About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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Brain Waves

Monthly Archives

June 30, 2003

Stepping Forward: Transcendent Liberty

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Smart thoughts from CCLE:

Early Notes Concerning the Cognitive Liberty Implications of Supreme Court's Gay Rights Decision

Heralded as a landmark victory for gay rights, last week’s Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck down Texas’ “Homosexual Conduct” law, which criminalized consensual sex between homosexual adults. The Supreme Court’s express recognition of a fundamental “liberty of the person in both its spatial and more transcendent dimensions,” that among other things protects consensual, private sexual conduct between adults, leaves room for a future recognition of cognitive liberty.  “At the heart of liberty,” wrote Justice Kennedy, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

Comments (0) | Category: Neuroethics

June 26, 2003

A Relative Emotional Gauge

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Just as people experience physical pain differently, so too do people experience emotional pain differently.   Relative physical pain indexes are now proven enough to show that different people feel physical pain very differently. 

Neurotechnoloy will enable a similiar relative understanding of individual differences in mental health.  A Relative Emotional Gauge (REG) would help people better empathize with each other or understand the depth of their depression or height of their joy relative to other people's experiences.

So how happy are you today?  I'm an 8!

Comments (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals

June 25, 2003

Exceptional Thoughts

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Daily, weekly, monthly and annually great thoughts of produced.  Here are a few of the recent best:

Daily: Richard Gayle's Living Code blog

Weekly: Science Magazine

Monthly: Seed Magazine (June/July print version)

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Sell, Drugging the Accused: Important Supreme Court decision
  • The Neuroscience of Proust: Brilliant artists are many times ahead of science

Annual (books):

  • Law and the Mind -- Biological Origins of Human Behavior by Margaret Gruter:  Margaret's insight into how evolutionary biology can inform our legal system is still as relevant today as it was when it was first published 20 years ago.
  • MWO-It was an honor to be the fourth reviewer of a manuscript written by someone most of us know.  Unfortunately, I'm unable to share the enticing personal perspective of neurotechnology developed least not yet...867-5309.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

June 24, 2003

Neurotechnology Business Reports

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Posted by Zack Lynch

James Cavuoto has been kind enough to provide me with a monthly subscription to Neurotech Business Reports. Although I think they define neurotechnology too narrowly, primarily focusing on electro-mechanical neural prostheses, the information contained in these monthly updates is relevant and concise for any neurotech investor. Of particular interest in June:

Comments (0) | Category: Neurotech Industry

June 23, 2003

Stimulating a Smarter You?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Yesterday's New York Times magazine piece, Savant for a Day, describes how transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is not only being tested as a potential treatment for mental illnesses like depression but also as a way to enhance human cognition.

Allan Snyder, Chair of the Centre for the Mind has performed "TMS dozens of times on university students, measuring its effect on their ability to draw, to proofread and to perform difficult mathematical functions like identifying prime numbers by sight. Hooked up to the machine, 40 percent of test subjects exhibited extraordinary, and newfound, mental skills."

Like most emerging neurotechnologies, TMS shows promise but there is a long road ahead.

Comments (0) | Category: Cogniceuticals

June 20, 2003

Disturb in Medium Doses Please

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Posted by Zack Lynch

What conditions maximize biological diversity?

The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis suggests that diversity is highest in ecologies that undergo intermediate levels of disturbances. Intermediate levels in terms of the frequency, scale, intensity and type of disturbances. (figure.

Several years ago, I spent some time in Costa Rica trying to find evidence that would support this hypothesis. I was searching of something extra/different in the ecology that might explain the exceptional diversity found in one of the most species rich areas on Earth.

I found what I was looking for: lianas, tropical vines.

Lianas are the longest living plant in the rainforest. They outlive all rainforest trees several times over and can grow thousands of feet long. Their longevity and length means that lianas are often found linking the canopies of several large trees.

The additional connectedness that lianas bring to the rainforest means that when one tree falls, multiple trees follow, creating medium size gaps that average about 50 meters in diameter throughout the forest. At any one time about 10% of the forest is in this new gap state.

These medium size gaps are unique to rainforests that have lianas. These gaps create open islands with new edges and niches for species to invade and inhabit. In this small, but important way, lianas contribute to maximizing species diversity in tropical rainforests.

