independent neuroethicists in the nation, who will be speaking at Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute on the future of freedom on thought and cognitive liberty.

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March 19, 2004

Neuroethics Non-Profit Calling Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet

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Posted by Zack Lynch

After seeing Jim Carrey on David Letterman and Ellen this week, I am even more convinced that he and his co-stars would be very interested in supporting the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics.

Today's movie release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stars Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey who want to have their bad memories erased. While memory erasure inc. doesn't exist yet, the issues presented in this movie do.

I am sure the actors and producers would be very interested in CCLE's work. Should you have access to them through your network please let them know about CCLE's real life fight to protect their cognitive liberty. Now in their fourth year, they have many accomplishments, including arguing for freedom of thought in the U.S. Supreme Court. Please help them protect your cognitive liberty.

Freedom of thought is at a critical crossroads. Policy makers and judges are making important decisions now that set alarming precedent for the future of freedom of thought. The legalization of brain fingerprinting is just one example. Without freedom of thought, there can be no free society.

Next celebs that will understand neuroethics: Robin Williams and Mira Sorvino who star in the Final Cut.

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February 05, 2004

Judy Illes on Current Challenges in Neuroethics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Judy Illes, senior research scholar at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, will be speaking tomorrow at this week's Ethics in Society noon time forum on "Current Challenges in Neuroethics".

A leading neuroethics scholar, Judy also heads the neuroethics theme group in conjunction with the Stanford Brain Research Institute, and is the Principal Investigator on several projects:

1. Ethical challenges in Neuroimaging (funded by the Greenwall Foundation) -- Co-investigators include: Tom Raffin and Scott Atlas.

2. Advanced Neuroimaging: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues. Joining the team of multi-disciplinary co-investigators mentioned above are Mildred Cho and Bruce Arnow.

3. Fetal MRI: Patient Expectations, Clinical Experience and Decision-Making

Having met Judy last year at Arthur Caplin's talk on What's Wrong with Improving Our Brains?, I am sure this will be an invigorating talk. I look forward to sharing the talk's highlights and adding it to the over 30 other articles posted here on Brain Waves - Neuroethics.

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February 03, 2004

Guilt by Brain Fingerprint

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories is moving to Seattle with the expectation of rapid growth.

Brain fingerprinting is designed to determine whether an individual recognizes specific information related to an event or activity by measuring electrical brain wave responses to words, phrases, or pictures presented on a computer screen. The current technology uses a sensor-equipped headband to spot a brain impulse called P300.

Having tested the technology in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, it is now being used to measure whether people recognize evidence of a crime, whether a person has been trained as a terrorist, or even whether advertisements were memorable (neuromarketing).

Neurotechnology continues to drive the neuroethics discussion. Wrye Sententia, director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, said that she is worried that demand is so strong for improved screening of terrorists in airports that brain-scanning technologies could be used against people's will and rushed into the market before being proven accurate.

"We're all for it if people can use it to clear their name of a crime, but it should be a voluntary use," Sententia said. "But what a person knows and thinks is private, and this technology really pushes the question of whether thoughts are private."

If you are interested in hearing the latest on brain fingerprinting make sure you catch BFL's founder talk at the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle Feb. 12-16th.

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January 27, 2004

Transition Game - Sports for the Enabled

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Nick Schultz, editor of Tech Central Station, has launched a new Corante blog called Transition Game that will look at the broad impact that new science and technology is having on the evolution of sport.

Says Nick: "Think about it: aluminum bats in baseball, performance enhancing drugs in all sports, the shift from wood to graphite rackets in tennis, the use of instant replay in football, juiced clubs and balls in golf and the need to Tiger-proof courses, the list goes on..."

Nick will be tackling some important issues that have been covered from time to time on Brain Waves. In particular, he'll cover issues like, how far athletes will go to succeed, is it enablement or enhancement, and the right to pursue biohappiness.

Pat Kane's Brain Waves column -- to the victor, the paradoxes -- is right up Nick's alley. While Wrye and Richard's concerns about cognitive liberty and neuroethics provide deep fodder for his analysis.

I look forward to Nick tackling issues like human performance enhancement, our growing enhancement culture, and ultimately, taking on the most important battle of all -- the battle for your mind.

While a recent NYTimes Magazine cover article In Pursuit of Doped Excellence was a nice primer on athletic enhancement, Nick's analysis has already proven to be deeper and more insightful. (and doesn't cost $1.60) Just read his reaction to the politics of steriod use, athletes and uncertainty, and today's post on the NBA.

Let the games begin!

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January 12, 2004

Memory Erasure Inc. Goes Public

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Regret a past decision? Have a broken heart? Addicted to food?

A recently launched company claims to have "a simple, non-surgical technique to remove problem memories." Apparently, "the technique deconstructs memory from its core making a relapse virtually impossible."

