In the living world there is just nothing more mind-bogglingly remarkable than the human brain. But it is only now that researchers armed with advanced imaging technologies like FMRI and Tractography are beginning to unravel the deepest mysteries of this extraordinary organ. What they have uncovered is a complex network of super-specialized electrical centres, each responsible for a different emotion. Beyond this, they have succeeded in mapping love, hate, compassion, lust, violence and every other human emotion to specific parts of the brain, opening the possibility of our being able to actually modify our behaviour the way we want simply by tweaking these control centres.
It may be years before we are able to pop a pill to enhance our capacity to love and care, or take a shot that curbs anger, but the advances being made in neurological labs around the world currently are a step in that direction. The amygdala, for example, has been identified as the empathy centre. Not surprisingly, this centre is extremely small among pathological killers, reason why they are able to murder without remorse. In the future, instead of locking them up in a dehumanizing jail, which has the effect of killing even the little compassion they might be capable of feeling, judges might prescribe a course of medicines or a therapy that enriches the amygdala.
In another social context, particularly real to us in India, it has been noticed that abjectly poor people find it extremely hard to break out of their condition even when supported by welfare initiatives. Studies on the cutting edge of neurological research suggest that this may be because acute poverty has an adverse effect on the frontal lobe, the most sophisticated part of the human brain responsible for creativity, imagination, judgement, discrimination and other such evolved emotions.
Advanced probes show that people living in slums under extreme stress may have compromised frontal lobe functioning making it tough for them to think beyond their circumstances. This probably is the reason why they continue to behave in a manner that keeps them mired in poverty. More than social welfare intervention, what these people may need is the help of a neurologist who is able to modify the functioning of their frontal lobe and thereby enable them to drag themselves out of the rut.
Significant progress is being made in areas ranging from genetic and chemical manipulation and regeneration (stem cells) therapy which may in the future unlock chemicals, therapies and procedures that enable doctors to effectively control how the different specialised centres of the brain function and thereby inspire a transformational leap in neuroscience that helps them to not just reform killers and dispel poverty but make the blind see, the deaf hear, the dumb speak and a paraplegic walk.
This is the brain and our future…