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April 24, 2008

Neuroscience and Drug Policy 1 (Personal)

A measure of the success of humans as a species is that we now number somewhere around six an a half billion individuals and have, collectively, accumulated more knowledge of our universe than ever.  Ironically, the dangers now confronting us: economic catastrophe, rapid climate change, epidemic disease, and famine are also quite real to a majority that has yet to include the current US President and many in his political party.

That the list of his potential replacements has now been whittled down to three is of some concern; who they are should be of even more, and the (familiar) direction of political rhetoric as we approach important deadlines does little to inspire confidence.

That we humans are qualitatively different than other species must have been apparent to our shadowy first ancestors, but we will never know for sure because they had yet to discover writing and it would be thousands of years before decipherable messages were left for posterity. They would also have probably been too preoccupied with mere survival to do much abstract thinking. Most of what we know about early humans and their immediate ancestors has come from systematic explorations undertaken in the past three hundred years with the aid of scientific technology. So new is our ability to explore both our own recent past as a species and the more distant past of our planet and galaxy, we are still uncertain of their physical and chronological limits.

All of which makes our brain, the highly evolved organ with which we think, and one once called the most complicated machine in the Universe,  the most important determinant of our future as a species. Literally, how we are able to think collectively over the next several years is likely to play a huge role in our future and that of our planet.

The new scientific buzz word for studies of the brain is “neuroscience.” Like many such neologisms, it lumps together some very strange bedfellows. That many neuroscientists are playing an active role in drug policy both accounts for the drift of this entry and marks another subject I hope to return to.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at April 24, 2008 04:19 PM