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

September 30, 2003

Bravo for Better Brains

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Scientific American's September special issue "Better Brains" provides some important detail on several aspects of our emerging neurosociety.  Here I've highlighted each article's key point and put a link to a Brain Waves post where I came to similar conclusions.   

  • A Vote for Neuroethics - the editors - "Do we really need another subdiscipline of a subdiscipline?  After all, we have bioethics..."  "Our vote is a decided yes for moving ahead.  The technologies of the mind and brain are special..." Accelerating the Neuroethics Discussion

  • The Domesticated Savage - Micheal Shermer - "Like foxes, humans have become more agreeable as we've become more domesticated."...A plausable evolutionary hypothesis suggests itself: limited resources led to the selection for within-group cooperation and between group competition in humans...this bodes well if we can continue to expand the circle of whom we consider to be part of our in-group"   A Relative Emotional Gauge

  • Ultimate Self-Improvement - Gary Stix - "More important, the technology (brain imaging), perhaps coupled with genetic testing will create a more sound basis for diagnosing brain disorders."  Neurotechnology will Define Mental Disorders

  • Brain, Repair Yourself - Fred H. Gage - "The challenge now is to learn more about the specific growth factors that govern the various steps of neurogenesis -- the birth of new cells, the migration of newborn cells to the correct spots, and the maturation of the cells into neurons..." Neurons Love to "Kiss and Run"

  • The Quest for a Smart Pill - Stephen S. Hall - "...there are four million Americans with Alzheimer's disease, another 12 million with a condition called mild cognitive decline and approximately 76 million Americans older than 50, many of whom may satisfy a recent FDA definition for age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), a mild form of forgetfulness." Cogniceuticals to Enhance Memory

  • Stimulating the Brain - Mark S. George - "...the use of rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) as a treatment for depression is still considered experimental by the FDA...(but) has already been sanctioned for use in Canada..." Stimulating a Smarter You?

  • Mind Readers - Philip Ross - "Should this concept-recognition system work with even minimal reliability, it might be coupled with lie-detecting fMRI software to produce a much more sophisticated tool.  In principle, law-enforcement officers might use.." When will the Feds Mandate Brain Scans?

  • Taming Stress - Robert Sapolsky - "...such insight carries with it a social imperative: namely, that we find ways to heal a world in which so many people learn that they must always feel watchful and on guard or that they must always feel helpless." Dear Mr. President

  • Diagnosing Disorders - Steven E. Hyman - "By combining neuroimaging with genetic studies, physicians may eventually be able to move psychiatric diagnosis out of the realm of symptom checklists and into the domain of objective medical tests." Neurotechnology will Define Mental Disorders

  • Is Better Best? - Arthur L. Caplan - "It is the essence of humanness to try to improve the world and oneself...the answer is not prohibiting improvement."  "It is ensuring that enhancement is always done by choice, not dictated by others." "Market-driven societies encourage improvement.  Religious and secular cultures alike reward those who seek betterment; every religion on the planet sees the improvement of oneself and one's children as a moral obligation.  If anything, the impending revolution in our knowledge of the brain will require us to build the legal and social institutions that allow fair access to all those who choose to do what most will feel is the right thing to do."  Neuroethics: The Battle for Your Mind

Interesting crossover to say the least.  In my forthcoming book -- Brain Wave: Our Emerging Neurosociety, I build on these issues to weave the future of business, geopolitics and culture in a world driven by neurotechnology.

Comments (1) | Category: Neurosociety

September 29, 2003

A Chemistry of Mind

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Posted by Tom

by Tom Ray

The goal of mapping "receptor space" is to chart the relationships between complex alterations in chemical signaling, and resulting changes in mental states. These data are expected to provide an empirical basis for the development of an understanding of the chemistry of mind. To do this we need to understand what mental states are associated with various regions of the receptor space. We need to understand what kinds of interactions between transmitter systems and neural pathways result from chemical perturbations into various regions of receptors space.

This knowledge can help us to build a theoretical foundation for the rational design of drugs for the treatment of mental illness. In a loose sense, mental illnesses are also a kind of perturbation in receptor space. We need to determine what regions of receptor space are associated with these illnesses, and develop a pharmacology for these regions.

We do not yet understand why different individual members of this family (e.g., clozapine, risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, ziprasidone) are more effective in treating different individual patients. It is plausible that these differences in efficacy derive from the interactions of the different receptor binding profiles of the different antipsychotic drugs, with the specific characteristics of the disorders manifested by individual patients.

