MSM BOOK REVIEW
Year : 2016 | Volume
: 14 | Issue : 1 | Page : 214--220
The Future of the Mind (The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind)
Research Associate, Department of Psychiatry, Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Research Associate, Department of Psychiatry, Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College, Mumbai, Maharashtra
|How to cite this article:|
Desousa A. The Future of the Mind (The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind).Mens Sana Monogr 2016;14:214-220
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Desousa A. The Future of the Mind (The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind). Mens Sana Monogr [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Feb 19 ];14:214-220
Available from: http://www.msmonographs.org/text.asp?2016/14/1/214/193081
Author: Michio Kaku;Allen Lane, 2014;1st edition; Hardback; 377 pp.ISBN: 978-1-846-14767-8
Study of the mind and consciousness is interestingly poised. Study of consciousness is no longer restricted to neurosciences and the brain. Branches of other sciences such as physics, evolution, and philosophy are showing a keen interest in amalgamating data across sciences and moving toward positing a unified theory that can explain the enigma of consciousness from a holistic perspective. Although the search for such a theory remains elusive, there have been significant steps in that direction. The book by Michio Kaku is one more such step. Although a professor of physics and a cofounder of the string field theory, he shows a keen interest in the workings of the mind. The book takes a physicist's view of the mind and the future of the human mind as he sees it, and probably as we will see it in the years to come.
The Present Book
The present book is written for the common man and scientists alike. It takes a panoramic look at the mind giving us a guided tour of the work of top laboratories around the world with excerpts from scientists who are already revolutionizing the way we think about the human brain and about ourselves. Various breakthroughs in reading and decoding the human mind are discussed along with directions of research that the future will give us.
The book is divided into three “books” – the first dealing with the mind and consciousness that introduces novice readers to these concepts and the various terms, as well as discussing a model of consciousness hypothesized by Kaku himself. The second deals with mind over matter. This section looks at various technological advances neuroscience has made and how one can read thoughts, create memories, help paralyzed people to perform movements, and enhance our cognition and intelligence. The third deals with altered states of consciousness and explores areas such as dreams, artificial intelligence, mind control, and altered states including silicon and robotic consciousness and the future of the mind.
Book I – The Mind and Consciousness
Chapter 1 titled “Unlocking the Mind” deals with neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the brain. The book which is intended for lay readers gives a very simple account of the rather complex anatomy and structures that make up the brain along with the role that physicists and the science of electromagnetism have done to provide imaging techniques to neuroscientists worldwide. It discusses already available neuroimaging modalities and looks at the future discussing imaging techniques such as near infrared spectroscopy, optogenetics, and magnetoencephalography. It also explains the phenomena of the split brain and has a detailed look of a model where the brain is presented like as corporation with the prefrontal cortex as the CEO and all other employees being various structures of the brain at different levels.
Chapter 2 titled “Consciousness – A Physicist's Viewpoint” explains consciousness from the author's perspective using a time space model of physics. The author discusses different levels of consciousness from lower organisms to humans. Humans differs from all other species on this planet as they can assimilate events that have happened in the past and present, and thereby simulate, think, and plan for the future. Animals do not have this ability. Based on this capacity for time and space, there are three levels of consciousness where level 1 involves the prefrontal cortex-thalamus-brainstem circuit seen in reptiles, level 2 involves the prefrontal cortex-hippocampus-amygdala seen in animals lower to human beings, and level 3 consciousness seen in human beings due to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that can plan ahead and the orbitofrontal cortex that can help make judgments. The chapter also looks at self-awareness and posits the medial prefrontal cortex as the 'I' center or self-awareness area in the brain.
Book II – Mind Over Matter
Chapter 3 titled “Telepathy – A Penny for Your Thoughts” explains the phenomenon of telepathy and telepathic awareness in great detail. It tries to see if there is a scientific explanation for the same where no satisfactory theory exists at present. It takes a tour of neuroscience laboratories where using images and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner one can make videos of the brain, and by reading fMRI scans, one can get a near clear idea of what another human being is thinking. It also explains how telepathy in the future may be possible through nanoprobes and ponders on the legal and ethical aspects of the research and availability of such techniques in the future.
Chapter 4 titled “Telekinesis – Mind Controlling Matter” is devoted to understanding how neurotechnology helps people with spinal cord injuries, paralysis, quadriplegia, and locked-in syndrome recover and perform tasks though they cannot move limbs. The concept of science fictional avatars and surrogates are discussed along with exoskeletons that help paralyzed people direct and perform actions. The concepts of programmable matter and such programmes helping paralytics recover are debated and ethical issues in using machines to control and help paralyzed patients are discussed.
