Brain Interventions Part 1- Reconsidering Normal

What do people mean by “brain intervention”? A brain intervention is technically anything that involves purposefully altering the brain in some way. Everything from treating depression with drugs to interfaces between brains and machines falls into this category.

The first major concern that has arisen in this category is that of what it means to be normal, and this comes from the use of pharmaceuticals to treat certain psychological disorders. When it comes to treating mood disorders and generally improving cognitive function, some see the use of pharmaceuticals as cosmetics, an attempt to create a false normallity in people. In other words, having these medicines available causes people to try to make themselves look better to others instead of simply being their sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes angry selves (Langlitz, 2010).

The reason that this is such a big ethical concern is that medical and psychiatric professionals who prescribe these medications, as well as psychological professionals who recommend them and have to monitor their patients, cannot simply allow medical treatment to slip by when it is the best option available to someone in need. At the same time, these professionals are also being forced to consider who is in need versus someone who is pretty much alright and just wants to appear more acceptable to society.

Of special interest in the changing of what it means to be normal is the affecting of memory. Rather than being about the improved ability to remember, though, people are discussing medications that will be detrimental to memory for specific purposes. One area of pharmacological research related to this is focused on the emotional associations of memories rather than on their outright removal. The idea behind this is to greatly reduce the emotional impact of a painful memory so that a person will no longer have to live with the pain and have a better life in the present. The biggest counterargument to this is that what happened in the past, good or bad, is what makes us who we are today. Changing the emotional associations of a memory will change who the person is now, which many see as unethical (Parens, 2009).

The other way which people are looking to alter memory is in the government’s testing medications that block memory formation. The idea is to give the drug to a soldier to avoid the development of post-traumatic stress disorder by keeping the soldier from ever having the memory of the traumatic event (Savulescu, 2010). This raises the same ethical concern as before (that our memories make us who we are and changing them changes us), but it also raises the concern that someone who is being affected by this drug can be ordered to do anything at all and will never remember the event, functionally erasing all negative consequences and culpability.

Page by Nick Howard


Langlitz, N. (2010). Psychofarmocological enhancement discussed across                         disciplines. BioSocieties, 5, 148. Retrieved from http://www.palgrave-              

Parens, E. (2010). The ethics of memory blunting and the narcissism of small                             differences. Neuroethics, 3, 99-107. doi:10.1007/s12152-010-9070-8

Savulescu, J. (2010). Why bioenhancement of mathematical ability is ethically                         important. Retrieved from                                                                                                                                                                   why-bioenhancement-of-mathematical-ability-is-ethically-important.html

Photograph: “Shinny Happy People” by Donna Cymeck, 2006

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