If we can develop a detailed knowledge of the relationship between chemical balance and mental state, methods for treating mental illness can be greatly improved. The atypical antipsychotics are some of the most effective drugs in treating the most difficult cases of schizophrenia. These drugs bind to a very large number of receptors, and therefore cause complex perturbations in "receptor space".

The understanding of the chemistry of consciousness is the ultimate goal of my research. By mapping receptor space we will be able to create a more rational basis for developing effective treatments of mental disorders. Please feel free to email me directly if you are interested in learning more about my research.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

September 26, 2003

A Dynamic Neurochemical System

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Posted by Tom

by Tom Ray

Let's consider a brain-centered reference frame, in which the origin is based on some arbitrary absolute levels of activity at each receptor population. The origin could be the time-averaged activity at each receptor, or no activity at each receptor, it doesn't matter much. In this reference frame, the state of the brain is constantly on the move, regardless of medication. We can think of it as a complex dynamical system, in which the trajectory likely does not traverse the entire receptor space, but rather follows certain high-dimensional orbits, and switches among many "attractors", where the attractors represent the major emotional states and moods, and whatever other mental phenomena the chemical systems are mediating. Mental illnesses can be thought of as pathological attractors.

In this more dynamic reference frame, the notion of drugs perturbing the brain along a vector of binding affinities in receptor space seems simplistic. It is more likely that drugs will create a perturbation along the binding vector, thereby pushing the system into a new attractor.

As pharmacologists, we want to understand how patterns of activity at receptor populations associate with mental phenomena. We want to get to know the pharmacology of the attractors. It seems unlikely that the attractors will be on-axis, resulting from changes in the activity of single receptor populations.

We have our hands on the receptors and we are enchanted by them. We have come to think of selectivity in terms of receptors, and in the process we have lost sight of the mind that we wish to understand. There are other approaches to thinking about pharmacological selectivity. Selectivity can be defined in terms of different or distinct behavioral or subjective mental effects produced by drugs.

The conventional approach to pharmacology is to find a drug that is receptor selective, and then observe its behavioral effect. An alternative approach is to find a drug that produces a distinctive behavior, and then observe its receptor binding profile. I believe that it is this alternative approach that holds the greatest promise for understanding the pharmacology of the attractors, and thus the major mental states mediated by receptors. The two approaches are complementary, and we need both to provide the most comprehensive understanding. The new approach is only now becoming possible, as it requires the full post-genome pharmacology provided by PDSP.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

September 25, 2003

Mapping Receptor Space

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Posted by Tom

by Tom Ray

I would like to share a metaphor, or image, that I use when thinking about the new pharmacology: receptor space.

Imagine a coordinate system based on receptors, one axis for each receptor ("receptor space"). This notion of "receptor space" is in the reference frame of the unmedicated brain. Drugs perturb the system from its pharmacological origin by altering the activity of transmitter and receptor systems, through increasing or decreasing transmission or transmitter levels, or up or down regulating receptor populations.

From a pharmacological point of view, the origin of the receptor space represents the state of an individual brain at any moment, without the application of any drug. When a drug is applied that binds to receptors, it shifts the balance of activity of the brain away from the origin, by a vector representing displacement along the axes corresponding to the receptors where the drug binds (and perhaps others due to secondary interactions).

The distance of the shift represents the affinity of the drug for the receptor, or the degree to which the drug activates the receptor. Negative axes could correspond to blocking or deactivation of the receptor. For convenience, I would like to refer to molecules with a non-zero value on only one axis as "on-axis", and molecules with a non-zero value on more than one axis as "off-axis".

These kinds of changes occur spontaneously and constantly in the unmedicated brain. Thus our pharmacological reference frame, of the unmedicated brain at the origin, is a very dynamic one.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

September 24, 2003

Post-Genome Pharmacology

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Posted by Tom

by Tom Ray

The completion of the human genome has revealed the tremendous complexity of the chemical signaling pathways in our bodies. There appear to be over three hundred different kinds of receptors expressed in the brain.

To understand how variations in the activities of these chemical signaling pathways can combine to produce mental states and mental disorders, we need to develop an empirical understanding of the influence of these systems on mental states. This understanding must include interactions between different chemical signaling systems, as well as the role of individual systems. The cloning and development of receptor binding and functional assays for a large number of receptors is opening a new "post-genome" era of pharmacology, which permits us to look at the global effects of drugs on the brain and body.

