Monday, February 7, 2011

Nonfiction 3: The Neuro Revolution by Zack Lynch

A few years back I read two books on futurism by Alvin Toffler, his 1970 classic Future Shock and his slightly less-known 1980 followup, The Third Wave.

It's easy to make fun of Toffler. Apparently the near-ubiquity of Future Shock makes it one of the most frequently discarded books, easy to find at garage sales and used bookstores.

If you read Toffler's books as a compendium of specific predictions about the future, you'd give him a grade of C minus, maybe C. C plus, tops. Like most futurists in the 1970s, Toffler was far too bullish about the future pace of space colonization. On the other hand, and again like most futurists in the 1970s, he knew something like the Internet was coming, but couldn't foresee either the speed with which it would become widespread, or how thoroughly it would reshape society.

But that would be missing the forest for the trees. Step back, look at the big picture, and you may need to squint at some chapters, and Toffler's books are a remarkably prescient look at the shift from the industrial age to postindustrial age.

Although it's a very different book, with a much narrower focus, I suspect that is approximately how Zack Lynch's The Neuro Revolution is going to hold up in a couple of decades.

The first in my "It's the Mind" trio of nonfiction books for February, The Neuro Revolution is Zack Lynch's discussion of the practical upshot of recent brain research, and what it's likely to mean in terms of technological and societal advances over the next few years and decades.

Lynch has spoken with several dozen of the foremost researchers into neuroscience, and makes extremely informed predictions about the likely future. He is not a totally starry-eyed optimist; he's not terribly bullish about the future of fMRI-based lie detection technology, for instance.

But he does make a lot of fairly confident statements about what will happen in the coming decades.

I'm sure that, fifty years from now, many of his predictions will seem overly optimistic. And others will have turned out to be far too conservative and cautious.

But his score doesn't really matter. Step back and see the forest rather than the trees, and Lynch is telling us that, barring apocalypse, what today's scientists are learning about the brain are going to have a huge practical impact on the world in 10, 20 and 30 years. Read this book and be less shocked by developments in a decade or three's time.

No comments: