News and Tribune

April 7, 2014

CUMMINS: Your future depends on implants

By TERRY CUMMINS
Local columnist

— Since the maddening month of March finally passed, we can now focus on the improvement of humanity as it relates to human behavior. We may see the end of erratic behavior as medical science begins replacing malfunctioning brain parts. However, we can’t re-focus just yet, because of our loyalty and duty to the treasury in Washington. During the maddening excitement of watching young academics dribble, foul and shoot free throws you forgot about the W forms, didn’t you? The government must remain strong and protect us from outside threats, and also threats from within, such as the IRS tax code. Of all the ridiculous things devised by man, including Congress, English cricket and marriage, the tax code remains Number One. Even Einstein had to have help from H&R Block.

To increase the brain power of beleaguered human beings, we’re a click away from implants in, and attachments to our skulls, replacing the defective parts of our brains. It’s amazing how man can replace knees, hips and hearts. Now he’s replacing parts of the brain to help men better interact with their fellow men and particularly women. Although medical science may not be able to change man’s attitude and his often ruthless quest for wealth and power, we’re on the verge of inserting implants that will perfect memory, enhance vision and sharpen our focus, as reported by Drs. Gary Marcus and Christof  Koch, two leading human scientists.

A future retinal chip might let you see in the dark, or a cochlear implant might let you hear any conservation in a noisy room. A memory chip wired into your brain’s hippocampus will give you perfect recall of everything you read. I want one of those, and don’t care where they insert it if it helps me remember what day it is.

Neurology experts say, unlike pacemakers, laser eye surgery or hearing aids, neuroprosthetics are devices that restore or supplement the mind’s capacity with electronics inserted directly into the nervous system. These devices will change how we perceive the world, move through it and become a part of who we are.  

Let me get this straight; most of us don’t know who we are. Some of us think we do, but you want to rely on electrical devices inserted inside your most precious receptacle? Or you want to walk around with attachments embedded in your hair, beeping, tiny lights flashing? I see people with devices in their hands, focused, dazed, poking away. Where their minds are, I do not know. How many devices can a normal human being manage, or an abnormal human being attach to his skin and bones?

Join the mind-altering implant bandwagon, or pass on. No, I don’t want to pass, I’ve got a lot of living to do, but can’t they make it simpler like it was in the old days when we sat on the porch talking directly to each other? A porch swing might not be considered a device, but it was so peaceful sitting there in the quiet watching the fireflies and stars begin their magical light show. It took your breath away, in a way. I miss the quiet, but do admit, loved ones swinging and texting on a porch are not jabbering on a cell phone. Does your wife take her pills and her smartphone to bed with her every night?  

Don’t get me wrong, I support progress. Helping people see, walk, remember and think is about as humanitarian as you can get. I remember the first miraculous device I ever saw, more than 60 years ago.

My grandfather, who raised me on the farm, had his cancerous voice box removed. A self-educated, happy and wise man, he had lost that life-sustaining ability to talk and communicate. His arthritic and claw-like hands prevented him from writing legibly. One day he scribbled, “how ar kaddle,” on a scrap of paper and handed it to me. What is this, oh, how are our cattle? “They’re fine, Granddad,” and his sad eyes lit up for the briefest time.

Then a Bell Telephone Company representative contacted him. They’d developed a new electronic device about the size of a flashlight. You held it to your throat and voiced words. Amazingly, the vibrations produced strange, but decipherable sounds. “It’s the most wonderful thing ever to happen to me,” he said, and he lived a good life again.

Who will pay for these neuroprosthetics? The next president should sign an Affordable Brain Damage Repair Act and put it on the Internet.

— Contact Terry Cummins at TLCTLC@AOL.com