Photo illustration: Bryan Christie Design
Cutting-edge neuroscience has escaped from the lab and is suddenly showing up everywhere, changing the way we practice law, go shopping—even, possibly, fall in love.
It's been only a decade or so since the world got hardwired, "Google" became a verb, and texting turned into a lifestyle. But if you're still struggling to thumb a message, brace yourself: A whole new revolution in neuroscience is about to shake up our world.
"Just as information technology has affected everything from the way we do business to human communication," says Zack Lynch, executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization, "it will be the science of the brain that drives the fundamental changes of the future." You can already see it starting to happen, and it may affect the way we spend our money, choose our mates, and punish criminals. It could even change our concepts of guilt and innocence.
Five other predictions on how brain science may change the way we live:
We will see cures or vaccines for diseases of the aging brain, says Judy Illes, PhD, professor of neurology and Canada research chair in neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. In fact, better insight into brain function in general will lead to interventions for many diseases and an overall longer life expectancy.
Current technologies (such as video games) will merge with future ones (such as those involving neural feedback), so gamers might wear EEG-type caps that read their brainwaves and pick up their emotions. Conceivably, story lines would move forward in real time, the plot changing based on each person's responses, says Zack Lynch, managing director of NeuroInsights, a market research and investment advisory firm.
The more we understand the neurobiology of learning—how the mind develops, what to make of differences between individual brains—the better we can "sculpt" teaching methods. Lynch predicts that educational software will be tailored to students' individual brain patterns to improve math and language acquisition as well as creative thinking.
Drugs and devices that stimulate the brain to augment our performance and mobility (so that we can run farther and faster, for example) will someday help everyone from Olympians to paraplegics, according to Illes.
New tools such as real-time fMRI technology, Lynch says, promise to accelerate our capacity to access deeply meditative and spiritual states.
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