Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience
Dual Use Discipline for Understanding & Managing Complexity and Altering Warfare
by John Stanton
June 30th, 2007
The Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience (ECN) discipline, and its associated fields, may produce tools that advance humanity’s ability to understand and manage itself. Simultaneously, ECN may also yield brain-centric weaponry that drastically alters human warfare. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) may marshal significant resources — as it did during the 1941 to 1946 Manhattan Project — to drive ECN research, development and testing. DOD is the only entity in the United States with the capability to fully fund ECN programs. The DOD’s Defense Science Board and the United States’ Intelligence Community has recently suggested research thrusts into ECN and the merging of data-heavy sciences and social sciences. Success will ultimately depend on program directors and researchers’ acceptance of general Evolutionary Theory and, in particular, Evolutionary Psychology. Failure to do this will result in a mosh-pit of studies based on dated science and methodology.
The Evolutionary Psychology and Neuroscience disciplines are set to merge into a unified field known as Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience or ECN. ECN may produce novel integrated micro, macro models of brain-behavior relationships based on the principles of general Evolution, Evolutionary Psychology and the findings of Neuroscience. Applications may range from predictive human behavior models to neuroweaponry.
Social science literature and United States’ Department of Defense (DOD) documentation also suggests that the time is ripe for an even larger merger between the data-heavy sciences and the social sciences.1 ECN may serve as both a conduit and foundation for this convergence particularly as the DOD recognizes its importance to national security. However, the entire effort will fail if program directors and researchers exclude general Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology from their methodologies.
Complexity (the number of ways-hows-and-whys a system can act) may become an anachronism as novel research demystifies consciousness reducing human complexity to a deterministic system. Biomachines that bypass time consuming conscious activity ultimately may be fielded by the DOD. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is already working towards this end. Through its Neurotechnology for Intelligence Analysts program, it has probed brain signals triggered when an analyst sees something interesting in a satellite image. The analyst’s brain registers the discovery long before the analyst becomes cognitively aware of it. “The brain can signal the discovery three times faster than the analyst can respond . . . My goal is to use these technologies to harness the speed of thought . . . I know it’s possible, especially if we confront these challenges not just as problems of biology and neuroscience but problems of physics, math, materials science and microtechnology.”2
The DOD has a very aggressive interest in understanding and adapting to the Human Terrain (brain-behavior relationships in local, regional, national and global environments). With a budget of approximately $1.2 trillion ($US), and the ability to obtain additional funding, the DOD stands alone in its ability to accelerate research and development (R&D) programs in ECN, as well as catalyze the fusion of the data-heavy and social sciences. Such an effort may be as significant as the Manhattan Project (Atomic Bomb) or the development of Quantum Theory. There is historical precedent for thinking as much.
I think the military is the place to do it…I think it is time for the Pentagon to do for human science what it did for chemistry in World War I, for physics in World War II and for computers in the post-Cold War era. I’m convinced that we’re fighting human wars now and that another stealth bomber, another battleship is not how to win these wars . . .3
This DOD R&D effort may certainly revolutionize warfare. In the process it may also transform the understanding and conduct of human affairs, which in turn may present challenges to the legitimacy of long established, cumbersome institutions. For example, from a policy and organizational perspective, the United States may find it necessary to create some sort of DOD-Plus organization: one centralized defense and foreign apparatus that has a comprehensive capability to anticipate and respond to evolving threats in local, regional, national, and global environments.4 A secondary organization might be needed for post-response consequence and stability management.
Another side effect of this R&D activity may be a significant shift in the way human beings view themselves nestled as they are on the outskirts of 1 of the estimated 125 billion galaxies in the known universe. Already, papers such as Quantum Physics in Neuroscience and Psychology: A Neurophysical Model of Mind-Brain Interaction offer intriguing insights and prospects. ECN encourages innovative thinking through progressive and tested science.5
Neuroscientists studying the connection of mind and consciousness to physical processes in the brain often assume that a conception of nature based on classic physics will eventually turn out to be adequate. That assumption would have been reasonable during the nineteenth century. But now, in the twenty-first century, it is rationally untenable. Quantum Theory must be used in principle because the behavior of the brain depends sensitively upon atomic, molecular and ionic processes, and these processes in the brain often involve large quantum effects.
The whole range of science, from atomic physics to mind-brain dynamics, has the possibility of being brought together into a single rationally coherent theory of an evolving cosmos that is not constituted by matter but by actions of agents. In this conceptualization of nature, agents could naturally evolve in accordance with the principles of natural selection, owing to the fact that their efforts have physical consequences. The outline of a possible rationally coherent understanding of the connection between mind and matter begins to emerge . . . A shift to this pragmatic approach that incorporates agent based choices as primary empirical input variables may be as important to progress in neuroscience and psychology as it was to atomic physics.
In the United States, the ongoing obsession with national security and the enormous funding necessary to soothe a national psyche of fear and war is a key driver for enhancing security thereby eliminating the uncertainty of daily living. ECN may generate predictive and diagnostic biotechnologies to reduce tension. Such a development could eliminate much uncertainty and concomitant drama in human affairs by providing leaders with assets to manage the complexities in brain-behavior relationships. To get there though, reliable data on human beings, as they function as interconnected consumers, warfighters, enemies, refugees, diplomats, criminals, and citizens of their respective nations will need to be collected and assessed. The entire effort depends on the application of general Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology.