Neuroscience and innovation will guide our next 50 years.

Neuroscience is today what nutrition was 50 years ago. Back then, the general population began to adopt technical concepts restricted to the medical community such as saturated fatHDL (the good cholesterol) and triglycerides. Our general knowledge has evolved, and we take for granted information, such as minerals (zinc) and micronutrients (Vitamin B6) as part of our lives. Nevertheless, we understand how each these elements interact and influence our health.

In the same way, neuroscience and innovation will radically change the way you see yourself. From hormones to behaviour and emotions, the brain controls everything.

What is neuroscience?

Neuroscience is the study of the structure and function of the nervous system. It is a branch of biology that combines anatomy, psychology, physiology, mathematics, cell biology and computational modelling [1].  

In essence, it is the science of the brain.

The impact on you and on society

Neuroscience enables us to understand our emotions, motivations, decisions, addictions, memories, stress, learning, immune system, sex hormones, reward system, attention, obsessions and many other mechanisms influencing our health and behaviour. Here are some examples:

1- The individual & personality. The first case I have learned about the brain and its influence on behaviour and emotions involves a railroad construction worker called Phineas Gage, who survived a horrible accident. He had a metal bar through his head, which obviously destroyed part of his brain (mostly in the frontal lobe).

Before the accident, Gage was known for his personal and social responsibility, always with good judgement and strong character. However, after the accident, Gage showed no concern about his future or any respect for social norms; his personality had changed considerably. Interestingly, despite the shift in personality, several cognitive skills were intact, such as intelligence, memory and attention. Gage’s example indicates that some parts of the brain are responsible for particular behaviours and functions. 

How do we apply Gage’s example to our reality? Reading about biological and social effects on the brain allows us to see why we feel alone or make strange decisions. Also, it enables us to control old habits and benefit from new ones. Likewise, we adapt to a particular diet seeking a healthier life. 

It is intriguing to learn about our behaviours and emotions, and I will talk a lot more about that in detail—watch this space! 

2- Social impact. Neuroscience can alleviate the lives of many people, including yours. 

Depression is a disabling mental illness; it characterises by sadness, anhedonia, fatigue and mild cognitive disorders [2]. In addition, depression profoundly interferes with a person’s life, impairing the ability to function at school during childhood and in society during adulthood and, its severest form can lead to suicide [3]. Moreover, people who suffer from depression often suffer from anxiety, as well. Read more about depression.

Globally, depression represents a public health challenge affecting over 300 million people, and by 2030 it will be the most significant cause of disability in the world [4]. By then, the economic impact of neurological and psychiatric disorders will reach £4.9 trillion ($6 trillion). This is more than the cost of cancer, diabetes and respiratory conditions combined [5]

3- Technology. Neuroscience and innovation are leading to scientific advancement. For instance, a neurotech start-up called Kernel develops mind, body and machine interface for clinical use. Their technology stimulates electrical impulses on the brain to control Alzheimer’s disease.

Similarly, Elon Musk, who is the owner of Tesla and Space X, runs a company called Neuralink. Their focus is to develop a high bandwidth brain-machine interface to connect humans and computers. In the same way, our smartphones are an extension of our memory, i.e. we do not need to remember every fact anymore, we can always google it. 

One of its implications lies in the educational system. For instance, will school and universities still be necessary as a formal path for education? Perhaps, we will prioritise the development of our emotions and behaviour. 

I hope I have got your attention. From individual differences in personality, going through mental illnesses to social impact, neuroscience is the next big thing in our lives.

What next?

In the next couple of weeks, I will explain about emotions. More precisely, how the brain influence the way we feel and make decisions.

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References:

[1] Bear, M. F., Connors, B. W., & Paradiso, M. A. (Eds.). (2007). Neuroscience (Vol. 2). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

[2] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

[3] World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and other common mental disorders: global health estimates.

[4] Bullmore, E. (2018). The inflamed mind: A radical new approach to depression.

[5] Insel, T. (2015, Jan) 4 things leaders need to know about mental health. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/01/four-things-leaders-need-to-know-about-mental-health

Image by Andrew Charney

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