Technology, Personal Information, and Identity

Leuenberger, Muriel. Forthcoming. "Technology, Personal Information, and Identity." Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology.

Novel and emerging technologies can provide users with new kinds and unprecedented amounts of information about themselves, such as autobiographical information, neurodata, health information, or characteristics inferred from online behavior. Technology providing extensive personal information (PI technology) can impact who we take ourselves to be, how we constitute ourselves, and indeed who we are. This paper analyzes how the external, quantified perspective on us offered by PI technology affects identity based on a narrative identity theory. Disclosing the intimate relationship between PI technology and identity sheds light on a whole new range of ethical issues that have so far not received sufficient attention. Personal information provided by technology is not just information that belongs to individuals but that changes them.

Memory Modification and Authenticity: A Narrative Approach.

Leuenberger, Muriel. 2022. “Memory Modification and Authenticity: A Narrative Approach.” Neuroethics 15: 1-10.

The potential of memory modification techniques (MMTs) has raised concerns and sparked a debate in neuroethics, particularly in the context of identity and authenticity. This paper addresses the question whether and how MMTs influence authenticity. I proceed by drawing two distinctions within the received views on authenticity. From this, I conclude that an analysis of MMTs based on a dual-basis, process view of authenticity is warranted, which implies that the influence of MMTs on authenticity crucially depends on the specifics of how memory modification would eventually work. Therefore, I continue with a systematic analysis of possible properties of MMTs in which I distinguish between the dimensions of memories and the kinds of experiences that can be modified as well as the properties of the process of memory modification. The impact of MMTs on authenticity is analyzed regarding the possible properties of MMTs and based on a narrative approach to authenticity which fulfills the requirements of a dual-basis, process view of authenticity. Lastly, I explore the potential of MMTs to shift the balance between self-discovery and self-creation within authenticity and thereby alter the concept itself.

Losing Meaning: Philosophical Reflections on Neural Interventions and their Influence on Narrative Identity.

Leuenberger, Muriel. 2021. “Losing Meaning: Philosophical Reflections on Neural Interventions and their Influence on Narrative Identity.” Neuroethics 14: 491–505.

The profound changes in personality, mood, and other features of the self that neural interventions can induce can be disconcerting to patients, their families, and caregivers. In the neuroethical debate, those concerns are often addressed in the context of possible threats to the narrative self. In this paper, I argue that it is necessary to consider a dimension of impacts on the narrative self which has so far been neglected: neural interventions can lead to a loss of meaning of actions, feelings, beliefs, and other intentional elements of our self-narratives. To uphold the coherence of the self-narrative, the changes induced by neural interventions need to be accounted for through explanations in intentional or biochemical terms. However, only an explanation including intentional states delivers the content to directly ascribe personal meaning, i.e., subjective value to events. Neural interventions can deprive events of meaning because they may favor a predominantly biochemical account. A loss of meaning is not inherently negative but it can be problematic, particularly if events are affected one was not prepared or willing to have stripped of meaning. The paper further examines what it is about neural interventions that impacts meaning by analyzing different methods. To which degree the pull towards a biochemical view occurs depends on the characteristics of the neural intervention. By comparing Deep Brain Stimulation, Prozac, Ritalin, psychedelics, and psychotherapy, the paper identifies some main factors: the rate of change, the transparency of the causal chain, the involvement of the patient, and the presence of an acute phenomenological experience.

Why Authenticity Hinges on Narrative Identity

Leuenberger, Muriel. 2021. “Why Authenticity Hinges on Narrative Identity.” American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience 12 (1): 43 - 45.

Open Peer Commentary on the paper “Personality and authenticity in light of the memory-modifying potential of optogenetics” by Zawadzki and Adamczyk. In this commentary, I make a distinction between a process and a conservation view of authenticity and argue that authenticity hinges on narrative identity.

What is the Point of Being your True Self? A Genealogy of Essentialist Authenticity.

Leuenberger, Muriel. 2021. “What is the Point of Being your True Self? A Genealogy of Essentialist Authenticity.” Philosophy 96 (3): 409-431.

This paper presents a functional genealogy of essentialist authenticity. The essentialist account maintains that authenticity is the result of discovering and realizing one’s ‘true self’. The genealogy shows that essentialist authenticity can serve the function of supporting continuity in one's individual characteristics. A genealogy of essentialist authenticity is not only methodologically interesting as the first functional genealogy of a contingent concept. It can also deepen the functional understanding of authenticity used in neuroethics, provide a possible explanation for the prevalence of the idea of an essentialist true self and justify the use of the ideal of authenticity. First, essentialist authenticity is defined and explained through the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Second, a general need to have steady characteristics is derived from basic human practices. Third, circumstances that make it more challenging to steady oneself are identified and shown to have become more prevalent in the age of modernity when the ideal of authenticity emerged. Finally, it is shown how essentialist authenticity helps to steady the self.

In Defense of Narrative Authenticity.

Leuenberger, Muriel. 2020. “In Defense of Narrative Authenticity.” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 29 (4): 656 – 667.

This paper ties in with the ongoing debate on authenticity and the influence of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) on authenticity, in particular with the exchange between Pugh et al. and Nyholm and O’Neill. Both argue against a narrative approach to authenticity, which will be defended in this paper. First, it is shown that the critique they offer does not hold against a more refined view on narrativism. Second, a narrative approach to authenticity is introduced. To be authentic is to have a self-narrative 1) that is sustainable in the sense that it is easy to uphold because it is not in tension with one’s lived experience, and 2) that constitutes a well-defined person, which means that vastly different, more coherent and intelligible counternarratives are excluded. Third, the advantages of a narrative account of authenticity are discussed, including a short overview of the influence of DBS on narrative authenticity.