While Hollywood stretches its imagination to shock society with the concept of memory erasure in futuristic films, like Paycheck with Ben Affleck and Jim Carrey's Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind, reality seems to be in hot pursuit.

Regardless of this company's claims, do you have the "right to erase your memories"?

While freedom of speech (and the right not to speak) is protected by the U.S. Constitution, freedom of thought is not explicity protected. So, do U.S. citizens have the right to erase their memories? Is freedom of thought a fundamental human right?

What if Andrew Fastow, Enron's CFO, erased his memory? Would this be good for business, let alone society? How would you be able to trust anyone? Would people (or companies and governments) expect you to take a blood test or a brain scan to help determine your trustworthiness?

Who owns your memories? Do you have cognitive liberty or not? Clearly, the battle for your mind is heating up fast. (More neuroethics on Brain Waves)

Comments (10) | Category: Neuroethics

December 12, 2003

Protecting Your Freedom of Thought

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I recently joined the board of advisors of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. I follow neuroethics and neuropolicy issues very closely, and I am honored to be associated with the most forward thinking independent neuroethics organization around.

Over the next few months, two major movies will be focusing on memory erasing technologies.

1. PayCheck: Remembering the Future stars Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. "Paycheck" was adapted for the screen from a novel by Phillip K. Dick, who is also the source writer behind such films as "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report." In the film, Affleck plays a reverse engineer who is hired for large sums of money to dismantle machinery and rebuild it for improvement. The only catch is that he has his memory erased of any work he has done after the fact.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, stars Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey want to have their bad memories erased in a more light hearted romantic comedy.

I am sure the actors and producers would be very interested in CCLE's work. Should you have access to them through your network please let them know about CCLE's real life fight to protect their cognitive liberty.

Now in their fourth year, they have many accomplishments, including arguing for freedom of thought in the U.S. Supreme Court. Please help them protect your cognitive liberty.

Here are some of the issues they are working on right now:


* Your child were compelled to take Ritalin in order to attend public school?
* You were accused of a crime, but forced to take drugs while on trial?
* You were arrested and forced to take a truth serum, or were brain-fingerprinted?
* A medicine that safely improves memory was available, but you were prohibited from using it?

Freedom of thought is at a critical crossroads. Policy makers and judges are making important decisions now that set alarming precedent for the future of freedom of thought. Without freedom of thought, there can be no free society.

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October 09, 2003

How far?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Athletes provide a valuable preview of how far humans will go to succeed.  Examples abound of professional athletes exploiting cutting edge technology to excel beyond their competition.  One new device professional athletes are currently adopting in force is The Glove.  The Glove significantly improves physical endurance by accelerating the dissipation of heat from an athlete.  This allows them to rapidly cool their overheated bodies to a temperature where the body’s physiology runs most efficiently.  Invented just a few years ago, The Glove is now regularly used throughout the National Football League to help exhausted running backs regain their stamina between plays.  Is this enablement or enhancement?

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October 02, 2003

Pain, Pleasure and Postrel (Part 2)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Pain:  12pm - Writing so much I'm going to see my chiropractor today.

Pleasure:  4pm - Neuroethics discussion on "What's Wrong With Improving our Brains?" at Stanford with Arthur Caplan (see last part of post), along with Richard and Wrye from CCLE.

Postrel:  7pm - Virginia Postrel in her ONLY Bay Area appearance at the Stanford Book Store talking about her new book, The Substance of Style.  Looking forward to having dinner with Ross after.

PPP- Part 1

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September 05, 2003

Cognitive Liberty and the "Right to Erase Memories" Explained

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Posted by Richard

by Richard Glen Boire

......This is part of a longer string of emails that have been flying around over the past few days.  I’ve edited it a bit to provide context, but I found Richard’s perspective too important to remain behind the scenes.-- Z.L.

Randall Parker raises concerns that folks might run around erasing *other people's* memories (sorta like slipping someone LSD without them knowing it). As I addressed in my post: that would be a serious crime.

The right to "cognitive liberty" that I'm arguing for, protects the right of each person to self-determine his or her own brainstates and to have autonomy over those brainstates. (I realize that there are deep problems with talking about "autonomy" and brainstates...we are in a feedback loop with our environment and our neurochemistry is constantly changed by our interactions with other people, places, objects...etc). But, the basic idea here is that in a world with memory erasing drugs (and all other sorts of neurotechnology), we need to co-evolve a basic legal right that addresses an area of human freedom that has, until recently, been fairly unassailable.

In a nutshell, the right to cognitive liberty holds that (1) others don't have a right to directly change your brain chemistry without your informed consent, and (2) that you have a right to self-determine your own brain chemistry so long as your subsequent actions do not harm others (or do not present a clear and present danger of harm).

One example that people use to explain their concern with cognitive liberty is PCP.  The argument follows that a person using PCP can't possibly respect the rights of others and that allowing people to take a drug like PCP would lead to a serious erosion of the very basis of a rights based society. I understand that argument, and in the abstract I think it is persuasive. I'd rather not be nearby a person who is high on that drug either.

