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    Science and the Self

    Advances in genetics, epigenetics, neuroscience, psychology, and computer science are giving us a better understanding of who we are and why we function as we do.

    Science now enables us to associate specific characteristics in the brain or genetic traits with inclinations for particular kinds of behavior, such as violence. These findings may revolutionize how we see ourselves, or prompt us to oversimplify complex relationships among our genes, environment, and behavior. This information also presents challenges. Does this mean our behavior is predetermined? Should this change our notions of personal responsibility and our free will?

    Additionally, various means of self-alteration have been used throughout history to change how we appear to others and to ourselves. Over the last few decades as our pressure for success has increased, so too have our arsenal of tools for self-enhancement. Each of these enhancers—including drugs to improve concentration and sexual function, cochlear implants, and robotic limbs — directly affects how we interact with each other in every facet of our lives. These alterations also beg us to question whether it is fair to enhance ourselves for a competitive edge. What about those who do not have access to enhancements? Are these enhancements more acceptable if they are used to promote societal good versus self-improvement?

    Recent research suggests that new drugs such as oxytocin may enhance moral behaviors and that we may be less likely to harm others if we take a drug that modulates the neurotransmitter serotonin. While we have always aspired to make ourselves better, scientific and technological advances complicate our thinking on how we affect change—in ourselves and in others. The Hasting Center will continue to examine whether the ways that we achieve these goals matters and whether these actions diminish or enhance our humanity.

    Activities

    Current Projects

    Center for Research on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics

    Control and Responsible Innovation in the Development of Autonomous Machines

    Gene Editing and Human Flourishing

    Recent Past Projects

    The Genetics of Intelligence

    The Uses and Misuses of Neuroimaging Technologies

    HIDE: Homeland Security, Biometric Identification, and Personal Detection Ethics

    In the News

    Mildred Solomon and Erik Parens on the genetics of intelligence and racism (National Geographic)

    Josephine Johnston on gene editing (Wired)

    Erik Parens on cognitive enhancement in the workplace (New York Times)

    Selected Publications

    Erik Parens and Paul Appelbaum, eds., The Genetics of Intelligence: Ethics and the Conduct of Trustworthy Research.

    Erik Parens, “Made to Order: Parents already put their children under intense pressure to compete in the world. Will gene editing make it worse?” Aeon

    Erik Parens, “The Benefits of ‘Binocularity,'” New York Times

    Hastings Public Events

    Bioethics Meets Moral Psychology

    Probing the Genetics of Intelligence