We are on the brink of a revolution.
Our knowledge of how the brain works has advanced little from the classical philosophers until the advent of sophisticated psychological experiments and functional MRI scanners.
Over the last decade our knowledge of the brain has exploded and the pace of change is getting ever greater. It is a phenomenally exciting time to be a doctor especially if you’re interested in mental health. I am convinced that within the next decade our treatments for a variety of mental illnesses will change dramatically. But I’m also convinced that there is a high price to pay for this technological advance.
Much in the same way that the invention of the Atom Bomb changed life on planet Earth forever, our ability to see into the brain will also have far reaching consequences. The first casualties are likely to be doctors like myself that treat mental health problems largely on intuition, science will catch me up. In my youth I used to be a good chess player and I used to enjoy thrashing the best computer programs of the day and I doubted that a computer program would ever be strong enough to beat me let alone a grand master.
But I hadn’t understood how quickly technology was progressing and in 1997 the unthinkable happened the IBM computer Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov arguably the greatest human chess player ever. In a few years a digital Dr Cowley will be better than the real thing!! But the real impact will be on our personal freedom, instead of a trial you will be plugged into a scanner that will reveal your innocence or guilt.
We can already predict some simple decisions that experimental subjects will make before they even know it themselves!!