But, I'd also rather not be nearby a person who is an avowed neo-nazi or KKK member, especially just after they've had a meeting or a rally. (BTW - I'm not white). The fact is, however, that in order to have freedom of speech and freedom of association, we have to accept the fact that some people are going to say things, and group together, in ways that we find offense and even scary. Inherent in any freedom is the fact that some percentage of people will make "bad" decisions. This is an unavoidable element of every freedom you can think of. It seems to be true, however, that an open society is the best at staying in equilibrium and self-correcting. (Nazis, for example, tend to remain the minority in a society that does not control speech content.)

Over time human society has recognized that things work best when the government stays out of controlling what information people have access to, and/or what people can or can't say. In the past, and continuing in the present and (hopefully) into the future, this has meant that the government is bared from dictating which books can or can't be printed, or read. When the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was finally abandoned (in 1966!) it contained banned books by folks like Galileo, Kant, Spinoza...

When Galileo confirmed Copernicus, that the sun -- not the earth--was the center of the solar system, the Roman government burned his books and placed him on house arrest (after commuting his death sentence for heresy) because they were very concerned that what he was saying could unravel the very foundation of the society.

In the past it was books, broadsheets and pamphlets that changed how people think. Soon (indeed already), it will be (in addition to texts of all sorts) neuroceuticals of various types that change how people think.  Just as we ultimately figured out that it was best to deny government the power to distinguish "good" books from "bad" or "dangerous" books, I think that we will come to see that we should deny the government that same power with respect to tools that allow individuals to shape their minds. It's a issue of cognitive censorship.

I know I've drifted from the focus of your concerns about memory erasing drugs, but I hope this helps situate my position in a larger context.  Essentially, I don't think it is persuasive to critique free speech by cataloging all the nasty/dangerous things that people have, or might, express, read or hear. In the same way, I don't currently think it's a persuasive critique of cognitive liberty.

Also, I should note that no right is "absolute." Not even something like freedom of speech or freedom of religion. I'm perfectly willing to accept reasonable "time, place, and manner" type restrictions on cognitive liberty.

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September 04, 2003

Enabling Enhancement?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I'd like to return to an interesting point brought up by Pat Kane in To the Victor, the Paradoxes:

"What is the difference between performance-enhancing and performance-enabling drugs - the steroids that propel a runner slightly faster, the corticosteroids that stop a pro-footballers joints seizing up?"

Depending on your dictionary, the following definitions might help a bit:

  • Enhancement: To make greater, as in value, beauty, or effectiveness; augment.

  • Enablement: The act of enabling, or the state of being enabled; ability...To clarify more...

  • Enable: To supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity; make able

How will popular conceptions of the phrases "performance enhancement" and "performance enablement" influence the way people perceive future uses of neurotechnology?

In the minds of many, performance enhancement carries feelings of artificiality, lacking of achievement, being a perversion of medicine, and even being an unnatural shortcut, while performance enablement projects images of empowerment, lifting the bottom up, and even fairness. (For an extremely informative discussion read: Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications.)

For example, will a college student who uses a cogniceutical to improve memory retention be viewed as unfairly enhancing her performance or will her use of a cogniceutical, which enables her to do the same work in a shorter period of time, be seen as an intelligent use of humanity's latest set of tools? 

Is there really a difference or is this just a question for marketing?

Comments (0) | Category: Neuroethics

September 03, 2003

Accelerating the Neuroethics Discussion

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Posted by Zack Lynch

By highlighting Randall Parker's concern over Richard Glen Boire assertion that individual's should have the "right to forget", Glenn Reynolds shows that he is among a growing group who are realizing that neurotechnology, not genetic engineering, will be the primary driver of social change in the coming decades. 

Glenn comments: "These are issues that will soon be -- if they are not already -- non-hypothetical."

As I have discussed previously, neuroethics represents the battlefield over each of our minds.  Although the ability of neurotechnology to effectively influence human behavior is held back by slowly developing biochips and brain-imaging technology, there is no doubt that emerging neurotechnology is driving the neuroethics discussion.

While the perils of neurotechnology include -- neurowarfare, coercive use of truth detectors, and memory erasure, its emergence also carries the promise of increasing mental health expectancy, extending human cognitive capabilities, expanding human sensory performance and enabling more effective emotional control.

The primary motivation behind writing this blog, my book, and letters to the President is to accelerate the social conversation about the various ways that neurotechnology and neuroceuticals will impact human society.  I hope you stay posted for what will continue to be an informative and entertaining ride.

