Enhancing Cognition in the "Brain Nation". An Israeli Perspective

HILLEL BRAUDE

Introduction

Metaphors are important tools to think with; yet they also may contain concepts not consciously intended by their devisors. The “Brain Nation” is a metaphor posited by former Israeli President Shimon Peres to depict Israel’s excellence in the field of neurotechnologies, especially those cognitive enhancement technologies associated with brain communication.1 The “Brain Nation” describes Israel’s reliance on its intellectual resources in a country relatively free of natural resources and challenged by many geostrategic issues. Additionally, the metaphor of the “Brain Nation” appears to privilege higher cognition, as if all forms of scientifically produced neurological enhancement axiomatically result in positive individual and social transformations. However, the project of cognitive enhancement—a project that aims to fulfill the Enlightenment dream of controlling our human condition through reason—is inevitably accompanied by its shadow side. For this reason, discussions regarding the question of human nature and identity, not to mention issues of justice and fairness, accompany these innovations in cognitive enhancement. The greater the technological prowess in transforming human nature, the greater the need for sustained ethical reflection. Surprisingly, in light of Israel’s technological achievements in the field of neuroscience, concomitant ethical reflection on the applications of cognitive enhancement technologies is sorely deficient. Thus, compared with other developed countries, sustained moral reflection about their work by researchers or other social scientists, philosophers, and neuroethicists at Israeli scientific institutes is relatively nonexistent. Seeking to begin to redress this imbalance, I reflect in this chapter on the moral context of cognitive enhancement technologies. Underlying my analysis is the question of whether the Israeli context provides a particular cultural or historical experience that informs, or even should inform, the technological development of and ethical attitudes toward cognitive enhancement. In addition to a general overview of the ethical aspects pertaining to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), I focus on the innovative applications of TMS by two Israeli companies, Brainsway and Neuronix. Brainsway and Neuronix are international companies based in Israel that provide potentially revolutionary technological applications for the treatment of diverse psychiatric and mental conditions and are also pioneering TMS as a form of cognitive enhancement. However, reflecting the present state of neuroethics in Israel, the ethical discourse around these cognitive enhancement technologies is largely limited to discussions of safety and efficacy and does not at all refer to the moral dimensions and ethical ramifications of these neurotechnologies themselves. In contrast with the development of these cognitive enhancement technologies, I conclude this chapter with a brief description of an educational approach toward cognitive enhancement developed by the late neuropsychologist Reuven Feuerstein (1921-2014). Developed initially in response to the urgent need to help children survivors of the Holocaust (Shoah), Feuerstein’s method reflects a universally valuable approach to cognitive enhancement that is rooted in the particularistic Jewish concept of tikkun olam—the moral imperative to heal the broken world.

 
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