Manipulation Of The Mind: Is YOUR Cognitive Liberty On The Line?

Haley Kennington
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In George Orwell’s famous dystopian masterpiece published in 1949, titled Nineteen Eighty-Four (often written as 1984), he predicted a future where “nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” Now, in 2018, even the space in your own mind is vulnerable to being invaded, prodded, and manipulated. 

What exactly is cognitive liberty? Wikipedia defines it as the “right to mental self-determination,” and “the freedom of an individual to control his or her own mental processes, cognition, and consciousness.” Basically, freedom of thought. 

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According to Wikipedia, the term “cognitive liberty” was coined by neuroethicicst Dr. Wrye Sententia and legal theorist and lawyer Richard Glen Boire, founders and directors of the non-profit Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. Sententia and Biore define cognitive liberty as “the right of each individual to think independently and autonomously, to use the full power of his or her mind, and to engage in multiple modes of thought.”

So what happens when we lose our ability to control our cognitive liberty? What happens when our fundamental right to think what we want and for our inner thoughts to remain private, unchanged and organic is no longer considered a right? To what length will this be prostituted out and our humanity be robbed from us under the guise of developing new technologies?

The ability to basically re-wire the brain and sever connections that trigger certain emotional responses strips us of our humanity – what makes us human. When your true emotions are no longer a natural response to outside stimuli, what you’re left with is artificially induced reactions that mimic the cold machines that have the ability to control your inner-most thoughts and feelings. A hijacking of human emotion and free will. 

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Human rights will have to evolve and begin including rights to mental privacy, where one would be protected from unconsented intrusion by third parties who could potentially collect and use data, against your will. 

Big Tech constantly seeks to make interfaces more user friendly and seeks to eventually connect your brain to their platforms directly. Take Facebook as an example. In 2017, Facebook announced their plan to create the first brain-computer speech-to-text interface that would translate your thoughts directly from your brain’s signals onto a computer screen–no need for those pesky fingers or talk-to-text apps to communicate with others. The potential of such systems to be hacked is off the scale.

As neurotechnology continues to advance, it is imperative that we take a long, hard look at our current human rights and decide to what extent we are willing to give up the one thing that up until now was sacred – our own personal thoughts – whether that’s due to medical reasons, new technological advancements that could make the keyboard and microphone obsolete, or for more sinister uses where we essentially open Pandora’s Box. Where would our rights begin and end when protecting our thoughts?

Former President Obama announced the launch of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative® in 2013, with the program was described as having “the potential to do for neuroscience what the Human Genome Project did for genomics by supporting the development and application of innovative technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function.”

The BRAIN Initiative NIH website describes the program as: “The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space. Long desired by researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, this picture will fill major gaps in our current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought.”

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Although the BRAIN Initiative® mentions psychiatric and neurological disorders that include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, epilepsy, depression, traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia as the main drive of the organization’s push to learn more about the human brain, it goes without saying that medical advancements in neuroscience will be exploited and used to weaponize the human brain.

In the BRAIN Initiative® report, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, they list their primary goal as “to understand human brain function in a way that will translate new discoveries and technological advances into effective diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of human brain disorders.”  The report also goes on to include the recording of brain activity on a global scale, and touches briefly on the ethical considerations that come with researching the human brain:

“Because the brain gives rise to consciousness, our innermost thoughts and our most basic human needs, mechanistic studies of the brain have already resulted in new social and ethical questions. Can research on brain development be used to enhance cognitive development in our schools? Under what circumstances should mechanistic understanding of addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders be used to judge accountability in our legal system? Can civil litigation involving damages for pain and suffering be informed by objective measurements of central pain states in the brain? Can studies of decision-making be legitimately used to tailor advertising campaigns and determine which products are more attractive to specific consumer bases? Brain research must proceed with sensitivity and wisdom. The working group looks forward to the deliberations of the Bioethics Commission, and to interacting with the group to establish a scientifically rigorous plan for the BRAIN Initiative that is grounded in sound ethical policies.

As is clear from the scientific issues reviewed in this report, developing a deep understanding of the brain is only possible through research on animals and informed, volunteer human subjects. Without question, research under the BRAIN Initiative should adhere to the highest ethical standards for research with human subjects and with non-human animals, within the regulatory framework of the United States and host research institutions.”-8f. Consider Ethical Implications of Neuroscience Research: BRAIN Initiative® report, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision


Read the full BRAIN Initiative® report, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision here: https://www.braininitiative.nih.gov/strategic-planning/brain-2025-report

So under the guise of new advancements in neurotechnology, that may provide answers to questions about the human brain – that have eluded us thus far -lies the possibility that their findings may be misused for a darker purpose rather than improving one’s quality of life.   

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To believe that advancements in neuroscience/neurotechnology and the ability to manipulate human thought and emotion will only be used for “good” is beyond ignorant. This is a dangerous tight-rope we’re walking, high above what we perceive as reality. 

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