In my Sophomore year, I signed up for an introductory course on bioethics. It was taught by my now mentor, Andrew Peterson. The first class was about how fMRI has been used to detect sentience in patients that were previously thought to be in a vegetative state. I was sold. It was the next class, I think, that I went up to him and asked for more material. A few classes later, he asked if I’d like to meet him, and some other students he had “collected”, for a Neuroethics meeting. I agreed, and from there on, we’ve had several meetings where we look at ethical concerns involving the brain and share our work with each other. It was through this group that I became enthralled with the implications of the fMRI research being done on human fetuses.
As I look towards the future, I see myself staying proactively involved in matters of research that relate to human consciousness. I’m very interested in the how and when of its occurrence. My ultimate interest is in artificially intelligent machines and I think that in order to truly understand any type of consciousness these machines may have, that it is necessary to understand human consciousness.
On a weekly basis for my project on the ethics involving human fetal fMRI research, I mostly read a lot. The main focus of this project has been a paper that I will hopefully be submitting to the International Neuroethics Society’s annual meeting. As can be imagined, this has involved reading a lot of research articles that have been about how fMRI works, the noted effects on human bodies, bioethical articles that involve arguments surrounding the moral status of fetuses, and effects of common phenomena like heat and sound on a developing fetus. Writing and designing my poster was the other half of my weekly story.
As I have made it through this summer, my greatest discovery was that keeping an open and flexible mind is key to research. Especially research as subjective as an ethical analysis. It can be difficult to say what is wrong and what is right, but with an open mind and lots of research it is possible to find an answer backed up by science.