“What place for the human being in progress in neurosciences? »

What is called “neuroscience” is a body of scientific research on the brain, the aim of which is to better understand how it works. On a strictly objective level, what we know today has no common measure with what we knew a few decades ago.

This new knowledge inspires new technologies, “neurotechnologies” and artificial intelligence, in particular to compensate for certain deficiencies of the human body. If these are great promises, the vast majority of which are still uncertain, the question arises as to what will be the place of human beings in the midst of this progress.

What it means to be human

It is not a question of doing ethics of anticipation, but of highlighting the following thing: whether it is for the purpose of “repairing” the body, or in that of improving it, the question of what means being human arises with seriousness. Take the example of brain-machine interfaces (BCIs), which could provide compensatory solutions for the loss of a cerebral or motor function.

Thus, a person deprived of speech following a “locked-in syndrome” (the person is conscious in a body that he can no longer physically move) could use this type of neurotechnology to externalize what he is still able to say to himself in his head.

A blurred distinction

But these advances inspire others, in the field of entertainment, cybersecurity, education, administration, e-commerce. They suggest the emergence of new non-living and non-human entities endowed with a complexity and a certain form of inner experience (thanks to the simulation of emotions, for example). This is not without blurring the hitherto accepted distinction between human beings and machines, and it is worth pointing out that the European Parliament has already fed reflections on the possibility of a new legal status of the person, dedicated to this type of entity and which she called the “electronic person” (1).

If, for the time being, this option has not been adopted, one can wonder about the form that the recognition of certain rights and duties could take for these totally artificial beings and equipped with a form of intelligence, or for individuals whose cerebral functioning would use an “intelligent” artificial device totally incorporated into their body (in particular their brain), to compensate for a deficiency (human-machine hybridization).

artificial neurons

The field of computer science is perhaps the one where this philosophical and anthropological questioning is the most difficult. Some current research consists of artificially simulating essential characteristics of biological neural networks (“neuromorphic computing”), such as cerebral plasticity, i.e. the ability of our brain to develop new connections neurons throughout our lives. Equipped with this capacity, artificial neurons could synchronize with biological ones to form only one population of neurons. The interest is to allow them to communicate in real time, and to streamline the control of robotic devices, such as a voice synthesizer in the context of a functional loss of speech.

In parallel, other people plan to use this type of neurotechnology to merge human intelligence with artificial intelligence. If the Neuralink project, by Elon Musk, also contains therapeutic objectives, it is typically part of this logic of increasing human capacities by means of neuromorphic brain implants.

More memory, more capacity in the processing of information, more feelings of well-being, even the possibility of transferring one’s own consciousness into a machine to taste immortality, the purposes of this fusion desired by Musk are not lacking. . This is without counting, however, on the many technological obstacles that remain, such as the biocompatibility of the artifact in the brain over a long period. Suffice to say that there remains a chasm between the reality of these applications and the wishes of futuristic minds.

What about spiritual progress?

Whether it’s therapeutic innovations, compensations, in the reinforcement of existing human capacities or in the addition of new ones, what becomes of the human being in all this? Will progress in the sciences of the brain also be accompanied by progress in the mind, in particular by allowing individuals to live better in peace together, with respect for their environment – ​​where do their artefacts also fit in?

It is not a question of adopting a catastrophist attitude nor of idolizing technological progress. It is rather a question of calling on the actors of the brain sciences, those of the humanities (philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, psychologists, etc.), politicians and civil society to question together; to resist together the inter-self to collectively build what we consider to be the “common good” under the light of neuroscience, without being reduced to it.

If all these advances condemned, in the short, medium and long term, to think about materialist progress without ever again thinking about the progress of thought, then that would make progress in neuroscience an absolute, and would reduce the human being to a simple support, worse a negligible and replaceable reality.

“What place for the human being in progress in neurosciences? »