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August 28, 2003

Minding your Mind

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Posted by Richard

By Richard Glen Boire

Today, the human body is a major site of contestation in the law, whether it be reproductive rights, gay rights, drug testing, or even a run of the mill personal injury case. The development of drugs that will reliably produce targeted changes in a person’s senses, cognition, or emotions, will add an entirely new dimension to ongoing debates about individual rights, public health, and social control. One need only look at the controversy that currently surrounds abortion rights to imagine how our legal system will struggle when questions of pro-choice expand into the realm of thoughts and thought-processes.

As I mentioned on Monday, our legal system has a poor track record when it comes to matters of the mind, especially when these matters raise deeper questions about the nature of a "natural," or "normal," human being.

The law’s knee-jerk reaction to drugs that change thinking is prohibition. In the early 1900s, fourteen states enacted anti-cigarette laws making it a criminal offense to sell – and in some cases, merely possess – tobacco cigarettes. (Nicotine is powerful psychostimulant.) Alcohol prohibition, which began at the state level, culminated in a thirteen year federal prohibition that required nothing less than modifying the United States Constitution both to begin and to end it. And, presently we are in the midst of an ever-growing war on drugs that has filled our prisons, skewed science and medicine, and shredded many of our most fundamental rights.

When new drugs begin to make it possible to safely and reliably boost intelligence, increase empathy, or decrease anti-social ideations, will the courts mandate their use as a condition to granting probation or parole to some offenders? Already, courts require some probationers to take disulfiram, a drug that makes the ingestion of alcohol in any form, extremely unpleasant. From the 1920s through 1970, pursuant to the laws of at least 32 states, more than 60,000 people were deemed "eugenically unfit." Many of these people were involuntarily sterilized, in part because of low scores on intelligence tests. When one of these laws was challenged and the case reached the United States Supreme Court, it was upheld—with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes smugly proclaiming, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Today, implantable contraceptives, like Norplant, have replaced court ordered sterilization, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse is funding the development of drugs that police the blood-brain barrier, making it impossible for a person to feel the full effects of certain illegal (and legal) drugs. One such "neurocop," SR141716, is already being positioned as a possible probation condition for those convicted of a marijuana offense.

Until 1973, "homosexuality" was listed as a psychiatric disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). People who admitted they that were homosexual, or who were "accused" of being gay or lesbian, were subject to involuntary confinement under mental health laws, and subjected to "reparative therapy" designed to convert them into heterosexuals. "Treatment," in addition to counseling, included penile plesthysmograph (electronic shock triggered by penile erection), drugging, and hypnosis. Some state laws even permitted the forcible sterilization of homosexuals. Only in June of this year did the United States Supreme Court rule that laws criminalizing consensual gay sex were unconstitutional.

Helping to guide upcoming law and policy decisions so that they respect the fundamental right to freedom of thought is the focus of the work we’re doing at the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics. If you’re interested in supporting this work, or collaborating in anyway, please e-mail me.

That concludes my guest blogging on Brainwaves. Thanks Zack! If you’d like to continue receiving occasional posts on the topic of cognitive liberty, please subscribe to the CCLE’s low-volume e-mail news list.

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August 27, 2003

Forget About It?

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Posted by Richard

By Richard Glen Boire

As scientists work to develop drugs that improve memory, an article in the current issue of Science indicates that neurobiologists are coming closer to developing drugs that may make it possible to selectively “erase” memories. If perfected, these drugs could enable a person to eliminate, or significantly dim, specific memories.

Previous studies have shown that if taken before a traumatic event, or within six hours of the event, a drug such as propranolol (a common beta blocker) can significantly reduce recall of that event. Propranolol could soon be used in emergency rooms in an effort to lessen post-traumatic stress disorder that might later haunt victims of serious accidents or violent crimes.

What’s different about the findings published this week in Science, is the possibility of erasing memories that may have been encoded into memory much earlier in life. Whereas propranolol, when used as a memory remover, must be taken in very close temporal proximity to the event that one seeks to forget, these new findings point to the possibility of selectively dumping or dimming memories of incidents that may have occurred as far back as early childhood.

If the science of memory management works as described, and if such drugs make their way into the mainstream, we will be confronted with an array of neuroethical issues. Today, a person’s memories are a private and personal matter. But tomorrow, as memory becomes more modifiable, will we have a public obligation to maintain the integrity of our “natural” memories?

In a future world awash in memory-deleting drugs, a person who commits a crime might be able to silence disconcerting memories of his actions. Some criminals might even force victims to take a memory-erasing drug, after say a rape or robbery. Soldiers on the battlefield, might be able to chemically quell memories of killing enemy soldiers, making it easier to kill again. Executives accused of fraud, embezzlement, or other “white collar crimes” could chemically delete their own memories of the offenses, and thus truthfully testify that they have no recollection of particular events.

If memory-attenuating drugs take hold in society, how will our legal system deal with them? Will they be regulated like prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs? Will unauthorized use of a memory drug be made a criminal offense? Will we see new legislation passed that makes it a crime to “destroy” one’s own memories (akin to intentionally destroying evidence), when those memories hold information about a potential civil or criminal matter?

