Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Mind-Brain science & ethics in Education
“Mind-Brain Science & Ethics,” which is a new research area, consists of two concepts that are alien to each other. One concept is “Ethics of Mind-Brain Science,” and the other is "Mind-Brain Science of Ethics.” The former which is almost a synonym of neuroethics, is a subset of ethics, which investigates the ethics of mind reading and the physical or pharmacological controls of the mind and the brain based on our knowledge of Mind-Brain Science. The latter is Mind-Brain Science to clarify the mechanism of human ethics originally generated by brain functions mainly in the prefrontal area. A new field that has emerged through comparing, polarizing, and ultimately sublating these two concepts is Mind-Brain Science & Ethics. Sublation (Aufheven) facilitates the creation of a superior paradigm by bridging and fusing the core knowledge of each field. Both concepts substantially influence educational ethics and are important in the research and practice of education and childcare.
The in-depth pursuit of Mind-Brain Science & Ethics requires collaborations among many different fields. Mind-Brain Science can be seen as a brain-science in a broader sense as it involves brain-related fields such as neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, cognitive science, behavioral science, evolutionary biology and brain function depiction studies. The author and his colleagues have been attempting to create new fields by bridging and fusing brain-science (natural science) with the social sciences, the humanities and the arts through the development of noninvasive brain function imaging, under the concept of “Brain-Science & XYZ”, such as “Brain-Science & Education”, “Brain-Science & Ethics”, “Brain-Science & the Arts”, “Brain-Science & Economics”, “Brain-Science & Social Norms”, “Brain-Science & Security,” which are leading to the formation of a new field, i.e., “Applied Brain Science”.
The ethical values held by individuals involve hereditary tendencies and environmental factors, as well as, more importantly, the mechanism of brain functions resulting from the interaction of hereditary and environmental factors. Research is necessary to clarify such hereditary and environmental factors and such mechanisms, to strengthen the implications for education. Along with rapid developments in the natural sciences, the wide range of human brain functions and the evolutionary process of the human brain are gradually being unraveled. For instance, male/female roles and their reciprocal association in the evolutionary process of animals are being reviewed from the perspective of brain-science.
Neuroethics involves various issues that address present-day realities in addition to privacy issues related to the aforementioned “reading minds,” mind control and the introduction of new drugs for the brain. The connection between brain-science and social problems and/or ethics is particularly deep, given the fact that through brain-science we research human memory, emotion, thinking, judgment, planning and behavior. Due to a shift in experimental research subjects from animals to humans, the establishment of new research ethics is essential. Most experimental data to date for neuroscience has been derived from research with rodents such as mice, whereas data from research with primates are relatively scarce. Many human-specific brain functions, however, reside in the cerebral prefrontal area, and the equivalent area in rodents is very small. In the evolution of living organisms, the cerebral prefrontal area developed most significantly in primates. This is why research with human subjects is important, and the related ethical guidelines must be established quickly. Research on the human brain also requires developmental cognitive neuroscience, for which cohort studies (longitudinal tracking and observation of individuals over a period of time based on certain factors to which they have been exposed to in the past) are needed. New research on ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) is necessary to allow the observation and measurement of humans (from infancy) as they grow in cooperation with their nurturers for the purpose of obtaining knowledge on individuals and the whole.
Mind-Brain Science of Ethics, the other subordinate concept of Mind-Brain Science & Ethics, is a cutting-edge area of Mind-Brain Science. Mind-Brain Science looking at the origin of ethics in the brain is a new field that attempts to clarify which brain functions serve as the foundation for developing codes and norms, morality and ethics. This new field is still in its infancy.
Basically, the mechanism for the struggle between reason and desire in the three-layered structure of the human brain, which reflects the history of evolution, must be unraveled. The brain stem—the center of the human brain—has a similar appearance to the reptilian brain and is responsible for sustaining life. The old cortex that surrounds the brain stem, including the central limbic system, is where emotion and instincts reside. The new cortex, which evolved last and is located at the surface, addresses intelligence. The cerebral area near the frontal pole, which evolved and expanded rapidly in humans, is believed to be responsible for ethics following the results of brain damage research.
Recent neuroscientific research has revealed that the various activities of the cerebral nerves in preparation for action can be observed before the individual intends to take that action of his/her own will. Currently, observation is possible for readiness potential at a few hundred milliseconds before the individual is conscious of that action and even the frontal pole activities that start some seconds before. In addition, a case has been reported where eye movements which represent a conclusion were observed even before the individual was conscious of his/her own judgment and decision.
By optimizing such cutting-edge knowledge and unraveling the precursor elements in the development of morality and ethics, it will become necessary to establish a future vision of moral and ethical education that includes using mind, brain and education (MBE) to nurture good citizens.