Chapter 5 is named “Memories and Thoughts Made to Order.” This chapter starts with a brief simple description of memory circuits in the brain. It also tries to explain how memories are created and reassembled in the brain. The creation of an artificial hippocampus in some laboratories in the world is described along with future chances that we may be able to generate an artificial cortex or cerebellum, though not as complex as the human brain. The role of vision and the intertwining between memory and vision are discussed. The role of Alzheimer's disease and the loss of neurons along with the generation of memory pills in the future are also discussed. The role of a pill that may help to forget and benefit patients with posttraumatic stress disorder is discussed, along with how we may be able to store memories and thus create memory libraries or soul libraries that our relatives may access even after we are dead. The bioethical dilemmas of such research are also debated.
Chapter 6 is named “Einstein's Brain and Enhancing Our Intelligence.” The enigma of Albert Einstein's brain, and how it differed from that of the normal population, is discussed, along with questions whether his brain really was responsible for his genius or whether his genius was a spark of luck due to the time and space he was in. The concept of genius and how we can cultivate it is detailed along with brain's contribution to the development of genius. The genius seen in Asperger's syndrome and Savants is also discussed along with the latest conceptualization of IQ and intelligence. The role of stem cells and brain engineering in harnessing intelligence is also a part of the chapter.
Book III – Altered Consciousness
Chapter 7 is named “In Your Dreams.” This chapter is devoted to the nature of dreams and the study of dreams using brain scans and imaging. The photographing of dreams is also discussed and whether we can store dreams and revisit them later. The types of dreams and dream genesis are discussed too, with a note on the phenomenon of lucid dreaming.
Chapter 8 is called ” Can the Mind be Controlled?” The chapter reflects on the Central Intelligence Agency and their experiments during the cold war and how mind control was exerted. The experiments of mind control are elaborated and issues such as using drugs, medication, and hypnosis to control another person are discussed. The role of a new technique called optogenetics to control and manipulate a brain is also debated.
Chapter 9 is called ” Altered States of Consciousness.” It deals with the role of hyper-religiosity and its role in studying states of altered consciousness. It also looks at the role of neuroimaging in religion and spirituality and how one can elicit a God spot by neuroimaging. Certain studies done in this regard are discussed. The concept of mental illness as a state of altered consciousness as per the time space model of consciousness discussed earlier is posited, and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and hallucinations are discussed under this percept. The role of genetics in mental illness is mentioned in a cursory manner along with future theories that may be used to describe mental illness.
Chapter 10 titled “The Artificial Mind and Silicon Consciousness” is devoted to robotics and robotic engineering. The interface of human and robotic consciousness is touched upon along with various facets of robot-human interaction. The role of consciousness in machines and robots is debated with the premise whether robots could ever be made like humans. Robots that can have memory and emotions are discussed, along with how far robots could go to copy a human and issues like a robotic-human interface world of the future.
Chapter 11 called “Reverse Engineering the Brain,” looks at whether we can create an artificial brain and whether principles of physics could be used to govern and make our brains stronger. It is also debated whether this engineering would help us develop the brains we want rather than the inadequate selves we actually are.
Chapters 12 and 13 are “Mind beyond Matter” and “The Mind as Pure Energy.” This is a futuristic look at the role of neurotechnology and how medical science is progressing to reduce aging and move toward immortality. The importance of studying “near death experiences” and “out of body” experiences along with nanotechnology for the future is discussed. The mind is also looked at from a pure physics point of view as an energy body and its working from that perspective is discussed. These two chapters are rather vague and speculative and may bore the reader who has been spellbound by the book so far.
The final chapter of the book is called “The Alien Brain.” This is more of science fiction rather than science. It is a look at the science of aliens along with brains and civilizations other than ours existing in the universe and its possible multiples. It is not comfortable reading for someone uninterested in this, being more science fictional fantasy rather than a confirmable/refutable hypothesis.
The book also has an appendix on quantum consciousness that looks at consciousness using the theories of quantum physics and how they explain consciousness. Readers well versed with quantum physics will be delighted with this as it is a holistic view of modern and old quantum theory and its role in describing the mystery of consciousness.
Certain Other Critical Comments
The book is very well written though it can get cumbersome for a continuous read. It will need the reflection and imagination of the reader to understand the ideas put forward. The book is pure neuroscience or pure physics and one needs to have an interest in both to like the book. One must remember it is a book aimed at neuroscience written by a theoretical physicist who tends to be partial to his science and often moves tangentially on to physics when the reader is just getting even with the nuances of the human brain. It is a book recommended to anyone who wants to know where neuroscience and physics are progressing, as well as for researchers aiming to amalgamate the two sciences. The book is not meant for scientists who may find the material rather elementary. Readers be warned that though overall interesting and amazing, the books have sections and chapters that may be boring or mundane and one may want to skip them.
Who Should Read it
Recommended to everyone with an interest in neuroscience and very important to psychiatry and neurology resident doctors, as well as neuroscience researchers, who can use the book as a stepping stone to develop hypothesis and research ideas for the next decade. Consciousness researchers can also derive value from the book in positing some new facets to already existing hypotheses in the generation of consciousness.
[Ratings:*Poor; **Fair; ***Good; ****Very Good; *****Excellent]
Conflict of interest
This is my original unpublished work and has not been submitted for publication elsewhere.