Neuroscience and human identity: Exploring the issues

As neuroscience provides more knowledge of the structures and functions of the nervous system, it is expected to further our understanding of what makes us human.  It is also anticipated that neuroscientific research will foster the development and application of neuro-technologies to modify the brain which, some argue, might have a significant impact on human and personal identity.  A lively debate regarding the ethical implications of these possibilities has taken a prominent place within neuroethics.

An overview of the relevant literature suggests that, at least at first sight, concerns about neuroscience and its relevance to or impact on identity can refer to the possibility that neurotechnology might affect, or at least be relevant for identifying, either universal traits that humans are supposed to share as such (human identity) or specific traits in individuals’ self-conceptions and sameness (personal identity).


Within the framework of the European Human Brain Project (HBP) this research project seeks to provide an analysis of the relevant issues. It examines 1- the notion of human identity, its meaning and value, its relation to the debate on human nature, related theoretical and practical concerns,  and 2- the notion of personal identity and authenticity. In the examination of human identity, the topics addressed include:

  • Identification and examination of epistemological questions, such as: what can neuroscience tell us about humanity? what are the limits of neuroscientific knowledge when it comes to understanding what human beings are? Analysis of implications.
  • Examination of ontological questions, such as: what are human beings?
  • Review and assessment of neurobiological and philosophical approaches and answers to the ontological question.
  • Examination of ethical questions, such as: what does it mean to be human? Who are we? Is this an important question, and if so: why?

In the examination of personal identity, the focus will be on the following:

  • Identification of the main ontological and epistemological approaches
  • Implications of different understandings of the relevant notions.
  • Assessment of practical implications (e.g. DBS and other neurotechnologies).


  • Salles A. Unveiling humanness: the challenge ahead (in progress)
  • Salles A. Report on Conceptual Issues in Human Identity. HBP deliverable (2019).
  • Salles A. La neurociencia y la identidad: un debate abierto. In eds Esquembre C.O. et al. El mejoramiento humano (Granada, Spain: Editorial Comares, 2015).