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[Related Event] Special Meeting of Tokyo Colloquium of Cognitive Philosophy (TCCP)

17:00-19:00, Saturday, February 2, 2013
Room 710, Bld 14, The University of Tokyo, Komaba

Department of History and Philosophy of Science will hold Special Meeting of Tokyo Colloquium of Cognitive Philosophy. Everyone is welcome.

*This session is held on Saturday; the building will be closed. One of our students will see you at the entrance and let you in. So, please do not be late.

Date & Time: Feb. 2 (Sat) 17:00-19:00
Venue: Building 14th, Room 710 (7F), Komaba 1 Campus, The University of Tokyo

Presenter: Kevin Chien-Chang Wu (Department of Social Medicine, National Taiwan University)

Title: Philosophy and ethics of "seeing the mind": Do we have an ethics of vision?


According to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, “to see” has a variety of meanings, which include: to be aware by using our eyes, to understand, to know, to meet or come into contact with, to consider or think about in a particular way, to try to discover, to make certain that something happens, etc. Therefore, we could come up with different interpretations of “seeing the mind”. Let us leave the classical philosophical other minds problem aside and just take a prima facie case that we could understand others’ mental states. Based on this assumption, it is advocated that new instruments such as neuroimaging and event-related potentials are helping us have a better grasp of other minds. However, the new technologies do carry with them some serious ethical and philosophical problems. In the presentation, I will address some of them by commenting three papers:

1. In their paper Mechanism underlying an ability to behave ethically, Pfaff, Kavaliers, and Choleris proposed that mirror neuron system, which renders the blurring between the boundary between one and the other, is the basis of our altruism. They argue that beneficence and violence thus are separated in different domains in the brain. However, I argued that they have offered oversimplified speculations on the mechanisms underlying an ability to behave ethically. In cases of extended suicide, the suicidal persons murdered their much-loved ones before they committed suicide. Loss of information and blurred identity actually lead to the paradoxical ‘altruistic violence.’ To explain different psychological phenomena, the authors have to make their speculations more complex rather than parsimonious.

2. In Conscious, Imaging, Ethics, and the Injured Brain, Fins et al. argued that appropriate use of neuroimaging could rescue the often-neglected personhood of individuals with disordered consciousness. Implied in their arguments is that we could detect the soul in the body more reliably by seeing it through neuroimaging than by feeling it in our behavioral interactions. I argue that contextual information about subjects’ humanness inevitably affects researchers’ interpretations on objective neuroimages that correlate with subjective consciousness. Unless we admit that we see a ghost in a machine that has neuroimaging outputs perfectly matched with those of human brains, we may not only find souls from, but also pragmatically make souls out of neuroimaging in our eagerness to resolve value conflicts in making decisions for individuals with disordered consciousness.

3. In Visual bioethics, Lauritzen rightly pointed out important ethical issues in the uses of images and textual visual associations in bioethics debate. However, in his arguments for checking the images ‘against the facts,’ he failed to address the moral imaginations and perspectives on nature that are embedded in practices of biomedical sciences. Based on the above imaginations and perspectives, biomedical sciences also utilize plenty of images and visual associations to produce facts. To make their arguments more complete and consistent, Lauritzen may have to expand their vision of visual bioethics to include the politics and ethics of representations in biomedical sciences.

To summarize, we have to be cautious in our interpretations of neuroimaging results and think reflexively about how to neuroimaging findings might apply to the interpreters themselves. Furthermore, we must “see” the hidden “vision” frames we use to depict the world and the mind to avoid the authoritative declaration of triumph of humanity in sciences.

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