Neurotechnologies can be used to enhance our freedom in art and creativity

The latest innovations in neurotechnology allow scientists not only to improve and restore functions brain, but also to effectively influence human behavior. The interdisciplinary discussion will focus primarily on the impact of neurotechnology on human rights and freedoms. Neuroscience & Art project: international online conference ‘Neurotechnology and Freedom’ held on March 18.

New neurotechnologies allow not only to improve and repair brain function, but effectively manipulate human behavior. The main subject of the interdisciplinary discussion is the impact of neurotechnology on human rights and freedoms. What are the social, cultural and economical consequences of the quickly growing neurotech? Can acquisition of brain data (e.g. using brain-computer interfaces) violate our freedom? Scientists, philosophers, researchers of art and artists will take part in the discussion about the impact of neurotech on the freedom of human beings.

Neuroscientists for decades study and challenge the concept of free will – the idea that we are free to choose our behavior. Neuroscience developed convincing experimental methods to study the brain processes that precede voluntary decisions. Interestingly, some influential neuroscientists believe that free will is an illusion. For example, scientists manage to predict peoples’ decisions a few seconds before the subject becomes aware of it. Professor Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London suggests that people have the strong belief that we make choices about what we do and that our conscious decisions initiate our actions, at least on some occasions. At the same time, our actions are clearly the result of a causal chain of neuronal activity in premotor and motor areas of the brain. Patrick Haggard declared, “We certainly don’t have free will. Not in the sense we think.”

As opposed to this, Danil Razeev, a philosopher at Saint Petersburg State University, emphasises some limitations of neuroscience: “Some experiments, which were recently conducted by neuroscientists, seem to support the thesis of free will as an illusion. I claim that these experiments neither prove nor reject the existence of free will, because contemporary neuroscience confuses the notions of free will and free action.”

Some artists, for example, Dr. Ippolit Markelov, an artist and biologist at ITMO University, states that the importance of the Free will is overstated.

But despite the fact that scientists question the traditional notion of freedom, our society is not ready to accept this scientific view. For example, the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The idea that people are born ‘free and unique’ faces various challenges. For example, a prominent neuroscientist Mikhail Lebedev notes: “With the extraordinary development of brain-computer interfaces, the mankind is faced with the challenge: will the human beings maintain their presumably unique abilities, or will they adhere to the new technologies that interface to the brain directly to obtain the best-quality communication channel with external devices and the other brains”.

Modern neurotechnology aims to repair and improve cognitive functions. Since, “improving” neurotech devices will become widespread in coming years, it is the right time to discuss the ethical issues of neurotech. Accordingly, Dr. Suzanne Dikker, a senior researcher at NYU Max Planck Center for Language, Music, and Emotion: “As biophysiological tools and data are increasingly permeating people’s everyday lives, neuroscientists should be mindful about possible societal implications of their research.”

On the other side, some influential neuroscientists believe that neurotechnologies can be used to enhance our freedom in art and creativity. For example, Risto Ilmoniemi??, a professor at Aalto university, emphasises that neurotechnologies may enhance creativity and perhaps even stimulate art.

While philosophers do not give us a definitive answer to the question “Are we free in our decisions?”, scientists continue to warn us about technologies that can restrict our freedom. “The time has come to understand and stop being afraid of this complex topic.” – states professor Vasily Klucharev and calls for a deeper discussion on Freedom and Neurotech.

The participants of the event: Prof. Patrick Haggard, University College London, UK; Prof. Gabriel Curio, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany; Prof. Risto Ilmoniemi, Aalto University, Finland; Prof. Danil Razeev, Saint Petersburg University, Russia; Dr. Suzanne Dikker, NYU Max Planck Center for Language, Music, and Emotion, USA; Prof. Vasily Klucharev, Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, HSE University, Russia; Dr. Ksenia Fedorova, Leiden University, the Netherlands; Dr. Ippolit Markelov, ITMO University, «18 Apples», Russia; Prof. Mikhail Lebedev, HSE University, Russia and Skoltech, Russia; Dr. Vadim Nikulin, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany, and HSE University, Russia; Dr. Maria Nazarova, HSE University, and Centre for Brain Research and Neurotechnologies, FMBA, Russia; Pia Tikka, Tallinn University, Estonia, University of Lapland, Finland, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong.

The Neurotechnology & Freedom Conference, which will be held online, is organized by the Centre for Cognition & Decision Making at HSE University with the support of the I-Brain Erasmus + project and the Department of Innovation Management of HSE University.

Visit the conference website for more information.