From ‘Hard’ Neuro-Tools to ‘Soft’ Neuro-Toys? Refocussing the Neuro-Enhancement Debate

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Since the 1990’s, the debate concerning the ethical, legal and societal aspects of ‘neuro-enhancement’ has evolved into a massive discourse, both in the public realm and in the academic arena. This ethical debate, however, tends to repeat the same sets of arguments over and over again. Normative disagreements between transhumanists and bioconservatives on invasive or radical brain stimulators, and uncertainties regarding the use and effectivity of nootropic pharmaceuticals dominate the field. Building on the results of an extensive European project on responsible research and innovation in neuro-enhancement (NERRI), we observe and encourage that the debate is now entering a new and, as we will argue, more realistic and societally relevant stage. This new stage concerns those technologies that enter the market as ostensibly harmless contrivances that consumers may use for self-care or entertainment. We use the examples and arguments of participants in NERRI debates to describe three case studies of such purportedly innocent ‘toys’. Based upon this empirical material, we argue that these ‘soft’ enhancement gadgets are situated somewhere in the boundary zone between the internal and the external, between the intimate and the intrusive, between the familiar and the unfamiliar, between the friendly and the scary and, in Foucauldian terms, between technologies of the self and technologies of control. Therefore, we describe their physiognomy with the help of a term borrowed from Jacques Lacan, namely as “extimate” technologies.
Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)337–348
Aantal pagina's12
Nummer van het tijdschrift3
StatusPublished - okt.-2016

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