Comments (1) | Category: Economic Geography

June 19, 2003

Broad Support for "Y" Men Are Men

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Sex in humans is determined by the fact men carry one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each cell, while women carry two Xs.

David Page of the Whitehead Institute has recently shown that Y chromosomes can repair its own genes in an experiment that denied the Y chromosome the benefits of recombining with the X.  The result was that the Y recombined with itself.  Dr. Page's team also found 78 active genes on the Y, contradicting earlier impressions of the chromosome as being a genetic wasteland apart from its male-determining gene.

In related news, MIT and Harvard announced today the formation of The Broad Institute whose purpose will be to fulfill the promise of the Human Genome Project for medicine.  As Charles M. Vest, president of MIT noted, “This venture will be an important nexus of Boston and Cambridge’s contributions in the future. We are deeply grateful to Eli and Edye Broad for their visionary commitment ($100m immediately) and for their extraordinary leadership as philanthropists." 

Comments (0) | Category: Protein/Gene Chips

June 18, 2003

Faster than a Speeding Gene

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Most people forget that we've only mapped the complete genome of a few people.  Although significant, the real breakthrough will come from population level analysis of genetic variation. 

The International HapMap Project is doing just this.  Haplotypes are genetic sequence blocks that are shared by many people.  Once these haplotypes are mapped it will form a powerful shortcut to identifying inherited gene sequences linked to disorders such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Biomedical breakthroughs extending life and health are closer than we think. The aggressive timeline for the Human Genome Project started in 1990 was 15 years.  It was completed in 10.  What projects are being worked on now that will move much faster than most expect? 

Comments (0) | Category: Protein/Gene Chips

June 17, 2003

Economics from the Neurons Up

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Today's NYTimes piece, Brain Experts Now Follow the Money, highlights the growing enthusiasm for the emerging discipline of neuroeconomics.  So why is neuroeconomics so exciting?

Economics, at its core, sees human behavior as the outcome of a rational process of decision-making, wherein individuals weigh the costs and benefits of actions to maximize utility (i.e. happiness, profit).  But as economists and the rest of us know, human behavior is not this simple.  Instead outcomes are the product of an unstable and unrational complex of reflex actions, impulses, instincts, habits, customs, fashions and hysteria.

Since utility could not be measured objectively concepts like expected utility were devised to give economists an easy way to avoid the messy reality of human psychology.  Economists then spent decades developing mathematical techniques to make economic predictions without having to measure thoughts or feelings directly. 

Neureconomics is about to flip this age-old problem on its head.  Today neuroeconomists are on the verge of being able to measure expected utility from the actual actions of an individual's neurons in a person's brain.  No longer technologically constrained -- brain scanning technologies and clever experimental designs promise to transform economics into a science where one can develop theories that actually predict the neural correlations occuring in one's brain.   

For four days over this past weekend, leading neuroeconomists Paul Glimcher, Paul Zak, David Heeger, Kevin McCabe, and Vernon Smith converged at the Gruter Institute's annual meeting to discuss and show data that the brain employs a formal representation of relative expected utility for decision making and that this formal representation is computed as the product of utility.

Building upon the ground breaking work of Daniel Kahneman and Vernon Smith who received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, neuroeconomics is just getting started but should eventually provide us with unprecedented understanding of how Homo economicus actually makes decisions. 

For more insight, see Paul Glimcher's new book -- Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain: The Science of Neuroeconomics 

Comments (0) | Category: Neuroeconomics

June 16, 2003

Supreme Court Upholds Right to Refuse Mind-Altering Drugs

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The protection of our cognitive liberty was upheld today in no small part to CCLE's Amicus Brief which argues that forced medication infringes fundamental liberty. 

The United States Supreme Court upheld the right to refuse unwanted psychotropic medication in its landmark decision in Sell v. United States. Ruling in favor of a St. Louis dentist who resisted government attempts to force medicate him with antipsychotic drugs, the Court held that while involuntary medication solely for trial competence purposes may be appropriate in some instances, those instances would likely be “rare.”

Glen Boire, who wrote the amicus brief said, "They made a good ruling, but they missed a major opportunity to recognize that thought is, at least partly, rooted in brain chemistry and that giving the government broad powers to directly manipulate the brain chemistry of a non-violent citizen would go against our nation’s most cherished values."

