Susan Greenfield

Are we all doomed?

Susan Greenfield

While we are debating how to tackle the possibility of being doomed through climate change, we might be running as great a risk of a different type of peril: mind change -- the prospect of cyber technologies changing the way we think and feel. The human brain is exquisitely sensitive to whatever environment it is placed in; this is its "neuroplasticity". If an individual's environment is changing in unprecedented ways, the brain will also change in ways that are unprecedented and, perhaps, undesirable.

Like climate change, mind change involves a variety of questions and issues, each of which needs to be explored in its own right: the impact of social networking sites on face-to-face interaction, empathy and one's own identity; the impact of gaming on risk-taking and risk management; the impact of search engines on human beings' ability to convert information into knowledge and to differentiate separate skills, such as information processing, from in-depth understanding.

Like climate change, mind change is controversial: some insist that the potential problems are exaggerated, while others say that there is no hope. But another group may feel that if we take action now, we can exploit the current technology to huge advantage to stretch the human brain as never before.


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This article first appeared in the 06 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Are we all doomed?