In the U.S., psychoanalysis has fallen a bit out of fashion. But in Italy, a psychonanalyst heads up their bioethics organization, Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship. A year ago, Professor Emilio Mordini presented on “Dreams, Hopes and Uncertainties in the Nano Revolution” at EuroNanoForum 2005: Nanotechnology and the Health of the EU Citizen in 2020, the proceedings of which are now available in three formats: summary PDF (5 MB), full proceedings website (Shockwave req’d), and CD-ROM.

Prof. Mordini concludes:

In a study conducted in the spring of 2004 by North Carolina State University on the public’s perceptions about nanotechnology, people who have read Crichton’s novel Prey surprisingly showed a more positive attitude towards nanotechnology than those who did not read the novel. Tales are an important element to allow people to deal with complex and contradictory novelties. They allow [them] to handle fears and to overcome them.

My final consideration concerns ethics and nanotechnology. History teaches that worrying overmuch about technological change rarely stops it. If we are concerned about ethical and social implications of society, we would do better to form a clearer picture of how scientists and policy makers should communicate with the public and, above all, we should refuse any temptation to reject popular narratives as naive and misleading.

On the contrary popular narratives can give us the key to understand what is going on in [the] public’s mind and they can be an important instrument to help people elaborate fears and hopes.

Quite so. People need scenarios, popular narratives — stories, basically — to help them envision a situation significantly different from the one they are now in, the problems that could occur, and how they may be addressed. This is why in a recent lecture I advised the researchers at ASU’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society to read some science fiction, and perhaps why academic ethicist Rosalyn Berne is having nanoresearchers construct such nanotech stories for themselves.

About the proceedings for EuroNanoForum 2005: Nanotechnology and the Health of the EU Citizen in 2020 — the summary PDF is missing a lot of material, so you’ll need the full website. Unfortunately, not only does it require Shockwave (which many of you have not yet installed), but also some other third party plug-ins. In my case, the website still did not work after the Shockwave plug-in was installed, so you might want to go straight for the CD-ROM. A word to the EU: consider sticking with very standard, open formats for your international reports? Just a friendly suggestion! —Christine