29 November 2011

Why Is it Important to Understand the Brain?

The human brain contains 100 billion (10^11) neurons, which combine to form almost 1 quadrillion (10^15) electro-chemical connections. Neurons are also affected by chemical signals that come via the blood, interstitial tissues, and glial cells. If we had to understand all the activity in the brain in order to understand the brain itself, we would be lost.

Fortunately, the brain organises itself in specific ways which simplify the task of discovering how the brain works.
2007 M. Raichle PNAS

The image above reveals particular nodes which participate in important brain networks. It is important that these nodes are able to communicate with other nodes participating in specific networks. Loss of nodes -- or the communication links between them -- can have devastating effects on normal brain function.
2011 van den Heuvel et Sporns Jnl Neurosci
The image above reveals the complexity of an average "connectome" which intervenes between the brain nodes participating in the 12 most important brain networks -- as measured by numbers of connections and activity levels. These networks begin to develop sometime between the 20th and 36th weeks of pregnancy.

Teasing out these connections, and following their activity in real time, is quite difficult work. But it is nothing when compared to the effort involved if one tried to follow the activity of 100 billion neurons simultaneously.

We can understand what happens in a normal human brain when the interconnections are disrupted, by looking at the brain under general anaesthesia.
Steven Laureys, who leads the Coma Science Group at the University of Liège in Wallonia, Belgium, looked at what happens during propofol anaesthesia when patients descend from wakefulness, through mild sedation, to the point at which they fail to respond to commands. He found that while small "islands" of the cortex lit up in response to external stimuli when people were unconscious, there was no spread of activity to other areas, as there was during wakefulness or mild sedation (Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, vol 4, p 160). _NewScientist
So it is not only the ability of the brain nodes to function that counts, it is also vital that the nodes be able to communicate with each other. Depending upon which nodes or interconnections are disrupted, different types of alteration in normal brain function will take place.

This idea is crucial to understanding future modes of mass manipulation which will inevitably be utilised in the near future, by a wide range of groups with special and vested interest in the control of human populations. We know that it is possible to either inhibit or enhance the function of specific brain nodes using transcranial magnetic stimulatin (TMS) or transcranial DC stimulation. Understanding how the (temporary) loss of one specific node influences the function of the brain as a whole will give brain manipulators a wide range of approaches toward altering behaviour.

But there are far more powerful possibilities for influencing brain behaviour coming our way:
One scenario he imagines would make use of biological proteins manufactured with information-processing technology to deliver effects that could be triggered by electromagnetic stimulation. He imagined that they could be used in a club environment where the DJ would release nanoparticles that the audience could ingest. These could then be used to trigger the desired state at a particular point during his or her set using an electrical stimulus (from a headset) into the crowd's brains. _Wired
There is the idea of the nano-bio-info-cogno convergence, which opens the doors to mass manipulation of consciousness never possible before now.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and a formidable-sounding government subcommittee called the National Science and Technology Council on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology have published a number of reports exploring the convergence of the NBIC technologies as the result of a series of conferences between 2001 and 2006. The chief application areas they’ve identified include:

• Expanding human cognition and communication,
• Improving human health and physical capabilities,
• Enhancing group and societal outcomes,
• Strengthening national security, and
• Unifying science and education.

The convergence, these reports suggest, will be based on the “unity of nature at the nanoscale” along with technology integration at the nanoscale, key transforming tools, and the pursuit of improvements in human performance. “A revolution is occurring in science and technology, based on the recently developed ability to measure, manipulate and organize matter on the nanoscale — 1 to 100 billionths of a meter,” writes William Sims Bainbridge, co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the NSF and co-editor with Mihail Roco of several NSF publications on NBIC. “At the nanoscale, physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, and engineering converge toward the same principles and tools. As a result, progress in nanoscience will have very far-reaching impact.” _H+Mag
Of course, when you read recommendations for "expanding human this," ... "improving human that," ... "enhancing human such," ... and so on, remember that when it is being done to you by powerful groups with vested interests, the more accurate word is "altering human this, that, and such." Presumably, the altering being done is to meet certain goals which you yourself did not necessarily formulate or put forth.

Powerful new tools of chemical synthesis, simultaneous brain imaging and manipulation, nano-drug delivery systems, and better cognitive understandings of how the brain works, all allow for powerfully convergent forms of manipulation which can only grow more powerful and specific over time.

Remember, though, that at the same time as the tools for group mind manipulation grow more powerful, the tools for self-understanding and self-control are also growing more powerful.

While legitimate uses for mind control may be set forth in national and international law -- to control episodes of deadly riots and insurrection, for example -- there is always the question of who is to watch the watchers? Even in the most benign and benevolent government, the human temptation to gain an advantage is always present. Wise governments are set up to make it very difficult for individuals and small groups of conspirators to gain control.

But have you seen any wise governments lately? Probably not. Which leaves protecting oneself from the coming tsunami of powerful group manipulation tools up to concerned individuals and groups who will probably not be government affiliated or supported.

We will return to this topic -- and ways to protect oneself in the face of these technological advances -- in the future.

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