This article is the Context piece from the Book Rapper issue: Eye Create. It provides a context for the book summary of Gregory Berns’ book Iconoclast.
The golden age of discovery was in the 15th century as explorers boarded their ships to discover the rest of the world. Once discovered, the next task was to exploit the riches found. Thus, the great era of Colonisation. The Spanish in South America, the British in India and the French in Africa were all seeking wealth for their homelands.
Now that the four corners of the earth have been reached and exploited, it’s time for a new exploration race. NASA is taking one path outside our planet, to infinity and beyond!
Neuroscientists, like Greg Berns, are exploring another area, our internal grey matter. The current work of neuroscientists is mapping the future of our brain. By uncovering how our brains really work, in living people in real-time, they are laying the foundation for the future.
Do you have fillings in your teeth? Do you wear glasses? Have you taken drugs for an extended illness?
These are early examples of Transhumanism. It’s where human beings use external technology to assist with internal bodily function.
Transhumanism is like Globalization. Whilst we presume it is a contemporary issue, it has been sneaking up on us for a few centuries. Globalization is at least as old as Marco Polo’s trek from Venice to China way back in the 13th century. Transhumanism may have begun even earlier. The Egyptians first used prothesis for missing teeth, toes and limbs a couple of millennium ago.
In recent years, electronic technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology has accelerated progress to new levels. The next great era of Transhumanism is our brains. Or, more accurately, our nervous or neural systems.
- If you were paralysed would you get a micro-chip implanted to enable you to walk again?
- If your mother had dementia would you put a micro-chip in her brain?
- If you were suffering from Parkinson’s Disease would you let doctors insert stem cells into your body?
Whether we agree with it or not, the neuroscientists of today are laying the foundation for a new brain. Working out how our brain really works will tell us how to train our thoughts, use electronic supplements and design a diet of useful drugs.
Training Your Brain
All parents want the best for their children. One approach to giving them a cognitive boost is to listen to Mozart’s music. A million dollar industry has been built around the Mozart Effect. Yet it appears to be a myth. The idea that we can train our brain is correct, in this case the application is not.
Neuroscience has shown our brains are plastic. This means they grow and change over time, just like your waistline. As a gym junkie will attest, it’s possible to change your body shape through continued and deliberate training. It’s looking more likely that we will learn how to train our brains in a similar way in the near future.
Are you willing to train your brain in the same way that Arnie trained his body?
Eating for your Brain
What we already eat changes our brains. For instance, Omega 3 fatty acids are known to support brain function, eating chocolate releases natural opiates and alcohol acts as a depressant. Repeated use has a repeated effect on our brain structure.
Manufactured foods and drugs are currently quite distinct. Yet future manmade food may go beyond merely feeding our bodies. Instead, we might be eating to feed specific brain functions. Most of our current food is packaged based upon what it is made from. For instance, Corn Flakes.
Our future food may be packaged based upon what they can do for us. Would you eat, ‘Calming Chocolate’, ‘Eggs Energetic’ or ‘Sexy Sausage’?
If antidepressants are useful for extreme cases of depression, then why not a cocktail of drugs for the rest of us who also want to enjoy life to the max? We know we have the drugs to produce the effects we want. We simply need to knock out their unwanted side effects. Who knows your level of Emotional Intelligence may be decided by what you eat for breakfast.
Currently our thoughts are supplemented and complemented by external brains in the form of diaries, laptops, the internet and Google. They’re all mind-enhancers! They enable us to remember things that otherwise we’d forget or know things we wouldn’t otherwise know.
Schoolteachers used to be the smartest person in the classroom. Today a quick thinking student easily surpasses them with access to Google. If we consider that carrying our iPhone or Blackberry is carrying our external brain, it’s a small step to imagine an implanted one.
With nano-bots roaming through our bodies, our implanted brain can have it’s own personal army to fight those free radicals and to keep order. The future of the brain is only part biological. And, this raises another possibility for the future: the proverbial thinking machine.
Singularity: Thinking Computers
Technologists have suggested that computers will be able to think like human beings within the next 20-30 years. Yes, that promise has been made and broken before. Simply because we didn’t get the timing right doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The Age of Singularity as it is termed, is just over the horizon.
And, here’s the simple steps to making it happen…
- First, our current neuroscientists are figuring out how our brain really works by imaging real-time brain function and human action.
- Second, we can apply that in new ways by marrying technology with our natural brains.
- Third, in marrying hard and soft brains we’ll work out how to build the best of both worlds and create the most intelligent brain of all.
Whilst social networking and social media is the new fuel for making connections with your species, the best is yet to come. Imagine being connected through your neural net… Your brain – part biology and part technology – syncing with another human being as easily as a USB drive. Talk about connection! Social connection might be a mere starting point for the ways that we’ll be connected in the future. And, that is one future of your brain.
The Matrix Effect
What would happen if we combined all three effects together: training, diet and machines? In The Matrix (1999), Keanu Reeves as ‘Neo’ is plugged into a machine and learns a lifetime of martial arts in a matter of minutes. The signs are pointing to this being one possible future for your brain. As sure as Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak is slowly emerging from laboratories, your new brain is being invented too.
Note : In the Appendix of Iconoclast, Berns outlines current drug use and their impact on brain function.