The National Institute of Mental Health set up a Psychoactive Drug Screening Program (PDSP) using this new post-genome approach. PDSP is the "supercomputer" of pharmacology. It is a facility, still under development, that allows us to screen drugs against the entire human "receptome" (all receptors in the human body).

It is a facility like a supercomputer, that is so massive and expensive, that in this case, only one can exist. Therefore NIMH has set up one such facility, and makes its screening services available to researchers, like the supercomputers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

A few years ago, it was a very difficult task to screen a drug against a single receptor, to deterine if the drug binds to the receptor, and if so, what it does there (blocks, activates or de-activates). In the past, pharmacologists were like the blind men and the elephant only able to look at one or a few parts of the chemical system. Now for the first time it is becoming possible to look at the whole system.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

September 23, 2003

The Pharmacological Approach to Brain Mapping

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Posted by Tom

by Tom Ray

  1. Why are there so many different neurotransmitter receptors in the brain?
  2. What is the functional role of each, and how are they organized in the brain?
  3. How are the activities of these transmitter systems and their interactions associated with mental states?

In short, what is the chemical architecture of the brain and the mind that emerges from it? The answers to these questions should ultimately provide a firmer basis for understanding mental illness and developing treatments.

The pharmacological approach to these questions is to develop compounds that bind selectively at receptors, and activate or block them, and use them as probes to receptor function. When the molecular mechanisms of action of a drug are known, they can be correlated with the behavioral effects in animals or the subjective reports of humans, to understand the mental correlates of their underlying biological effects. When used in this way, pharmacology is a means of exploring the chemical organization of the brain and mind.

Peter Kramer's book "Listening to Prozac" introduced the pharmacological approach to the general public. The title "Listening to Prozac" means that we learned something new about the nature of the human mind by observing the effects of prozac.

Prozac was developed to treat depression, but when it was prescribed to large numbers of people, it was discovered that it also changed personality (from timid to self-confident). Before this unplanned experiment, it was not known that such aspects of personality were under chemical influence. By listening to prozac, we learned something about the chemical organization of the human mind.

Although pharmacology is generally thought of as a branch of medicine that uses chemicals to treat illness, pharmacology can also be used as a method of probing living systems to understand how they are organized and how they function.

Comments (2) | Category: Neuropharma

September 22, 2003

The Chemical Architecture of the Mind

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Posted by Tom

by Tom Ray

Understanding the chemistry of the brain and the mind that emerges from it is one of the remaining great frontiers of science. Developing a fundamental understanding of the chemistry of the mind will provide us with a deeper understanding of ourselves and a theoretical basis for a more rational system for treating mental disorders. Without an *understanding* of the chemistry of the mind, pharmacology remains a trial-and-error "science".

The brain is a chemical organ and our mental states are dramatically altered by chemical shifts. Chemical shifts can be caused by drugs but they also occur naturally. Moods and emotions are likely to have chemical foundations, and even without the influences of drugs, much of our mental life is a chemical dance. Features of the human personality, such as the spectrum between timidity and social confidence, can be influenced by chemistry. A wide variety of serious mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia, have yielded to effective chemical treatments, suggesting that chemical imbalances may underlie some of these disorders.

Different disorders (see DSM-IV, 2000) yield to different chemical treatments, indicating that each disorder is associated with a specific chemical imbalance. Yet there is currently no rational way to predict which antidepressant is more likely to work than another in a depressed patient or which antipsychotic will work in a specific schizophrenic patient. Furthermore, no single abnormality in any neurotransmitter or in any of its enzymes or receptors has been shown to cause any common psychiatric disorder. It is currently believed that the major mental disorders are the result of an accumulation of factors that together cause the disorder.

Comments (8) | Category: Neuropharma

September 19, 2003

Exploring the Brain's Boundaries (A Six Part Blog by Tom Ray)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Next week Tom Ray, tropical ecologist, artificial life expert, and now neuro-mapping pioneer will share his thoughts on accelerating our understanding of the neurochemistry of consciousness by mapping what he calls "receptor space."

Tom is a true complexity expert -- an evolutionary ecologist of both the biological and digital worlds.  Tom's rich research agenda and advice have inspired me over the past 15 years.  His ecological research and conservation efforts in Costa Rica stimulated my work on disturbance behaviors in Atta cephalotes (leaf cutter ants) at Finca La Selva.  His work at the Santa Fe Institute on Tierra, a distributed digital artificial life reserve, pushed the science of complexity to new levels.

