We were surprised and thrilled, as so many were, to find out from the Wall St Journal that the “Golden Age of Neuroscience Has Arrived” (Michio Kaku, 8/20/14). We hadn’t even received an email alert. Apparently, we are now able to “mentally control appliances, surf the Web..control a distant robot or avatar, and even drive a car.” That is welcome news for NIR, because we have had a very difficult time controlling our avatars manually, let alone operate our Miele dishwasher beyond the one cycle that we understand (‘Turbo’). Kaku went on to say that “one short-term research goal is to create a “brain pacemaker” for Alzheimer’s patients. By pushing a button, a person might be able to remember where they live…” That’s the shortterm goal. And the longterm objectives? For one, Kaku suggests that “the Internet might be replaced by a Brain-Net, in which emotions, sensations, memories, and thoughts are sent over the Internet….. Instead of using clumsy symbols like :), teenagers would go crazy sending all their adolescent emotions and feeling on a mentalized version of Facebook.” Besides the inevitable bandwidth issues, Kaku overlooks the fact that it is the necessity of using symbols, and occasionally language, that provides teenagers with a paper-thin buffer between their impulses and actions, allowing them to mimic the mediating effect of a not-yet-fully-connected frontal lobe. The spectre of an unfettered flood of adolescent angst and lust permeating the communal ‘Brain-Net’…that’s not a Golden Age, it’s Dante 9.0, a new Circle of Hell. And Kaku’s forecast of a “day when we might wake up and watch a video of the dream we had the previous night” is unappetizing: CNS Summit. Keynote address. No pants. Again.
But we are not going to dwell on these less photogenic images of the new Neuro World. After all, Kaku is a professor of theoretical physics, a discipline whose panoply of invisible and incomprehensible subparticles makes the DSM-5 seem evidence-based by comparison. He may have misread a few quarky details here and there. We prefer to focus on his inspirational closing thoughts, one of which was this: “the promise of this new revolution in neuroscience is profound, holding out the ability to someday alleviate suffering and enhance our true mental potential.” Finally. The Golden Age is here. Somebody call GSK and Bristol Myers Squibb. Our avatars say that it’s time to turn the CNS lab lights back on.