GUEST AUTHOR ARCHIVES
December 30, 2004
Smart Mobs picks up on a recent article in CIO that highlights the potential of using neurotechnology for competitive advantage.
Neurocompetitive advantage was the focus of recent talk I gave in Dubai at the Arab Strategy Forum. While the neurotechnology industry is currently being driven by the need for better treatments for brain-related illnesses, you can bet, that if there is a way to safely improve human capital productivity, individuals will them to compete and keep their jobs. (see neurofinance)
By enabling a higher level of productivity, neurotechnology represents the next form of competitive advantage beyond information technology.
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December 29, 2004
Here's a good rule of thumb: If a book is banned, get it and read it. Find out for yourself what all the commotion is about. Usually, nervous bureaucrats and busybodies are trying to squash knowledge and debate. PIHKAL is no exception. The government of Australia, for instance, thought it should be banned -- not for child pornography or graphic mutilation, but because PIHKAL deigns to talk openly about drugs. In fact, its publication prompted reprisal by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which warranted agents to invade the home and ransack the lab of authors Sasha and Ann Shulgin.
Sasha Shulgin is an old-fashioned scientist who synthesized scores of new hallucinogens (more precisely phenethylamines), and then systematically tried them on his dog, his himself, and a willing group of fellow scientists and explorers, who dutifully took notes and recorded the results of their controlled experiments. Some of these efforts are recorded in PIHKAL, which is an acronym for Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved. Shulgin the chemist uses the last half of the book to detail scores of compounds individually. For each, he documents the chemical structure, effective dose, method of synthesis, and likely effects on the body. Since a majority of the population has tried psychoactive substances, this half of the book could answer the age-old question of kids in chemistry classes all over, "How are we going to use this in real life?"
The subtitle of the book is A Chemical Love Story, and Ann and Sasha honestly expose the details of their life and love. In their own individual voices, each chronicles their journey before meeting. Ann is the emotional, intuitive, poetic, spiritual half of the duo. Ann describes their relationship in the context of many hallucinogenic experiences, providing the reader a verbal rendering of a variety of drug trips. Sasha is the rational, analytic scientist and teacher, who marches to his own drummer. He documents his professional journey that led him to become a free agent chemist and inquirer into hallucinogens (he is generally disinterested in cannabis, opioids, and cocaine). After an Independence Day marriage in the backyard, they take turns telling of their life together.
Although the book is unabashedly positive about hallucinogens, it injects reality by discussing a periodic bad trip. In one particularly memorable episode, a member of their research group went catatonic for an extended period of time, causing all of the participants great anxiety and concern. All the bad trips have happy endings, though, perhaps because of the knowledge, maturity, and responsibility of the characters.
Tucked neatly in the middle is a small yet comprehensive treatise on the subject of drug policy, taken from one of his lectures as a professor at Berkeley. Shulgin eloquently argues for individual liberty while debunking many myths that prop up the failed prohibitionist drug policies in this country. Prohibitions -- whether of drugs or books like PIHKAL -- predictably fail. In this era of de facto censorship, when people do not discuss drug use openly for fear of incarceration, it is deeply refreshing to hear someone reprise with truth.
President, Reason Foundation
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December 28, 2004
"It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which gives happiness." --Thomas Jefferson
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Two months ago I switched back to Apple. Having gone through 5 PC laptops over 8 years, the last three all IBM thinkpads (read the pain here, here), I took the sage advice of Ross, Matt, Dan, Kevin, Steven, and all the other powerbook users I know and trust. I haven't been this happy with information technology in years.
The last piece of the transition was finished yesterday when Craigslist brought Mike Slavko into my life who came to my house and transferred my decade old files from my Apple Duo to my G4. I highly recommend Mike if you have Apple issues (which are few and far between).
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December 27, 2004
Empathy in the Brain and In Art is the theme of the upcoming fourth international conference on neuroesthetics to be held on January 15th, 2005 at UC Berkeley.
While last year's conference focused on "Emotions in Art and the Brain," here is a brief overview of this year's event from the organizers: (click here for schedule)
"Empathy, one of the most extraordinary feats of the human brain, plays a major role in social and artistic communication. We empathize with others and often respond with emotion to their condition. Artists, photographers, actors and film directors use our capacity to empathize to give their works heightened emotional appeal. But what are the neurological foundations of empathy, and on what specialized brain cells and systems does it depend?
The Fourth International Conference on Neuroesthetics will bring together scientists and artists to explore the mechanisms for empathy in the brain and the way in which artists intuitively use these processes to express or evoke empathy. The conference will cover the theme of empathy at all levels-from the response of single cells in the brain, to brain areas engaged during empathetic experience, to the devices and strategies that artists, actors and photographers use to elicit the spectator's empathy and sympathy.
Our distinguished speakers will share their insights into the mechanisms of a brain system that acts as a powerful social adhesive and is instrumental in communication - whether through language, art or music."
I highly recommend this annual conference and look forward to seeing some of you there again.
Empathy is what we all feel for our extended family and friends impacted by the 9.0 quake and the painful tsunami that followed. We are each fragile.
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December 23, 2004
This is the first of a three part interview with neuroeconomist Paul Zak.
By Zack Lynch
The king of trust, Paul Zak, directs the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles, where for the past four years he has led a team of economists and neuroscientists to understand how trust influences economic development.
1. Why is trust so important?
Every economic transaction involves some degree of trust. Trust affects everything from personal relationships to global economic development. For example, when you purchase a product, you are trusting that it will work as advertised. As part of the buying process we often evaluate the person on the other side of the counter for a sense of their trustworthiness to help us make our decision. Trust works as an economic lubricant that affects everything from personal relationships to global economic development.