Hundreds of articles have been written about Tom's previous research.  I'm confident his approach to mapping the potential mental states that the human mind can experience will prove to be his most important work to date.  Few people have first-hand experience with multiple complex evolutionary systems.  It is this deep perspective that should allow him to contribute significantly to our understanding of the human mind.

Tom Ray is currently a Professor of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma and an Invited Researcher at ATR Human Information Sciences Laboratories, Kyoto, Japan.

As Paul Allen mentioned earlier this week, understanding the brain and how the mind emerges from it remains one of great frontiers of science.  I'm honored to have Tom Ray, for the first time, share his new research direction with us on Brain Waves.  Expect great thoughts!

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

September 18, 2003

The paomnnehil pweor of the hmuan mnid

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm.

Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. amzanig huh?

thks johsau.

The Onion:  FDA Approves Sale of Prescription Placebo (Ha)

Comments (0) | Category: Perception Shift

September 17, 2003

Money, Minds and Meaning

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Our emerging neurosociety is being driven by many factors --

1. Mindful Donations Accelerate Basic Brain Research

  • Allen Institute for Brain Science Announced with $100M:   Paul Allen is intrigued by how genes create intricate circuitry that controls all emotion, thinking and movement.  He said he expects to continue financing the institute after its first project — mapping the cells in the mouse brain — is complete in three to five years.
  • Staglin Family Music Festival has raised over $22M:   With 100 percent of the expenses for the Festival underwritten by the Staglins, all proceeds go directly to scientific research through NARSAD (National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression) and several other research and treatment programs, including those at UCSF, Stanford University, UCLA, The University of Southern Florida, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, as well as Aldea, Inc. of Napa and Sonoma. This year’s festival raised $1.8 million with new $9.5 grants from the National Institutes of Mental Health for projects seed with Music Festival money.

2. Brain Imaging Breakthroughs Continue

Derek lucidly explains a new breakthrough in NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) brain imaging that "can be 10,000 times more sensitive than usual."  Another example of progress towards breaking the brain imaging bottleneck.

3. The Search for Meaning is Increasing

Shoshana Zuboff nails some fundamental issues driving our emerging neurosociety --

"We are the new individuals on the other side of this chasm—more educated, informed, experienced and connected than at any other time in history. There are hundreds of millions of us around the world. Above all, we seek psychological self-determination. We share an interest in taking our own lives into our own hands. We want to be the origins of our own meanings... We want to eliminate stress and hassle."

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September 16, 2003

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet to Erase Bad Memories

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Look out this fall for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," a new movie directed by Michel Gondry and written with Charlie Kaufman -- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Adaptation. (2002), Being John Malkovich (1999).

Plot Summary: Joel (Jim Carrey) is stunned to discover that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had her memories of their tumultuous relationship erased. Out of desperation, he contracts the inventor of the process, Dr. Howard Mierzwaik (Tom Wilkinson), to have Clementine removed from his own memory. But as Joel's memories progressively disappear, he begins to rediscover their earlier passion. From deep within the recesses of his brain, Joel attempts to escape the procedure. As Dr. Mierzwiak and his crew (Kristen Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood) chase him through the maze of his memories, it's clear that Joel just can't get her out of his head.

It will be interesting to see the public reaction around the "right to erase memories," as this romantic comedy wins the hearts and minds of the movie going public. Sometimes art does imitate life.

Other:  Arnold Kling on Milton Friedman's two most important societal issues.  I couldn't agree more with "da men". 

Comments (0) | Category: Culture & the Brain

September 15, 2003

Dear Chronicle Watch:

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Posted by Zack Lynch

(Local issue:  I sent this letter to the SF Chronicle and city government officials this morning)


There is a serious design flaw in MUNI's network at the corner of 30th and Church, outbound direction.  The incredibly loud screeching (exceeding 130 decibels many times during the day!) coming from the MUNI cars incorrectly sitting on the rails of the outbound J-line is causing hearing damage to the neighborhood's children, elderly, animals and adults. 


This is a physical health, mental health and quality of life problem.