He continued, “Emerging neurotechnology from pharmaceuticals to brain scanners are making consciousness more accessible and manipulable than ever before,” said Boire, “the court had a chance to update legal thinking about cognition in a way could have been very relevant now and in the coming decades,” said Boire.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuroethics

June 13, 2003

Free Will or Free Willy?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

PlumpJack's delicious duck dinner had a hard time competing with tonight's table conversation concerning free will.  For about two hours Paul Zak, Paul Glimcher, Howard Fields, Oliver Goodenough, Margaret Gruter, Kevin McCabe, Morris Hoffman, and myself wrestled with randomness, arrows in time, coin flipping, converging utility maps, selective evolutionary tendencies, cheek pinching, dopamine neurons, motivation, oxytocin, synesthesia and yes, even whales.

Today's talks were outstanding and when time permits and connection speeds are faster the data dump will flow. Until then, it's all good food for thought and pleasant dreams.

Comments (0) | Category: X-tra

June 12, 2003

Independent Global Neurotech. Institute

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The best way humanity has figured out how to build credible knowledge is by using the scientific method.  One key element in this process is testing the hypothesis under scrutiny.  Well-designed tests can reveal new truths, while poorly designed ones can spread false hope.  Advances in neurotechnology (from brain imaging to biochips) represent new tools that can create valuable new data for anyone performing tests centered on being human. 

I see a significant surge in the need to provide researchers across all the humanities, social and life sciences with open access to the latest advancements in neurotechnology to help test old and new hypotheses. 

To ensure sufficient capacity exists to support this research, I will be talking with many of the Gruter participants at the Sensory Systems and Judgment in Law conference this weekend about the creation of an Independent Global Neurotechnology Institute where researchers across all disciplines (especially those researchers who currently don't have access to this type of technology or who are unfamiliar with its value) will be able to compete for access to the most advanced neurotechnology.

Working in cooperation with the leading instrument makers, the IGNI will allow researchers to push the envelope of mental science. IGNI's goals include improving the quality and interrelatedness of imaging and biochip research in order to help set standards for the research community at large.

The first phase of the five year project requires a $5M endowment to: purchase the latest tools, find a smart location, support initial research grants and begin the the development of educational seminars for emerging disciplines like neuroeconomics, neurosociology and neuroaesthetics

The organizational model would be similar to how the Santa Fe Institute for Complex Systems research has evolved. If you are interested in learning more about the IGNI, please email me.

Comments (0) | Category:

Test Thyself, Know Thyself

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Here are a few tests that have popped up recently that are interesting and fun:

Comments (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

June 11, 2003

2003 "Nobel" in Geography

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Posted by Zack Lynch

My friend and graduate advisor, Allen J. Scott at UCLA was just awarded the 2003 Vautrin Lud International Award for Geography (the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Geography). 

The annual prize is awarded to the person who has made outstanding contributions to the field of geography and has achieved a wide international reputation as an outstanding scholar. He will be awarded the prize on October 3 at the International Festival of Geography at Saint-Die-des-Vosges in northeastern France

On a related note: Jared Diamond was recently appointed to the UCLA Geography Department

Comments (0) | Category: Economic Geography

Sensory Systems and Judgment in Law

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Along with previously mentioned Gruter talks, the following presentations are scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday:

Economics, Law and Neurology

  • The Neurobiology of Trust: Paul J. Zak, Robert O. Kurzban, and William T. Matzner
  • Working for Self vs. Others: Dan Houser, Kevin McCabe, Vernon Smith
  • Cognitive and Neuroscientific Studies of Reasoning, Estimation, and Judgment: Lawrence M. Parsons 

Sex and Law

  • Viewing Sexual/Reproductive Behavior through an Evolutionary Lens: Market Zuk
  • Sexual Coercion and Trafficking: A Legal Perspective: Mohamed Matter

Childhood and Development

  • What doesn't kill you makes you stronger: Empirical evidence for stress resistance: Karen J. Parker
  • Fair Play: Caroline Walser Kessel

Dispute Resolution

  • Reconciliation and Criminal Sentencing: Erin O’Hara
  • Litigation is a kind of non-zero-sum game: Morris Hoffman
  • The ADR Landscape: Susan Scott

