Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A pacemaker for the brain




I think I have said this before, but like millions of Americans, I have depression.  Not that you could tell from the tenor of my posts, I'm sure.
Depression has its root cause in a chemical imbalance within the brain.  Serotonin is not as available to the brain in a depressive as it would be in an otherwise healthy individual.  A great many medications have been developed for this condition, but if you're anything like me and I know I am, you've yet to find a drug that works well enough and without those pesky side effects. 

Research scientists may now have found a viable alternative.  It's a cybernetic implant for the brain, a "neurotransmitter."  Composed of a collection of very tiny microchips, the device would deliver minor electric shocks to the brain, thus stimulating chemical production.  The tricky part would be locating the area of the brain in which to best place the implant to correct the given malady.  With the vast matrix of neurons and their both subtle and delicate connection to emotions, I cannot even fathom where they would start.  Probably why I'm not a neurosurgeon.

Yet in the end, would I want this cybernetic implant to take away all my depression?  Don't get me wrong, the condition is no fun to have.  It holds you back from success, and it's hell on the other people in your life.  But I saw an episode of (of all things) Rick Steve's Europe on PBS this past weekend.  He went to Norway and talked about Edvard Munch, painter of The Scream and many other expressionistic triumphs.  Munch had depression (shocker!), but he eventually got better in later life.  Though happier, he could no longer paint even close to the way that he once did.  I also doubt that Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, or Edgar Allen Poe could have tapped into their literary genius without their own mental afflictions.

 So would I want the "brain pacemaker?"  As much as I harp about transhumanism, I don't know.


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