The Work of Cognition and Neuroethics in Science Fiction

The Work of Cognition and Neuroethics in Science Fiction
full name / name of organization:
Center for Cognition and Neuroethics
contact email:
March 20–21, 2015

Insight Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroscience

Flint, Michigan

cyberman helmet“Soon after the Braincap came into general use, some highly intelligent—and maximally zealous—bureaucrats realized that it had a unique potential as an early-warning system. During the setting-up process, when the new wearer was being mentally “calibrated,” it was possible to detect many forms of psychosis before they hand a chance of becoming dangerous.”

—Clarke, 3001: The Final Odyssey

“Somewhere on Beta Colony, there is an institution. In one room of that institution, there is a man who spends his days and nights screaming at things only he can see. Things we planted in his mind. They have to keep him in a straitjacket 24 hours a day or he’d claw his own eyes out just to make it stop.”

—Lyta Alexander, Babylon 5 4.17


To the extent that the work of science fiction must develop, order, or structure the space in which its narratives are situated, the ways in which cognition and neuroethics are deployed in these narratives remains unexamined. Unrestrained by time, space, and technology, if the expression of both the failings and ideals of humanity can be interrogated across these narratives, then the degree by which certain narratives occasion neuroethical decisions can equally be explored. What are the right answers as expressed in the genre and what implications thereof are advanced? What is the project of neuroethics in science fiction? What is the ideal expression involving the brain or brain-like systems? What cognitive moves drive science fiction narratives? What is the work of cognition in any particular science fiction narrative? What is the role of reason, reasons, reasoning, and rationality?

The theme should be interpreted broadly. Potential topics may include, but are certainly not limited to:

Neuro-evidence as functions of crime detection and justice
Omnipotence, omniscience, and action, or the Problem of Evil and extremely advanced or evolved technologies and species
Dilemmas, Death, and (in)action
Cognition as an articulation of power
Orders and Bias
Identity in/and the Medical Bay
Representation, presence, and absence of the cognitively atypical
Personhood, Personality, and Memory
Neuro-Treatments and Decisions
Neuro-Substance use and abuse
Neuroenhancement and the journey thereto
Neuro-Perfection (and atypicalities, disabilities, GATTACA, etc.)
Neuro-inva/sion/sive (unwarranted or unwelcome)
Neuro-manipulation and consciousness (Data, HAL, and the disembodied)
Neuro-augmentation (Chuck, Neo, Barclay)
Star Trek and The Borg (Picard’s rescue, rehab, and consent, Hugh, disconnecting Seven and consent)
Babylon 5 and the Psy Corps (e.g., mind as weaponry, telepathy as a trait)
Language and cognition
Science fiction and problem solving (how societies reason, justify, and engage ecology, economy, etc., through [imposed?] thought systems)
Genre analysis, tropes, figures, projects, the extent of the theme through {u/dis}topia
Single author interrogations, single series interrogations, comparisons and contrasts
Single ethical theorist applications to single series, comparisons and contrasts

The Center for Cognition and Neuroethics—a joint affiliation between the Insight Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroscience and the University of Michigan-Flint Philosophy Department—will host this two-day conference. The first day will be dedicated to cognition, and the next, neuroethics (to whatever extent accepted abstracts allow). The talks will be limited to 15 minutes in order to sponsor a space for conversation and further exploration of ideas.


Submissions of abstracts (not to exceed 700 words and to avoid both footnotes and reference lists) are invited for 15-minute talks. Please submit your abstract through the following form, prepared for anonymous review. We welcome proposals for panels and co-presentations. All submissions should be of previously unpublished work.

We welcome submissions from a wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, English, comparative literature, the neurosciences, the pharmaceutical and medical sciences, the social sciences, critical studies (including gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, race studies, and critical legal theory), law, education, linguistics, as well as other relevant disciplines and fields.

Please submit all proposals through the form on the conference website:

Proposal submission deadline: prior to 20 December 2014.

Please send all questions, comments, and concerns to:

Zea Miller / Theory and Cultural Studies at Purdue University / Project Manager at the Center for Cognition and Neuroethics /

Vol. 3, Issue 3 of the Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics (JCN) will be based on the proceedings of this March 2015 conference. All papers presented at the The Work of Cognition and Neuroethics in Science Fiction conference will be eligible for inclusion in this special issue of JCN. For additional journal and contact information, see the JCN webpage.

The Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics is a peer-reviewed, open access journal published online, aimed at the cross-fertilization of research in neuroscience and related medical fields with scholarship in normative disciplines that address and analyze the legal, social and ethical implications of institutional policies. JCN is committed to presenting wide-ranging discussions. We are looking to publish works that explore ideas, concepts, theories and their implications across multiple disciplines and professions. The Center for Cognition and Neuroethics promotes both the exploration of the conceptual foundations of the neurosciences and the study of the implications of their advances for society in the legal, political, and ethical realms. The CCN will disseminate this knowledge to as wide an audience as possible through publications, seminars, and other media. We engage in activities across multiple disciplines and professions that allow opportunities for intellectual synergy and increased impact by creating, fostering and supporting research and educational collaborations and communication.

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