To Each His Energy

Over the years, scientists and philosophers have employed a number of models to explain the functioning of the human body and its various components and systems. At various times, human physiology was understood in terms of mechanical, pneumatic, electrical, digital, or system software models. This always seemed to give rise to the chicken-egg problem of epistemology: does our stage of technological development as a society color our understanding of our own bodies, or conversely, does our elucidation of human physiology lead to the development of new technologies that mimic our bodies’ functions?

When it comes to the nervous system, there are several different approaches to studying, explaining, and controlling the various functions of this most complex human characteristic. These approaches range from genetic and molecular, to metabolic and electrophysiological. In this publication, our area of coverage of nervous system function and treatment mainly involves the interaction of electronic components with neural tissue. But as we see from our two cover articles this month, even this restrictive view of the nervous system opens the door to a range of modalities.

While neurodiagnostics and neurostimulation have each tended to favor the electrical modality, measuring and modifying parameters such as voltage, current flow, charge, and resistance, other forms of energy can yield new ways of sensing and effecting change in neural tissue. Functional magnetic resonance imaging uses magnetic energy, indirectly, to (presumably) measure the activity or inactivity of neural cells. And Warren Grill presents an account of new optical stimulation techniques that may someday revolutionize neurostimulation. Just as lasers and fiber optics have offered surgeons and cardiologists invaluable tools for performing procedures much less invasively, they may also be able to deliver precise and selective stimulation and neuromodulation without the need for implanted devices.

This range of modalities and energies promises to bring in a host of scientific and engineering professionals who may hasten the development of new neurotechnologies. More important, by broadening our horizon in the way we conceptualize the nervous system and its interactions with the outside world, we literally open our minds to new ways of thinking.

What we often tend to forget is that we use our own nervous systems to attempt to explain our nervous systems. It brings to mind the professor I once had who suggested we replace the words “I think” with “I cogitate” to remind us of the neurocognitive basis for all human endeavor. When we find ourselves tempted to favor one modality or one way of looking at the nervous system to the exclusion of others, we might consider the phrase, “My synapses tend to favor...”

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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