Studying Ethical Questions as We Unlock the Black Box of the Brain
In a world of proliferating professions, S. Matthew Liao has a singular title: neuroethicist. Dr. Liao, 40, the director of the bioethics program at New York University, deploys the tools of philosophy, history, psychology, religion and ethics to understand the impact of neuroscientific breakthroughs.
We spoke over four hours in two sessions. A condensed and edited version of the conversations follows.
You’re a philosopher by training. How did philosophy lead to neuroethics?
Mine’s the typical immigrant’s story. My family moved to Cincinnati from Taiwan in the early 1980s. Once here, my siblings gravitated towards the sciences. I was the black sheep. I was in love with the humanities. So I didn’t go to M.I.T. — I went to Princeton, where I got a degree in philosophy. This, of course, worried my parents. They’d never met a philosopher with a job.
Do you have any insight on why scientific careers are so attractive to new Americans?
You don’t need to speak perfect English to do science. And there are job opportunities.