The right to cognitive liberty posits that the power to enhance, erase, or otherwise modify one’s own memory ought to be an individual decision; something that is neither compelled nor prohibited by laws. While some people will undoubtedly make poor decisions with regard to modifying their own memories, it should not be a crime to modify your own thinking processes. Government may rightfully police our actions, but it does not, and should not, have the power to police our minds.

This does not mean that evidence of a person’s use of a memory-reducing drug should not be admissible in court – it should be admissible. Presently a witness in a civil or criminal case can be cross-examined on just about every aspect of his or her memory, including whether or not they were taking any drugs (legal or illegal) that might have affected their recollection of an incident. Thus, a jury would be permitted to draw its own conclusions if an Enron executive admits on cross-examination that he or she took a memory-eliminating drug.

Further, a person who commits a violent crime and concomitantly forces the victim to ingest a memory-attenuating drug, should be charged with two serious crimes; the violent crime and a separate assault premised on forcing the victim to take a drug.

The creation of memory changing drugs will raise difficult and complex ethical and social issues. But, in our rush to create new laws and regulations, it is important to protect the basic right of law-abiding citizens to manage their own memories.

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August 25, 2003

Looking Backwards & Thinking Forward

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Posted by Richard

By Richard Glen Boire

The law advances by looking through a rearview mirror. Judges cite pre-existing legal opinions and reason by analogy to reach decisions in current controversies. This makes the legal system an inherently conservative institution, one that will be caught stiff-legged by the complexities about to be unleashed upon it by developments in neurotechnology.

As Wrye Sententia outlined last week, widely acknowledged legal principles of privacy, autonomy, and choice must be evolved in order to adapt to the swiftly changing technological environment. “Cognitive liberty” is an effort to accelerate legal thinking about, well, thinking.

Currently, "freedom of thought," remains a legal notion little developed beyond Enlightenment Era understandings of the brain and mind. For the past few centuries, freedom of thought has been largely about buttressing reason and logic, and the major mind-changing technology has been the printing press. Today, however, we are unlocking secrets of the brain, and simultaneously developing drugs and other technologies that make it possible to produce specific changes in how a person thinks.

These changes pose a major jurisprudential challenge. And, unfortunately, when we look back at how our legal system has dealt with previous technological changes that bump up against deeply entrenched notions of the “normal” or “natural,” there is little reason for optimism.

I’ll discuss some of this legal precedent more specifically in my next post.

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August 22, 2003

Diversity of the Mental Environment

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Posted by Wrye

By Wrye Sententia

Environmental diversity is a widely discussed requirement for maintaining and fostering a healthy ecosystem.  In the same way, mental diversity ensures creativity and flourishing open social systems by encouraging a multiplicity of approaches to thinking about, and solving, problems. 

Today, new drugs and other technologies developed for augmenting, monitoring, and manipulating cognition require social policies that will promote, rather than restrict, free thinking.  Applications of these technologies can benefit from clear principles that ensure cognitive liberty.

Here are three core considerations:

  • Privacy:  What and how you think should be private unless you choose to share it.  The use of technologies such as brain imaging and scanning must remain consensual and any information so revealed should remain confidential.  The right to privacy must be found to encompass the inner domain of thought.
  • Autonomy:  Self-determination over one’s own cognition is central to free will.  School boards, for example, should not be permitted to condition a child’s right to public education on taking a psychoactive drug such as Ritalin.  Decisions concerning whether or how to change a person’s thought processes must remain the province of the individual as opposed to government or industry.
  • Choice:  The capabilities of the human mind should not be limited.  So long as people do not directly harm others, governments should not criminally prohibit cognitive enhancement or the occasioning of any mental state. 

Comments (10) | Category: Neuroethics

July 30, 2003

To the victor, the paradoxes

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Posted by Pat

By Pat Kane

It would be easy to look at sports as a somewhat ethically-limited zone of play. It dominates our media spectacle, some might say, exactly because it provides us with an illusion of clarity and finality. Our tribe’s athletes beat your tribe’s athletes: in a fluid and confusing world, perhaps it’s no surprise that we flock to the games. (Though the Scottish columnist Joyce Macmillan holds out hope that the solidarities of sport can be used to better ends.)

But it’s amazing how fragile the legitimacy of sports can be. In an era where authority figures are regularly derided, sports fans touchingly expect their referees to be absolute paragons: any whiff of partisanship from the men in black, and the whole game unravels.

As for the athletes, the great fun of spectating any sport is our imputation of motive - reading the soul from the exertions of face and body. But even here, it’s so easy for our Olympian faith to be stretched to breaking point. What if those struggles aren’t just recognizably human ones, but almost literally post-human ones? We know we’re watching talented people: but can we cope with them also being biochemical experiments?