Physical health problems associated with screeching:


1) I have independently verified that the screeching created from the MUNI cars at 30th and Church exceed safety and acceptability limits (over 130 db several time a day)

2) Sounds above 100db (decibels) are known to cause hearing loss over time

3) Exceeds OSHA regulations


Mental health problems associated with screeching in children and elderly:


1) Solid research has shown that intermittent loud sounds (above 100 db) has been proven to create learning difficulties in young children, lowering their IQ over time by at least 10% 

2) There are several schools in the immediate area including St. Paul's School and Church, Kate Kennedy Elementary School, not to mention the On Lok Senior center  (Article on hearing loss in children) not mention the many day care facilities in the immediate area and the many children that play daily at the Upper Noe Valley Community Center. 


Quality of life:


Lastly, the the screeching is irradiating to the entire neighborhood, waking up children, disturbing shoppers and conversations throughout the day and night.  All of this increases stress levels in the neighborhood. 


The Chronicle has done an excellent job in the past of alerting the citizens of San Francisco to this problem, but even since it was highlighted in 1997, this particular problem at 30th and Church continues unresolved.  Current stop gap measures of greasing the tracks does not work.


Here are several links to S.F Chronicle articles written over the past several years about this problem: (1), (2),(3) 


I want to bring this to the attention of city manager's before lawsuits based upon the above facts become obvious to the wider community and costly, emotionally draining legal action is taken by citizen groups.  Let's save the city money now, by taking action immediately.  Use the new increase in fares to solve this problem.


Update: The past three days MUNI workers have been out every morning greasing the tracks and the noise levels have dropped dramatically.  The you to the 15 board of supervisors who I sent this email to.

Comments (0) | Category: SF Focus

September 12, 2003

In Memory, Margaret Gruter

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"No, I shall not entirely die beyond the grave much."  An amazing woman.

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2003 Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Staglin Family put on the best fund raising event in Napa each year, and the 2003 Music Festival for Mental Health looks to continue the growing tradition tomorrow.  The day begins early and it looks like it will reach well into the 90s.  Thank goodness for the wine caves.

"This festival was conceived eight years ago as a celebration of life. The generosity of so many individuals, corporations and volunteers has allowed us to exceed $11 million in gifts since its inception and provide substantial support to research and care," said Shari Staglin.  "We are engaged in a struggle of major proportions to fight for the cures for mental illness which continues to affect more than 20 million Americans annually."

Last year's event began with a scientific symposium featuring Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, whose work on the biology of memory storage and related disorders neatly captivated the audience.  In addition, two other Nobel laureates, John Nash and Michael Spence joined the party to share in the festivities. (see photo of the three of them with Garen Staglin)

Tomorrow I'll be pouring the Lynch 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon in the wine caves, so I won't be able to attend the other interesting event happening in the Bay Area tomorrow: Accelerating Change Conference 2003.

Other: Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean's view of Mental Health in America

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September 11, 2003

Social Forecasting?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A bit from my forthcoming book...Brain Wave: Our Emerging Neurosociety

People do a very poor job of predicting the future.  Take Lord Kelvin, the physicist and president of the British Royal Society, who in 1895 insisted, “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Or Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation who in 1977 proclaimed, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” 

Inventors also don’t usually understand the potential of their technologies.  “The phonograph…is not of commercial value,” Thomas Edison declared after he had invented it in 1880. And it’s not just inventors or high tech executives that get it wrong.  People who are supposed to be on the cutting edge of cultural consciousness predict just as poorly, as a Decca Recording Company executive showed in 1962 after turning down the Beatles, “We don’t like their sound.  Groups of guitars are on the way out.”

Even as teams of highly educated professionals we often miss the mark. “A severe depression like that of 1920-1921 is outside the range of probability,” stated the Harvard Economic Society on November 16th 1929, just weeks before the Great Depression began.  Not even the computer scientists working on the Internet in the early 1970s could imagine that it would become a medium of global commerce by the end of the century.

If forecasting a specific event or new technology is difficult, then how is it possible to try to predict where human society will go next? 

Stay tuned...

Comments (2) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

September 10, 2003

Forecasting Happiness

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Do people really know what will make them happy?  Not really, according Danny Kanheman, who shared the 2002 Nobel prize in Economics with Vernon Smith.

While we know a Rolling Stones concert beats a trip to the dentist, we almost always overestimate the intensity and the duration of our emotional reactions -- our affect --  to future events.  Although we might believe a new BMW will make life much better, it will likely be less exciting than anticipated and it will not excite us for as long as we thought.

Over the past few years, a group of experimental economists have begun to question the decision-making process that shapes our sense of well-being: how do we predict what will make us happy or unhappy -- and then how do we feel after the actual experience? For example, how do we suppose we'll feel if our favorite college basketball team wins or loses, and then how do we really feel a few days after the game?

