The nature of human conflict has its roots in the human mind. Psychological warfare is first known to have started in the ancient world. But when we apply neuroscience to war planning by utilising more accurate knowledge of the brain and the nervous systems–a new battlefield will emerge.

A battlefield that exists only in the human mind.

If opponents believe they have been defeated, then that becomes their reality. On that note, it is important to preemptively understand the insights that neurosciences might give us regarding nonviolent means of dispute resolution. Violence, which was a strong and recurring theme in human history; has diminished in the modern world. The probability of a human being dying a violent death–especially as a casualty of war–has reduced significantly since ancient and medieval times.

The field of neuroscience, however, raises ethical, social and legal questions regarding the ability to monitor and alter brain functions. This ability is double-edged–presenting enormous possibilities to use chemicals or other measures to change brain function–for better, but also for worse. These are not just philosophical or ethical questions for us to debate upon as they have significant and sizeable impact on our military and security agenda.

During the immediate post WWII period and the early Cold War, the long and interwoven connection between science and national security precipitated the emergence of the idea that human experimentation demanded the informed consent of subjects.

While human experiments were deemed desirable, the most likely population at the time–which consisted of long-term prisoners–invited disconcerting comparisons to the Nazi crimes. The evidence about the contemptible nature of the concentration camp made such an impression on the American judges that they wrote their own code of ethics for human experiments–known as The Nuremberg Code.

Judges of the Milch Trial, 2 January 1947-17 April 1947

The Nuremberg Code

The judgment by the war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg laid down 10 standards to which physicians must conform when carrying out experiments on human subjects. This judgment established a new standard of ethical medical behaviour for the post WWII human rights era.

This document enunciates the requirement of voluntary informed consent of the human subject; protecting the right of the individual to control his own body. This code also recognises that the risk must be weighed against the expected benefit–and that unnecessary pain and suffering must be avoided. This code recognises that doctors should avoid actions that injure human patients.

The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.

Nuremberg Code

The first trial conducted under the Nuremberg Military Tribunals in 1947 became known as The Doctors’ Trial, in which 23 physicians from the Nazi Party were tried for the atrocious experiments they carried out on unwilling prisoners of war. The Doctors’ Trial is officially known as The United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al. and it was conducted at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany.

The Human Mind in War

Experimental attempts to alter the state of mind of soldiers is not new. The need to overcome the potentially paralysing effects of fear and fatigue has led military personnel to absorb various disinhibiting mind-altering substances–from alcohol and opiates to coca leaves and amphetamines.

Looking into the future, the most potentially consequential developments will be found in the area of neural interfacing and its efforts to bring the human nervous system and computing machines under a single informational architecture. In other words, human brains may be harnessed within fire control systems to perform cognitive tasks before these even become conscious to them.

Aside from the huge ethical and legal issues that it would raise, one cannot but observe that under such a scheme the functional distinction between the human operator and a machine seems to collapse entirely as the pretence of any free will is disseminated.

What is the human mind–and who does it belong to?

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