Mark Lawson in The Guardian, sifts elegantly through the contradictions of drugs and sport. What is the difference between performance-enhancing and performance-enabling drugs - the steroids that propel a runner slightly faster, the corticosteroids that stop a pro-footballers joints seizing up? We know that sport - from boxing to motor-racing - involves high levels of possible self-damage: we also know that sport is a striving to improve the natural, even under the purest conditions.

Lawson's vision is of an "Addams Family start-up line at the Olympics 100 metres" - all DNA-replacement and cyberlimbs. So do we object to that because it makes athletic prowess less about individual human striving (one we might still concievably empathise with, as we puff round our own running tracks), and more like some kind of collective cyborg arms race between nations? Or do we object because these athletes might be making the ultmate play-ethical decision: to start "playing God" with their own bodies?

As ever, the cultures of play have been rehearsing all the conundrums of the coming biological age on our behalf for years. The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas's recent book on bio-ethics, The Future of Human Nature, agrees with Francis Fukuyama - that what genetic or biochemical God-playing reveals is the religious core of our Enlightenment assumptions.

As the athletes mass on their fields of play, we still implicitly believe that they are "creatures of God" - their bodies and minds granted free will by a "Divine Creator" who, the monotheists at least assume, will not intervene in that autonomy. But to find that they are "creatures of the lab" brings us face to face with the fuzzy outline of our own, increasingly self-determined humanity.

So we should be vaguely grateful to those rule-stretching, muscle-injecting sportsmen and women, whose post-human play (perhaps ultra-human would be better) is outlining a possible future for us. In light of this future, I have a rather poignant nostalgia for the philosopher-athletes - those who manage to leave space for the conceptual, in the midst of physical regimes that are becoming ever more cybernetic and biotechnic.

Unfortunately defeated by Lennox Lewis in Los Angeles a month ago, heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko is both an intellectual as well as a physical contender - with a doctorate in physical science from the Ukraine, and a professorship in philosophy from Germany, where he now trains. The story of how he began his titanic dual career, told by his old tutor Professor Leonid Volkov, couldn't be more post-Soviet if it tried:

Vitali came up to me and said: 'Leonid Viktorovich, I am interested in one question -- being talented at sport, being good at sport -- what does it mean? Am I gifted or have I made myself talented?'" That was how he started his PhD. Working into the early hours during his trips to Ukraine, Vitali, Vladimir, a childhood friend and Volkov would analyse the data from experiments on national youth teams and argue about their conclusions. "We had to open all the windows and the balcony doors because with three strong men in my room having to breathe, there was almost no oxygen," Volkov laughs, sitting in his two-roomed flat on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Volkov concludes: "I have always said to him: 'Don't let yourself get hit on the head, science needs you.'" A childhood hero of mine also revealed his social-theory side recently - the seventies Dutch soccer wizard Johan Cruyff. Now a major force in Dutch politics, the magazine Ode has unearthed an extraordinary 1984 interview. How much is there to learn from this disquisition on the relationship between individual play and team play:
You have this game with 22 players, all of them individuals, and yet they form two teams. Everything in this field of sport is contradictory. The 11 of you must operate as a hermetic group, while each player is constantly being judged on his individual performance. Eleven ways of thinking, 11 opinions, 11 personalities - how can they ever agree? And yet on the field a common goal must be set. Another complication is added: the problems that arise when things are not going well, appear in reverse when all is going smoothly. If there is a hitch, the guys, by being organised and not solely relying on their own insight, will give all it takes to get things back on track. If the game is progressing optimally, then these players will all want to stand out again anyway.

Cruyff's own solution? "I always went against the grain of all the accepted opinions. I dared to say to myself: 'Today is not important.' So I do not really have to go around that guy now and shoot the ball in the goal myself. If the organisation is sound, we will succeed - maybe not today, but tomorrow."

A better exposition of self-organisation as an ethic - see next week's blogger Steven Johnson for the book on that - couldn't be more naturally found. Cruyff's a genius - but he's also an iteration... For more background on the extraordinary fusion of philosophy and sports that created the Dutch soccer dream of the seventies and eighties, read David Winner's Brilliant Orange: the Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football. Winner cites this definition of the Dutch system here, and it's as play-ethical as you'd wish:

A good player is one who touches the ball only once and knows where to run.
All comments welcome.

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July 23, 2003

Brain Waves Ethical Guest Bloggers (Part 2)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Wrye Sententia and Richard Glen Boire, Directors of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics will be covering neuroethics the last two weeks of August.  Get ready to stretch your brain.

The Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE) is a nonprofit law, policy, and public education institute working to advance and protect freedom of thought at a time when drugs and other cognitive technologies present both opportunities and challenges for individual and collective freedom.

The CCLE maintains that the fundamental right to liberty, privacy, and self-determination over one’s own intellect is essential to our most cherished freedoms. We work in the courts, with policy makers, industry, other organizations and people like you to advance legal, social, and ethical polices that protect cognitive freedom, dignity, and potential.