Here are a few excerpts from "The Futile Pursuit of Happiness" which is a conversation with the leading figures in "affective forecasting". I highly recommend it.

Daniel Gilbert, Professor os psychology at Harvard, calls the gap between what we predict and what we ultimately experience the ''impact bias'' -- ''impact'' meaning the errors we make in estimating both the intensity and duration of our emotions and ''bias'' our tendency to err. The phrase characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy. Would a 20 percent raise or winning the lottery result in a contented life?  You may predict it will, but almost surely it won't turn out that way. And a new plasma television? Worse, Gilbert has noted that these mistakes of expectation can lead directly to mistakes in choosing what we think will give us pleasure. He calls this ''miswanting.''

George Loewenstein then explains: ''Happiness is a signal that our brains use to motivate us to do certain things. And in the same way that our eye adapts to different levels of illumination, we're designed to kind of go back to the happiness set point. Our brains are not trying to be happy. Our brains are trying to regulate us.'' 

Then he goes on to describe the "empathy gap", the difference between how we behave in "hot'' states (those of anxiety, courage, fear, drug craving, sexual excitation and the like) and ''cold'' states of rational calm. This empathy gap in thought and behavior -- we cannot seem to predict how we will behave in a hot state when we are in a cold state...''These kinds of states have the ability to change us so profoundly that we're more different from ourselves in different states than we are from another person.''

Tim Wilson says: ''We don't realize how quickly we will adapt to a pleasurable event and make it the backdrop of our lives. When any event occurs to us, we make it ordinary. And through becoming ordinary, we lose our pleasure.''

Kahneman, who did some of the first experiments in the area in the early 1990's, affective forecasting could greatly influence retirement planning, for example, where mistakes in prediction (how much we save, how much we spend how we choose a community we think we'll enjoy can prove irreversible. He sees a role for affective forecasting in consumer spending, where a ''cooling off'' period might remedy buyer's remorse. Most important, he sees vital applications in health care, especially when it comes to informed consent.

To Loewenstein... a life without forecasting errors would most likely be a better, happier life. ''If you had a deep understanding of the impact bias and you acted on it, which is not always that easy to do, you would tend to invest your resources in the things that would make you happy,'' he says. This might mean taking more time with friends instead of more time for making money. He also adds that a better understanding of the empathy gap -- those hot and cold states we all find ourselves in on frequent occasions -- could save people from making regrettable decisions in moments of courage or craving.

''You know, the Stones said, 'You can't always get what you want,' '' Gilbert adds. ''I don't think that's the problem. The problem is you can't always know what you want.'' 

The implications of this research are profound.  Indeed, neuroceuticals are the tools that will help ordinary people reduce their "empathy gap" and gain control over their "impact bias".

Update 080804: Marginal Revolution on Economics and Happiness

Comments (4) | Category: Neurofinance

September 9, 2003

Neurotechnology Leaders Forum in San Francisco Today

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Congratulations to James Cavuoto and Neurotech Reports team for putting together a stimulating day conference on the neuro-electronic technology industry.

Neurotechnology Industry - Electronic Sector

Neurotech Reports defines neurotechnology as the application of electronics and engineering to the nervous system.

This is different than the broader definition of neurotechnology used by the Economist, Susan Greenfield and here on Brain Waves.

Neuroelectronic market segments

Critical industry issues: Educating clinicians, reimbursement by insurance, regulatory hurdles and implantation bias

Leading neuroelectronic companies: Medtronic, ANS, Cyberonics, Advanced Bionics, Neuropace

  1. Neural prostheses -- Size of cochlear implant market is $500M in 2003 - $1.6B in 2008), (retinal implants viable market by 2007, 2008)

  2. Neuromodulation -- Use of electronic stimulation to induce and restore desired function (e.g. urinary urge incontinence for spinal chord injury patients) Neural modulation market estimate is $800m in 2004 - $3B in 2008. Deep brain stimulation also growing for Parkinson’s.

  3. Therapeutic stimulation – Stimulators to reduce pain (e.g. Advanced Bionics—Bion)

  4. Neurodiagnostics – Equipment used to read electrical nervous systems

  5. Neural-computer interfaces – Use of nervous system signals to drive external

Addicted to Neurotechnology: A User’s perspective

What do a substance abuser and neurotechnology user have in common?

