All of the methods, drugs, and research that involve the brain are treading on new territory. With each new discovery, comes the challenge of applying it with ethics and a value system that we can all agree on.
The brain is a very changeable organ. It can grow, mutate, and rewire itself as needed. This is often a normal response to trauma or injury. However, science can now induce the brain to change at will. Known as plasticity, the brain's ability to adapt has been studied since the beginning of the 19th century. This ability to change offers some hope for the treatment of Alzheimer's and other diseases of the brain. This research can further help us understand the causes and treatment for a wide range of mental illnesses. It may also lead to products that can enhance the brains functioning. This carries with it the ethical considerations of tampering with our normal thought processes.
Rearranging our thinking is nothing new. Biofeedback was an early attempt at using technology to alter our thinking. There are currently numerous drugs available to treat everything from mild stress to schizophrenia. We can also alter our thinking with electronic devices such as with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). It is believed that this device may improve cognitive ability and treat sleep deprivation. We may one day have a computer controlled helmet that stimulates our brain with magnetism to give us an intellectual edge. Medical ethicists will need to decide where the mind ends and where the machine begins.
Advocates for forging ahead in the science of the brain are quick to point out that changing our thinking is a positive step towards mental health. We currently change our thinking by altering our diet, environment, education, and behavior. They contend that technology is simply science being put to work for what we have already been doing for centuries. The technology is moving fast as we have exited the 'brain decade' and entered the brain millennium.
In conclusion, the science of the brain and the recent discoveries have great promise in treating many ailments such as stroke or psychosis. It also holds the possibility of manufacturing thought beyond our wildest dreams. We are hesitant to manufacture a human clone in a laboratory or create a master race. Yet this is the possibility that brain research holds. The challenge for the next millennium will be for the scientists to balance the discovery with the ethical issues involved.