Boot camp for the brain

Scientific American has an article on military research programmes that are attempting to optimise the brain for the next generation ‘warfighter’ – the US army’s jargon for the modern solider.

The article is by Dr Jonathan Moreno and is largely made up of excerpts from his new book Mind Wars (ISBN 1932594167) which we featured previously on Mind Hacks.

The SciAm article covers some of the technologies that might reduce the need for sleep, improve mental performance, and get rid of those pesky emotional reactions that crop up when faced with imminent slaughter.

If DNA testing for a fear gene is both scientifically and ethically dicey, what about setting out to create people who lack that characteristic? Would breeding humans without stathmin or other genes associated with fear reactions engender more courageous fighters? Would parents sign on for such meddling if they harbored ambitions for a child capable of a glorious military career or just didn’t want to give birth to a “sissy”? One problem, however, is that fear or its functional equivalent is one of those ancient properties exhibited by just about every animal. It surely has tremendous survival value. Removing it would be deeply counterevolutionary and would almost certainly generate numerous unintended and undesirable consequences for the individual, let alone thrust humans headlong into a fierce debate about whether enhancing ourselves has gone too far.

Proponents of such artificial enhancements argue that the changes may not be artificial at all. Is there even a valid distinction, they ask, between artificial and “natural” enhancements such as exercise and discipline? Aren’t we just trying to gain whatever advantages we can, as we have always tried to do, or are these techniques cheating nature? Can we manage the consequences, or are the risks for the individual and for humanity too great?

Link to SciAm article ‘Juicing the Brain’.

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