10 March 2011

Shining a Light On A Truly Brave, New World

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. _JuliusCaesar (IV.ii.269–276)

Sometimes the difference between success and disaster hinges upon a small decision. But making hard decisions requires courage -- or does it? Perhaps the requirement for making tough decisions is the ability to overcome the anxiety and fear that decision-making often entails? And the key to overcoming anxiety and fear may be as close as the nearest light source.
"I've never seen anything like it," says Kay Tye, a postdoctoral researcher in Deisseroth's lab and lead author on the study. Mice are naturally fearful of exploring open areas, she explains. Under normal circumstances, the animal "will poke its nose out and then scurry into a corner," says Tye. "But when you turn on the light, the animal begins exploring the platform with no visible signs of anxiety. Then you turn the light off, and it scurries back in to the corner."

...The researchers engineered mice to express light-sensitive proteins in specific cells in the amygdala that send out neural wires, known as axons, to different substructures. Using a specially designed fiber-optic cable implanted in the animal's brain, researchers found that aiming the light to activate one specific circuit had an immediate and potent effect on the animal's behavior.

..."Our understanding of the more precise circuitry within the amygdala is just now beginning to take off," says Kerry Ressler, a neuroscientist at Emory University who was not involved in the study. "Optogenetics, where scientist can activate specific cell populations and even parts of cells, is a powerful approach to dissect how the amygdala modulates fear and anxiety."

Ki Ann Goosens, a neuroscientist at MIT who was not involved in the study, says the research could help explain individual variation in baseline anxiety levels. "The findings tell us that this circuit contributes to an individual set point for anxiety," she says. _TechnologyReview
Tiny brain circuits can make all the difference in a person's life. A society comprising fearful, anxious, security - fixated persons, will have a far different destiny than a society made up of of imaginative, thoughtful, and courageous persons.

Perhaps it is no accident that most western societies find themselves clinging to present security at the expense of their own futures. That is the way of a cringing and shrinking death at one's own cowardly hands.

Besides a mastery of fear and anxiety, persons will also require wisdom and logical thinking skills, if they wish to catch the tide at its flood, sailing on to fortune. Logic must have both courage and wisdom, or it will be left either paralysed, or will find itself a force of wasted -- or even destructive -- effort.

Research can only reveal tiny, disconnected pieces of the current conundrum. But an integrated solution requires a wider-ranging mind than one finds in most lab rats, dependent on government funding and constraints of all kinds. Rather than huddling together in institutions and special-interest lobbies and unions, people of the next level will require courage, wisdom, logic -- and competence.

One must not only know what needs to be done when, and have the courage to do it, but also know how to do it properly and effectively.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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