Starting Points for
Exploration and Discussion
1 & 2: Introduction to
Cognitive Liberty & Neuroethics, and Philosophical Issues
What is cognitive liberty?
Is it a right?
Can it ever be legitimately infringed upon?
cognitive liberty possible, or can it only be relative?
Can one increase the level of one’s freedom?
Why is cognitive liberty an important topic for discussion?
What is freedom?
What is cognition?
Are some freedoms more important than others (i.e., can they
be hierarchically ordered)?
If so, which ones and why?
How can we deal with apparently conflicting freedoms and
conflicting notions of freedom?
Does a conflict imply that one is wrong?
If not, what does that suggest about the nature of the
concept of ‘freedom’?
Is paternalism ever merited?
Could ‘too much’ freedom be bad for society?
What about people who claim that they don’t want or need
to be freedom – can we take such a position seriously?
How does cognitive liberty relate to other freedoms?
Consider the possible beneficial uses and negative misuses
of technologies that:
Read the brain
Alter the chemical composition of the brain
Alter genetic material to create ‘ideal’ children
Track individuals via implant chips
Record all public actions on videotape
Detect when one is lying
Cognitive liberty and of religion are guaranteed by the
First Amendment of the US Constitution: do they rely upon freedom of
thought? Can they exist without it?
What do you understand by the terms ‘ideology’ and
Why is it so difficult to see the ideologies one follows?
Why are other people’s ideological positions so easy to
Is it possible to step outside of ideology? Why?
What is a right?
Are there such things as natural rights?
What is the difference between positive and negative
How can the promotion of one type over the other lead to
To what extend do / should children have cognitive liberty
One is considered an adult at 18 years of age – would this
be an appropriate age to confer cognitive liberty rights upon an
Food for Thought: Input & Output
Article 19 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Everyone has the
right to the freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes
freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and
impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of
What is the difference between having an opinion and
What is the difference between thought and speech?
Are there times when one needs to limit freedom of speech?
Can it ever be taken too far?
What are the pros and cons of limiting what one may say?
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must
begin by subduing the freeness of speech” – Benjamin Franklin.
How has / will the internet affect our ability to
Is cognitive liberty protected by the constitution? Why or
Are there limits to cognitive liberty?
What are the possible consequences of intentionally limiting
Is it possible to harm someone with words? Is there, for
example, a difference between speech that invokes hatred and speech that
incites violence against a group?
Is it justifiably possible to distinguish between ‘hate
speech’ and government or military talk of an ‘enemy’ that must be
Could a speech that incites a riot at a protest against
horrific conditions be justified?
If speech is an action, why might (and can) it be considered
different from other activities?
Does cognitive liberty differ in scope and application from
freedom of expression?
Can one choose, under particular circumstances, to give up
one’s right to cognitive liberty regarding particular matters? How about
one’s freedom of thought?
Censorship: Who determines who and what gets censored?
Can we be certain that their opinion is correct?
Where do the power relations lie in censorship situations?
Are movie censors the horrible monsters they are employed to
protect us from becoming?
What do you think of the current trend of editing the
violent scenes out of children’s cartoons (such as the old Tom
and Jerry cartoons? Is D.H. Lawrence’s Lady
Chatterley’s Lover a work of literature, or of obscenity?)
Is censorship always explicit (that is, are we always aware
of what is being censored and what is not)?
When does criticism become indistinguishable from
Should there be a limit to how offensive social satire may
Manufacturing Content I: Freedom and the Classroom (Academic and
What is academic freedom?
Is academic freedom guaranteed by the constitution?
Is it an explicit or derived right, and if so, what does
this mean for academic freedom?
What’s the difference and significance, if any?
Why is academic freedom important to the educational
Who is education for, and why do we attend educational
institutions? What is education?
Are the positions expounded by post secondary institutions
Consider the terms ‘school’, ‘scholar’,
scholastic’, ‘scholasticism’–we still make use of these words:
To what do they refer?
What is their history?
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out;
The sun is lost, and th’ earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets, and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
All just supply, and all relation:
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
(“An Anatomy of the World” lines 205-18 [c. 1612] by John Donne)
The ‘new philosophy’ to which Donne refers is that of
the scientific revolution, led by such figures as Copernicus and Galileo,
which, for the first time, was criticizing the rule of the Church and its
claim to infallible knowledge. Why was this new movement so disturbing to
the scholastics? Why did these philosophers disdain the schoolmen and
their endeavors? Is the earth the center of the universe?
Interesting case study: the Creationism vs. Darwinism debate
Ought one system to be taught to the exclusion of the other?
What about other views?
