In late March, academics from around the world gathered at the Insight Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroscience in Flint, Michigan, for a conference on “The Work of Cognition and Neuroethics in Science Fiction.” The event, from inception to production, was the work of UM-Flint College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) alumnus Zea Miller; it was supported by the UM-Flint Department of Philosophy and hosted by the Center for Cognition and Neuroethics (CCN).
Now a doctoral student of Theory and Cultural Studies in the English Department at Purdue University, Miller can boast a long connection with UM-Flint, including a 2006 BA in French and International Studies, a 2011 MA in English Language and Literature, his staff and committee positions within CAS, and his current work as a project manager for CCN where he handles administrative and technical affairs, including journal production and website design.
When asked about the idea behind his conference, which explored the topics in ways that are new to the fields of philosophy and science fiction, Miller said, “Given the box-office popularity of science fiction narratives last year, we thought that a conversation on how identity, language, and cognition interplay with neuro-substance (ab)use, neuro-enhancement and perfection, and neuro-invasive treatments and manipulation would be timely. To that end, since CCN is committed to sponsoring interdisciplinary collaborations, and since my research interests include theory and science fiction, I wanted to foster a space where scholars could explore the work of cognition and neuroethics in science fiction, and thereby begin a new critical conversation.”
Miller’s interest in the subject matter was shared by others in academia, and participants came from as far as England for a chance to share their thoughts among peers. Following are the speakers and their topics:
• “Unrecognizably Human: Empathic Perception and Augmented Others in Recent Science Fiction Film”
– Shannon Foskett, University of Chicago
• “Being, Technologically Human”
– Meghan Roehll, University at Buffalo, SUNY
• “Black Mirror‘s ‘The Entire History of You’: Memory as a Recording Device”
– Mark Huston, Schoolcraft College
• “Electric Existentialism: The Sisyphean Subject in Greg Egan’s Permutation City”
– Brandon Fenton, York University
• “Science Fiction Embedded in Neuroethics: Mindlessness and Nihilism”
– Howard Ducharme, University of Akron
• “The Quality of Life: The Implications of Augmented Personhood and Machine Intelligence in Science Fiction”
– Damien Williams, Independent Scholar
• “The Informational Substance of Human Reality: Cognitive Growth, Healing, Communication, Radical Transformation
– Susan Castro, Witchita State University
• “Experiencing Universal Interconnection Through Science Fiction Minds”
– Peter Buzby, Penn State University
• “Dual-Process, Two-Minds, and Science Fiction”
– Joshua Mugg, York University
• “Blockchain Thinkers and Smart Contracts to take over the World?”
– Melanie Swan, Kingston University, London
• “Mary Shelley’s Uncanny Consciousness: Frankenstein as a Thought Experiment for the 21st Century”
– James Tierney, Oakland University
• “Biology in/as Rhetoric in Octavia E. Butler’s Science Fiction: A New Paradigm for Epistemology”
– Meghan K. Riley, University of Waterloo
• “Evolution and Neuroethics in the Hyperion Cantos”
– Brendan Shea, Rochester Community & Technical College
• “Identity, Ethics, and Complex Decision Making in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”
– Ellen Moll, Michigan State University
• “Moral Enhancements: What does science fiction teach us about moral improvements?”
– Jason Howard, David Bauer, and Jeffery Nyseth, Viterbo University
• “Apes with a Moral Code? Exploring the Boundaries of Moral Responsibility in The Planet of the Apes”
– Paul Carron, Baylor University
When asked about the chance to explore these unique viewpoints in such an established genre, Miller said, “While research on the relationship between cognition, science fiction, and genre is extensive, the ways in which cognition and neuroethics are deployed in these narratives remains relatively unexamined, so much so that we have a groundbreaking opportunity.” All presenters will have the option to submit their works for publication consideration in the CCN’s Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics, a peer-reviewied and open access publication that would allow the conference works, and their novel ideas, to reach a much wider audience.
Miller plans to continue the conference next year and feels fortunate that his experiences at UM-Flint both prepared him for such projects and afford him the opportunity to continue working with the university faculty and facilities: “While exciting, this is only one project among many. Between faculty-student research collaborations, scholarship fundraising efforts, the capstone course, and conferences and journals through CCN, the Philosophy Department remarkably and critically engages with the community. As an alumnus, it is therefore an honor to continue working with CAS faculty. We are doing amazing work, and it is a credit to our campus that faculty, students, staff, and alumni have such opportunities.”
For more information on the Philosophy Department, visit their website. To learn about the CCN’s conferences and publications, find them online or email Dr. Jami Anderson, Co-Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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