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Mechanized Brains

Challenging Embodiment, Engineering Agency

Philosophical Foundations of an
Appropriate Ethical Evaluation of Neurotechnologies


Bi-directional interactions between machines and the brain raise far-reaching ethical questions. By becoming an integral part of the brain, neurotechnological tools may interfere with our "self", thus touching complex questions concerning the relation between the human brain and personal identity. Our project focuses on two aspects of personhood that seem to be highly important in the context of neurotechnological interventions: embodiment and agency. Firstly, we will investigate the implications of incorporating neurotechnological devices for bodily experience and phenomena of embodiment, and secondly, we want to examine the more “active” dimensions of our self by exploring neurotechnological interventions against the background of theories of agency as some BMI devices record brain activity of an agent and somehow need to extract the agent’s intended action from raw signals in order to control an artificial effector system.

While the embodiment approach refers to both the SEAM and the LiNC platform of intelligent neuroprosthetic technology, the agency approach is crucial for the philosophical and, hence, neuroethical assessment of LiNCs. By developing interdisciplinarily reliable concepts of embodiment and agency, we will establish a well-founded conjunction of empirical knowledge and normative aspects.

In order to provide ethical evaluations that take into account the specificity of neurotechnologies, we will adjust our philosophical investigations to the following guiding questions: how can a philosophical framework based on the concepts of embodiment and agency help to identify the novelty and specific characteristics of neurotechnological interventions? And how can we proceed from the development of a robust interdisciplinary understanding of BMIs to a normative framework that allows us to establish a context-sensitive framework for the development of precise criteria that can be used in ethical guidelines?

Zahlen & Fakten

Laufzeit: 2013 – 2016

Förderung durch: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Leitung: PD Dr. Oliver Müller

Bearbeiterin: Franziska Krause, M.A.

In Zuammenarbeit mit:
Tonio Ball • Uniklinik Freiburg/Bernstein Center Freiburg
Bernhard Nebel • IIF
Andreas Schulze-Bonhage • Uniklinik Freiburg/Bernstein Center Freiburg
Cornelius Weiller • Uniklinik Freiburg/Bernstein Center Freiburg

Kooperationspartner: Lore Hühn • Philosophisches Seminar/Universität Freiburg

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Universtität Freiburg

Institut für Ethik und Geschichte der Medizin

Stefan-Meier-Str. 26
D-79104 Freiburg

Tel.: +49 (0)761/203-5033
Fax: +49 (0)761/203-5039
E-Mail: Sekretariat

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