Zack Lynch makes the argument that in the very near future, advances in neuroscience will impact society to a greater degree than the plow, steam engine, electricity, or space flight. In support, he overviews neuroscience research in the fields of law, marketing, finance, interpersonal interactions, art, religion, warfare, and overall daily experience of the world. The argument certainly is a rousing one.
Readers will appreciate the broad scope of the argument, ranging from commerce to the military to art and all areas in between. There are descriptions of many studies performed in the last decade in each of these areas and interviews with top researchers. Additionally, it has broad appeal; the book is readily accessible even to readers without any knowledge whatsoever of neuroscience. On the same note, the discussion sometimes lacks scientific depth; for example, the phrase "a brain area" is used often throughout the book without explaining what area of the brain is under consideration, or if it is an area that was addressed in one of the previous studies described in the book.
Lynch discusses some interesting new fields such as neuroimaging-based lie detection and neuroimaging-based market research. Well-informed by his positions as the executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (a neuroscience trade association) and the director of market research firm NeuroInsights, he leaves no doubt that there are industries that will be transformed by neuroscience research that is currently emerging from academia, and that some military impacts will be important as well.
Some proposed impacts are less convincing, as there seems to be an underlying optimism here that society will readily embrace the implications of new neuroscience-derived evidence, even though this willingness has not always been seen in response to other scientific findings. One extreme example given is that if buyer's remorse is demonstrated and described in neuroscientific terms, laws may change to allow a time-window in which a contract may be reversed. However, we already are aware of buyer's remorse, and it is unclear why finding a neural basis would affect the law. Another example is the description of how neuroimaging will change how the religious view religion itself. Of course, as Lynch makes clear from the beginning, the important message is not that these specific societal changes will take hold, but rather to point out the types of changes that will be made possible, and Lynch does this with an intense passion.
Throughout the book, Lynch predicts widespread daily use of new drugs or devices both to enhance human performance and control emotions at will, while he decries the use of addictive illegal drugs. However, it is not very clear how these two concepts differ, and while this issue is touched on several times the discrepancy is never fully addressed.
Lynch emphasizes that his goal in promoting neuroscience research is to reduce the gap between haves and have-nots, allowing the poor to overcome injuries, trauma, and disadvantages, and allow the rich to feel more empathetic. This is a noble goal. Again, though, he doesn't address what will cause the technology to be used in these ways. Sure the technology may be developed to make it possible, but social aspects will pose a more daunting challenge, and it's possible that some of the uses Lynch proposes may actually increase the gap, benefitting investors and organizations that have the resources to be on the cutting edge. As it is, many people in the world don't even have access to decades-old psychiatric drugs or pacemakers.
Starting out with its strongest arguments first, The Neuro Revolution is an entertaining read, and effective at pulling the reader in to see a perspective in which rapid changes in different areas of life are approaching. It presents far-out optimism as well as points that die-hard skeptics must concede. It leaves the reader with a sense that the results of neuroscience research will no longer be something to read about in the paper, but instead something that will be lived, and finally that whatever the outcome, something that will be impossible to ignore.
© 2010 Travis Simcox
Travis Simcox, New Mexico Highlands University Psychology Master's Student