Making noise, not getting anywhere.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


captive audience

A few years ago at a Society for Neuroscience meeting, there was an ethics panel discussing animal research. I quickly realized that the panel's discussion was not about whether or not animals should be used in research, but rather how to propagandize their use properly and avoid lawsuits and flamebombs. This seemed a somewhat conservative and backwards approach - if only in contrast with the discussion of animal consciousness and its consequences I had, in fact, expected to hear.

This year, one of the large talks - which are always held in a ludicrously big room, making them seem less well attended or received than they are - was on the subject of cognitive enhancement, and once more I expected to see some innovative debate of emerging technology and knowledge, and the dangers and opportunities inherent in messing with the very organ that creates experience, when we hardly understand the first thing about it.

Instead I heard a talk on performance enhancers in sports, with some lame joke about how everybody in the audience had taken some congnitive enhancer that very morning (meaning, of course, caffeine) coming the closest to the advertised subject.

It might be naive to expect cutting edge, or even just mildly surprising statements in presidential lectures at monster meetings like this. But that the most daring and controversial moment in the biggest meeting on Neuroscience comes when the Dalai Lama speaks for a few minutes on his understanding of meditation, something seems amiss.

(The foto above, by the way, was taken during a talk on animal consciousness, specifically on whether mental timetravel was unique to humans, presenting evidence from chaching behaviour of scrubjays, suggesting it might not be)


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