Nature vs. Nurture: The Ethics of Exploring the Connectome

With respect to the question about whether it’s the genome or the connectome that’s mainly responsible for making us who we are, I believe the answer is that it’s not one or the other but rather a combination of the two.  As Seung points out in his introduction, everyone’s genome is slightly different, a starting point that sets us up to be different from one another.  Built upon a basic neural structure determined by this individual genome, “which is fixed from the moment of conception, your connectome changes throughout life” (2012).  This means that individuals are equipped from conception with genetically distinct neural structures that may cause them to handle situations differently, but also that with each different environmental situation encountered, those neural structures change and adapt.  In other words, the genome (nature) establishes our initial brain structures, which then change continuously throughout our lives as we interact with our environment (nurture); so who we are is a product of both genome and connectome, the latter being the result of an interplay of nature with nurture.  Each of our brains is one of a kind, with uniquely different pathways and connections, the result of a unique genetic code interacting with a unique sum of life experiences.  This is a very broad and global answer to the big question, “Why are people different?” (Seung 2012), but as Seung notes, “nobody really knows” exactly how our brains handle our two selves, the immediate one that changes quickly with each situation and thought, and the more stable one that handles our moderately consistent personalities and subconscious processes and thoughts (Seung 2012). These two selves are complex and unique, each individual possessing two selves that no one else shares.  As technology improves, we may come closer to answering the questions about how our brains are able to do this; we may even become capable of altering our selves through technological means, but that possibility raises ethical issues.  Technological “improvements” in personalities or selves may be marketed to the general public before the effects or possible outcomes are fully realized or understood. What if people were to try to change their selves in ways similar to the way they now take pills to become thinner, instead of by dieting and exercising?  What if they were to start taking pills to become smarter or more knowledgeable instead of by studying, or what if they were to start using magnetic or x-ray therapies to become more outgoing rather than trying to meet people on their own?  Just because these technologies might become available doesn’t mean that they should be used for such purposes. When and if these types of technologies develop, serious ethical questions need to be addressed.  Should they be used at all, and if so, by whom?  Would they confer insurmountable advantages upon those able to afford them over those not able to, for example, by creating huge intelligence gaps between the two groups?  Would it become rare for individuals to obtain employment based upon inherent, natural abilities alone rather than upon technologically “enhanced” abilities?

One thought on “Nature vs. Nurture: The Ethics of Exploring the Connectome

  1. Great questions! I contend that the 2 self notion under-represents the multitudes of selves that we potentially display. Thus, perhaps there is some inadequacy to the analogy?


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