Friday, December 19, 2008

Neuroscience in the News: Here comes the ambiguously described Decade of the Mind

Well, the 1990s was declared the Decade of the Brain, and ready or not, we are now in for a Decade of the Mind.

We are told that
Recent advances in brain research, in combination with the scientific consensus that mind emerges as a result of the activities of brains, has led to the notion of a new "Decade" project — one dedicated to understanding the phenomenon of mind within the context of neuroscience.
That's actually a rather ambiguous statement. To see what I mean, consider the following:

"mind emerges as a result of the activities of brains"
"ice storm emerges as a result of the activities of variable fronts"
"foal emerges as a result of the activities of horses"
"dinner emerges as a result of the activities of cooks"
"news magazine emerges as a result of the activities of journalists"
Now, I wonder which of these sentences the conference organizers think is most like the other - or are they too smart to pick just now?

The Decade's more detailed objects are as follows:
The Decade of the Mind initiative focuses on four broad areas:

Healing and protecting the mind: This is the notion of improving the public health by curing diseases of the brain that affect the mind. An example of such a disease is Alzheimer’s disease.

Understanding the mind: This aspect of the initiative seeks to understand how mind actually emerges from brain functional activity. Some of the key characteristics of the mind that are still not understood include consciousness, memory and dreams.

Enriching the mind: Improving learning outcomes in education is a key component of this part of the initiative.

Modeling the mind: A key approach to understanding the mind is to model it either analytically or using computation. Such models of mind may facilitate the creation of new hypotheses which can then be tested in the laboratory or clinic. Modeling the mind may also allow for the creation of new applications, technologies and inventions.
I am glad to see that the first priority is something useful, and I hope it stays that way.