In a recent interview in Discover, Baroness Susan Greenfield, Fullerian Professor of Physiology and Comparative Anatomy at Oxford University, discussed her radical views on happiness, the human brain the differencess between men and women, and the future of the species in a cyberworld.
Greenfield heads a team of scientists who are focused on the genetics of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. She is the first female director of the 204-year-old Royal Institution of Great Britain and a cofounder of two biotech start-ups that specialize in brain diseases. She holds a seat in the House of Lords, has hosted a BBC series on the brain, and wrote The Human Brain: A Guided Tour. Her next book will be titled Tomorrow's People.
Her thoughts are reminisent of Freud's in his Civilization and It's Discontents: The key to Greenfield's philosophy is that "happy people do not build civilizations."
One of the reasons that our species has taken over so many ecological niches on the planet, Greenfield states, "is because our brain is so good at adapting and learning, as opposed to relying on the genetic imperative of our instinct. For 50,000 years we've done that, but now these things we are creating will eliminate the need to adapt and change, and the natural human tendency to ask questions won't necessarily happen like before. What question is someone going to ask? If you know everything, you're in a state of well-being, you're living in a cyberworld, and everything is available at the push of a button, what questions are you going to ask? I think we're going to have answers rather than questions."
"For the first time," Greenfield continued, "we are in danger of not needing a personality anymore. That is, if you start sanitizing human nature, do you lose something? It has been a big part of the 20th century to make yourself an individual. That's the part that Huxley says we would lose in a Brave New World.
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