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José Ignacio Murillo,, researcher of the Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra

Neuroscience and Philosophy

Everything indicates that the systematic study of the brain has taken over, in the field of biomedicine, from what was until recently its great challenge: the project Human Genome.

Wed, 22 May 2013 15:01:00 +0000 Published in El Norte de Castilla

The European Commission has declared May 2013 'European Brain Month'. This celebration takes place in the context of two pieces of news coming from both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, President Barack Obama has announced that the next big challenge for scientific research is a major project aimed at mapping brain activity, the project Brain (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, also known in its abbreviated form as the Brain Activity Map Project). In Europe, the Human Brain Project has recently been declared the flagship of the European research .
It is not difficult to understand that the brain is one of the major topics of today's research . Pathologies related to the central nervous system are among the most widespread. One need only think of the neurodegenerative diseases that accompany aging, which are becoming increasingly important socially in aging societies, or psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. But it would be a mistake to believe that we are dealing with an initiative with merely therapeutic or welfare repercussions, since the relevance of the problems it addresses, together with the expectations -whether justified or not- that accompany it, give it an enormous social impact.

Everything seems to indicate that the systematic study of the brain has taken over, in the field of biomedicine, from what was until recently its great challenge: the project Human Genome. The expectations it arouses for many are, of course, similar or even higher. In that case, the sequencing of the genes of the human species was often presented as the key to deciphering the secrets of the human being. However, once that goal had been reached, and in spite of what had been achieved, it became clear that that knowledge left much to be explained and that the leap from the genes to the human organism and its peculiar behavior required new theoretical tools. It is not surprising, therefore, that efforts have been concentrated on the other major topic of contemporary biology: the study of the brain.

The brain is perhaps the most complex material structure in the universe. Its involvement in the human knowledge -which includes, let us not forget, the possibility of doing neuroscience and in the higher aspects of human behavior- makes it one of the great mysteries of science. research Now, what does it mean to advance in its knowledge or, even more, to aspire to know it 'completely'? Should we accept that we and our subjective experience are only a product of the brain, which, once unveiled, will be at the complete mercy of technology?

The scope of the issues at stake demands a broad and serene reflection and a dialogue between all perspectives that have something to say about man. Neuroscience is a good example of the fact that science is not as emancipated from Philosophy as it may seem. Both because of the interdisciplinary vocation that gave rise to it and because of the nature of the problems it faces, it is confronted time and again with some of the great challenges of the human mind. Only if we are capable of assessing the scope of the methods applied and their suitability to the objectives we set ourselves when studying the various aspects of the brain, and if we know how to properly interpret the place and scope of the results, will we be able to integrate the scientific achievements we expect within a complete vision of man.

This is what we try from the group 'Mind-brain' of the Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra. Our project studies subjectivity through the cooperation between biology -in particular, neuroscience and contemporary Philosophy , and adopts as its central topic the study of action and its relation with cognition and the agent's identity. On the occasion of the questions raised by Neuroscience, we seek to establish a dialogue between the various traditions of contemporary philosophical thought which, stimulated by the realism of science, overcomes the relativistic or skeptical temptations that often beset them and aspires to integrate the advances of biology in a sapiential vision of man. This is an endeavor in which we are not alone, because fortunately neuroscience is, at internship, one of the fields of science most open to partnership with Philosophy and Humanities.