Here’s a book to boggle our collective minds

WestWordsWEBYour intrepid editor likes to expand his knowledge in different ways, and recently I read a book about it — literally a book about expanding the mind.

Entitled “The Future of the Mind” by Dr. Michio Kaku, a professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York, the book takes a look at how rapidly brain research is developing and where it seems to be headed.

The fact is, it was only about 160 years ago that a man was injured in an accident when an explosion drove a metal stake through the front of his head. What was unique about it was that he survived. He lost the sight in one eye, and everyone assumed he would die, but he didn’t.

Instead, his personality changed. He became grumpier and lost much of his ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

We know now that different parts of the brain affect different parts of our bodies and our personalities. In fact, writes Kaku, we effectively have two brains only tenuously connected. The left brain offers up most of our explanations of the world as we comprehend it, while the right brain is likely to be more emotional and subject to primal urges.

Some people, he writes, have brains where the left and right are totally separated. As an example, he tells of a man with this affliction who reached out with one hand to give his wife a hug and with the other hit her with a right cross. Afterward, he had no explanation as to why that happened, and claimed it wasn’t a conscious thought.

But “the Future of the Mind” goes far beyond making up excuses for domestic abuse. More important are the advances in helping the 200,000 U.S. citizens with spinal cord injuries be able to adapt their brains with the help of technology to operate within an exoskeleton, that would give them the ability to do all the things they once did.

Thinking of the brain as essentially a computer, Kaku foresees a near future when, if you want to learn a subject, you will be able to download it into your brain, becoming an instantaneous expert on anything.

Within the Pentagon, Kaku writes, there is actually an agency with a $3 billion budget, working on just such a development. Once linked to UFO cover-ups at Roswell, it is also working on making the replacement of damaged body parts as convenient as a fast-food drive-through.

Kaku also sees a time when you will be able to operate a computer just by thinking about it, and, conversely, a computer will be able to read your thoughts.

That would be a mixed blessing. Kaku writes, “Within the mind, you find the noblest achievements and thoughts of humanity. But you will also find monsters from the id.”

Kaku writes that the world has been governed by two competing principles.

The Copernican Principle seems to be at odds with organized religion. Ever since the telescope was invented 400 years ago, and we learned that the earth revolves around the sun, it has seemed as if our planet and our species have no privileged position in the universe.

The competing Anthropic Principle, however, is the undeniable fact that the universe is compatible with life. Kaku writes that if the laws of nature were tweaked just a little, we would be destroyed. For example, if gravity were even slightly more powerful, we would be crushed. If it were slightly less powerful, we would fly away. “Forces must be calculated to a remarkable degree to make life possible,” he writes.

Physicist Freeman Dyson, reflecting on mankind’s place in the universe, adds, “The universe seemed to know that we were coming.”

Kaku also speculates on the possibility that life exists elsewhere in the universe. With millions upon millions of stars, he calculates the odds as being relatively high, but at the same time wonders why we are trying to contact these aliens.

Any civilization capable of responding or visiting would be so far advanced, it would destroy us. In fact, noted physicist Stephen Hawking thinks we should prepare for an alien attack because it would be like Cortez and his small band of conquistadors destroying the Aztec civilization in a few short months.

The pace of research and knowledge of the brain are both rapidly increasing. Futurist and inventor Dr. Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2019, a $1,000 PC will have the computing power of the human brain. By 2029, a $1,000 PC will be a thousand times more powerful than the human brain, and by about 2055, $1,000 of computing power will equal the processing power of all the humans on the planet.

Somewhere around 2045, he predicts, robots will be smart enough to create robots smarter than themselves. Where, then, will that leave humans?

It’s a mind-boggling book that makes debates about medical marijuana or Obamacare seem insignificant. And yet, one isn’t overwhelmed with technical jargon. The average reader can comprehend it. I recommend it.

Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by e-mail at tom.west@ecm-inc.com.

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