The Brain – Tool, Weapon, and Battlefield

August 14, 2008

The Brain
The brain can be hostile occupied territory

The evolution of the human species from our primate ancestors has been one in which our brain capacity has grown larger allowing us to focus on tasks previously impossible and allowing us to invent and learn, thus propelling ourselves into civilization and beyond.

The brain as ground zero in evolution isn’t restricted to humans, much less mammals. British scientists have developed a robot with a biological brain. The intent of this project is to see “how memories manifest themselves in the brain, and how a brain stores specific pieces of data”. Robots with biological brains bring up images of cyborgs and tinkering with nature. Suspicions will abound.

But don’t count out the importance of the human brain just yet! Neuroscientists are telling us that the brain is the battlefield of the future:

Rapid advances in neuroscience could have a dramatic impact on national security and the way in which future wars are fought, US intelligence officials have been told.

…..

On the battlefield, bullets may be replaced with “pharmacological land mines” that release drugs to incapacitate soldiers on contact, while scanners and other electronic devices could be developed to identify suspects from their brain activity and even disrupt their ability to tell lies when questioned, the report says.

“The concept of torture could also be altered by products in this market. It is possible that some day there could be a technique developed to extract information from a prisoner that does not have any lasting side effects,” the report states.


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Human Evolution is Speeding Up

July 25, 2008

DNA strand

Genetic research is telling us that human evolution is proceeding at a much faster pace than previously thought

While some are still mired in the debate about evolution actually being real, scientists continue to find the clues that are solving some of the most elementary mysteries of who we are as humans and where we’re going.  Nancy Shute in US World News Report tells us that human evolution is proceeding at a faster pace than any time in our short history. A few excerpts from this excellent article:

Until recently, anthropologists thought that human evolution had slowed down. But last December, Hawks reported that it has actually accelerated 100-fold in the past 5,000 to 10,000 years. He figured that out by comparing chunks of DNA among 269 people from around the world. Over time, DNA accumulates random mutations, just as the front of a white T-shirt tends to accumulate spots. The bigger the chunks of DNA without random spots, the more recently it had been minted. Using this system, Hawks concluded that recent genetic changes account for about 7 percent of the human genome. Much of the increase, he says, has been fueled by the growth of the world’s population, which has expanded by a factor of 1,000 over the past 10,000 years. Having more people increases the odds of mutations.

At the same time, the human genome has been scrambling to adapt to a rapidly changing world—11,000 years ago, nobody farmed, nobody milked domesticated animals, and nobody lived in a city. People with a mutation that aided survival were more likely to thrive, reproduce, and pass that mutation along to offspring. For example, the capacity to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, has become common only over the past 3,000 years. Now, about 95 percent of the people in northern Germany have the mutation, which also popped up independently among the Masai in Africa and the Lapps in Finland. Hawks says: “This is really rapid evolution.”

Mutations serve as triggers for change. Read the rest of this entry »