Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century

  • Published

Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century by Jonathan D. Moreno. Bellevue Literary Press, 2012, 205 pp.

Mind Wars is a fascinating book that sparks thought and debate concerning questions that should and must be asked as the future of warfare becomes present conflict. Jonathan Moreno is on the short list of individuals most qualified to provide the necessary expertise to cover this topic. Moreno has been a senior staff member for three presidential advisory commissions and has served on a number of Pentagon advisory committees. He is also an ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the editor-in-chief at the Center for American Progress' online magazine Science Progress. Moreno begins the book by describing his childhood, which began a lifelong fascination in discovering the unknowns of brain science and later in life the mission of ensuring the ethics of future discoveries remains intact. Mind Wars spans the adventures of an entire career on the forefront of neuroscience debates concerning past, current, and future technological capabilities that enhance the world we live in and how we live in it.

Moreno does an excellent job of highlighting the necessity of answering ethical questions of enhancing technological capabilities that effect how war is waged and how life is lived by those affected. Throughout the book, Moreno raises questions through multiple examples of past experiments and new capabilities of advancing neuroscience capabilities that can truly impact every aspect of our lives. By raising questions of new, specific scientific theories and experiments, the answer becomes clear: steps must be taken prior to any advances in neuroscience capability to ensure proper precautions.

For example, one might think life-changing advances of prosthesis technology that help service members who have lost limbs only provide a positive option to a negative product of war. The ability to allow someone the capability to use a body part that was previously unusable is assuredly a great and joyous advance in technology. However, what happens if our prosthetic technology becomes more capable than the human body? There have already been reports of soldiers with bodily injuries—such as muscular disabilities—that prevent the soldier from serving in a mission-ready status but still maintain partial use of the limb who request to have it amputated and replaced with a prosthesis to return to a full mission-ready status. Another example is focused on internal capabilities. Work has long been underway to allow individuals a greater level of focus and attention to learn a topic more quickly. Many individuals also take medications to stay up longer or simply not feel so drowsy. These are just a few examples of a myriad of technological advances that allow the human body to be altered to perform at the desired level. At face value, most of the advances are simply enhancing human ability to perform.

In the future, what happens if governments begin forcing soldiers to comply with certain enhancements so they are more capable than the enemy, to ensure mission success? Moreno discusses the fact that soldiers specifically, more so than voluntary participants, could theoretically be forced to receive these enhancements in a future conflict. If these enhancements are made, should they be removed after military service is complete? These questions do not even begin to investigate the psychological effects of these bodily changes. The ripple effects of these advances from prosthetic technologies to enhanced thinking and learning capabilities extend much further than we even have the capability to predict, which is why these debates and discussions must occur now and not once these future capabilities become more common.

Moreno offers broad solutions to solve some of these issues but leaves much of the answering of these difficult questions to the reader. Ask nearly any expert concerned with military warfare in the twenty-first century, including Moreno, and one would learn that warfare is only becoming more complicated as science and technology continue to shape the way war is waged. These questions must be answered by those policy makers with the power to make change. Although slow and lengthier in parts than necessary, Mind Wars will assist the reader in uncovering possible risks of implementing future scientific advancements. At the very least, this book allows the reader the opportunity to reassess one’s critical thinking capabilities of examining possible outcomes of future actions. Almost any individual involved with the future of warfare, could benefit from Moreno's thoughtful and thorough examination of brain science affecting the military in the twenty-first century.

1Lt William Morgan, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."