Scientific American reports on military research to "juice up" soldiers' brains using amphetamine-alternatives like Provigil and Ampakine CX717. The aim, of course, is to find the next generation "go pill
" that fighters can pop to stay awake longer without impairing their cognitive abilities. The article also discusses transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a method to stimulate specific regions of neurons to possibly alleviate depression or, of interest to the military, improve reaction time. (More on TMS in this
Popular Science article I wrote several years ago.) For me though, the most interesting bit in the SciAm article is the brief discussion of the "fear gene." From the article:
A distinguished team of U.S. researchers reported in 2005 that a gene called stathmin, which is expressed in the amygdala (the seat of emotion), is associated with both innate and learned fear. The researchers bred mice without the gene and put them in aversive situations, such as giving them a mild shock at a certain point in their cage. Normal mice exhibited traditional fear behavior by freezing in place, but the altered mice froze less often. And when both types of mice were put in an open field environment--an innately threatening situation--the mice without stathmin spent more time in the center of the field and explored more than the control mice.
Do individuals who have lesser stathmin expression exhibit less fear? It is unlikely that there is a one-to-one correspondence, because humans are far more psychologically complex than mice, capable of modifying their genetically programmed behavior. Yet it is not difficult to imagine that a military official who overestimates the significance of genetic information will someday propose screening Special Forces candidates, or even raw recruits, for the "fear gene." Indeed, a few years ago the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company had to pay $2.2 million to employees who had been secretly tested for a gene associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, even though the scientists who developed the testing technique said it could not work for that purpose. The company was trying to see if the workers' medical claims were attributable to their jobs or their genes.
If DNA testing for a fear gene is both scientifically and ethically dicey, what about setting out to create people who lack that characteristic? Would breeding humans without stathmin or other genes associated with fear reactions engender more courageous fighters? Would parents sign on for such meddling if they harbored ambitions for a child capable of a glorious military career or just didn't want to give birth to a "sissy"?
Where are our petabyte drives? Brian Hayes takes us through the reasons storage is “stuck” in the low terabytes. The tl;dr is that we got such exceptional capacity growth in the late 90s and early 00s we don’t need much more right now, so the focus since then has been on SSDs, networking, interfaces, etc, […]
Amélie Lamont, a former staffer at website-hosting startup Squarespace, writes that she often found herself disregarded and disrespected by her colleagues. One comment in particular, though, set her reeling — and came to exemplify her experiences there.
In this episode of the Flash Forward podcast we travel to a future where humans have decided to eradicate the most dangerous animal on the planet: mosquitos. How would we do it? Is it even possible? And what are the consequences? Flash Forward: RSS | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Patreon We […]
Some truths are universal. For one, your phone will always run out of power when you most need it. For another, the charging cords that come packaged with your Apple device will fray, split, and rip faster than Usain Bolt in a game of tag.Instead, pick up a charging cord that anyone would have a tough […]
Some people say magic tricks are nerdy and best left to your 12-year-old asthmatic cousin. But others see value in perfecting the slight of hand and showmanship associated with a perfectly executed routine. We’re firmly in the latter camp. And now, we’re giving you the ability to put a few parlor tricks up your sleeve with the Penguin […]
Bluetooth speakers may be convenient to use, but many of them just aren’t that powerful. Sure, it may be fine if you’re seated in front of the speaker. But move across the room, and you may strain to hear what’s coming from those tiny drivers.There’s a reason why the G-BOOM Wireless Bluetooth Boombox (now $79.99 in the Boing […]