"What goes on inside our heads?" Perhaps the most basic biological question about humankind. The Obama administration is working on a plan to map human brain activity that may be released next month. Scientists say the decade-long project could spark an explosion in new devices, medical therapies and business opportunities we’ve never dreamed of.
The goal of this project is bold -- understand how the brain works and figure out how to influence, or manipulate the mind. Ralph Greenspan is the associate director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego. He says right now the brain moves too quickly to assess and measure what happens when we play the piano… or recognize a tune.
“And we all believe being able to do that is a key step towards understanding how the brain does what it does,” he says.
If we can unlock the answers to those questions, Greenspan says he and his colleagues can tackle trickier ones, like what’s happening in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, or schizophrenia.
“That can lead us towards ways to try to bring back balance where things are out of balance,” says Greenspan.
Greenspan thinks this project will spawn tons of new business for the pharmaceutical industry, of course, and the larger medical field. But the possibilities for high tech may be even greater, says NYU psychology professor Gary Marcus.
“I wrote a piece in the New York Times a few years ago about having Google built into your brain, but for your own thoughts and as we better understand how the brain works, that thing that was kind of a fantasy when I wrote about it a few years ago, that’s going to become a reality,” he says.
This brain mapping project hasn’t been unveiled yet. Scientists believe this initiative could boost the nation’s economic growth substantially. But NYU’s Marcus says if the U.S. doesn’t pour money into the brain, we could lose our intellectual capital.
“The scientist needs money to do their work. And it’s been a tough funding climate here lately,” he says.
Marcus says with the EU pursuing a similar project, the country faces a brain drain if it doesn’t pony up some cash quick.
There are an estimated 40 millions guns in India -- and as concerns rise about safety, the number of applications for gun licenses is growing.
Tanmay Chatterjee is a spokesperson for the group Indians for Guns. Chatterjee says, "More and more women are enquiring about the procurement process and are applying for licenses. The rise in the number of applications is very sharp."
But getting a gun license can take years. First, you have to prove there's a direct threat to your life. So the black market for guns is growing, says gun-dealer Joydeep Biswas, whose family has been in the gun business for five generations.
"A large chunk of people want it for self-defense. So yes, people want it for their own personal safety. And they will buy illegal arms irrespective of whether the government gives them a license or not."
One estimate puts illegal gun ownership in India at more than 85 percent of the total. And that, says Biswas, is wiping out businesses like his. "This is a dying trade. We are here because our family has been doing this for generations. In the cases of the gunshops, the new generation is not coming in. We are probably the last generation."
Many of the black market guns are made in India, but they're also coming in from neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh. And as regulation of gun ownership remains tight and concerns about safety grow, the balck arms market will likely continue to thrive.
Korean-American pastor Peter Chin leads an African American church, and lives in a predominately black neighborhood. It hasn't always been easy, but in this holiday rebroadcast, Chin tells host Michel Martin how he's worked through diversity issues with his family, his congregation and himself.