Scanning and Neural Activity

  • Neuronal Correlates of Visual Attention and Perception: David Heeger


  • Why are there so few property forms?  Michael Heller
  • Evolutionary analysis of property law: Jeffrey Stake
  • Property, Market, Organization, Judgment: Wolfgang Fikentscher
  • What Can We Know About How the Human Capacity for Property Works?: Oliver R. Goodenough
  • Evolution of property law: Dorothy J. Glancy

More to come on Monday with a full report all next week.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropolicy

June 10, 2003

Brain Humor

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A bit of laughter today:

"I used to think that the brain was the most fascinating part of the body...then I realized 'look who's telling me that." - Emo Phillips     (thanks Clay)

Comments (0) | Category: X-tra

June 9, 2003

Neurotechnology is Driving Neuroethics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This month's IEEE Spectrum has an excellent article, Neurotechnology: Bioethics and the Brain, that describes how rapid advancements in brain imaging technologies will have significant implications for society in the relative near future.

To make their point, the authors describe how one of their colleagues has recently used fMRI scans to show highly significant correlations between lying and truth telling and the metabolic activity in the region of the brain important to paying attention and monitoring errors.

The article highlights several important neuroethical issues:

  • Compulsory brain testing: Should society allow the government to scan the brain of convicted criminals or terrorists to test for emotional predispositions or a specific knowledge base (i.e. anthrax manufacturing processes)?  Should we allow companies to scan the brain of potential employees to understand their natural propensities (i.e. anger) and let them deny employment on the basis of these scans?
  • National brain imaging database: Should we allow the government to keep "brain fingerprints" just like they currently have a database of our fingerprints and are building for DNA?
  • Scanning of children: What will parents or teachers do with brain scanning information?  If they find out a child has little natural propensity for music should they not even let that child try?

Neurotechnology will never be 100% deterministic but it will provide some very powerful predictive information, much more than most people currently want to believe

Later this week I will be joining the Gruter Institute for its annual neuroethics conference.  The first day includes the following talks:

I look forward to exploring the above issues and extending the discussion to include the societal implications of human performance enhancing neuroceuticals.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuroethics

June 6, 2003

NYC - Neuro York City

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I spent the past five days in the ultimate playground for neurons. Whether you're looking to excite your senses (sights, sounds, smells), emotions (love, joy, sadness), or your more cerebral side (facts, learning, business), NYC has it all.

NYC's greatest asset is its people. Conversations are smart, witty and high value. In a city of 8 million people they have to be. This trip I had the opportunity to have some exceptional conversations with many insightful people, here are a few:

Comments (0) | Category: Neurosociety

June 5, 2003

Neurons Love to "Kiss and Run"

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The transfer of information between nerve cells occurs when chemicals called neurotransmitters are released into the synapse, the junction between neurons. Electrical impulses in the neuron cause tiny vesicles (graphic) loaded with neurotransmitters to be released into the synapse.

Today's Nature reports on a new technique that researchers have created to image the movement of individual vesicles after they have released their neurotransmitter cargo. The new technique helps answer questions like the rate at which synaptic vesicles are recycled which helps illuminate how much information nerve cells can transmit.

There are three distinct ways that a "used vesicle" can be recycled from the surface of the nerve cell once it has released its cargo:

  • "Kiss-and-Run" mode is the fastest, less than a second
  • Compensatory” mode is slower, up to 21 seconds
  • Stranded” mode leaves the vesicle stuck at the surface until the next nerve impulse triggers its retrieval

"The optical recording technique devised by Stevens and Gandhi involves genetically modifying a gene for one type of vesicle protein to incorporate a special form of green fluorescent protein. This modified fluorescent protein, developed by other researchers, does not fluoresce under acidic conditions normally present in vesicles fully loaded with neurotransmitter. However, when the vesicle releases its payload, the interior becomes less acidic and the vesicle glows a bright green."

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

June 3, 2003

Punctuated Cognition

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Have you ever suddenly realized that you’re routinely doing complex tasks that flummoxed you a few years ago? That’s what it feels like to cross a cognitive threshold.

According to organizational psychologist Elliot Jaques, who died in March, skills and capabilities seem to accumulate through a kind of punctuated equilibrium, wherein human ability to deal with complexity crosses a cognitive threshold every 15 years.

It will be interesting to see how the emergence of cogniceuticals will influence this observed rule. 

(Thanks to Art Kleiner and Ross Mayfield for bringing this to my attention.)

Comments (0) | Category: Cogniceuticals