Sunday, February 07, 2010

Neuroscience -- Brains, Minds, and Selves:
What is it like to be a bat, and what does it matter?

Saturday, February 20, 1:30 pm - 4:00 pm

James Giordano Ph.D, M.Phil., Director of the Center for Neurotechnology Studies, and Chair of Academic Programs at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Arlington, VA

National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA (

The field of neuroscience has achieved considerable insight to the workings of the brain. While the most essential question – how brains produce consciousness and mind – remains enigmatic, what is becoming increasingly evident is that even simple brains enable a variety of complex functions – including the capacity to think, feel pain and be self-aware. Thus, it appears that if an organism has the neurological “wetware” – that is, a brain of some sort – it is likely, if not probable that they will be able to run a “program” that produces a mind.

In this lecture, Dr. James Giordano, a neuroscientist and neuroethicist, argues that the cornerstone question is not if other organisms have a mind, but what kind of mind they have. He discusses whether neuroscience and technology can provide some insight to philosopher Thomas Nagel’s metaphorical query, “what is it like to be a bat?” In other words, now that science has privileged a realization that non-human minds can exist, will technology allow us to know what it is like to be another being, and what can we -or perhaps more importantly, should we do with such knowledge?

Dr. Giordano discusses key questions and issues that have arisen in, and from modern neuroscience, including: “Do all brains give rise to minds?”; “Do all minds give rise to a “self”?; “How much brain is required to evoke and sustain a mind or self?”and “How much brain must be changed to change a mind or self?” He discusses how both these questions and their potential answers really do matter, as they force us to confront long-held, somewhat dogmatic views about the nature of consciousness, what it means “to be”, the uniqueness of humans, the ubiquity of pain, and the moral implications and consequences of our regard and actions.

Giordano addresses how things “neuro” can be misinterpreted, misperceived and misused by the public, market and socio-political agendas. In cautioning against such misdirection, he argues for a neuroethics that enables science and society to use current knowledge in ways that prudently inform and guide our treatment of both human and non-human “selves”.

James Giordano Ph.D, M.Phil., is Director of the Center for Neurotechnology Studies, and Chair of Academic Programs at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Arlington, VA, and is Senior Research Associate of the Wellcome Centre for Neuroethics, and Uehiro Centre for Practical Philosophy at the University of Oxford, UK. He is IGERT Professor of Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Neuroscience and Neuroethics at Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelm’s Universit├Ąt, Bonn, Germany, and is Chair of the Capital Consortium on Neuroscience, Ethics, Legal and Social Issues (

Dr. Giordano’s most recent books include Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives in Neuroethics (with Bert Gordijn, Cambridge University Press); Pain, Mind, Meaning and Medicine (PPM Press), and Pain Medicine: Philosophy, Ethics, and Policy (with Mark Boswell; Linton Atlantic Books). He is the Editor-in-Chief of the journals Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, and Synesis: A Journal of Sceince, Technology, Ethics and Policy; Associate Editor of the international journal Neuroethics, and Series’ Editor of Advances in Neurotechnology: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues, published by CRC Press. The author of over 130 papers on neuroscience, neurotechnology, and neuroethics, Dr. Giordano’s ongoing research is focused upon the neuropathology of chronic pain, and the moral, ethical and social issues evoked by the use of novel neurotechnologies in the study and treatment of pain.

He and his wife Sherry, a naturalist, writer, and artist, “commute” between Old Town Alexandria, VA and Oxford, UK. (For further information, please see: