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Jonathan Moreno, the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor of Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, speaks to members of the Neuroscience Club at Science Library prior to delivering the keynote address to start off Research Days.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Bioethicist delivers Research Days address
March 31, 2014Tweet
Calling neuroscience the growth science of the 21st century, bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, author of Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century, took a packed crowd in the Mandela Room through a brief history lesson on brainwashing before turning to current and future expectations for brain experimentation.
On campus to give the keynote address that kicked off the third annual Research Days, Moreno told the audience that the government is spending a lot of money to understand how the brain works, and he cited two signal projects: Obama’s Brain Initiative to map the activity of neurons and the human brain project of the European Union to simulate the human brain. “We’re in the era of ‘Big Neuroscience,’” he said.
With a mix of video clips, including one from the 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate” about a former Korean POW who had been brainwashed, Moreno said the CIA became concerned that brainwashing “could make a discreet man indiscreet and that experiments using hallucinogens would cause people to say what they wouldn’t usually say.
“So the CIA embarked on a project in which they gave LSD to unsuspecting people,” Moreno said. “In one case, an operative in a bar in San Francisco who liked the singer struck up a conversation with her and he put some LSD in her cocktail. … Definitely not a controlled experiment.”
In the early 1960s, the concern was that soldiers could be compromised by giving them drugs, Moreno said. He then showed a video of soldiers who had been given LSD that clearly demonstrated their inability to function in a normal manner while under the influence. “This clip has been up on YouTube for 10-12 years,” he said. “There are other films in the series including one that is not amusing of one guy taken off the field and shown walking around in a barracks saying ‘Please don’t kill me’ during a psychotic episode. It’s serious business.”
Fast forward to the late 1980s, and a committee was formed to advise the military on many of the studies that focused on brain manipulation.
In addition to the many studies Moreno uncovered for his research for Mind Wars, he spoke about drugs that can be used to modify brain, and therefore, human functioning abilities, as well as non-invasive brain imaging:
• Modafinil (Provigil), sometimes called the anti-sleep pill. “Some people can be kept awake and alert with no measurable loss of function for 60-80 hours,” Moreno said. “I think it’s going to be a drug on college campuses once it becomes more widely available. I don’t recommend it. Sleep is very important and we need it. We need to dream. You should know that Air Force pilots are using it as a complement or substitute for speed.”
• Natural oxytocin production is associated with trust behavior and it could be artificially administered in a spray to encourage cooperation. Should it be used in interrogations? “So the next person who walks in the room is the good cop,” he said. “Is that legally acceptable? Is that a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention? Would this be an unacceptable invasion of privacy in interrogations? Is this going too far? What are the stakes?”
• The anti-conscience pill. Beta blockers can be used to treat stress and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Can it also reduce guilt feelings? “What if we gave it to someone about to go into combat knowing he/she is susceptible to PTSD and they see and do terrible things, come back and don’t feel guilt or regret? Is that ethical or acceptable?” he asked. It hasn’t been tried. The Catch 22 is that according to some neuroscientists, we might give it to someone and it might enable them to have emotion and not know why. They would have emotion, but not the memory.
• Brain fingerprinting, which has been marketed to security agencies has amazing possibilities.
• Functional MRIs that can allow people to reconstruct images they were looking at and are like mind-reading experiments.
• Human brain-to-brain interface studies.
• The Roborat, remote-controlled rat that is guided wirelessly by signals from a laptop to his brain. “Why is the Pentagon interested in doing this?” Moreno asked. “It has some utility, like sending in a rat at the mud slide in Washington or mine clearing in open fields.”
• Electric shock. Test scores have soared, Moreno said, after showing a brief clip of a cartoon about applying electric shock. “It’s no longer a cartoon. People do seem to learn faster in labs if pulses are directed to right place,” he said. “You can create a false memory by using electrical stimulation. … Give yourself a zap and do a crossword or Sudoku and get better after the zap.”
• Optogenetics. Moreno expects to the creator of this to win the Nobel Prize. If you put DNA into certain parts of a rat’s brain and follow the proteins around in the brain, it’s possible to study the number of neurons and also control proteins being released and where they are going in the brain. This could lead to better learning about how brains function, said Moreno, and one can imagine in some distant time that things like obesity and people with eating disorders can be helped.
“As we learn more about the brain, it will make artificial intelligence much more efficient,” Moreno said. “Google has as much memory as we do, but the software isn’t as good. If we can make it as good, and we can apply it to the military, they can decide whether to fire missile or not based on our own algorithms without a human in the mix. What if we could make a robot soldier? They react a lot faster, have great software, but we have judgment and can understand context. If they could do that, it would be a big advantage on the battlefield. “
So, the brain initiative goes on,” Moreno said. “This shows where these things are going, and the spooks are interested. It brings ethical challenges.
“Do we need new ethical principles?”