2. What is the difference between trust and trustworthiness?
To trust someone involves taking a risk, as you are letting someone else impact what happens to you. Trustworthiness is the trait of deserving trust or confidence. In an economic transaction, the initiating party offers trust while the providing party earns trustworthiness by delivering a good product. In this sense, trustworthiness is the partial reciprocation of trust. (see trust animation)
3. How do you measure something as complex as trust?
In our experiments, we recruit students and pay them $10 for showing up. They then take seats in a large computer lab where they are matched up in pairs. This is done completely anonymously so that no one knows (or will ever know) who the other person is in his or her pair. One half of the then have the opportunity to send none, some, or their entire $10 show-up fee to the other person. All participants are told that what ever they send will be tripled. So, if $4 were sent, the other person would receive $22 ($4 tripled, plus the $10 show-up fee the second person receives).
Next the second person in the pair receives a message telling them the amount sent to them. They can then choose to send some amount back to the first person, or just take the money home. In one of our studies, 85% of the first decision-makers decided to send some of their money to their partner, and 90% of the receivers sent some money back.
4. How did you get interested in the neurobiology of trust?
I wanted to understand the relationship between trust and economic development, so I began building mathematical models of trust. These did a good job of explaining how increasing levels of generalized trust in a country correlates to higher standards of living. For example, surveys of trustworthiness show enormous differences across countries, from 3% in Brazil to 65% in Norway.
But these models were unable to explain how two individuals decide to trust each other. There was no human data that identified the neural mechanisms that permits each of us to do something that we do everyday, without ever thinking about it. This is why I started the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies.
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December 21, 2004
Here is a brief review of the talk I gave last week in Dubai which was also covered in the Gulf Today:
"Providing 'A Peek into 2050' noted futurologist Zack Lynch predicted that 'Neurotechnology' will be for the future what Information Technology is for the present.
Speaking at a dinner hosted by General Motors (Cadillac) for delegates and speakers for Arab Strategy Forum 2004, NeuroInsights managing director Lynch, pointed out that one in four people in the world today suffer from some brain-related disorder and predicted that by 2020, the incidence of depression would double. "More people will suffer from depression than people suffering from AIDS, heart disease and traffic-related accidents - combined," Lynch told a rapt audience.
He pointed out that a "healthy brain is the most important resource in any economy or business. It is directly linked to economic development."
This forms the basis of efforts to enhance the brain to enhance productivity and efficiency, Lynch said adding that enhancers are already acceptable in society.
Athletes use performance enhancers and cosmetic surgery is widely prevalent to enhance looks, pointed out Lynch adding that brain enhancers would find similar acceptability, but that this would not be without protests. It will definitely impact on the nations and cultures. It will affect people personally - how they see themselves and others. There will be the question of ethics.
"But the reality is that we live in a competitive economy and mental health is the ultimate business weapon. Neurotechnology is the next level after Information Technology. It will provide the 'Neuroadvantage'," Lynch predicted.
He explained that neurotechnology has already begun to be tested to enhance the productivity of workers. It is a method to analyse the brain and enhance its performance. It has three tools - brain imaging, neuropharmaceuticals and neurodevices."
More insights from the Forum soon.
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December 8, 2004
"Our region is at crossroads and our fates are inexorably tied. We can either succeed together or fail together. We can choose to erect barriers that stifle growth or forge new alliances that create opportunities. The Arab Strategy Forum is about the latter. It is about dialogue, debate and networks that create new opportunities for peace, progress and prosperity for our common region and our common future. It has been set up for the region, by the region.
I look forward to welcoming you to Dubai and hope you will be part of this momentous cause."
- HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
20 years ago I visited Dubai and it changed my life. Today I am leaving San Francisco with my wife and returning to Dubai to give a keynote talk at the Arab Strategy Forum on our emerging neurosociety. The central theme of the meeting is The Arab World in 2020 and I have been invited to share my perspective on Tomorrows World: A Peek into 2050 at the gala dinner on the second night.
It is an honor to be speaking with so many esteemed individuals, including: Former President Bill Clinton; Thomas Friedman; Madeleine Albright; Laura Tyson; Gideon Rose (Editor, Foreign Affairs); Prince Turki Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia); Jassim Al-Mannai (Chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund); Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi (Malaysia); Rafiq Al Hariri (Former Prime Minister of Lebanon); Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem (Libya); Hoshyar Zebari (Foreign Minister, Iraq); Fouad Ajami (Johns Hopkins); Juliette Kayyem (Harvard); Mohamed M. ElBaradei (Director General, IAEA); Fareed Zakaria (Editor, Newsweek); AbdulRahman Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah (Secretary General, GCC); Samir Al Ansari (CEO, Dubai International Capital); and many more key stakeholders.
The goal of the meeting is to advance the state of the Arab Region by bringing together key regional stakeholders to engage in activities that bridge differences and build opportunities for growth and prosperity in the region.
The invitation to speak came from a paper Tim-Rasmus Kiehl (a Harvard neuropathologist and long time Brain Waves reader) and I spontaneously wrote in September titled "The Neurotechnology Nexus: Opportunities for Dubai as a Leading Cluster of Converging Technologies." No one requested this information. We wrote this paper for one simple reason: to share the knowledge about how neurotechnology will impact business, politics and global culture in the years to come with those who are focused on the critical issues facing today's world. I am extremely honored and humbled by this opportunity and look forward to sharing my experiences upon my return.
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