According to Jennifer French, a periplegic who uses a neural stimulation system that has allowed her to stand (with a walker) at her wedding and balance on boats, there are a few interesting similarities: both are addicts, both require time to develop that addiction and both are life changing. Her joke excluded, Jennifer is the executive director of the Society To Increase Mobility (STIM) a non-profit that disseminates information about neurotechnology to users.

For Jennifer, neurotechnology is not a market, not a product, but a whole new way to increase people’s quality of life. “It is life changing.”

New Neural Stimulation NSF Engineering Research Center Announced

A collaboration among USC, UC Santa Cruz and Caltech in cooperation with AMI has secured $20M in funding over five years.

Wireless Disposable Brain Imaging

10% of the population suffers from sleep apnea, but only 10% even know it.

Advanced Brain Monitoring has produced a new disposable brain EEG system (where the electrodes are disposable not the EEG--thanks Chris) that monitors alertness and drowsiness. ABM has received $7M in funding from NIH and DARPA. Their ARES system is inexpensive, non-invasive, 6 channel, bi-directional radio frequency transmission, can be comfortably worn for 8 hours, and is powered by 2 AA batteries.

Check out ABM’s tag line: Brain monitoring in the home, at work and on demand.

Neurotechnology VC's

The venture capital discussion focused on the differences between medical device and biopharmaceutical company valuations and exit strategies. Last IPO window for medical device companies was 1996 and most of the those companies have not done well. Last IPO window for biotech was 2000. Valuations have held up better.

Comments (0) | Category: Neurotech Industry

September 8, 2003

Pain, Pleasure and Postrel

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neurophilosophy: The heavy ethical concerns that neurotechnology presents means that deep neurophilosophical discussions remain neglected. (Neurophilosophy or Philoneuroscience - Science book reviews - sub req'd) 

Neurotechnology:  I'm looking forward to seeing the trees as James Cavuto's guest at tomorrow's Neurotech Leader Forum here in S.F.  My goal is to share Susan Greenfield's broad definition of neurotechnology that recognizes neuroceutical innovation.

Style: Elle gets it, when will Seed?  If The Substance of Style is anything like Virginia Postrel has ever chosen to accent, then she has probably discovered the pain pleasure principle underlying economic change.  I look forward to reflecting on her thoughts at the Shore Club in a few weeks with Casey.

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September 5, 2003

Cognitive Liberty and the "Right to Erase Memories" Explained

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Posted by Richard

by Richard Glen Boire

......This is part of a longer string of emails that have been flying around over the past few days.  I’ve edited it a bit to provide context, but I found Richard’s perspective too important to remain behind the scenes.-- Z.L.

Randall Parker raises concerns that folks might run around erasing *other people's* memories (sorta like slipping someone LSD without them knowing it). As I addressed in my post: that would be a serious crime.

The right to "cognitive liberty" that I'm arguing for, protects the right of each person to self-determine his or her own brainstates and to have autonomy over those brainstates. (I realize that there are deep problems with talking about "autonomy" and brainstates...we are in a feedback loop with our environment and our neurochemistry is constantly changed by our interactions with other people, places, objects...etc). But, the basic idea here is that in a world with memory erasing drugs (and all other sorts of neurotechnology), we need to co-evolve a basic legal right that addresses an area of human freedom that has, until recently, been fairly unassailable.

In a nutshell, the right to cognitive liberty holds that (1) others don't have a right to directly change your brain chemistry without your informed consent, and (2) that you have a right to self-determine your own brain chemistry so long as your subsequent actions do not harm others (or do not present a clear and present danger of harm).

One example that people use to explain their concern with cognitive liberty is PCP.  The argument follows that a person using PCP can't possibly respect the rights of others and that allowing people to take a drug like PCP would lead to a serious erosion of the very basis of a rights based society. I understand that argument, and in the abstract I think it is persuasive. I'd rather not be nearby a person who is high on that drug either.

But, I'd also rather not be nearby a person who is an avowed neo-nazi or KKK member, especially just after they've had a meeting or a rally. (BTW - I'm not white). The fact is, however, that in order to have freedom of speech and freedom of association, we have to accept the fact that some people are going to say things, and group together, in ways that we find offense and even scary. Inherent in any freedom is the fact that some percentage of people will make "bad" decisions. This is an unavoidable element of every freedom you can think of. It seems to be true, however, that an open society is the best at staying in equilibrium and self-correcting. (Nazis, for example, tend to remain the minority in a society that does not control speech content.)

