ARE BRAIN SCIENTISTS GETTING CLOSER TO MANIPULATING OUR FREE WILL AND IS THIS BAD?

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As scientists struggle to unlock the mystery of how the over 85 billion neurons in the human brain interact and communicate amongst each other and with the over several hundred, if not more, types of neurons, all with complex computational functions, one would assume that the “manipulation” of the human brain is still far-fetched. But that may not be the case for long. Neuroscientists, throughout the planet, are working feverishly and collectively to simulate the brain for the purpose of studying, mapping and arguably for methods on how to control brain functions. According to the web page of “International Neuro Informatics (INCF),  the organization is “The collaboration between neuroscientists and computer scientists to make new and old neuroscience data more accessible and more useful to the research community and to advance our understanding of the brain at a much faster rate than previously possible”. Similarly, the web page of “Neurovation” says the goal is to provide new tools to help understand the brain and its fundamental mechanisms and to apply this knowledge in future medicine and novel architectures”. All of this collective effort seems very good; some say that if all scientific efforts regarding cancer research were shared, greater progress would be made. But profits and pride get in the way.

If it can be determined how the brain “computes” data, once visualized, smelled or felt, scientists edge closer to one of their goals of determining why a particular olfactory (for example) experience is preferred over another. Issues of fear, instincts of survival maneuvers, and other emotions, such as love and hate, could be mapped; very specific conclusions concerning exactly which neurons and their synapses become active during controlled environments would naturally assist scientists in this effort. But noticeability of activation in such brain cells alone is inadequate for scientists who are trying to determine why there is a variance in activity in different brains when being observed watching the exact same thing. If distinct activity is measured in neurons, say when observing the brains of two people, one who fears fears spiders and another who does not, such knowledge does not establish why there is a difference in activity. Put another way, if it becomes possible to determine what brain activity is active when we see that the color of an apple is red, we still would not know why a particular person preferred a red apple over a green one yet clearly the brain is impacting this choice which appears to be a process of free will; when scientists are able to accurately map brain activity dealing with free will thoughts, they will be at, or close to the point where the brain can be manipulated. This would have some obvious benefits. Maybe we could ease or stop depression, suicide idealizations, anxiety, unnecessary fear, criminal or deviant thoughts and other negative thinking patterns. Of course, there would likely be bad implications as well. Minds could be “set” to favor certain things or people and our free will would be lost. It is not reasonable, given the world’s history, to think that we would use these discoveries wisely.

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