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Mind Over Brain

DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for developing new technologies for use by the military. DARPA is intended to fund futuristic, visionary projects with potential for far-reaching impact. Some of the successes spearheaded by DARPA are the creation of the Internet, GPS tracking, artificial intelligence, and voice recognition software such as that used by Apple’s SIRI.

Now, DARPA is using funds from President Obama’s “brain initiative” to develop a “prosthetic memory,” to help people with Alzheimer’s or epilepsy to improve their memory. DARPA is especially concerned with the fate of 270,000 American soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with memory loss due to traumatic brain injury. Their research project is ambitious—within four years, they hope to figure out exactly how neurons in the brain communicate with each other when retrieving memories, and then implant a chip in the brain that can replicate the process.

The researchers face a mind-boggling challenge. To mimic the human mind, they must find a way to perform analyses that used to take a few hours on a personal computer, and boil them down into algorithms that take only 10 milliseconds. Within four years, researchers hope to have a functioning prototype that can be implanted into the brains of those with epilepsy or Parkinson’s to help improve their memory.

According to Jewish tradition, awareness, memory and human thought are not dependent on the condition or even the existence of the brain. The brain, and the body in general, is simply an intermediary between the soul and the physical world. Before descending into bodies, our souls are privy to the most sublime thoughts, far richer than anything we could ever experience on earth.

Soon all of humanity will be lifted above their physical limitations and will be exposed to the vast world that lies beyond the brain’s comprehension. G-d will finally reveal Himself in the world, just as “water covers the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). We will experience this as souls within bodies, living in optimal health. The revelation of G-dliness will be so compelling that we will like nothing better than to study G-d’s Torah. Our greatest joy and pleasure will be to intensify our connection with the Infinite, as Maimonides writes: “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d.”


 

 


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