The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience

The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience

The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience

The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience

Synopsis

Brain repair, smart pills, mind-reading machines--modern neuroscience promises to soon deliver a remarkable array of wonders as well as profound insight into the nature of the brain. But these exciting new breakthroughs, warns Steven Rose, will also raise troubling questions about what it means to be human.
InThe Future of the Brain, Rose explores just how far neuroscience may help us understand the human brain--including consciousness--and to what extent cutting edge technologies should have the power to mend or manipulate the mind. Rose first offers a panoramic look at what we now know about the brain, from its three-billion-year evolution, to its astonishingly rapid development in the embryo, to the miraculous process of infant development (how a brain becomes a human). More important, he shows what all this science can--and cannot--tell us about the human condition. He examines questions that still baffle scientists: if our genes are 99% identical to those of chimpanzees, if our brains are composed of identical molecules, arranged in pretty similar cellular patterns, how come we are so different? And he explores the potential threats and promises of new technologies and their ethical, legal, and social implications, wondering how far we should go in eliminating unwanted behavior or enhancing desired characteristics, focusing on the new "brain steroids" and on the use of Ritalin to control young children.
The Future of the Brainis a remarkable look at what the brain sciences are telling us about who we are and where we came from--and where we may be headed in the years ahead.

Excerpt

'BETTER BRAINS' SHOUTED THE FRONT COVER OF A SPECIAL EDITION OF Scientific American in 2003, and the titles of the articles inside formed a dream prospectus for the future: 'Ultimate self-improvement'; 'New hope for brain repair'; 'The quest for a smart pill'; 'Mind-reading machines'; 'Brain stimulators'; 'Genes of the psyche'; 'Taming stress'. These, it seems, are the promises offered by the new brain sciences, bidding strongly to overtake genetics as the Next Big Scientific Thing. The phrases trip lightly off the tongue, or shout to us from lurid book covers. There is to be a 'post-human future' in which 'tomorrow's people' will be what another author describes as 'neurochemical selves'. But just what is being sold here? How might these promissory notes be cashed? Is a golden 'neurocentric age' of human happiness 'beyond therapy' about to dawn? So many past scientific promises – from clean nuclear power to genetic engineering – have turned out to be so perilously close to snake oil that one is entitled to be just a little sceptical. And if these slogans do become practical technologies, what then? What becomes of our self-conception as humans with agency, with the freedom to shape our own lives? What new powers might accrue to the state, to the military, to the pharmaceutical industry, yet further to intervene in, to control our lives?

I am a neuroscientist. That is, I study how the brain works. I do this because, like every other neuroscientist, I believe that learning 'how brains work' in terms of the properties of its molecules, cells and systems . . .

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