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Creative Writing Competition: 'Changing the Human Brain'

Opening Ethical Windows Into The Human Mind

Science fiction is, perhaps, the greatest liar the universe has ever known. Where are our 'limitless' pills that super excite our brains into genius? Where is the eternal sunshine of the memory eraser machine and where is the fiery ‘nervous system upgrade’ technology featured in Iron Man 3? Ever since science met fiction writers have envisioned possible, if not always plausible, technologies to come and this has fed right back into science, inspiring generations of new researchers and moulding the public’s perception of what goes on under the fume hood and in the petri dish. Sometimes it gets its predictions right, as with the touchscreen of Star Trek or the point-of-view guns of Douglas Adam’s, but right or wrong it plays a key role in demonstrating public opinion and controlling it.

Fiction gives us an unparalleled medium through which to comprehend the value of neuroscientific accounts of behaviour and experience, because it allows for a very human non-scientific study of the effects of neuroscience, from the point of view of the very minds encountering new fandangled technologies. If genetic engineering of the brain really does perturb our sense of selfhood, help us fight mental diseases or endow us with new abilities, writers will swarm to produce work that can act as an ethical window into these nascent technologies. Their fiction can tell us something about how we consume, as a society, scientific ideas and blend them with social philosophy.

This is the thinking, along with the animated discussions at our speed debate, that inspired us to run a creative writing competition on the topic ‘changing the human brain/mind’. The competition ran from the 14th of August to September the 15th, and we received over fifty entries. Writers were allowed to submit short stories of 500-1,500 words, poems of up to 40 lines and (screen)plays of up to a 30 minute run time. The winning entries, along with a commentary by a UCL scientist, can be found below (once judging has been completed). The commentaries are intended to look at the issues raised in the writing, and see how they interact with the commentators’ scientific views.