This blog is curated by Jose Manuel Muñoz

  • Interdisciplinarity and international diversity for the study of the brain and mind: Beyond borders and scopes

    Karen Herrera-Ferrá

    The current complex world events have accentuated the importance of different ways of perceiving, understanding, assessing, making decisions, and behaving in the face of and coping with extreme and stressful life events such as the pandemic and the new reality in Europe. As a result, these unfortunate events should be considered a robust call for further reflection on the significant impact – positive or negative- of cognitive diversity. Of global cognitive diversity. Especially on the effect that this diversity has on key issues such as globalization, interdisciplinarity and international collaborations.

    Should we ask ourselves if perhaps we have underestimated the power of these four areas when they play together? I believe that perhaps we have not paid enough attention to how each of these areas adds power to the others, in a circular and growing motion.

    But what are these areas, exactly?

    1. Globalization: Considered as an economic system based on a multi-movement of resources (e.g., advanced neuroscience, neurotechnology and artificial intelligence). It is also a profound interconnectedness between people, lifestyles, ideas, beliefs, cultures, religions, etc.1 However, although globalization is aware of diversity, this does not mean that globalization is inclusive of diversity.

    2. Diversity: The inclusion of people of different races, cultures, beliefs, perceptions, preferences, etc. in a group or organization.2

    3. Interdisciplinarity: “ analytically reflective study of the methodological, theoretical, and institutional implications of implementing interdisciplinary approaches. Interdisciplinary approaches involve the application of insights and perspectives from more than one conventional discipline”.3

    4. International collaboration: The act of working together with other people or organizations to create or achieve something.4 If it is international, presupposes work between countries.

    Thus, globalization, diversity, interdisciplinarity and international collaborations are powerful, available, and accessible tools that are instrumental in enhancing and positively harnessing current and global efforts to improve human life. Could this be translated for the study of the brain, mind and the consequent neuroethical, legal, social, and cultural implications (NELSCI)? How relevant would it be if these four areas were intertwined as a non-linear and non-sequential interaction? (Fig.1)

    The study of the brain, mind and NELSCI, constitutes a unique global challenge, as it must address a variety of dimensions, from radically objective (i.e., substrates such as biological and chemical) to the relatively subjective (i.e., beliefs, preferences, attitudes, etc.). In this sense, diverse disciplines (interdisciplinarity) and countries (international collaboration) have been involved in this complicated task. The aim is to approach the brain and mind through different scopes, methods, and methodologies, and to anticipate and address actual and potential local and global concerns, risks, and burdens, including societal and ethical implications. Accordingly, each discipline approaches the same problem from a different scope with a different system and perspective. Consequently, interdisciplinarity becomes key and instrumental in approaching the brain and mind, as well as the NELSCI, because the sum of the parts becomes a whole, right? At the very least interdisciplinarity among the different countries seems to be the correct, logically, and ethically sound, congruent, coherent, and fully comprehensive response and approach. But is international interdisciplinarity enough? I believe that to foster a true and comprehensive approach to the study of the brain and mind, the diversity of perspectives from underrepresented cultures and contexts, such as low- and middle-income contexts and countries should also be proactively included to work beyond skills, beyond scopes and beyond borders. This is important, as culture and context predispose to specific assessments and approaches to the use and regulation of brain tools and techniques.

    To include cognitive diversity is one of the main objectives and major efforts of the Asociación Mexicana de Neuroética. It is also an important part of the International Neuroethics Society agenda and probably an interesting point of intersection with the objectives of the CINET, among other centers.

    Thus, to enrich and leverage these efforts we must continue to work towards the inclusion of diversity of perspectives not only to have multiple viewpoints, concerns, and perceptions, but also to be reactive and responsive to anticipate and solve the true ethical, legal, social, economic, political, philosophical, and scientific concerns and problems that constantly arise from the study of the brain and mind.

    Fig. 1.  A summative effort for the study of the brain, mind and NELSCI.

    Karen Herrera-Ferrá is a mental health clinician, an independent researcher, an international advisor in bioethics and neuroethics, and an Associate Professor at the Neuroethics Center of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics (PCCB) at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She is Founder and Former President of the Mexican Association of Neuroethics and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Neuroethics Society.


    (1) Beckford, J. (2003). Social theory & religion. Cambridge University Press.

    (2) Merriam-Webster. Diversity. In Dictionary.

    (3) Miller, R. C. (2020). Interdisciplinarity: Its meaning and consequences. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. Oxford University Press.

    (4) University of Cambridge. Collaboration. In Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press.

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