How well do you know your own brain? Can you tell the difference between your occipital lobe and your hippocampus? Many scientists have studied the human brain, but have little understanding of the total functions involved with it, and why this part does that. There are lots of theories, but little is solidified. We’re not even sure where or why the human consciousness exists: whether it exists in only one portion of the mind, or in its total performance of its functions.
It is for this reason that President Obama announced an upcoming brain mapping initiative, a huge financial incentive designed to help both the medical and economic communities in their understanding of one of the key organs. Fox News reports:
Called the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the program is to be funded with $100 million from President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget. The White House is slated to release Obama’s budget next week.
“The BRAIN Initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought,” the White House said in a statement.
“These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.”
This move is exciting from a scientific perspective, for this project could open doors similar to what the Human Genome Project did. But of course, there are a few reservations we should have.
Why is the government doing this?
Many people may wonder “Why is the government doing this?” This doesn’t affect our national security or defense. So, why should we encourage the government to do big research projects like this? Writer James Warren notes that:
[One shouldn't] doubt why such lofty goals must reside in government’s orbit. The upsides are breathtakingly huge, but the uncertainty and financial risks are too large for companies fixated on quarterly profits… The potential upsides of these endeavors are huge. The Genome Project’s estimated economic benefits so far are $800 billion. Imagine if we can really understand the brain’s failures.
The government can provide a framework which focuses on larger knowledge development over competitive scientific development, which may cause more harm than you’d think.
Materializing the human soul
Will this study determine the location of the human soul, and eventually help us understand humanity as “just the atoms” that they are? Will it reveal the soul to not exist?
While I can’t promise that the research won’t be used towards that purpose, the original intent is to help with issues of mental illness. As Larry Swanson, the president of the Society for Neuroscience said:
Today’s announcement and first investment will enable the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies to develop initial tools and conduct further planning that will help accelerate fundamental discoveries and improve the health and quality of life for more than one billion people worldwide estimated to be suffering from the more than 1,000 brain diseases and disorders.
See? No evil intentions to destroy the soul.
In understanding our brain more, we’ll be able to make computers with computing abilities similar to human minds. But in doing that, we’ll also be moving closer to what futurist and transhumanist Ray Kurzweil has called as “The Singularity,” an occurrence where technology develops a “Superintelligence” and surpasses human capabilities. A computer that resembles the human brain, in theory, could create a new mind, a mind which could take over the world or surpass its human beings (think Skynet from the Terminator movies).
We don’t have to worry about this. Any basic explanation of the Singularity is based on a naturalistic mindset in which the human mind is based only on matter, and no metaphysical/supernatural property exists within it. It also assumes intelligence and rationale (elements that theologians have categorized as being derived from man’s Imago Dei-like nature). This naturalistic mindset is not only inaccurate, but unhelpful. Many ID advocates have noted that the consciousness cannot be accounted for by way of just a physical brain. Even atheists like Thomas Nagel recognize the impossibility of a consciousness’ existence coming from a physical structure.
So, in other words, Skynet can’t take over because Skynet doesn’t have a truly rational soul.
The BRAIN Initiative is an important endeavor, and will be a valuable use of American dollars. It will provide medical data that will help millions in their fights for life, and will also help us understand how we are biologically designed, and how to better treat ourselves. I’m proud that men like Francis Collins and Larry Swanson are behind this project. From here, the only place we can go in our understanding is up.