MARTY RUSSELL: Proposed brain study a no-brainer

By Marty Russell

The Obama administration announced Tuesday it will seek $100 million in the coming year’s budget for a new research initiative to map the human brain.
Conspiracy theorists and conservative radio talk show hosts immediately attacked the proposal as yet another government effort whose ultimate goal is to control the population through propaganda and misinformation stating, “we should know, we invented those tactics.” Republicans immediately balked at the cost of the project but said, in the spirit of compromise, they might be willing to appropriate $50 million to study half a brain since that would cover most of the population.
The president’s proposal is similar to the recently completed human genome project which successfully mapped all our genomes although why we needed to map garden statuary and the Expedia spokes-figure is still unclear. Perhaps the new brain study can help explain it.
The president said in announcing the project while surrounded by brain specialists such as neurosurgeons and a few zombies (who knows more about brains, especially how to eat them?) that the primary goal of the research will be to develop new technologies that will allow scientists to get “dynamic pictures of the brain in action.” Any member of Congress was immediately ruled out as a possible test subject.
By studying how the electrical impulses of the brain work to produce thoughts, movements, memories and ideas, Obama said scientists could develop new treatments for such conditions as autism, Alzheimer’s, dementia, strokes, seizures and the like. It might even be able to tell us why some people go postal and commit horrible deeds such as the recent mass shootings and help us prevent them.
Those are indeed lofty and admirable goals, but consider, if you will, all the other possibilities that could stem from such research if it is successful. Marketing executives, for instance, would start drooling over the possibility that, if it could be proven that when Neuron A in a certain part of the brain shoots an electrical charge at Neuron B in another part of the brain the result is an instant and undeniable craving for a Big Mac.
And what if we wind up one day with portable devices that allow you to know what a person is really thinking, like when your co-worker compliments you on your dress when your device tells you what she is really thinking is, “You look like a tramp in that outfit?” Such a device would eliminate lying, which is why Congress is likely to oppose the research.
All kinds of possibilities come to mind, no pun intended. For instance, we might finally be able to answer the age-old question of why some people find “The Three Stooges” to be funny. Or we could finally determine why people in the poorest state in the country, Mississippi, continue to vote against their best interests and bite the hand that feeds them, the federal government.
You might call that a no-brainer.
MARTY RUSSELL writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

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