Cognitive Science

Adina Roskies on Brain Interventions to Treat Disease

Do brain interventions to treat disease change the essence of who we are?

New technologies bring questions that have belonged to the abstract realm of philosophers into concrete focus. Why do medical interventions in the brain feel different than those elsewhere in the body?

These days, most of us accept that minds are dependent on brain function and wouldn’t object to the claim that “You are your brain.” After all, we’ve known for a long time that brains control how we behave, what we remember, even what we desire. But what does that mean? And is it really true?

Despite giving lip service to the importance of brains, in our practical life this knowledge has done little to affect how we view our world. In part, that’s probably because we’ve been largely powerless to affect the way that brains work, at least in a systematic way.

That’s all changing. Neuroscience has been advancing rapidly, and has begun to elucidate the circuits for control of behavior, representation of mental content and so on. More dramatically, neuroscientists have now started to develop novel methods of intervening in brain function.