Archive for May, 2014
A review of The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand Enhance, and Empower the Mind
*This post by Katie Strong was initially featured on The Neuroethics Blog.
Katie Strong is a 4th year chemistry graduate student working in Dr. Dennis Liotta’s laboratory at Emory University. Prior to graduate school, Katie received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Mary Washington, where she worked towards the development of polyethylene glycol guanidinylation reagents for protecting alkylguanidines. Katie’s graduate school research has focused on the development and synthesis of N-methyl-ᴅ-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunit selective potentiators to be used as therapeutic probes for the study of schizophrenia and cognitive enhancement. Katie is also an Editorial Intern at the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience (AJOB Neuroscience), along with a supporting editor and regular contributor to The Neuroethics Blog, the official blog of AJOB Neuroscience.
The Future of the Mind, authored by physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, explores how neuroscience might inform questions that philosophers have been debating for centuries: Do we have a soul? What happens after we die? Do we even have to die? And what would it take to produce a robot with human consciousness or emotions? To explore these questions, Dr. Kaku interviewed hundreds of scientists who are actively conducting ground breaking work in labs around the world, and from these conversations he made predictions on how these scientific findings would shape our future. The work that Dr. Kaku discusses, such as the latest advances in brain-computer-interfaces (BCI) for the disabled,1 recording dream images with MRI machines,2 or implanting memories in mice,3,4 makes for a fascinating and engrossing read from start to finish. The Future of the Mind is at its best when taking readers through these areas of research and explaining the long-term significance, however many of the neurophilosophical questions posed are largely left to the readers’ imaginations for resolution.
The Future of the Mind is divided into three parts or books, and each book delves more and more into the technology of the future and the type of society that will exist decades and centuries from now. Book I sets the stage for how important physics is for neuroscience; the revolutionary technologies such as MRI, PET, and DBS have used basic physics knowledge, as Dr. Kaku notes, to promote the explosion of advances in the field of neuroscience. The state of these technologies in current research is introduced, along with how to conceptualize consciousness, and in Book II, he discusses how these technologies will enable us to conduct acts similar to telepathy and telekinesis, manipulate thoughts and memories, and enhance intelligence. Book III revisits the idea of consciousness and explores the possibilities related to mind-altering technologies, and suggests we reframe our understanding of consciousness beyond a single type of consciousness (i.e., dreaming, drug-induced states, and mental illnesses). He also suggests that the future understandings of consciousness may move beyond humans to include robots and aliens. Book III also explores ideas straight out of science fiction such as that one day our physical bodies will be too cumbersome for travel to other galaxies through deep space, so we’ll simply leave them behind.
By Jalayne J. Arias, JD, MA
Jalayne J. Arias is the Associate Director of the NeuroEthics Program and Assistant Professional Staff in the Department of Bioethics at the Cleveland Clinic. Ms. Arias’ work incorporates empirical and conceptual projects addressing critical legal and ethical issues inherent in diagnosing, treating, and researching Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Most recently, she served as the principal investigator for the study Stakeholders’ Perspectives on Preclinical Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: Patients, Families and Care Givers. Her recent publication, Confidentiality in preclinical Alzheimer disease studies (Neurology), addresses confidentiality concerns relevant to biomarker testing in Alzheimer’s.
In 2007, Dr. Dubois and co-authors introduced the concept of prodromal Alzheimer’s disease in their Lancet article revising diagnostic criteria. In 2011, the National Institutes of Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association supported a series of papers introducing a new paradigm for diagnostic criteria, including Mild Cognitive Impairment and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Both papers and new definitions of Alzheimer’s disease incorporate the discovery of Amyloid beta, a biomarker that purports to indicate disease pathology. The concept of using biomarkers, which are detectible years before a patient begins experiencing symptoms, offers the potential for offering preclinical testing in the clinical context. Yet, as researchers continue to validate biomarkers, little is known about how preclinical test results may affect patients and their families.