Do brain interventions to treat disease change the essence of who we are

Adina Roskies in Salon:

Brain-scansThese days, most of us accept that minds are dependent on brain function and wouldn’t object to the claim that “You are your brain.” After all, we’ve known for a long time that brains control how we behave, what we remember, even what we desire. But what does that mean? And is it really true? Despite giving lip service to the importance of brains, in our practical life this knowledge has done little to affect how we view our world. In part, that’s probably because we’ve been largely powerless to affect the way that brains work, at least in a systematic way. That’s all changing. Neuroscience has been advancing rapidly, and has begun to elucidate the circuits for control of behavior, representation of mental content and so on. More dramatically, neuroscientists have now started to develop novel methods of intervening in brain function. As treatments advance, interventions into brain function will dramatically illustrate the dependence of who we are on our brains — and they may put pressure on some basic beliefs and concepts that have been fundamental to how we view the world.

…Transgenic manipulations that make neural tissue sensitive to light will enable the precise control of individual neurons. Powerful gene editing techniques may enable us to correct some neurodevelopmental problems in utero. And although many of these methods seem futuristic, hundreds of thousands of cases of the future are already here: over 100,000 cyborgs are already walking among us, in some sense powered by or controlled by the steady zapping of their brain circuits with electrical pulses.

This is no dystopian nightmare, nor the idea for a new zombie show. Deep brain stimulation (or DBS) has been a life-restoring therapeutic technique for thousands of patients with Parkinson’s disease with severely impaired motor and cognitive function, and it promises to dramatically improve the lives of people suffering from some other psychological and neurological disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder, treatment-resistant depression, and Tourette’s syndrome. DBS involves the placement of electrodes into deep brain structures. Current is administered through these electrodes by an implanted power pack, which can be remotely controlled by the subject and adjusted by physicians. In essence, DBS is like a pacemaker for the brain.

More here.