What is the definition of ‘theory’?
The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell (who was
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950) had his teaching position at City
College, New York revoked by a judicial decision in 1940.
Why? Would he be
allowed to teach now?
In 1995, Lynne Cheney, the current vice-president’s wife,
and Sen. Joseph Lieberman founded the American Council of Trustees and
Alumni (which claims to be “the largest private source of support for
higher education’’). This
organization recently released a list of academics considered to be a
“weak link” in the War on Terrorism for holding dissenting or
non-conforming opinions. Consider the implications.
Is academic freedom strictly a concern for instructors, or
do students have the same privileges? Have you ever experienced a
situation in which your opinion was compromised by a professor with whom
you did not agree?
Manufacturing Content II: The Construction of Social Meaning
- What is ‘social
- Does it differ
from individual meaning?
- What are the major
sources of ‘new’ information (i.e. input) that serve to construct social
meaning in your culture?
- Who benefits from
the dissemination of this information?
- Is this
dissemination limited or unlimited in each of these sources?
- Is it possible to
escape a particular ideology?
- Is it possible to
- If your answers to
the above two questions are different, why?
- How do some
ideologies manage to remain invisible to those who live by, through, and
- What techniques
can be used to raise public awareness or consciousness of ideologies
that are pervasive yet – from your ideological stance – not in the
best interest of society?
- That is, how can
the invisible be rendered visible? – Consider various shifts in
public consciousness over issues in the past (e.g. civil rights,
- What is a ‘detournement’?
(Look it up on the web if you are unfamiliar with the term).
- Does it take a
majority to cause a shift in popular consciusness, or is the critical
mass much lower?
- How much of your
personal belief system (‘reality model’) is based on facts you know
to be correct or true, and how much of it is based on what you have
heard to be true (including from what you consider to be reliable
- TV Turnoff Week is
held from April 22nd to 28th every year. Could you
survive a week without television?
- Try it as an
- Try the
experiments McGrane posed his students in “The Zen TV Experiment” (see
- Why do television
comedies rely so frequently on laugh tracks?
- Are the things we
find funny culture-bound, or universal?
- Do you laugh
because the laugh track tells you to do so?
- Are you defined by
your clothing, or is it an expression of you?
- Have you ever paid
for an item of clothing that turns you into a free commercial for a
- Are the majority
of “Calvin Klein” tee-shirts made by Calvin Klein, or are they simply
tee-shirts with a CK logo printed on them, manufactured by a licenced
- Have you ever
asked to be paid for advertising a company on your body?
- Why won’t most
males wear dresses in public (in America or Europe)?
Week 6: Consuming Thoughts: The
The dissemination of ideas requires freedom of the press (in
its various forms, to be referred to as ‘media’ here).
Is the media as free as it is supposed to be?
Who owns the various media outlets in your town or city? Is
your campus paper independent?
What, if any, is the importance of maintaining independent
Noam Chomsky explains (in Manufacturing Consent [video?]) that the New York Times’ archives
are so highly regarded that people use the when researching historical
matters, and that these archives are thus a key resource for ‘writing
history.’ The New York Times announces that it contains “All the news
that’s fit to print.”
What are the implications of a history based on archives
from the New York Times?
What is history
What happens when the major media outlets present a united
(or near-united) front on a political issue?
Can the media decide which party will form the next
Can democracy coexist with highly influential media outlets
(especially if they tend to lean towards one position)?
One of the criticisms repeatedly made against the communist
regimes of the last century is that such governments control, and thus
limit, the freedom of the media, feeding their populations with a diet of
self-aggrandizing propaganda, falsely shaping the people’s world-view.
Can the media truly be free under capitalism?
Should there be laws limiting the amount of control one
person or group may have over the media?
Some people maintain that the internet has the potential to
subvert the popular media by presenting a far wider range of opinion.
Have you ever explored any independent media websites?
How can you know whose opinion to trust (in either
mainstream or independent media)?
Why do most television and radio stations exist – for the
pleasure of providing the public with quality programming, or as a means
for earning money for their stockholders and employees?
How significant is advertising to these forms of media?
Does the same apply to the print media?
What happened in 1997 when Ellen Degeneres announced that
she would be playing the first openly gay lead character on American
television? Which companies were involved? Why? What does this imply about
‘freedom’ of such media?
Open your favorite magazine. Count the number of pages
devoted to advertising and compare this number with the quantity of
written content (and related photos –perhaps count those showing branded
products under both categories). What page is the index on? The first
article? Would you normally read the advertisements, do you glimpse past
them, or ignore them completely? Might there be any subliminal effects?
Questions (Weeks 7-12)