Javier Bernácer is a researcher with extensive training and experience in neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. He holds degrees in biology (2001) and biochemistry (2003), a master’s degree in neuroscience (2004) and a master’s degree in philosophy (2015), a doctorate in neuroscience (2006), and is accredited as a research professor of psychobiology (2021). He is also pursuing a doctorate in philosophy. As for his research experience in neuroscience, he has conducted anatomical studies with postmortem human material, anatomical and functional studies with neuroimaging, and is researching decision-making processes and how they are affected in various mental conditions such as psychosis, addiction, and ADHD. He previously worked as a pre-doctoral researcher at the University of Rochester (New York, USA) and as a post-doctoral researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital (New York, USA) and the University of Cambridge (UK). Since 2011, his work has focused on the holistic study of human action, especially habits, in the context of the mind-brain problem. He is a researcher in the Mind-Brain Group of the Institute of Culture and Society (ICS, University of Navarre) and a lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Psychology.
Javier Bernácer is also the scientific director of CINET, whose first international workshop was held in November 2021 in Cáceres (Spain). Below you can read an extract of an interview that was carried out to him in the framework of this workshop. The video for this interview (in Spanish) can be seen here.
Can the dialogue between neuroscience and philosophy be helpful?
We are studying a single reality, which is the human being, although it is true that this being has two aspects: the biological and the mental. Due to the division between fields of knowledge, unfortunately these two different aspects of the same reality are being studied in very different ways. While the biological part is being studied by biology and neuroscience, the mental part is being studied by psychology, the humanities, and other fields of knowledge. We are starting from two different kinds of methodologies, and I think this is a problem because a single reality must be studied. We must foster dialogue between these two approaches in order to reach important conclusions about the human being.
What is the main ethical challenge that you find in neuroscientific research?
Many of the important ethical challenges, especially with the future in mind, are well defined and outlined in the emerging initiatives on neurorights. The issue of authorship (that is, that you know that you are the agent of the actions you are carrying out) is important and must be studied from different points of view. As the interaction between the human being and the machine progresses, this authorship could be blurred in some way, and this is something that I think should be anticipated. I am not thinking about weird, futuristic, or transhumanistic questions, with which I do not agree, but simply about the interaction between a human being and an autonomous car, for example.
Why are CINET and the meetings it organizes important?
I believe that CINET is necessary because, first of all, we want to promote an interdisciplinary dialogue that, as I have said before, seems fundamental to understanding the human being. But in addition, the primary and distinctive objective of CINET is training. It is necessary to try that young researchers, or even university students who are not yet developing a research career, be trained in different disciplines. We are only going to make progress in neuroscience and in the understanding of the brain when there is a new batch of researchers who do not call themselves “neuroscientists,” “philosophers,” or “humanists,” because they will master different disciplines.
What are the difficulties that a true interdisciplinary dialogue has to overcome?
The first problem is language, which comes with the divergence in the training of researchers. Each discipline has its own language, and the bad thing is that many terms are common between the different disciplines, but they mean different things. I think that the mere understanding of the language between the different disciplines is a very important difficulty, which can only be overcome by studying the disciplines of each other. This has been my own personal experience. A second big problem is what is required of us in our research careers. There is a notion that someone is successful in research only if he or she becomes hyperspecialized in something. This is a problem because, to understand the human being, we would have to avoid hyperspecialization and have a more general image. But, in the way the research career is conceived today, a researcher cannot be successful by pursuing this image. This requires a paradigm shift: we do not have to focus on external criteria and indexing, but rather on progress in knowledge.