The Neuro Revolution

     

        Futurist Zack Lynch grew up as the son of Dan Lynch, one of the small handful of brilliant people our government turned to years ago when they wanted computers in different locations enabled to talk to one another. What Lynch and others began as a system to facilitate missile testing turned into the ARPANET, and subsequently into the World Wide Web.That’s a revolutionary legacy.

           As nearly all kids would do in decades to come, Zack Lynch grew up playing with interconnected computers, doing wide-ranging research. He developed an enormous fascination with technology, and a huge sense of wonder about what would be the next thing with the power to re-invent our world. He found it in fMRI technology, an offshoot of magnetic resonance imaging that lets us see, in real time, exactly how our brains work. Zack’s best selling book predicts a future revolution in human knowledge, one that’s actually already begun, that will radically impact fields from criminal justice to warfare, finance, art, music, marketing, almost every field of human endeavor.           

          This hyper-fascinating project connected me with several other brilliant minds as well, in the halls of Stanford, the University of California, Baylor, London University, Claremont Graduate University and more. We designed the book to be easily understood by non-scientists, and succeeded quite well. Still anticipating an amazing future, Zack went on to found the Neurotechnology Industry Association. A translation was done for the Chinese market, and the San Francisco Chronicle named The Neuro Revolution a best seller.

 

from Chapter One: Time’s Telescope

These new technologies not only brought us new industries, they also re-shaped business competition, personal communication, artistic expression, and warfare, bringing on such wide-ranging transformations that the lives of future generations were completely and forever changed.

Today we sit on the cusp of another overwhelming societal transformation, beginning to feel the lift-off of a wave potentially more dramatic than any of the three that came before. It is the emerging neurosociety. Early evidence of this wave will meet your eyes in the pages ahead. You will gradually realize that this coming wave will give us undreamed-of control of two vast spheres of life: both the world around us and the universe within us.

The forces driving the neurosociety’s emergence are clear. Its arrival is both inevitable and already in progress. Even those who are now positioned closest to the unfolding wave cannot fully imagine the range and scope of impact on its way. It will be nothing less than the birth a new civilization.

Here is what I mean by inevitable: Global population has soared more than twenty-fold over the past 200 years, reaching over 6.7 billion. During the same two centuries, our life spans more than doubled, vaulting to more than 70 years. Current population projections say that the United States in 2040 will have 54 million people aged 85, up from 4.2 million today.  Today the oldest population segment, those 85 and beyond, represent only 2% of the population. By 2040 they may represent almost 20%.

A population that is significantly older and massively larger, coupled with the recently-created extensive global connectedness, has already created opportunities along with brand-new problems for modern humans. At the same time, it has intensified many of the old ones. We navigate our ever-changing lives with brains that have evolved very little since the Paleolithic Age. The problem-solving machinery in our heads is astonishingly complex, yet overwhelmed and over-stimulated on a daily basis. It can turn quickly and insidiously, without our realizing it, into problem-causing machinery. We are constantly blasted with images of unattainable lifestyles, creating daily identity crises as we search for meaning in a world of continuously shifting truths. Many of us are appalled by today’s uneven distribution of wealth and power. Others are well-supplied with both wealth and power, yet are disillusioned, not able to feel the happiness that such assets were supposed to provide. On every continent, in every culture, we see uncertainty, depression, anger, and resentment surfacing on a vast scale.

However, after spending thousands of years improving our control over the physical environment, we are about to receive new tools that will improve our control over the mental environment. These tools are a logical next step for helping conquer the stresses this arise from living in our highly connected, urbanized information society.

Building on advances in brain science, neurotechnology (the set of tools for understanding and influencing the human brain) will allow us to experience life in ways that was never attainable before.  Neurotechnology will enable people to consciously improve their emotional stability, enhance their cognitive clarity, and extend their most satisfying sensory experiences.

The Neuro Revolution will bring much more than fantastic new tools to enable individuals to experience a life less constrained by their evolutionarily-influenced brain chemistry. It will deliver the capacity to reshape the very fabric, the innermost essential workings, of every industry, organization, and political system.  Let me share with you a vision of what is to come.

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from Chapter Six: Do You See What I Hear?

Another artistic giant who came from Russia, the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, was also a synesthete. Mind-stretching clues abound in his writing, including a character who compares the word “loyalty” to a golden fork lying in the sun, and another who hears “the distinct sound of real orange-hued mind music.” Nabokov’s synesthesia linked numbers with colors. He described these unusual sensations in his memoir, Speak, Memory. His wife, Vera, had the same type of synesthesia, but saw different colors. Their son, Dmitri, experienced numbers in a way that blended the colors that his parents perceived, a fact that underlines the genetically transferred nature of synesthesia.

In mid summer of 2007 I had the pleasure of walking the streets of Boston with Marcia Smilack, an artistic photographer with a doctorate in English Literature from Brown University. She experiences a multi-layered synesthesia, and the photos with which she records her unique perceptions have been widely exhibited. Smilack seems to have almost every possible form of synesthesia, except for the relatively common one in which colors are associated with numbers. When she looks at topographical maps she sees time. She visualizes concepts as shapes. A year, for example, is an oval.

(Before telling me this, she posed an interesting question: What shape did I think a year might possess? I reflected for a moment, then said an oval. Does this mean that I have a very mild form of synesthesia? Maybe. A neuroscientist would say that the importance is not actually the shape I picked, but the strength with which the connection between the concept and shape appeared in my mind, and whether the connection is reproducible.)

