Neuroscience and Society

Course Number: 
NSCI 3001W
Semesters Offered: 

What is the public’s perception of stem cell therapy for neurodegenerative diseases and spinal cord injury? Is it more informed by science or mass media? Does deep brain stimulation threaten personal identity? Does ADHD medication treat disease or childhood? As the field of neuroscience increases our depth of knowledge regarding how the brain generates and controls behaviors and ideas, questions are raised that challenge societal definitions of mind and body, free will, personal responsibility, and more. This “neuroethics” course aims to unravel the ethical implications of the intersection of neuroscience and society. These ideas will be examined through readings, personal reflections, class discussions, debates and formal writing. Beyond the content, the class will focus on the development of logical arguments, writing skills, oral presentation skills, and teamwork. Students will be expected to present and argue both their own personal views and those of others. Topics and exercises are designed to help students understand different points of view than their own and to gain an understanding of what it is like to have altered mentation, i.e. a brain disease or disability. Readings and multimedia reports will be drawn from the primary neuroscience literature as well as philosophy, policy, and law literature and popular media.

NSCI 3001Topics to be covered in this course are at the interface between experimental neuroscience and social issues. A deep understanding of these topics becomes necessary as society struggles with the policy implications of our changing understanding of mental abilities and responsibilities. By structuring the course so that students find appropriate resources and work in groups to discuss, present and reconcile issues, NSCI 3001W will build skill sets needed for life-long learning by engaging students in creating deep understanding of multiple points of view, problem solving, and communication.

Requirements satisfied

This course satisfies the “Civic Life and Ethics” liberal education requirement, the group C (pre-fall 2010 admissions) or group B (admission fall 2010 and after) Neuroscience major requirement, and writing intensive course requirement. For the justification for this classification see the section at the end of this syllabus. A Liberal Education prepares students for future encounters with professional, civic or personal problems by developing skill sets needed for generating creative solutions. By focusing on development of ethical issues posed by emerging neuroscience, NSCI 3001W addresses the liberal education theme of Civic Life and Ethics.

What this course is NOT

NSCI 3001This is not a lecture course in neuroscience. During class, students will engage in daily discussions on topics chosen by the instructors and by the students with the aim of exploring the arguments on all sides of the issues. In preparation for these informed discussions, prior to every class, students will read and summarize in writing contemporary articles and media from neuroscience, policy and contemporary literature assigned on the topics. With the emphasis on construction of informed arguments, both oral and written, and team work, regular class attendance is extremely important. In order for instructors to read and provide feedback on the written work, assignment deadlines are not flexible. In the past, students who regularly do the reading, participate in the discussions, and turn in the written assignments on time do well. If you do not plan to attend regularly or to do the assigned readings and writings on time, this is not a course for you.

Course prerequisites

Students must have completed their Biological Science Liberal Education requirement by the beginning of the term. All students must be prepared to read and evaluate primary literature.NSCI 3001

For a full description of course learning and developmental outcomes, other course policies, schedules and grading structure in past years, please see the example. Details will vary slightly from year to year. 


Syallabus and grading