Cognitive liberty, the right of a person to liberty, autonomy and privacy over his or her own intellect is situated at the core of what it means to be a free person. This principle is what gives life to some of our most well-established and cherished human and constitutional rights. Today, as new drugs, technologies and techniques are being developed for augmenting, enhancing, or conversely, surveilling and controlling human thought, the CCLE produces original research and analysis, and engages in legal advocacy aimed at protecting cognitive liberty and the full potential of the human intellect.

Wrye will be speaking on September 19th at The Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) and the Council for Biotechnology Policy (CBP) in Oakland, CA. Her talk, "Steering Toward Human Flourishing" will one of several at the "The Face of the Future: Technosapiens?" conference.

See Brain Waves blogs: Cognitive Liberty and Responsibility and Stepping Forward: Transcendent Liberty for more about these two thought leaders.

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July 22, 2003

Brain Waves Guest Bloggers (Part 1)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As mentioned yesterday, over the next six weeks several experts will be sharing their thoughts on Brain Waves.  Here is an overview of what the the first three will be covering:

July 28-Aug 1: The Future of Work is Play

  • Pat Kane, author of the forthcoming book, The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the New Century (MacMillan 2004). "Play will be to the 21st century what work was to the last 300 years of industrial society - our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value."   See Brain Waves Post:  Harry Potter and the Rise of Kidults

Aug 4-8: Personal Experiences with Neurotechnology

Aug 11-15: Neuroeconomics, Trust and Neurosociology

More guest blogger introductions tomorrow.

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July 10, 2003

Neuroethics: How Bad Can be Good.

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Posted by Zack Lynch

William Saffire's NYTimes piece, The Risk that Failed, highlights the growing interest and importance of neuroethics:

"the field of philosophy that discusses the rights and wrongs of the treatment of, or enhancement of, the human brain."

"Not just neurosurgeons but other brain scientists are thinking long and hard about the morality (right or wrong) and the ethics (fair or unfair) of what such breakthroughs as genomics, molecular imaging and pharmaceuticals will make it possible for them to do.

In the treatment or cure of brain disease or disability, the public tends to support neuroscience's needs for closely controlled and informed experimentation. But in the enhancement of the brain's ability to learn or remember, or to be cheerful at home or attentive in school, many of the scientists are not so quick to embrace mood-manipulating drugs or a mindless race to enhance the mind."

Throughout our evolutionary history, emotions, like fear or anger, have been easily able to bump rational thoughts out of our awareness.  Non-emotional events, like a thought, have not easily been able to displace emotions from the mental spotlight—wishing that anxiety, pain or depression would go away usually doesn’t work.  While conscious control over emotions is weak, emotions can flood consciousness.

Advancing neurotechnology has the potential to change this evolutionary fact. For the first time, neuroceuticals could allow our cognitive “thinking” self to a higher degree of control over our “emotional” self than ever before. 

Human emotions have been honed over millions of years by natural selection to be trigger-happy. Emotions like anger, anxiety and fear were highly selected for in our ancestors because they helped them survive in the harsh open savannahs of Africa.  However, in today's society many negative emotions no longer provide the selective value they once did.  Instead many emotions actually get in the way of cooperative efforts to solve problems.  Perhaps reducing some of our emotional responses and tendencies might help humanity organize more effectively and peacefully.

Clearly emotions like anger, anxiety and depression are useful evolutionarily mechanisms that alert us to the fact that something might be wrong and help us coordinate our responses. As appealing as it might sound to wipe out negative emotions, it would be as harmful as taking away someone’s ability to feel physical pain.  Without the physical feeling of pain we would walk across hot coals, burning our feet beyond recognition, without ever knowing it. However, as valuable as our ability to sense and react to physical pain is, there is no reason that a person in physical pain should not take an aspirin or a painkiller to modulate their pain.  Should the same follow suit with mental pain?

In other words, how much of a “bad” thing is good?  This is a critical question that neuroethicists will need to grapple with in the years to come.

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June 30, 2003

Stepping Forward: Transcendent Liberty

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Smart thoughts from CCLE:

Early Notes Concerning the Cognitive Liberty Implications of Supreme Court's Gay Rights Decision

Heralded as a landmark victory for gay rights, last week’s Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck down Texas’ “Homosexual Conduct” law, which criminalized consensual sex between homosexual adults. The Supreme Court’s express recognition of a fundamental “liberty of the person in both its spatial and more transcendent dimensions,” that among other things protects consensual, private sexual conduct between adults, leaves room for a future recognition of cognitive liberty.  “At the heart of liberty,” wrote Justice Kennedy, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

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June 16, 2003

Supreme Court Upholds Right to Refuse Mind-Altering Drugs

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The protection of our cognitive liberty was upheld today in no small part to CCLE's Amicus Brief which argues that forced medication infringes fundamental liberty. 