Over time human society has recognized that things work best when the government stays out of controlling what information people have access to, and/or what people can or can't say. In the past, and continuing in the present and (hopefully) into the future, this has meant that the government is bared from dictating which books can or can't be printed, or read. When the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was finally abandoned (in 1966!) it contained banned books by folks like Galileo, Kant, Spinoza...

When Galileo confirmed Copernicus, that the sun -- not the earth--was the center of the solar system, the Roman government burned his books and placed him on house arrest (after commuting his death sentence for heresy) because they were very concerned that what he was saying could unravel the very foundation of the society.

In the past it was books, broadsheets and pamphlets that changed how people think. Soon (indeed already), it will be (in addition to texts of all sorts) neuroceuticals of various types that change how people think.  Just as we ultimately figured out that it was best to deny government the power to distinguish "good" books from "bad" or "dangerous" books, I think that we will come to see that we should deny the government that same power with respect to tools that allow individuals to shape their minds. It's a issue of cognitive censorship.

I know I've drifted from the focus of your concerns about memory erasing drugs, but I hope this helps situate my position in a larger context.  Essentially, I don't think it is persuasive to critique free speech by cataloging all the nasty/dangerous things that people have, or might, express, read or hear. In the same way, I don't currently think it's a persuasive critique of cognitive liberty.

Also, I should note that no right is "absolute." Not even something like freedom of speech or freedom of religion. I'm perfectly willing to accept reasonable "time, place, and manner" type restrictions on cognitive liberty.

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September 4, 2003

Enabling Enhancement?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I'd like to return to an interesting point brought up by Pat Kane in To the Victor, the Paradoxes:

"What is the difference between performance-enhancing and performance-enabling drugs - the steroids that propel a runner slightly faster, the corticosteroids that stop a pro-footballers joints seizing up?"

Depending on your dictionary, the following definitions might help a bit:

  • Enhancement: To make greater, as in value, beauty, or effectiveness; augment.

  • Enablement: The act of enabling, or the state of being enabled; ability...To clarify more...

  • Enable: To supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity; make able

How will popular conceptions of the phrases "performance enhancement" and "performance enablement" influence the way people perceive future uses of neurotechnology?

In the minds of many, performance enhancement carries feelings of artificiality, lacking of achievement, being a perversion of medicine, and even being an unnatural shortcut, while performance enablement projects images of empowerment, lifting the bottom up, and even fairness. (For an extremely informative discussion read: Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications.)

For example, will a college student who uses a cogniceutical to improve memory retention be viewed as unfairly enhancing her performance or will her use of a cogniceutical, which enables her to do the same work in a shorter period of time, be seen as an intelligent use of humanity's latest set of tools? 

Is there really a difference or is this just a question for marketing?

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September 3, 2003

Accelerating the Neuroethics Discussion

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Posted by Zack Lynch

By highlighting Randall Parker's concern over Richard Glen Boire assertion that individual's should have the "right to forget", Glenn Reynolds shows that he is among a growing group who are realizing that neurotechnology, not genetic engineering, will be the primary driver of social change in the coming decades. 

Glenn comments: "These are issues that will soon be -- if they are not already -- non-hypothetical."

As I have discussed previously, neuroethics represents the battlefield over each of our minds.  Although the ability of neurotechnology to effectively influence human behavior is held back by slowly developing biochips and brain-imaging technology, there is no doubt that emerging neurotechnology is driving the neuroethics discussion.

While the perils of neurotechnology include -- neurowarfare, coercive use of truth detectors, and memory erasure, its emergence also carries the promise of increasing mental health expectancy, extending human cognitive capabilities, expanding human sensory performance and enabling more effective emotional control.

The primary motivation behind writing this blog, my book, and letters to the President is to accelerate the social conversation about the various ways that neurotechnology and neuroceuticals will impact human society.  I hope you stay posted for what will continue to be an informative and entertaining ride.

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September 2, 2003

A Tidal Wave of Thanks and Appreciation

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I hope you have enjoyed the past six weeks of guest blogging from Pat Kane, Steven Johnson, Paul Zak, Wrye Sententia, and Richard Glen Boire.  I sure did and so did many others.  By introducing their unique perspectives, each of them made important contributions to the ongoing conversation about the societal implications of neurotechnology. 

I would also like to thank each of them for providing me time to make the necessary "Perception Shift" to write several new chapters in my forthcoming book -- Brain Wave: Our Emerging Neurosociety.  Thank you. 

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