European Bioethics Forum brings together this week about a hundred brain specialists and thousands of participants, eager to better understand how the organ of thought works, and the state of research for its repair, manipulation, doping or modelling. These are crucial issues for the social choices that concern us all.
Cbuild a synthetic brain. This is the horizon of the project Human Brain, launched a year ago by the European Commission as a flagship project (Flagship project) 1.19 billion. A major topic addressed by the fourth European Bioethics Forum, devoted this year to the brain, which opened on Monday 27 January 2014 in Strasbourg.
Richard Walker, economist in Lausanne, presented this quest for the "thinking Grail" in a lively dialogue with various specialists more or less confident in our ability to model the brain: "We are no longer interested in copying the functions of the brain as artificial intelligence does, but in reproducing the physiological interaction processes of the neurons that make up the organ of thought, says Richard Walker, spokesperson for the project. Today we have a cellular model - called "in silico" - a kind of circuit of 30,000 neurons that can evolve through experience.".
The Project Human brain has two objectives: on the one hand, it aims to provide a tool for testing molecules for the pharmaceutical industry. It is planned to be able to observe on this "brain in silico" the effect of candidate substances (often in a cocktail) to determine how they can modify synapses (space of interaction between neurons). This may make it possible to eliminate inefficient products and keep those that act on the right "levers". The challenge here is to find drug-based ways to intervene before the brain is damaged (for example, Alzheimer's symptoms are known to occur only when half of the neurons in the cortex have been destroyed).
On the other hand, to review the IT approach.
Prevent diseases, found another computer
The second goal is to invent new computer machines inspired by the brain. Because we realize that the purely logical approach that relies on computing power fails to meet practical needs such as visual recognition or machine translation. "The brain of a four-year-old child can tell the difference between a cat and a dog even if the animals take on all sorts of different colours and shapes, points out Richard Walker. This performance will never be achieved by continuing to increase computing power; we need to invent another computer system that mimics the physiological strategies of stochastic and parallel processing and that permanently inscribes the experiment in the system.. The challenge here is the automation of complex tasks that are still inaccessible to machines.
This scientific and technical mobilization is also social, as the implications for our societies are substantial. Indeed, one may wonder about this massive public support for the pharmaceutical industry, which in no way matches the financial effort of research. One can also question our need to continue the generalized movement of replacing humans by automatons....
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The "Ethics and Society" component of the programme is supposed to address these issues with, notably in Denmark, the mobilisation of societal dialogue specialist Lars Klûver from the Danish Office of Technology. It is surprising, however, that the exercise is entrusted in France to neurobiologist Jean Pierre Changeux, who has no body for dialogue with civil society. "This European Forum in Strasbourg is precisely an opportunity to address these concerns, argues Richard Walker.
He is not wrong, so much so that this Forum has been sold out and has always fascinated people for the past four years that it is held every year on hot topics of current interest (end of life and ageing; procreation: the family in the making; the human body in pieces). And the founders, Professor Israël Nisand and Nadia Aubin are keen to keep the controversies alive and to listen, in order to "to grasp the moral and philosophical significance of new biomedical techniques." And artistic experiences (theatre, music, dance, cinema...) have their place there for their symbolic and poetic impact, which is essential for mediation.
By naming the fourth European Bioethics Forum (until 1 February) "Knowing the brain, controlling behaviour"...the organizers wanted to kiss wide. We go from round tables focused on the tools of brain manipulation, to meetings centred on "the psyche that makes you sick", "crime and responsibility", "dementia and decline". There is no question here of considering the brain meatball, this "cauliflower sponge."out of culture, out of history. Thus, we are not afraid to confront the question "how to heal with the mind" and to bring together theologians, doctors and advocates of "secular therapies" such as Jean-Gérard Bloch which teaches stress reduction through "mindfulness". For the past four years, he has been leading mindfulness meditation stress management programs at the IFPCM (Institut Français Pleine Conscience-Mindfulness) for the general public and within the University Hospitals of Strasbourg in the rheumatology department for patients and caregivers.
Neuroscience, that clearing machine...
The Forum thus testifies that we are finally emerging from the sterile oppositions - against a background of conflict between psychiatrists and psychoanalysts - that have absorbed energies for more than fifty years. "There is an aberration to be opposed psychic and somatic."insists the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst... Gérard Pommier participating in the Forum. We all see that there are somatic traces in us that are linked to our psyche and our culture. Language pre-exists in the brain. Look: a baby doesn't learn to speak on its own! In the same way love is not the fruit of hormones, it is a cultural alchemy between the masculine and the feminine". With his book " How Neuroscience Demonstrates Psychoanalysis " (Flammarion, 2004), Gérard Pommier has shown how neuroscience is a machine for innocence, for inventing causalities. "The driving force behind the deterministic visions is guilt.he says. Yet no organic support for mental illness has ever been found, as the American Psychiatric Association concedes. ". And Gerard Pommier to conclude: "This need to avoid responsibility, coupled with the economic logic of large laboratories, leads to crusades such as the DSM classification of mental illness.
The American Psychiatric Association is thus in the process of setting up the fifth version or "DSM5", which brings into the pathological field of temporary and normal states of frailty (mourning for example) and will produce diagnostic inflation. A subject that makes Gérard Pommier, who supports the initiative, jump to his feet. Stop DSM and its manifesto published in 2011, which echoes the dam initiated in the United States by the American Psychological Association (13,500 signatures). The issue at stake is the increasing medicalisation of social problems. For the "DSM5" provides predictive categories listing supposed future disorders in advance. The "psychotic risk syndrome", for example, should make it possible to put a good number of adolescents considered "original" on anti-hallucinatory drugs, to the great delight of the pharmaceutical industry.