The United States Supreme Court upheld the right to refuse unwanted psychotropic medication in its landmark decision in Sell v. United States. Ruling in favor of a St. Louis dentist who resisted government attempts to force medicate him with antipsychotic drugs, the Court held that while involuntary medication solely for trial competence purposes may be appropriate in some instances, those instances would likely be “rare.”

Glen Boire, who wrote the amicus brief said, "They made a good ruling, but they missed a major opportunity to recognize that thought is, at least partly, rooted in brain chemistry and that giving the government broad powers to directly manipulate the brain chemistry of a non-violent citizen would go against our nation’s most cherished values."

He continued, “Emerging neurotechnology from pharmaceuticals to brain scanners are making consciousness more accessible and manipulable than ever before,” said Boire, “the court had a chance to update legal thinking about cognition in a way could have been very relevant now and in the coming decades,” said Boire.

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June 09, 2003

Neurotechnology is Driving Neuroethics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This month's IEEE Spectrum has an excellent article, Neurotechnology: Bioethics and the Brain, that describes how rapid advancements in brain imaging technologies will have significant implications for society in the relative near future.

To make their point, the authors describe how one of their colleagues has recently used fMRI scans to show highly significant correlations between lying and truth telling and the metabolic activity in the region of the brain important to paying attention and monitoring errors.

The article highlights several important neuroethical issues:

  • Compulsory brain testing: Should society allow the government to scan the brain of convicted criminals or terrorists to test for emotional predispositions or a specific knowledge base (i.e. anthrax manufacturing processes)?  Should we allow companies to scan the brain of potential employees to understand their natural propensities (i.e. anger) and let them deny employment on the basis of these scans?
  • National brain imaging database: Should we allow the government to keep "brain fingerprints" just like they currently have a database of our fingerprints and are building for DNA?
  • Scanning of children: What will parents or teachers do with brain scanning information?  If they find out a child has little natural propensity for music should they not even let that child try?

Neurotechnology will never be 100% deterministic but it will provide some very powerful predictive information, much more than most people currently want to believe

Later this week I will be joining the Gruter Institute for its annual neuroethics conference.  The first day includes the following talks:

I look forward to exploring the above issues and extending the discussion to include the societal implications of human performance enhancing neuroceuticals.

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May 20, 2003

Human Performance Enhancement

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Posted by Zack Lynch

James Canton gets it. His most recent article for the New York Academy of Sciences, Designing the Future: NBIC Technologies and Human Performance Enhancement is proof.

"Never before has any civilization had the unique opportunity to enhance human performance on the scale that we will face in the near future.  The convergence of of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) is crreating a set of powerful tools that have the potential to significantly enhance human performance as well as transform society, science, economics, and human evolution."

He goes on..."Human Performance Enhancement (HPE) refers to the augmentation of human attributes or competencies through the use of technology, medicine or therapy designed to replace or increase human performance capability..."

Sounds familiar, eh?  Stay tuned for my article in the same issue of the NYAS Annals.

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May 02, 2003

The Real Ethical Hot Potato: Brain Scans

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Yesterday's Boston Globe article highlights the ethical implications that brain scanning technologies present to society.

"The need for discussing brain privacy is urgent, said Arthur L. Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. ''If you were to ask me what the ethical hot potato of this coming century is, I'd say it's new knowledge of the brain, its structure, and function.'' Most people feel a much greater sense of privacy about their brains than their genes, Caplan and other ethicists say. Genes play critical but complex roles in what people become, while ''your brain is more associated with you,'' Caplan said."

As I recently discussed in When Will the Feds Mandate Brain Scans, the question of whether or not brain scans will become widely used throughout society for a myriad of purposes is moot.  They will be.  The real question still to be sorted out is where the neuroethical boundaries stand in terms of a person's cognitive liberty

On this note, I am very honored to have been invited to the Gruter Institute's annual five day meeting on neuroethics in June.  This year's conference will focus on "Sensory Systems and Judgment in Law" and is sure to provide some very interesting content for this blog and my forthcoming book. Thanks Paul.

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April 28, 2003

Our Enhancement Culture

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Signs abound of the growing culture of enhancement.  Some of the latest examples of enhancing human physical performance, include:

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March 05, 2003

Neuroethics: The Battle for Your Mind

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In Ronald Bailey's The Battle for Your Brain he challenges eight objections to enhancing human performance with neurotechnology.

He debunks the claims that neurological enhancements:

  1. Permanently change the brain
  2. Are anti-egalitarian
  3. Are self-defeating
  4. Are difficult to refuse
  5. Undermine good character
  6. Undermine personal responsibility
  7. Enforce dubious norms
  8. Make us inauthentic

"In the 1960s many states outlawed the birth control pill, on the grounds that it would be too disruptive to society. Yet Americans, eager to take control of their reproductive lives, managed to roll back those laws, and no one believes that the pill could be re-outlawed today." 

Neuroethics is a topic that needs to be watched closely, our cognitive liberty is at stake.

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