Thursday, April 29, 2010

What the future holds for neuroscience...

Wired magazine asked a handful of neuroscientists:
"What will transform our understanding of the brain in the next decade?"

Among the answers:
-the death of mind/body dualism, that is, the idea that the mind is something completely separate from the body.  We already have a lot of convincing evidence that the brain is the physical substrate that provides us with all the aspects of what we call the "mind", but, of course, this idea is still widely debated, and given the fact that most people equate (certain aspects of) the mind with the soul, I don't think mind body dualism is going to be eradicated any time soon.  I mean, we're over 150 years in with evolution, and almost half of the (adult) population of the United States still rejects it.

-lots of techniques have been developed recently that will allow us to peer deeper and in more detail at the workings of the brain.  tools like: optogenetics, which allow us to activate small groups of cells (or even individual cells) and record their responses, and see them inside of a living brain all at the same time (using lasers! how cool is that?).  tools like: advanced neural imaging, whether it be multiphoton or MRIs, and magnetic stimulation and inhibition which allow us to turn on and off different parts of the brain in real live people and then see how they behave or how their abilities to think or solve problems may be affected.  The bottom line is, we have only had limited access to the brains of people who are alive, awake, and behaving (and able to talk about what they are thinking or feeling).  In the past there were really only a few ways for us to do this: fMRI (with limited resolution that is now getting much better), surgeries like those conducted by Wilder Penfield while trying to treat epileptics, and electrode arrays in epileptic patients that are really just the next evolution of Penfield's crude experiments.  Now, we have several new ways of looking a living human brains and this will undoubtedly push our understanding of the brain well beyond where it has been up until now.

Though, a decade is such a small amount of time in the world of science... I can't wait to see what the next 50 (or 100) years brings.

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