We happened to pass, as is typical on the streets of Boston – home of the Berkelee College of Music – musicians performing for tips on the sidewalk. The first encounter is with a jazz duo featuring a young woman who played the violin. I don’t know enough about music to criticize her playing; I can only say that I didn’t find it pleasing. Smilack, on the other hand, saw lines of color in the air, emanating from the woman and her instrument. The lines were jagged; making abrupt turns that didn’t seem consciously designed.

A few blocks later, we passed by a young woman playing her saxophone to the open air. I liked how she sounded. So did my companion, but she also saw curving lines looping around and around the saxophonist, visual expressions of the beautifully-realized design heard in the performance.

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from Chapter Ten: Our Emerging Neurosociety

If you think about it for a minute, and look from a certain angle, everything that humanity has ever done or invented has been aimed at gaining control of minds. Hunting strategies and technologies ease the fear of starvation. Distilled spirits lift our spirits, though short-term and with some gnarly risks. Religion, music, visual art, architectural design, athletic competitions, great cuisine are all among the ways we’ve sought to make ourselves feel either better protected, or better connected, or more in tune with our best thinking and deepest potentials.

One day, not far from now, we may experience lasting freedom from many of the limitations imposed on us by our brain processes, which haven’t changed much since the Paleolithic.

In the Paleolithic we were hunter-gatherers. Fire was one of our peak technologies, along with our first “composite tool,” patiently-fashioned spear tips of rock lashed with rawhide to wooden shafts. Population density then probably averaged about one person per square mile. But even though our world has gone through several revolutionary social, cultural, and technological changes since then, we’re using very much the same organ of reasoning now, in a world of 6.5 billion long-living and highly interconnected people.

It was no picnic for our ancestors to scratch for roots and berries, and to hunt and be hunted by their gigantic and deadly co-inhabitants of the Paleolithic, and to seek shelter in cold, damp caves. But 21st century living involves an almost ceaseless barrage of excessive strain, fear, and over-stimulation. It drives our minds excessively, makes them hurt like a perpetually clenched muscle that, metaphorically speaking, becomes stronger but also more prone to cramps and spasms. Our minds frequently become our own opponents, operating from within our defenses, generating new problems faster than they can find solutions to the old ones.

In our emerging neurosociety, which I expect to arrive in full over the next thirty years, you will eventually be able to continuously shape your emotional stability, sharpen your mental clarity, and extend your most desirable sensory states until they become your dominant experience of reality.

Cognitive liberty, brain privacy, the freedom to think and feel what you want without government or corporate intrusion – these will be the civil rights battles in our emerging neurosociety. People are already considering these questions, and framing the topics for public debate. They are called neuroethicists. Leaders in this field work at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University to understand and clarify the emerging ethical issues. For example: Will governments have the right to subject criminal suspects to brain scans before they are proven guilty?  Could a judge mandate a mind altering ‘treatment’ instead a prison sentence? Will neurotechnology be used to control thoughts and actions which are generally deemed undesirable?

Here is what I believe to be the overarching question: Does a citizen’s right to privacy include their inner domain of thought? Depending on how we answer questions like these, the emerging technologies may be used to control us and keep us in forms of cultural or economic bondage. Or, instead, they may be used to enrich our lives through enhancements that tap into and expand some now-dormant positive potential that we all have. It will be a dystopia, a utopia, or some blend of the two, kept in flux by the sense that something even better is still possible.
Like previous waves of societal change, the Neuro Revolution is being driven by the development of new low-cost technologies, specifically biochips which uncover the inner workings of cells and brain imaging. The convergence of these two innovations is now making clear to us how the brain works – from both the inside, molecular level and on the system-wide, whole brain scale. We are already seeing a transformation in disease diagnosis and therapeutic development.

In recent years, the decreasing cost of biochips has made it possible to discover a large number of neurotransmitters, receptors, ion channels and other proteins critical for normal brain function. At the same time, higher-resolution brain imaging technologies have made it easier to understand the what, when and where of the electrical and chemical events that occur in our brains and form our thoughts and behaviors.

As the convergence of these technologies accelerates, the diverse and specific manifestations of neurotechnology will bloom, just as personal computing and the Internet gradually blossomed from the microchip.

The 1990s were earmarked as “The Decade of the Brain,” but thanks to recent neurotech developments we have actually learned more about the brain in the past ten years than over the previous fifty.

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JONATHON MORENO, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress      A remarkably accessible and engaging guide to the neurosociety to come.

VINT CERF, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google Inc.     Lynch’s points are not only rational but of urgent importance. Avoid reading this book at your peril.

PATRICK J. McGOVERN, Founder and Chairman, International Data Group      We’re on the threshold of understanding how the human brain works. The Neuro Revolution insightfully forecasts the enormous consequences of these breakthroughs.

Dr. JAMES CANTON, CEO and Chairman, Institute for Global Futures      If you want to know what the next big thing is and how it will transform your life, work, and world, read this book.

JANE PAULEY, former co-host of Dateline and Today Show       An exciting and often unsettling tour of the frontier of neuroscience. Brace for impact: the future is much closer than you think.

AMAZON REVIEWS Definitely a great eye-opening, mind-blowing book. Although I tend to shy away from technology and especially neurotechnology, I found this book extraordinary. Lynch introduces the frontier of neuroscience and neurotechnology in an easily digestible and exciting way, offering an inside glimpse into the future. A must read!