Index to Course Materials

Brief Description of the Course

Weekly Topical Outline

Reading List 

Discussion Questions

Why Cognitive Liberty & Neuroethics?

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Brief Description of the Course

Questions concerning freedom and coercion have played a fundamental role in the development of our society; the rapid flow of technological advances that we are experiencing often overtakes society’s ability to consider their implications in depth. Freedom and personal identity are being challenged on numerous fronts, and it is crucial that these issues be explored in a time when one’s perception of self identity may be bought, sold and manipulated in numerous ways. Cognitive Liberty may be defined as “the right of each individual to think independently, to use the full spectrum of his or her mind, and to engage in multiple modes of thought,” and is the basis of the rights conferred by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The course engages students in an engaging investigation of the ethics and implications of current social trends and practices affecting freedom of thought and mental autonomy, and covers topics including philosophy, technology, law, drugs, media, surveillance and academic freedom.

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Weekly Topical Outline

Click for Weekly Readings and Discussion questions

  Week 1:          Introduction to Cognitive Liberty

  Week 2:          Introduction II: Philosophical Issues

  Week 3:          Food for Thought: Input & Output

  Week 4:          Manufacturing Content I: Freedom and the Classroom
   (Academic and Intellectual Freedom)

  Week 5:          Manufacturing Content II: The Construction of Social Meaning

  Week 6:          Consuming Thoughts: The Mass Media

  Week 7:          The Politics of Consciousness, Altered States, & Baseline Consciousness

  Week 8:          Drugs:  A Highly Opi(nion)ated Battle

  Week 9:          Technology & the Mind I

Week 10:          Technology & the Mind II: Social Implications

Week 11:          Reading the Mind: Looking Out, Looking In-Surveillance Technologies

Week 12:          Reality Models

Click here for an "rtf" version of the complete reading list with visible hyperlinks. 

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Why Cognitive Liberty & Neuroethics?

General Description

Cognitive Liberty and Neuroethics is a course designed to get people thinking, to entice them to think about their modes of thinking, and above all to take their ability to think seriously. With the acquisition of a critical understanding of the proposed subject matter, students will gain an understanding of how such things as technologies, laws, and social rules factor into – and thus shape – their lives. Questions concerning freedom and coercion have played a fundamental role in the development of our society; the rapid flow of technological advances that we are experiencing often overtakes society’s ability to consider their implications in depth. Freedom and personal identity are being challenged on numerous fronts, and it is crucial that these issues be explored in a time when one’s perception of self identity may be bought, sold and manipulated in numerous ways. Cognitive Liberty may be defined as “the right of each individual to think independently, to use the full spectrum of his or her mind, and to engage in multiple modes of thought,” and is the basis of the rights conferred by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The course engages students in an engaging investigation of the ethics and implications of current social trends and practices affecting freedom of thought and mental autonomy, and  covers topics including philosophy, technology, law, drugs, media, surveillance and academic freedom.

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Why is "neuroethics" relevant to cognitive liberty?

Neuroethics is a new field concerned with the benefits and dangers of modern research on the brain, and by extension, with the social, legal and ethical implications of treating or manipulating the mind. 

Growing knowledge in the neurosciences, enhanced by exponential advances in neurotechnology (technology that makes it possible to monitor and manipulate the brain) are rapidly moving brain research and clinical applications beyond the scope of purely medical use. As was the case in discussions of bioethics, neuroethics will predictably shift from questions concerning the treatment of patients with disease, to a debate over individuals' requests for voluntary, life-enhancing applications of new brain technologies. For example, as brain-to-computer interfaces are perfected and neuro-pharmacology becomes more precise and more sophisticated, the question of how these brain technologies relate to an individual's right to control or alter his or her own consciousness will emerge as central to the debate. Cognitive liberty and the conditions of mental autonomy are central to any discussion of neuroethics, and vice-versa.

Neuroethical inquiry must, then, necessarily involve discussion of personal autonomy. Technological advancements are often portrayed and marketed as life-enhancing, even though they may have negative connotations for both the individual and society at large. Examples of current problems related to the issue of brain and thought control include the forced drugging of non-violent prisoners (such as in the case of Dr. Sell), and the pervasive use of Ritalin on children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (parents have been taken to court for refusing to drug their children on the basis of its dangerous side-effects). Altering an individual’s brain chemistry with certain drugs directly affects their personality, and the way in which they encounter the world; if a person is drugged against their will, they lose their autonomy, and perhaps their ability to ‘be themselves.’ Without autonomy, and the right to control one’s own brain chemistry, many other rights we value become meaningless.

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Course Objectives

This course serves to fulfill two main purposes:

(i) to create a critical environment for the discussion of the topic of cognitive liberty, in which students may actively engage in informed discussions of matters pertaining to the subject, and

(ii) to provide a multidisciplinary forum inviting students to participate in a subject that simultaneously relates to their overall educational experience and to the day-to-day reality of their lives – hence the importance of such topics as surveillance, academic freedom, and the media.

Cognitive Liberty and Neuroethics will provide an opportunity for students and academics to critically assess their position regarding freedom of thought; the course will enable informed students to consider issues that affect the way in which society has organized and is organizing itself. Persons who are conscious of freedom-related issues will be more capable of affecting public policy in an educated and thoughtful manner, whatever their opinions on the matter may be. As our ability to think is affected and altered by rapidly advancing new technologies and techniques, it is of utmost importance that we understand the implications of such technologies both for the enhancement and / or the manipulation of members of society, including ourselves.

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